About this podcast
In 2009, I wrote in Library Journal that the role of an encyclopedia creator together is to build circles of knowledge. I said that our job is to create a haven of calm within a wild world of information, and misinformation. A haven where readers and researchers can find sustenance, inspiration, and community, too.
This goal was on my mind when I received an email from Sara Duff asking if I had anything to submit to the Dartmouth Medal Committee. Our next encyclopedia won’t be out until 2021, but I thought it would be valuable to talk to Sara and other reference librarians about the challenges they face today. She brought in two of her colleagues at the University of Central Florida for this roundtable, “What’s the Point of Reference?”
- Sara Duff has been responsible for Acquisitions & Collection Assessment at the University of Central Florida for 3 years. Before that, she was a librarian at Gulf Coast State College, where she served as the library liaison for the Business & Technology and Visual & Performing Arts Departments.
- Rich Gause has been the Government Information Librarian at UCF for the past 22 years. He also serves as the subject librarian for Legal Studies, Theatre, and Health Management & Informatics. Before coming to UCF, he was a public librarian.
- Lily Dubach is the UCF Connect Librarian for the Valencia College West campus. She serves as the subject librarian for Architecture and helps support programs in nursing, psychology, and communication, as well as business, electrical engineering, and elementary education.
Rich Gause shares a wonderful story about the value of older reference material even for research in the sciences. His quest to help a researcher took them to a 1973 volume and then to a 1913 study, that then led to contemporary biology data. This reinforces a point that librarians often have to make to administrators, that there is information in older books that can’t be found for free online or even in databases.
And you’ll enjoy hearing about how a student looked at Sara Duff, who helped me organize the roundtable, as if she was a magician when she explained to use a print index.
Berkshire Bookworld podcasts are available on iTunes and Google Podcasts.
Berkshire Bookworld is a project of Berkshire Publishing Group and is hosted by founder and CEO Karen Christensen.
Karen Christensen is Berkshire’s Chief Executive Officer and a writer specializing in sustainability and community with a focus on China. She was senior editor of the Encyclopedia of Community (SAGE), and is a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania Press and an associate in research at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University.
Here’s a lightly edited transcript, tidied up for ease of reading:
reference, encyclopedia, books, library, sources, librarian, campus, material, works, ucf, publisher,, digital, reference materials
Karen Christensen, Sara Duff, Lily Dubach, Rich Gause
Karen Christensen 00:01
Hello, this is Karen Christensen at Berkshire Bookworld. Because I both publish reference works and have been one of the academic editors of several major reference works published by other companies: Sage, Scribner’s, and Macmillan, for example, I thought that it would be interesting to host an online conversation about reference, especially in the era of COVID-19. Today I’m talking to three librarians at the University of Central Florida. Each of them brings a different perspective to the question “What’s the point of reference?” So we’re going to, really wing it here. We have three librarians, one publisher, and I’m going to primarily moderate. I want to hear from Sarah, Lily, and Rich, and I’ll chime in as appropriate. Thank you so much, all of you, for being here. I’m going to ask a question, and to the extent that you’d like to, each of you can throw in your perspective on these questions. And obviously, we come at it in different ways, and the time frame may even be different for you. The first question that we had on our list is, how has reference changed in the last 10 years? Sarah, do you want to jump into that?
Sara Duff 02:00
Now I’m working only in acquisitions, though I have looked at a lot of reference works and I have considered a lot of reference works, particularly because they tend to be so expensive. We have to really consider them before we commit to making a purchase. So,
Sara Duff 02:27
in the past ten years, I think there’s definitely been a push for moving a lot of these traditional encyclopedias electronically, or having digital access or a digital component to them, which in some cases is really fascinating and done very well. I’m thinking particularly of a resource that won the Dartmouth Medal a couple of years ago. I believe it was called The Music of Central Asia.
