Reference tool helps organise scholarly resources

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Credo Reference allows users to search many authoritative reference works with a single tool, writes John Murphy

One of the joys of online searching is accidentally discovering something really useful. While looking for something on a specific topic you will come across whole rafts of research that you may not have even been aware on, which might even be in another discipline.

When it comes to student research in academic libraries, a problem is emerging where a Google or Wikipedia search is regarded as the limit of scholarly investigation. To the Google generation, the index of a book is like a Palaeolithic Era cave painting. They want a little window with the search button next to it.

The idea behind Credo Reference is that users get the familiar search engine window but search hundreds of authoritative scholarly reference works including dictionaries and encyclopaedias. Not only will they find information that is reliable and referenceable but it is likely to be from publications they would never have thought to look in.

Open-access origins

Credo Reference was founded in 1999 as Xrefer, and was an open-access rival to Wikipedia. It was free to use and was meant to be supported by advertising. Like many of the dotcom era start-ups, though, it ran out of venture capital before it could generate enough revenue to sustain itself. In 2002 its founders were joined by UKbased entrepreneur Bela Hatvany, who had previously founded SilverPlatter, now owned by Ovid. Hatvany helped Xrefer’s founding team to adapt their service to something that could be sold as a subscription service to libraries. He also brought in a new CEO – John Dove, previously COO of SilverPlatter and an industry veteran.

Dove, who is now president of the company, said: ‘We started in the public library market because that is what we knew best, but I believed that we should be addressing libraries of all types.’

Since its relaunch in 2003 Credo has built up a list of some 410 reference titles and works with some 62 different publishers. Librarians can choose from this list the most relevant titles, or just take all of them. The subscription paid is proportionate to the size and nature of the institution, and is considerably less than the cost of subscribing to individual online reference books.

In most cases it is unlikely that libraries would have taken out individual subscriptions to the titles in Credo. However, the power of the service is not the individual reference sources but the fact that so many can be searched using a single tool. From the publisher perspective, revenue generated through participation in Credo is additional revenue for material that might not otherwise have been sold.

‘We are inviting publishers to become part of something that brings users into their resources. This gives recognition, as well as income, from all library types. We have generated about $8 million in royalties for our publishers in the last five years,’ said Dove.

‘If you subscribed to everything that is available through Credo, directly, it would cost about $40,000, but through Credo it is a few thousand dollars, it’s all hosted and we automatically update everything,’ he added.

‘Our model is that we assemble really good reference material that is creatively interconnected, and also well connected to the rest of the library and to the web. The major publishers are not going to let us have their best-selling works but other publishers might have a reference work that is good enough in the same field that we can have and for which they get extra revenue for.’

A place for serendipity

The broad range of sources can also lead to accidental discoveries. This is not only useful to students who discover new reference books but also to researchers in other fields. They can discover new ideas for everything from new marketing campaigns to political speeches. Credo includes several tools that help users develop their queries and refine the sources that are used.

‘The challenge today is not how you get more information but how you discover some things that you were not looking for but are actually very relevant to your task. Sometimes the thing next to what you were looking for opens up a new way of thinking. We have additional features that link into other services such as Westlaw or Elsevier’s Science Direct,’ said Dove. ‘Librarians want the resources that they provide to be used. If we can create a link for users to discover the resources that are provided then we believe we have done a service to librarians and users.’