Making e-Reference books findable.

Author:Ramaswamy, Mohan


The Internet has evolved into the most used of all communication media. Increasing numbers of Americans use the Internet for research and communication (Pew, 2005). Accordingly, publishers and libraries increasingly make information available electronically via the Internet to users. A common example of such development is the electronic book, also known as an e-book. To read an e-book, the user needs a computer or a handheld display device.

E-books have the following advantages: they can be distributed globally via the Internet; they are cheap to publish and share; and they do not need storage space. Gall (2005) reported from a 2002 consumer survey on e-books that "67 percent of respondents wanted to read an e-book, and 62 percent wanted that access to be from a library." Peek (2005) reported that new technologies would support and enhance the use of e-books. For these reasons, many believe that e-books have the potential to replace traditional books in the future (Emke, 2005).

Even as e-book usage appears to be on the rise, there are reports about their limitations. Safley (2006) discusses that the acceptance of electronic publications depends on the immediacy of information need. For example, electronic reference books and journals provide an easy way to find quick answers for users, but users experience discomfort reading an entire electronic monograph. Thus the usage of electronic reference books is significantly high, but that of electronic monographs is substantially low in academic settings (Anuradha & Usha, 2006). Accordingly, academic libraries have been increasingly providing access to electronic reference books.

Like many academic libraries, Kansas State University (K-State) Libraries have provided access to a considerable number of e-books over the past several years. The e-book reference collection includes encyclopedias, directories, dictionaries, and so on. Vendors such as netLibrary, Dekker, Gale, and ABC-Clio offer electronic reference books as part of electronic book packages. Because reference e books are accessed electronically, K-State librarians refer to these books as e-Reference books or eReference resources.


Promoting e-Reference collections is an important issue for libraries. K-State Libraries has been acquiring an increasing number of e-books, including resources that were previously available only in print. K-State Libraries' e-Reference resources were going largely undiscovered because the titles were listed individually in the Libraries' Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC) but were not visible on a shelf in the reference collection like their traditional print counterparts. User feedback received at reference services points indicated that although e-Reference titles could be found by searching the library's catalog, only skilled searchers had the ability to discover them and there was no easy method for browsing the Libraries' e-Reference collection. Reference librarians were adamant that the hidden eReference resources had to be brought to the limelight. K-State Libraries needed to find a way to make electronic reference books more accessible and visible to patrons.


In the past, static lists of available reference books were created using HTML and published on the library's website. However, the idea of maintaining static HTML lists for e-Reference books was strongly rejected because creating and updating such lists would be cumbersome, inefficient, and time intensive. Therefore, K-State librarians decided to create a dynamic e-Reference web page to facilitate easy browsing of the collections.

Inspired by Steve Shadle's presentation at the 1999 Annual Conference of the North American Serials Interest Group, K-State librarians developed a dynamic search to pull e-Reference lists via the Voyager OPAC. Unlike the methodology employed at the University of Washington by Shadle and his colleagues, K-State Libraries' implementation does not require the use of programmers to create template-based web pages from sophisticated SQL queries. K-State Libraries accomplishes its version of a dynamic e-Reference page by using canned searches that lead the user to a results display directly from the OPAC. Patrons have the option of browsing e-Reference books by subject, title, or type of reference book (e.g. dictionary, encyclopedia, etc.).

Planning and Implementation

A team was formed to identify possible solutions to the problem of increasing the visibility of e-Reference books. The team included two subject librarians, two reference generalists, a Web team member, and a collection development librarian. The team's goal was to find a way to use the library's website to provide access to K-State's licensed e-Reference resources as well as to some freely accessible quick reference websites.

To begin the process, e-Reference books already available in the K-State Libraries online catalog were identified by collection development librarians and used for the project. The team decided that patrons would find it most useful to access e-Reference books by subject, by title, and by type. The two subject librarian members of the e-Reference Team developed a list of subject headings using Library of Congress...

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