Library integration helps with engineering e-reference management

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Knovel finds out how its engineering reference resources are being used at The Colorado School of Mines in the USA

Lisa G Dunn is responsible for providing reference and instruction services to approximately 4,000 students, faculty and researchers. She is head of reference at the Arthur Lakes Library, Colorado School of Mines (CSM), a small PhD-granting state university in Golden, Colorado, USA, which offers degrees in engineering and the physical sciences with a focus on earth resource engineering.

With CSM’s degrees in engineering and the physical sciences, with a focus on earth resource engineering, its library’s user community needs a specialised collection of engineering reference materials.

There are more requirements than this for Dunn to take into account though in choosing resources for CSM. Users tell Dunn that they prefer on-demand assistance in using these materials and are comfortable with a Google style approach to accessing resources.

Integration of both print and electronic titles into the library’s web-based information “toolbox” of databases and search aids is another priority, according to Dunn. ‘Reference and instruction activities depend on ready access to both print and electronic resources. The library’s information literacy programme emphasises developing skills in moving effectively between the two formats,’ she explained.

Managing e-reference

The library subscribes to a number of electronic reference books through various vendors/publishers. These titles must be integrated into the library’s toolbox (such as the web catalogue) and evaluated for efficiency and effectiveness.

Assistance with this task was one of the things that attracted Dunn and colleagues to Knovel’s e-book reference product. This is a web portal from which scientific and technological information from reference books can be accessed in an interactive electronic format. The company’s editorial advisory board is composed of members with diverse backgrounds, including the academic, industrial, corporate and publishing fields. This core advisory group is responsible for reviewing and recommending published print titles for inclusion in Knovel’s e-book collection.

Knovel’s e-book reference product is built on the premise that faster, more flexible means of accessing reference materials is the way of the future but that the standard printed reference book remains viable. Its format is very similar to that of a traditional bound paper reference book. Electronic ‘pages’ open and read just as they would in a print book, so users can intuitively navigate the site. Although the screen may have a traditional look, the standard page layout is coupled with a combination of software tools to search and manipulate data. Librarians and their users can work within the traditional book format. However, they are encouraged by the electronic environment and search tools to expand the way they use the materials and explore new means of access and data manipulation – changing the way reference books are viewed.

‘The preferences of the university’s user community and the library’s small staff make full scale, on-site workshops impractical on a widespread basis; instead the librarians rely on Knovel’s integration into the library’s information toolbox as the primary method of outreach,’ commented Dunn. ‘The contents of the library’s toolbox are promoted in instruction sessions and news releases on the library’s web site and by distributing tailored bookmarks and other promotional materials to users.’

Integrating with the catalogue

Knovel enables integration of e-resources into the library catalogue by providing ready-to-load MARC records into the system. This is critical at CSM, as the library’s small staff cannot readily undertake the labour-intensive process of cataloguing a changeable online package of hundreds of reference titles. Records for titles are loaded with minimal local manipulation and are immediately available in the catalogue with a web link that leads directly to the e-book. The records are also displayed in the regional union catalogue ’Prospector’, of which CSM is a member.

Packaging e-books together brings the advantage of a unified interface. ‘Knovel is accompanied by more value-added features in its entirety than if similar content was purchased as separate reference books,’ commented Dunn. ‘In addition, librarians forward suggestions of new titles they would like to see included to Knovel to continue to enhance the fit of this reference collection’s content to the university’s information needs.’

By supporting outreach and access strategies appropriate for institution size and need, librarians such as Dunn work with vendors such as Knovel to create an effective partnership with engineering libraries to increase awareness, usage and ultimately, cost-effectiveness of electronic resources.