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Databases, eCollections, eResources, What?

So, I may not be writing much for the next couple of days. I was fine and generally on top of stuff here at work until this morning. Now, all of a sudden, I have back to back appointments all day and most of tomorrow morning, plus I suddenly have a new class for a new (never-taught-for-before) professor in a new (never-taught-for-before) department to teach tomorrow at noon. Oh, AND, we’re supposed to suggest purchases for the general collection sometime in the next few weeks (we normally only buy for the reference collection), and we’re in the midst of a high-velocity push to identify and trial databases.

Now, this isn’t a pity-me post. I’ll be fine. One way or another, by the end of today I’ll have prioritized my life again and gotten things moving smoothly along in my head. But what all of this highlights for me is that collecting electronic resources is hard. Very hard. I don’t know so much about the process that I can’t even ask for help, and when I do ask for help I know so little about what I’m asking for that it comes out all wrong and I keep being told the stuff that I already know rather than the stuff I don’t understand. Then I feel stupid, my helper and I have both run out of time, and I’m still no better off than I was to begin with.

I also don’t think that there’s clarity in our profession about e-collections and “databases.” The terminology speaks to our general fogginess on these notions. “Database” isn’t descriptive at all. Even our content management system is database-driven, but we’d NEVER call that a database. So if my department is supposed to recommend databases, and these come out of an eResources budget, who’s looking at the online newspaper collections, and should those be paid from the same budget?

So far, it seems like everyone thinks somebody else is looking at e-collections of journals and newspapers. People in my department haven’t really had them on our radar because we think of them as serials (and we collect for reference), and people in other departments think that we’re looking at them because they’re just like (and often bundled with) these “database” things (which my department does play a role in evaluating and recommending for purchase). And so far, when my department is asked to approve or deny renewal for things like MLA International Bibliography and Sociological Abstracts, other things like Nature online or Science online also crop up in the lists of “Databases” that are up for renewal. These are not the same thing. At all.

And were does something like JSTOR fit in? There are more and more collections that offer the option to buy the content outright, and then pay yearly access fees. Where do these fit? How do we decide if they’re “Databases” or not?

Basically, I’m confused by the whole process of evaluating and choosing databases, and this confusion is only amplified by my confusion over what exactly I’m evaluating in the first place. Add to this that I only do this very rarely (like, maybe once a year), and you get a confused librarian who feels stupid because she has to relearn the process every year because a couple thousand reference questions, a couple hundred student appointments, and a few dozen classes have pushed all of what she learned last year clear out of her scull.

But now I’ve got to stop letting my brain run in circles around these unanswerable questions and get down to the business of building a drop-dead gorgeous class from scratch while I also meet with a few students (one of whom wants to find out about getting an MLS after graduating from here).

Published inLibraries and LibrariansRandom Thoughts


  1. Mark Mark

    Remain calm and repeat in my voice (which would be a real trick, in several ways), “Iris is not stupid! Iris is NOT stupid!”

    And where does JSTOR fit in? Certainly ahead of all those other punk “databases.” ;)

    You are certainly entirely correct about the ridiculous lack of controlled vocab that we have for such things.

    And I probably shouldn’t … AND I won’t. I’ll tease you in private later by IM. ;)

  2. Iris Iris

    Oh, Mark. There is such a thing as Stupid Iris, and she rears her thick head much more frequently than I’d care to admit. But she’s a good-hearted soul and really just wants to learn. :)

  3. Patricia Patricia

    I hear your pain. I am in charge of buying such things at my library. I’ve been doing this job now for about three years, and it took me about the first 9 months or so to understand the difference between a database and a collection of journals. Yes you are right, the terminology is all wrong. But now I can explain it all to you, but what I can’t do is know how GOOD they are, or how USEFUL they all are and whether we should spend our money on this group of journals or that database or whether the history department will really USE this resource… etc. So that’s why my colleagues have to help with choosing. And I love them for it. So just keep in mind that your point of view is very important!

  4. Iris Iris

    Very true, Patricia. Maybe I’ll just concentrated on figuring out how to figure out if these things (whatever we call them) will be both useful and used. Why pile conundrum on conundrum, right?

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