And so that was a very obvious way that you would have a digital tie-in which is created sort of as a web portal. And they put up all these performances and they put up all these links to the music, which is just a really amazing component or a really great complement to the physical book, which was still really impressive on its own.
Years ago, you would have maybe a CD attached to the book, or a set of CDs, or a floppy disk even. But having that moved online is a lot more dynamic. I think when you have the CDs, you have to go through them one by one. If you have a whole set of CDs, you kind of have to figure out where the thing is on the disc, and all of that, but when you have this online portal, then you can kind of go and see everything at once, and I think people, particularly younger students, traditionally college-age students these days, are much, more comfortable navigating a webpage versus a set of discs. So that is one change. And there’s a lot of good with it.
But there are also drawbacks to that. So the web portal may not be permanent, maybe it’s only going to be up there five years. We can’t know this. Whereas if you buy an encyclopedia set that comes with a whole set of discs you have those discs until they’re broken, or lost, or scratched. You own them. So that is one definite drawback and in acquisitions, I’ve seen some publishers put out these great reference works, but they don’t want to sell perpetual rights to them digitally, so they’ll sell them as subscriptions. Because, in their mind, “Well, we’re continually updating them.” So you can’t really buy the reference work, you can only buy access to what is currently there and it’s going to constantly be in flux and constantly updated. And that’s great. But for a library like UCF, we put a lot of value into perpetual purchases. And we really tried not to have a lot of subscriptions. So that’s a challenge from the library side.
Karen Christensen 05:35
From a cost side, of course. I’m going to come back to that question, because I’m really interested to hear more about this issue of updating because it’s a source for me, as a publisher, of considerable frustration. But let’s see, Rich, what would you say has changed most?
Rich Gause 05:54
Well, .I’ve been at this a long time within this group. I’ve been at this for thirty-six years as reference librarian. So I think it’s always been changing. I don’t look at huge changes now that are different than what we’ve been dealing with my entire career, in adopting new technology. I do think we’ve got more remote and digital students and faculty that we’re dealing with, who will not necessarily come into the library building. So we’ve got to be able to provide that access by still using a lot of print in conjunction with the digital copies. So I think one of the issues that we wrestle with is we will not own everything digitally. The cost that we were talking about in the past, with some reference titles that are updated every several years, we might have a standing order for that title to get the new edition every single year. But we might have had a tickler file that said okay, every fifth year we’ll go to buy the new edition, so that we keep it relatively up to date. But we don’t have that annual cost for the budget needs. And as Sarah mentioned, in terms of a lot of it with the digital, it’s a subscription. And when you stop getting it, you lose it. And as we wrestle with the budget as an issue, we have to worry about, okay, if we stop getting this, we now have nothing, as opposed to, it’s a couple of years old, because we’ve still got the paper copy. So we do wrestle with that in terms of reference and providing that access remotely. Lily’s at one of our campuses that’s not at the main campus. So her collection is not nearly as big as ours, but she does have access to us at the main campus for anything that is in print, or maybe Lily wants to address that.
Lily Dubach 07:49
Sure, and I can kind of jump in and talk about my perspective, which is very different or kind of similar. I became a librarian only three years ago, and prior to that, I had actually known I wanted to be a librarian since I was about seven years old. So my story in that regard is, I thought, the best way to prepare to be a librarian would be to collect encyclopedias, to kind of have a good grasp of what information is in them, and then know how to direct patrons or students to that information and to know the collections. And so fast track to three years ago, I became a librarian and I am the UCF librarian at the Valencia College-West Campus. I was surprised by a few things; one being, I didn’t really have time to fully learn the collection all that well. But in some regards, it didn’t matter because most of our time is spent teaching students the process of finding sources—of finding information, not necessarily memorizing where everything is. But then another surprise was that when students would come into the library, and they were looking for sources for their papers or their projects, a lot of them had very strict rules about what type of source to use. And I was really surprised that a lot of them were not allowed to use books. And that really . . ..
