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Perspective and commentary by Marshall Breeding

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Leveraging Technology for Success in a Challenging Economy

Libraries continue to struggle with shrinking budgets due to the economic downturn of the last couple of years. Fewer resources donít necessarily mean putting off all investments in technology. Itís during such times that libraries benefit most by identifying technologies that might help them improve their services even despite fewer overall resources. In my April 2010 column for Computers in Libraries, I offer some of my ideas regarding technology investments and strategies worth considering even in times of shrinking budgets.

Computers in Libraries April 2010

The global economic crisis of the past 2 years has brought harsh circumstances to most libraries, calling into question many of the ways that we allocate resources. Lean budgets force us to devise strategies that make the very most of the resources available. Many libraries face the reality of doing more with less, often much less. It seems like each week brings news of libraries forced to close branches, reduce hours, trim their work force, or reduce or eliminate new collections acquisitions. Even in the best of times it seems that libraries find themselves making due with fewer resources than optimal. Iíve rarely encountered libraries flush with generous levels of funding such that they donít have to make painful choices among competing priorities. In recent times, this pain has been extreme. This context of libraries struggling through the economic downturn makes it necessary to consider the ways that technology can be used not only to reduce costs but, hopefully, to strengthen librariesí standing relative to more prosperous times. continue reading...

(The full text of my Systems Librarian columns are available on Library Technology Guides 90 days following thier original publication in Computers in Libraries magazine.)

Nov 23, 2010 11:18:44
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How effective are discovery systems with specialized disciplines?

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I often receive e-mail queries regarding various library automation products or technologies. I recently received the following question about discovery services, which I provide with the permission of its author and my response.

I was hoping that you might be able to answer a few questions for me regarding discovery systems. I am a health sciences librarian who works at a satellite campus of an academic university. We are currently looking into discovery systems and are trying to find one that will accommodate both academic and health science resources, as well as undergraduate and graduate level researchers. However from a health sciences perspective, I have been very disappointed with just about everything we have investigated. In my opinion, the only system that seems to be able to handle more complex medical searches is Summon; however, by simply testing it using demos, it is hard to know exactly what it is doing and how well it works with a particular libraryís holdings. (Shelly Burns, MLIS -- Health Sciences Librarian, Texas Woman's University)

My general view is that this new genre of discovery systems performs better for generalized searching than for specialized disciplines, such as health sciences or legal research. A product such as Summon that you mention, for example, might be great at allowing an undergraduate or non-specialist researcher find materials throughout the library's collections on topics related to medicine, but a medical researcher might not find it quite as satisfying in performing comprehensive literature searching for research or case reviews, and the like.

I think that the discovery systems that rely on large aggregated indexes such as Summon, Primo Central, EBSCO Discovery Service, and WorldCat Local each have a strong representation of articles and other resources in your field, but may lack some of the sophisticated tools for precise searching that you are used to in the native interfaces of specialized products like PubMed. They should help drive increased use of discipline-specific materials by the general university community. Even for experts, the ability to search across all the libraryís resources can be a real time-saver. I suspect, however, that even within universities that have implemented discovery services, many of the researchers in specialized disciplines, such as medicine and law, continue to make extensive use of the native interfaces of the relevant resources.

Overall, I think that the new discovery services greatly improve the way that libraries provide access to their collections. They are well suited for allowing users to find materials across books, articles, digital collections, institutional repositories, and the like. But they arenít quite as effective for deep research and for expert searchers. I think that each of the discovery services will continue to improve in this respect over time as the products mature. In the meantime, itís important to keep a realistic perspective on the relative capabilities of the discovery systems and judge accordingly when to guide users toward the native interfaces of specialized products.

Nov 29, 2010 11:58:15
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We use WorldCat Local exclusively for almost all of our searching. There are some databases that don't connect but these tend to be very specialized. We have found that imaginative keyword searching can largely duplicate the limiters found in many full-text databases. I suspect legal materials will continue to be an exception.

Mark Vargas Dec 9, 2010 08:23:45

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Name: Marshall Breeding

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