In many libraries, we see collections that do not meet the needs of their users. This problem can affect small rural public libraries with limited budgets and prestigious academic libraries that have comprehensive print and electronic holdings. It’s easy to understand the problem of limited funds, but if a library has an excellent collection why would it fall short in meeting the needs of the library’s patrons? What’s the problem?

A collection is only as good as the methods we have to create access to it. You can have the most comprehensive and well-chosen collection, but if it is difficult to access, people will not use it. All of those fantastic and expensive databases and full-text journals you subscribed to are as good as useless if people can’t easily get to them or find what they’re looking for. Your wonderful print resources will not be found by students if they are unable to use your catalog properly. In many libraries it is the electronic middleware that is a problem, not the collection itself. It is the library’s catalog and methods of providing access to full-text journal articles. Having usable middleware between the users and the collection is just as important as the collection itself.

Many librarians have decried the fact that students are using Google more and more for their research. The reason they use Google is because it’s easy. While the quality of the information retrieved is not as reliable as that found in academic databases, there is no denying that Google is easy to use. And the only way libraries are going to convince dedicated Google users to use library databases is to make them easy to use as well. I guess the real question is this: should we be fixing the users or fixing the system? Information literacy is obviously important, but we should not simply teach the students to conform to an imperfect system. We should be making the system conform to the needs of the students and faculty.