Not allowed to use books?
Lily Dubach 09:32
Yes, they could not use books . . . correct. They could not use books as their sources for their papers or their projects. And I was really taken aback by that. And my first assumption was, “Oh, they must be mistaken.” That was the case for a few of them, but for a lot of them, it was true, they couldn’t use books. And I determined three possible reasons for that. The first is that professors really wanted immediate access to whatever source the student cited. And so if the students are required to only find scholarly peer-reviewed articles, then Boom, there’s a link to get to that article. So then why couldn’t they use e-books? Another reason I came across was probably timeliness. They wanted things only published within the last few years. And that can be an issue when it’s costly for the library to purchase e-books or other books. We might have something relevant for a topic that was published seven or eight years ago and that’s outside the timespan that the professor is looking for. Then another was that they were trying to find parameters for quality as well. And I guess scholarly peer-reviewed articles by definition should be a very high quality and professors want to make sure students are finding quality sources and they are dubious sometimes of books. And that just overall threw me because I thought as a librarian, I should be able to have that credit towards me where I could recommend a high-quality source, whether it’s a book or an article or whatever is pertinent to the student’s topic. So that’s something interesting in recent years.
Karen Christensen 11:21
I’m very surprised…
Rich Gause 11:22
Whereas ten years ago, we’d have the instructors giving them the guidance that you can’t use anything online, you have to get everything out of the library sources. And, we’d say, “Well, our journals and our books are moving online; it’s still a library source.” “No,” they said, “I can’t use the internet.” “But that’s the only way you could access this.” So we’d have to talk with the professor and get them to clarify what they were trying to get at, because they didn’t want them just use a web page.
Karen Christensen 11:53
Yeah, obviously that, and I think one of the things that you do is to help students distinguish between reliable, authoritative sources and the not so reliable. Because even saying a journal, I mean, there are some journals that are, as we know, kind of scam journals. So, I would assume that students would have to have some criteria for the journals they went to. But I know that because I work with thousands of scholars. Their citations for their own articles are a mixture. There are always books; there are a lot that are journal articles; there are websites. It’s by no means just one thing. In fact, it’s a lot of different things.
Rich Gause 12:45
I’m used to having the sense that the library is part of the vetting process for the quality of the material. The fact that we spent library funds to purchase a particular reference source or a book . . . . I’m expecting the faculty member to give that a little bit more credence in terms of, “it’s just not something off the newsstand that they’re finding.”
Karen Christensen 13:10
Tell me about your interaction with and how do you coordinate with the faculty? How do they tell you what they want in terms of acquisitions and reference? And have you had any pushback about the students using reference sources and citing reference sources?
Rich Gause 13:37
The issue with reference sources is that they have a limitation, for example, just getting the guide— it says, “don’t just take something out of an encyclopedia.” And then I’ll sometimes talk with the instructor in terms of that guidance in terms of not using an encyclopedia. “Are you talking about don’t use Britannica and World Book, or are you talking about don’t use a ten volume encyclopedia on a specific topic?” Because that ten volume work is much better in some cases, than a single monograph on that topic.
Karen Christensen 14:09
Yeah, I would definitely argue that that’s the case, that there are very different types of encyclopedia. That’s a good jumping off point to talk about how we see things evolving. And I do wonder if you could explain to me, especially because Lily’s at a remote campus, does . . . you talked about the challenge of different sorts of access to digital reference. But there’s also the issue of whether you’re purchasing access that’s actually only on the campus, right? Or if students are working from home does that create extra challenges for you?
Lily Dubach 14:59
I can jump in a little bit about this. There are a lot of things to think about in regard to what we purchase for sure. In my specific scenario, I’m at a remote campus. But one of the degree programs offered there is architecture. And it’s offered in a special way where the Valencia College teaches the first two years of it. And then UCF teaches the last two years of it for the bachelor’s degree. And so if I am collaborating with the Valencia architecture librarian, we will want to both purchase books and monographs and reference works that will support the program all the way through. And in that regard, it’s better to purchase print copies, or at least it was, but now we’re looking at a scenario where Valencia’s purchasing the electronic versions. I’m also purchasing the electronic version, so there’s kind of a double-offering so to speak.
