As liaison to all of the distance learning programs at our University, I frequently deal with our Interlibrary Loan Librarian. We can’t do traditional book interlibrary loan with our distance learners because the loan times do not allow sufficient time for us to ship the materials to the student and for the student to consult them. Instead, we try to buy what our students need, within reason. We can’t always get everything, but we do our best.
When we got back from winter break, the ILL Librarian came to me with a request from a student. When a request from an online student is unusual or the books s/he is requesting is over $50, the request comes to me, as liaison, where I either allow or deny it. I usually allow anything over $50 that would be a good addition to the collection. Anyways, this request was for five books from before 1910. All of them were on the same extremely esoteric topic, which was likely never to be researched again by anyone at this institution (it was an odd one). In addition, they were out of print and some were impossible to find through used book dealers. The ILL Librarian was ready to suggest that the student utilize the ILL services of his local public library. I asked if she’d checked to see if the books were available online. She hadn’t. I then proceeded to find two of the five in Google Books and another two in the Internet Archive. So four out of five of the books he was requesting were freely available online for him to read and download.
I explained to the ILL Librarian that any time an online student is requesting a book from before 1923, she should check online to see if the book has been digitized. She was so grateful for the information, as was the student, who was shocked that so many of them were available online (though there’s tutorial for his program on Google Books that I created some time ago… sigh…).
Sometimes we assume that the knowledge we have is common. Often, we couldn’t be more wrong. That trick you discovered with a difficult-to-use database? That website you found that offers a treasure trove of statistical and demographic data? That free site for creating citations? It’s very possible that your colleagues don’t already know about this stuff. We all have so much useful knowledge to share with our colleagues, with our students, with our profession. Finding ways to share it and collect it can be challenging, but what we will all learn in the end makes it worth the effort.
Needless to say, I will be offering a session for my colleagues on Google Scholar and digital book archives this semester, and I’m sure my colleagues will give me lots of useful knowledge to add to my reference arsenal as well. What I love most about this profession is that we are constantly and simultaneously teachers and learners. It’s a good thing.
Awesome post! The exchange of information is the guiding light of our profession. And I love the plug for Google Books as a tool for libraries and as an alternative for ILL. Free that information!
I’ve integrated a check to the OCA digitized books and OAISter into the Umlaut link resolver front end. (Sorry for the lame web page).
The result is that when a user look at our link resolver (once we deploy Umlaut next week) for a book or article, it will let them know if the book is available in OCA, or article in OAIster. Of course, how often do our users check a link resolver for a _book_? Not neccesarily very often (except that for us, coincidental to this project, users are already going through our link resolver to make an ILL request. Hmm.)
It’s not perfect due to metadata issues (ie, lack of controlled metadata access to either of those sources). I haven’t integrated Google Books in (yet?), because Google doesn’t offer much of an API, and the word is that they don’t take kindly to too much traffic to check this stuff. (Can’t find the link now and can’t remember whose blog it was on now).
Anyway, I think it’s our responsibility to try and get our technology in a shape where it shows the users things like this with easy to understand user ‘task flows’. I believe our users _will_ use our technology services if we provide actually useful and easy to use services, and that our technology-mediated services can be both (but are currently often neither).
I t’s awful to send a college student to his/her local public library for ILL just because something costs a lot!! The public library has far fewer resources than a university library does. Thank you for helping with this.
Marianne, we do our best to get things for students, but the reality is if something is difficult for us to get (or if it will take a while to ship), it’s more expedient for the students to use the ILL services of their local public library. We’ve purchased expensive things that students didn’t even end up wanting by the time they reached us, so they would have been better off using their local library’s ILL (as would we). The decision whether we get it or we recommend their local library’s ILL service is based on what’s best for the student, but it’s impossible for price not to be a factor. When someone wants a $250 book that isn’t relevant to the collection, we have to say no. Our budget isn’t unlimited. We always check Worldcat to see if a library near them has the book or if they have a decent public library nearby. That also factors into our decision.
Jonathan, I couldn’t agree more. Our resources are so DISintegrated and I don’t blame our students a bit for being baffled when we expect them to distinguish between books, ebooks, “databases”, digitized materials and useful web content that we don’t pay for. These things should be better integrated and more easily searchable and it’s great to watch other libraries moving towards those goals.
It’s particularly frustrating to be at a small library without a big budget or programmers. I can think of so many things that would benefit our patrons (federated search, a better catalog interface, etc.), but without $$$ and tech experts, we’re limited to providing the best instruction we can. I push for all of these technologies at work (and have been begging my Director to hire a coder since I started), but there are always competing priorities at budget time. At least I was able to push through the purchase of a link resolver this year; it’s lead to its own set of frustrations for students, but it’s a lot better than before.
About a year ago at my former place of employment, I implemented a whole open source suite of electronic resource management products (reSearcher) with much success. I think this product has the potential to bridge the digital divide between libraries with robust budgets and those that do not. Because the product orgininated in Canada and my former place of employment (community college) was the first US institution to implment it, it has been challenging to get the word out about the high quality of this product.