Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Back to School Blog entry about the Library Catalog and Journals, with extra huffiness.

Greetings! Summer is Over, the Fall Semester has begun! I know I'm a sucker for pageantry and ceremony, especially those involving long black robes on sunny days, but I can't help it. In what other job do you get to officially welcome the semester?

But I digress. Today's post is about the tricky relationship between the Library Catalog and those messy, out of control, name changing, renumbering, format jumping things known as Periodicals.

Journals, Newspapers, Magazines...whatever the particular item, they are the challenge of catalogers everywhere. I have fond memories of the Serials Catalog that was once part of the landscape of Ellis Library at University of Missouri. So orderly, each journal had a card, and each card had a little box where a check mark could be placed to indicate an issue had been RECEIVED.

In today's frenetic world, the Library Catalog will indicate if the library SUBSCRIBES to a journal. One must look closely at the record to determine if the issue you want is OWNED, in hard copy or via electronic subscription, by the library.

What makes this complicated is that there is not a rhyme or reason or rule of thumb that can be applied. One might be likely to think, "New journals are online, old journals are not." Not so. While some recent journals may be online, publishers have found a new use for an old word, "Embargoed," in order to keep the very newest information offline, available online in print, so that libraries are forced to maintain subscriptions to both formats.

And many past issues have been successfully scanned in to digital format, such as the titles that are archived by our once best friends at JSTOR.

Oh, JSTOR, how you have let me and many of my library brethren down. (See Meredith Farkas' excellent editorial here: http://meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/2010/08/24/whats-the-deal-jstor/

When journals first burst onto the full text scene, libraries were then forced to keep up by creating mechanisms for identifying which journals were available in specific digital archives. Bring in the proxy servers, cue the patron passwords, and voila, you've got a whole new set of questions to answer, just to get your patron to a resource. Sure, once everyone has got the pattern down, the research can commerce across campus, across town, across the country.

And then, the interface changes. Many times this is for the good, enhanced search options, improved displays, and so forth.

But the latest change to JSTOR is going to have a big impact on individual researchers, students in particular, who are being lured towards paying for pieces of information that the library has probably already paid for. By opening up the entire JSTOR collections, and not providing a method for linking to holdings, JSTOR is setting up my students to see purchasing information as the most expedient way to access it.

Dirty pool, JSTOR. Students are already hooked on you because of your delectable full-text nature. Your decent full-text searching makes it easy to find things in your journal collection. But not allowing libraries to embed a local hook to holdings (here we call it GetText) makes it that much harder for our patrons to know where to actually find the journal being cited.

So the fur is flying in library land just now and Interlibrary Loan requests for items we own are probably going to skyrocket, but most maddening of all, is that the earnest undergraduate, tempted by a delicious abstract, might not know that a quick journal title search in the library catalog may turn up that desired article in a competitor's database and will instead feel obliged, in our consumer culture, to pay for access to that article.

If Wilson, Proquest, and EBSCO can handle embedding a link to local holdings, so can you JSTOR.

In the meanwhile, readers, remember:

Search for the name of the journal (not the article title) in the Library Catalog! And if we don't have it, put in your Interlibrary Loan request so the library can borrow it for you.

And now, back to celebrating the beginning of Fall Semester!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oooh, dirty database dealing get me all grouchy.