Rich Gause 16:07
Lily, that’s because the students want to access the e-resources for the other institution, correct?
Lily Dubach 16:15
Right. So if I have an electronic book offered through UCF that I purchased, then the Valencia students cannot get to it even though it may be something that would be really useful for them to have during their first two years while they’re a Valencia student, in addition to the last two years as a UCF student.
Karen Christensen 16:34
So when you shared books, you actually had some arrangement to move the books between the campuses?
Lily Dubach 16:44
There are ways to have books from the main campus sent to my campus, but because the architecture program is only at my campus, that’s predominantly where the architecture books are. There are some duplicates at the main campus and my campus, but that’s another complication that Sarah worked out for us when we’re trying to buy duplicate.
Karen Christensen 17:07
Yeah. So, Sarah, how has your work changed already? And how do you see it changing? Do you feel that you’re dealing with logistics more and less with the actual content?
Sara Duff 17:27
It does feel that way sometimes, for sure. Yeah, I think UCF is a really interesting place to work (UCF libraries) because it is such a complex organism. So you know where Lily is. She is a UCF librarian, but she is on a Valencia College campus. So there’s not a UCF library at this campus. We have books there, but they are in this other space in the Valencia College Library. Lily, correct me if I say anything wrong, please?
Lily Dubach 18:00
You’re right. Yeah, absolutely right.
Sara Duff 18:03
So, it’s a joint UCF campus essentially. So our little collection is sort of a subset of Valencia’s collection on that campus. So, in some respects, Lily’s not the only staff librarian who is in this situation. We have these, we call them Connect campuses, on several different campuses throughout Orlando, and well even beyond Orlando.
Lily Dubach 18:37
And I think even to Coco and Daytona and pretty far out there.
Sara Duff 18:43
So a lot of my job does kind of become logistics because our collections are in some cases really being maintained. Our physical collections at these campuses are being maintained by non-UCF people. So Lily is just one person, at that campus, and there are Valencia College librarians at that campus and sometimes someone might move something, or we’ve had campuses where we didn’t have a full-time UCF librarian there. And the books kind of vanish accidentally or accidentally get weeded. Oh, yeah, it’s kind of “Oops, sorry, we did this.” We find out after the fact and then we kind of have to scramble. Okay, so now we have to fix our catalog. We have to fix our holding. So there are a lot of logistics that goes into it. Not to mention the new stuff coming in that we have to make sure we have coded it correctly when it comes in. Then we process it, and sent it to cataloging. It will be catalogued for this campus, and then it will be passed on to the couriers who are going to take it to that campus, and then it gets a little murky for me, because I’m not in cataloging. But then I believe, Valencia catalogs it, and then it makes it to the shelf. So there are just these extra layers for physical materials to get into the library. So that’s just one example of some of the complications. But then, when you look at how large our student body is . . . I think we have about 70,000 students. So digital materials are, of course, going to be much more accessible to a much larger group of students at once than just one encyclopedia that lives in the library, that we have in the reference section, and no one can take it with them. So especially now, when we might have a very large percentage of students who, even when the library reopens, may not feel comfortable coming to the library, so then, how are they going to be able to access these things? That does get quite complicated. And that’s not all my department. But I do find that I’m getting a lot of these questions from subject librarians, from faculty, sometimes from students themselves. They get passed to me and I’m having to help find solutions to these problems and say, “Okay, is there digital access that we can get? Do they even sell digital access for this material?” Sometimes not. Sometimes the answer’s no. But yeah, it’s very complicated, trying to figure out where this information lives, in what format, and what can we afford. Yeah.
