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Discovering resources

I’ve just finished reading the tweets from the JIBS event New dawn: the changing resource discovery landscape held in London today (#jibsuk in case you want to catch up). It sounded a really interesting event, and I’m hoping my colleague who attended will bring back lots of ideas with him.

It got me thinking about our own library catalogue, and about how our users search, and about the different sorts of resources that we offer to our students. I have often thought that navigating through the information resources available through an academic library’s website is pretty difficult, especially for new undergraduates who don’t always understand what’s on offer. I was an undergraduate myself about 5 years ago, and as a distance learner, finding my way around the library’s website was really important if I wanted to get access to anything. But it took me a long while to really understand which resources were available, what the differences were between them, and how I could access them. It must be even more confusing for today’s undergraduates.

I know that the big idea with all these new-fangled resource discovery systems is to get as much as possible available through one interface, Google-box style. I can see how this might be an attractive proposition, but at the moment it seems beyond hope that we will ever get everything available through one interface, and users will continue to have to navigate their way around multiple interfaces.

Journals

At my current place of work, for example, we have multiple methods of accessing journals. Print journals can be searched by title through the library catalogue, and some of the e-journal titles are on there as well (but only if we subscribe directly to a title). Then there is the Journals Portal through which most of the e-journal titles and print journal titles can be accessed, linking to the full-text of the journal if available. And then there are the abstract and index databases, available through the E-Resources web page, giving another way to access journal articles.

I know that the resource discovery systems are supposed to make this simpler, but I do sometimes wonder whether, in trying to make life easier by providing access to ‘most’ resources through one interface, we’re actually confusing users even more by not being clear about what is available from where. In our current set up, I’m not sure whether a user might look on the library catalogue, see an e-journal title there, and assume that all the e-journal titles are there, when actually only a very small percentage can be accessed this way.

One solution to this, and I know this might seem like pedaling backwards, would be to remove all the journals from the library catalogue and make them only available through the Journals Portal, leaving the catalogue with books, e-books, DVDs, etc. Intellectually, journals are accessed differently from books and DVDs – it is the articles that are of interest more than the journal titles per se – and perhaps separating them in this way would help with the conceptual understanding of the differences between books and journals – something that I know our new undergraduates sometimes struggle with.

I don’t think we’re ever going to have the perfect answer to this conundrum, but I think we need to be as clear as possible to our uses about what they can expect to find and where they can expect to find it, and being up front about this might just help our users to navigate their way around the information maze.

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