Libraries as a driving force

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Authors need to be reconnected to the library to make it the starting point for research, argues Robert Lisiecki

Libraries put significant resources into purchasing and subscribing to content and making it available to their users. But when cumbersome processes make it hard for these users to access that content, libraries are not maximising their return on investment.

For example, libraries often utilise discovery tools to simplify search and discovery and spend countless hours maintaining e-resources and promoting the library as the starting point for research. In an ideal world, the story would play out that way – with patrons starting and staying with the library throughout their research journey, knowing about and taking advantage of every platform and service the library has thoughtfully acquired. However, in a changing digitised world the starting point of the research process is generally outside of the library space. 

For those who do start their journey at the library, expectations for painless access are increasing, and tolerance for delays is decreasing.

Consider the recently published US Ithaka Survey. When conducting research, about 20 percent of faculty start at the university library’s website or catalog, less than five percent ask a librarian or colleague, and more than 75 percent start on a specific scholarly database, Google Scholar, or a general-purpose search engine. 

Those numbers correlate with a 2018 analysis of SAGE Video (our collection of teaching and research-oriented video across the social sciences) and discovery, which shows that about three percent of users discovered the resource through the library, 40 percent through web search, and 50 percent through direct links to the resource (according to information available to SAGE). 

These numbers support a trend that the scholarly community has witnessed first-hand for years: discovery is happening beyond the library itself. Why? The convenience of search engines like Google or Google Scholar make them a natural default in patrons’ workflow. And while libraries may have much broader and better tailored resources, patrons simply might not know how to get to a complete list of the library’s digital resources online. 

SAGE Publishing has spent many hours with researchers to learn about their research processes and the frustrations that can ensue when they are looking for, and trying to get access to, resources. Additionally, we have looked for solutions that might easily fit into their natural workflows. 

We have found that patrons often ask themselves questions such as: 

  • Do I have access to this study? 
  • How do I find out? 
  • Am I on or off campus, and does this matter? 
  • Proxy – what’s a proxy? 
  • What articles can I access on Google Scholar? and 
  • Do I just click and see what happens? 

When researchers find a login page to access resources, they aren’t always guaranteed access, even if their library has a subscription. 

Paywalls present one of the biggest access challenges for researchers. How do they know if the article is actually available at the library? Do they just pay for it themselves? How do they get to the full-text version? 

Convenience doesn’t always equate to ease – researching outside of the library can lead to frustration and confusion, wasted time, and unnecessary costs. 

The process can be equally frustrating for librarians who educate patrons on a daily basis on what’s available, how to access e-resources, the difference between authentication on campus and off, and more. On top of that, they deal with frustrated patrons who pay tuition, or are faculty, and don’t understand why they still can’t access certain research material. 

So how can we solve these issues? One solution is to connect the patrons with the library at their natural starting point through technology. 

The patron can avoid frustration by getting automatically redirected to their library’s authentication page when attempting to access content available via their institution. By simply signing in as they normally would on their when at their university library site, a pop-up message from their library with its branding would reaffirm the authenticity of the resource and give the patron a peace of mind.

A connection back to the library also resolves frustrations arising from eBooks not being available or news sites with caps on the articles accessible. If the patron isn’t starting at the library or if they aren’t looking for this information via the library, they have no way of finding it. The library often has considerable information regarding things like limited seats available for an eBook, specific username and passwords needed to access resources, or updates that a resource might be down for maintenance. 

Technology could help patrons bypass paywalls, too. The library often has access to eBooks or articles in an alternative e-resource. The library’s Interlibrary Loan or Document Delivery System are valuable options. All this results in money and time saved and frustration avoided, all the while reinforcing the value of the library and the resources it provides when it might be otherwise lost on the patron. 

This is the vision behind Lean Library, a browser plug-in tool for users of an academic or research library, which delivers library’s services directly into the user’s workflow –where and when they are needed. Lean Library became part of the SAGE group in 2018 as part of their expanding portfolio of technology solutions for learning and research responding to the evolving needs of the academic community.  

Through our three products: Library Access, allowing uses to browse the internet as normal and seamlessly access library content, Library Assist, enabling the library to send branded messages to their users and Library Alternatively, which presents the reader with alternative routes to the full text, should an article not be accessible at the website the user is currently visiting, we are able to remove the classic frustrations that libraries and researchers so often face. 

User’s privacy is also protected by focusing on the library as the gateway to resources. We take user privacy very seriously and are committed to protecting user information. We do not ask for, or store, any personal information or direct logins to the library’s authentication page, and only track anonymous statistics so that usage data is available to librarians. 

These statistics show how many patrons are actively using the tool, how many users are clicking on the pop-ups, and more. Each download is given a generic ID to track these statistics while maintaining anonymity.  

Discovery outside of the library doesn’t have to mean removing the library. Instead, the library can become the driving force behind seamless access to the wealth of resources it provides to patrons, regardless of where their point of access is, which can increase the return on investment of the resources they own and subscribe to.

Robert Lisiecki is the marketing manager for Lean Library

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