Rich Gause 21:42
I’ve been dealing with that a lot over the summer. The building has been closed for six months, basically. We’ll be reopening for the fall semester. But then I’ve been dealing with that because I’m one of the librarians who’s been coming up periodically to the physical building and responding to questions from my colleagues dealing with subject questions where the answer is probably in one of the print books in the building, particularly the reference collection or going into the microfiche, for example. And so I will take the book over to a scanner and scan a couple of pages to say, “Is this what you’re looking for?” Just to try to respond to questions where the person can’t. We’re not allowing people into the building right now. And so even if they were willing to come in, they’re not able to get to the books.
Karen Christensen 22:33
So we have the challenge of accessing the material you already have. Let’s talk about the new material, what’s coming down the road. Obviously, I as a publisher who works on things like sustainability and China, want to talk about topics that are always changing and growing and presenting new challenges. So do you see the material that you . . . how are you going to decide where to spend money in future? How are you going to make decisions about both subjects that you need to expand and then the type of material you buy within those subjects?
Rich Gause 23:24
As a subject librarian, I’m particularly more and more looking to try get the electronic versions of material. One of the things we deal with more is interdisciplinary research. And so trying to help someone understand the discipline that’s not their own, the reference materials can be really, really useful for that. An encyclopedia that specialized on the other topic area might be the way that researcher gets a grasp of the topic. I think of reference materials in two ways. Primarily, some of them are quick sources of specific information. But the other way I use them a lot, as a research librarian, is helping people with their research, as a starting point for a research process. So they could identify potential paths, sources; they could establish the scope of the research that they’re going to do. They explore narrowing or broadening their research topic. And so I’m particularly looking for resources in that case, that cover the topic a clear way, particularly for somebody who’s not in the discipline, but also have nice bibliographies at the end of each entry that give you, “Where else should you be looking?” How do you expand beyond because . . .
Karen Christensen 24:42
As you speak, I think of the Encyclopedia of Community which I co-edited as the academic editor, that was published by Sage. And that was interesting because it is so interdisciplinary. And what I found is that the scholars who contributed were excited about it because they actually liked the idea that they would learn about related topics in other disciplines. It was a way for them to expand their knowledge outside of sociology, or anthropology, or history, or rural studies, or whatever area they were working in. And that kind of knowledge is of often practical and professional value.
Rich Gause 25:42
A really good example of interdisciplinary examples— we have a new graduate degree in themed experience, and it overlaps multiple areas that end up being at four different UCF campuses. So the theater program is sort of the host of the program. That’s housed at the main campus. But it also picks up architecture, which is at Lily’s campus at the Valencia College campus, and we have a hospitality management program that’s across town, about thirty minutes away from the main campus, so it picks up there. And then at our downtown campus, we have a digital media program. And it picks up material there. And so we’ve got four different subject librarians that are trying to coordinate, and we’re definitely looking to get digital copies, because it’s such a crossover between the different campuses, rather than forcing people to go to each campus trying to find material that is digital.
Karen Christensen 26:42
Do you think this is quite a common situation?
Rich Gause 26:45
I think so.
Karen Christensen 26:47
Yeah, my impression is too, and it will be interesting when we when we publish the podcast. I hope we can get some feedback because I think that’s probably not something that library users think about so much, but it’s kind of obvious when you explain the logistical challenges, because it’s a very broad offering and then different locations, which of course are going to have different electronic access issues. Maybe one of the questions that I should ask you is, how does reference then connect with other material that libraries hold? Certainly when you, Rich, bring up bibliographies? I mean, the bibliographies in an encyclopedia article take you to journals and to books. Is that one of the benefits that students find in . . . when you’re teaching about a research path?
Rich Gause 27:51
I think we lead them to that. I don’t know how many discover it on their own. I do find that when I’m working with somebody, that they very much appreciate, “Oh, I didn’t realize I could do this.” I’ve got a really good example in terms of our print collection. I had a graduate student, several years ago, he was looking for how a certain species of mollusk, how susceptible it is to temperature changes of the seawater in terms of its tolerance levels. And he’d been looking for quite a while he came in, and I didn’t know what we had, but I went to our reference shelves in the area. I knew that directory-type of reference book, if we had something, would be at the beginning of the life sciences–biology area. And I found that we had a three-volume set of biology data that was published. It’s The Biology Data Book and it was published in 1973. And I gave him the first volume and I took the second volume and I opened up the table of contents and the very first page of the table contents had “Environments—Survival— Tolerance to Temperature Extremes—Animals, Aquatic Invertebrates” as one of the sections. And so we looked at that. He said, “Well, that’s not the species. The specific species is not there.” But that was really close. And so we looked at the numbers that it gave, but it also gave the reference, which was a study that was done in 1913. And we took that 1913 journal reference, and then we went into Web of Science. And we found fifteen articles published within the last ten years that cited back to that specific study. And suddenly he had a whole new avenue for his research that we started with, like I said, a 1973 reference book. But that was the best. We’ve still got it on the shelves, because it’s the best source for all sorts of biological data.
Karen Christensen 29:52
That is a great story. And I think maybe since we don’t have much time left, I’m going to ask Sarah and Lily, what comes to mind when you think of a reference moment, a reference discovery?
Lily Dubach 30:09
I think this is not as impressive as Rich’s example. But what I run into a lot would, of course, be students wanting to use Wikipedia. And that’s kind of, the elephant in the room as we’re talking about reference. That’s something that exists that students and people use. And similar to how Rich talked about using what article was cited in this book, I show students how to use Wikipedia without fully using Wikipedia as their ultimate source. And tracking down “What did they cite?” Wikipedia might give them the information, kind of a general glance at everything and then look at what Wikipedia has cited. And that might lead them to actual books, actual other encyclopedias, a better way. So I find a lot of my time is spent, maybe steering students away from sources that could be dubious in quality towards better sources and how to recognize that.
Karen Christensen 31:21
How about you, Sarah?
Sara Duff 31:25
Well, so I’m in technical services now. So I don’t get a lot of face time with researchers. But before I came to UCF, I was at a community college library for seven years. I did a lot of public service there. And we had students from all walks of life. We had all sorts of students, all ages of students, and something really surprised me. Because my parents both have graduate degrees, we had a lot of books in my house. We had a lot of encyclopedia sets in my house. So I grew up surrounded by all of this stuff. But I think there is a real divide. I learned very quickly, not everyone grew up with access to all these kinds of materials in their house. And we talk a lot about the digital divide, which is absolutely important and vital. But I think there’s also a big, I don’t even know, there probably is a term for it in the literature. I just don’t know, but kind of a lexical divide maybe or a literature divide or something like that. Where I would talk to students, and I’d kind of walk them through, “Okay, tell me about what you’re looking for. Tell me about what you’re thinking you want to write about.” And then they would, a lot of times, they would come to me and say, “Don’t even bother looking. There’s nothing here. I already looked.” You know, you gotta take that with a grain of salt and kind of coax them to tell you a little bit more. And I would find again and again that they did not know how to use these resources, particularly reference sources, even in print, like taking out the digital divide stuff, even in print. They didn’t know that, “Hey, if you flip to the back here, there’s going to be a big index. And let’s check that. Maybe it’s not coming up in the catalog, but like, okay, so I’m going to search for a very much more general topic. And then let’s go and let’s look at the index and see if your topic is in there. Or you know, your person or whoever that you’re looking for.” And the first time I showed a student that, they looked at me like I was some sort of magician,
like, “How did you find?
Sara Duff 33:42
Like I looked, but I looked everywhere. How did you find this?” I said, “Well, you know, it’s my job to find this. It’s not really too impressive. I’m just doing what I’ve been hired to do. But I’ve been doing this for a while. And I know this collection very well.” I think the first time I did this, it was a culinary student and I was doing all of the collection development for that area. So I really knew the collection well and when they came and told me whatever it was they were looking for, I was like, “You cannot say we don’t have
something. I know that we do.”
Sara Duff 34:17
So they really just needed someone to show them how to navigate these resources, even though you think, ”Well it’s a book, you just open it up and you just read it.” But they really did need someone to say, “No, no, actually it’s in it. It’s even more in-depth than you think it is at first glance.”
Karen Christensen 34:36
What you’ve all told me just now, and told our listeners I’m sure, or shown us, is what you do that is so irreplaceable, because there are these books . . . it’s not as though you just have to put the books on the shelf or open up a computer. There really are challenges for lots of students. And frankly, for any of us, I mean, as a faculty member, I do research. I depend on librarians to help me find things. I’m overwhelmed by the finding aid or whatever. That is a real testament, these stories, to what you do, but it also makes me think that in the remote learning, that’s certainly going to be part of our lives for a while, and maybe for some people there’s lots of advantages to it, but there’s also going to be something pretty challenging, because how do you, as librarians, then help with these kind of research challenges and the education you’re offering as well?
Rich Gause 36:00
I think that’s one of the things that’s crucial in the design, particularly of the digital reference sources, is the ability easily to discover these specialized parts of the book. So the specialized appendices or specialized index . . . my favorite reference book ever, is an encyclopedia of musical instruments that was published quite a while ago. And they did do a tonal publishing of the signature so that there’ll be color on the pages, but it would be inexpensive to produce it. And in the back of the book, it has the different types of musical groups around the world, and then in terms of instruments, and then by time period, and they’re arranged by family of instruments. There are all these really neat, special indexes in the back that made it so easy to find the information. So it’s just, it’s one of the best produced things I’ve found. I found that one of the early companies that was publishing some of the reference sources, one of the things they were doing with digitized books is they were, they were not digitizing . . . . They figured you do a keyword search of the book, and you can find everything. And so they weren’t digitizing the table of contents or the indexes. They weren’t even indexing or digitizing the sidebar material. There was an atlas of the Bible, and I used it more for those side things about plants of the Bible or something else, in terms of answering questions, than I did for the actual atlases. And they hadn’t digitized those when I went to look at the digital product. And so when you get to that, if you search the web, do you get two thousand hits? Two billion hits? You don’t go beyond the first or second page, looking at the results. And that’s why it’s so crucial that the edited content of the sources make it easy to discover that they exist and to actually make use of them for exploring product. Because when you search by keyword in any sort of e-book, my best example is the public papers of the president, where the, whichever office, the Federal Register did the digitization of those. And even though they created the paper index to the public papers, they weren’t digitizing that in electronic product. And so if you’re looking for the papers, in through the papers of George W. Bush, they tried to find mention of George Herbert Walker Bush in those, and you did a keyword search. It was kind of hard to distinguish the hits, whereas the human-created index that existed actually made the distinction when you get into those. So good has good finding tools.
Karen Christensen 38:39
So you’re talking about enhancements that were added by the publisher to make a work more useful. And I wanted to wrap up by coming back to this issue of updates, and we talked about this with subscription products. But one of the promises of the digital age was that reference would be richer, more complex. There would be added value and that things would be kept up to date. Is that happening? And if so, in what areas? Is it happening and what are the costs? What are the practical considerations for each of you? Sarah, do you want to kick off?
Sara Duff 39:32
Yeah . . . man, it’s hard to say, across the board, if this is happening or not. I think there are definite sources where this is happening, for sure. And there are some cases where we’ve purchased, maybe not a single resource, but a collection that some resources live in and we paid an upfront price for them, a lump sum, but because they are continually updated, we then have to pay an update fee every year. And that’s not ideal for us. But it’s something we understand. There are probably going to be a lot of costs associated with updating materials for the publisher.
So you know,
Sara Duff 40:19
we understand there are complications there, but it does get to be difficult when we’re paying a lot of update fees for things that you already own. And with the library as large as we are, it really does start to add up. But then you have to say “Yeah, are these updates going to be worth the cost?”
Karen Christensen 40:43
It’s funny because I as a publisher, I really want to update things but when I’ve, we offer encyclopedias generally through other platforms like the Oxford Reference site or the Cengage site, and our partners, to date, have had no capacity for updating. It hasn’t been a part of their structure so I haven’t been able to do it. And does cost money to do it, but maybe not every year. I think perhaps, one might find some way to make it more cost effective or economically viable. But for me, obviously, it would be great to be able to do that. And I’m surprised. I’ve always I’ve been frustrated to see very big companies not doing it and simply selling the same, digital version of the product that’s maybe ten or fifteen years old.
Sara Duff 41:55
Yeah. And I think there is a precedent for it in print. Maybe it’s not exactly the same thing. But we have a lot of, particularly reference materials, that get pocket parts that get updated or added in,
which Rich knows quite a bit about.
Sara Duff 42:13
So I don’t know, it seems like there should be the capability to do something like that digitally, but I’m not sure. I’m not sure if anyone’s doing it that way.
Karen Christensen 42:22
Yeah, it’s quite difficult actually. I think the first reference project I worked on was a supplement to the Dictionary of American History, a Scribner’s publication. And we did add new articles but some of making it fresh was simply was taking articles and adding something more current to the bibliography. So you know, there are ways to update and ways to update.
Rich Gause 42:51
We had editions of books in print, but with the electronic the issue of update will sometimes happen with it. A new edition comes out for the digital. And the platform just overlays the new edition over the early edition because they think, well, people just need the new stuff. And sometimes we do want access to the older material. I had a chemistry professor who wanted the students to read a particular article in one of the encyclopedias, and the article he wanted them to read didn’t appear in the new edition of the encyclopedia. And he wanted them to read that article. And so that’s one of the issues we deal with in terms of retaining access to something we had purchased. And we thought we had it digitally. The other issue in terms of material, back to the digital versus print, is on our print reference shelves, you actually see the sources from different publishers adjacent to each other. So you can see the related material go through several different things at the same time, and sometimes with the digital products . . . they’re in different platforms. And the discovery is not always as easy to get from one to the other to discover what else is out there.
Karen Christensen 44:09
Right. So from the point of view of the student, that’s not optimum. So let’s ask Lily, as the new librarian here, three years, what do you see coming in the future? Or what would you like to see?
Lily Dubach 44:27
Okay, no pressure, right? Well, one thing we haven’t touched on yet, which is maybe a newer trend, would be the role of libraries with textbook affordability, and perhaps even our role of helping to put together open-educational resources. And I think maybe a librarian’s role could at times be more of a liaison between . . . . Well, this would be for academic librarians, of course, it would be kind of a liaison between faculty or instructors and publishers and trying to figure out if there would be materials that could be created in the electronic format that we could have accessible to many students at once, that would be an integral part of the classroom. Because some things I see with reference materials, especially electronic ones that have all the fancy things, all the extra capabilities, the extra information . . . students just don’t have the time to figure out different interfaces all the time. That’s kind of a challenge. So if there can be something that is prioritized for the class, that’s something that professors say, “Hey, this is the thing we are going to look at.” And that gives them the extra inspiration to kind of learn the system and have something directly related to what they’re learning.
Karen Christensen 46:10
That’s certainly very helpful to me. Thank you, all of you. This has been fascinating and, I’m so grateful to Sarah for bringing in her colleagues to join the conversation. Because you each have very interesting and different perspectives and stories. I will be looking forward to hearing what’s next, especially this year, as things evolve. So maybe we’ll pick up the conversation in a year and see how it’s gone and see what new things have happened. Thank you very much.
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