MOUSS Reference Services in Medium-Sized Research Libraries Discussion Group

1997Annual Meeting Minutes
Tuesday, July 1, 1997
ALA Annual Conference
San Francisco, California

Christine Whittington, University of Maine, Chair, called the meeting to order at 9:30 a.m. and introduced herself and the other members of the steering committee:

Elliot Gertel, Florida Atlantic University, Secretary
John Hepner, Texas Woman's University
Vicki Wainscott, Southwest Missouri State University
Margaret Power, DePaul University, Past Chair

The chair also announced that while topics for discussion were determined in advance in the past, we would continue experimenting--for the second meeting in a row--with selecting subjects for discussion at the start of each meeting. The reason given for this is that changes [in technology and reference resources and services] occur so rapidly these days

1. Announcements

Position vacancies; Christine Whittington, Chair, announced that a new election to the steering committee would take place at this meeting immediately following general introductions and selection of topics.

2. Introductions
Steering committee members as above; also represented: College of St. Catherine, St. Paul, MN; CSU, Fresno, CA; U of DE, Newark, DE; UNC, Charlotte, NC; U of Notre Dame, IN; Clemson U, SC; St. John's U, Jamaica, NY; Smith College, Northampton, MA; UNC, Greensboro, NC; U of FL, Gainesville, FL; Rutgers U, New Brunswick, NJ; U of OR, Eugene, OR; U of AR, Fayetteville, AR; American U, Washington, DC; U of WI-Milwaukee, WI; U of Rochester, NY; Cleveland State U, OH; U of VT, Burlington, VT.

3. Selection of Topics
The Chair read a list of topics selected at last meeting (Tuesday, February 18, 1997; ALA Midwinter Meeting; Washington, DC: items then numbered 5-9) that had not been addressed at that time to determine if anyone still wanted to discuss them; these were: handling/dealing with printed (especially serial) reference sources that contain diskettes, CD-ROMS or other supplementary electronic material; reference sources which are issued only in electronic format; relationship between Systems and Reference Departments and how this impacts management decisions; Reference Department participation in the writing of proposals for new integrated library systems; dealing with reference in a non-reference environment. After considering these "leftovers" and several new issues, those present selected the following topics in order of preference by show of hands:

Topics for discussion:
1. Selection of electronic full-text resources: decisions, implications, cancellation of print.

2. Decision making process in cancellation of printed reference resources when there is duplication of databases in several formats.*

3. How reference departments deal with electronic information/data that is stored in outmoded or obsolete formats, incompatible with new equipment.

4. Provision and staffing of, and access to, non-bibliographic data sets, e.g., computer labs, in reference service areas.**

5. The efficacy of staffing reference desks with non-reference personnel.

6. Weeding and management of reference collections, manually and electronically.

7. Reference resources that are only available in electronic format.

8. Doing away with the traditional reference desk (Brandeis model). [Note: This item was the number one topic of discussion at February 18, 1997 meeting.]

*This item was initially selected as topic #3; as we made an uninterrupted, almost unnoticed, transition into this topic while discussing item #1, and since the two topics overlapped, it was decided, with the agreement of the person who proposed what had been item #2, how reference departments deal with electronic data stored in outmoded or obsolete formats, to switch the order of # 2 and 3.

**Also, topic #4 was subsumed in discussion of topic #3.

4. Election of New Steering Committee Member
Christine Whittington explained what steering committee members do, including length of term and rotation from at-large (2 years) to Secretary (1 year) to Chair (1 year) to Past Chair (1 year) which requires a commitment of 5 years including attendance at all Midwinter Meetings and Annual Conferences during that period. The Chair then asked for nominees. There was one candidate, Christine Hannon, Coordinator of Public Services and Head of Reference at Smith College Libraries in Northampton, Massachusetts. She was unanimously elected to the Steering Committee and begins her term as an at-large member. We welcome Chris to the Committee and are happy she's joined us.

5. Discussion
1. Selection of electronic full-text resources: decisions, implications, cancellation of print.

Smith College: has gone to full-text databases mainly for periodicals in Project MUSE, which is a good deal, without any specific planning. We'll be getting Lexis-Nexis. There is no real plan here. What print [materials] are [other institutions] going to cancel? Which back files will be moved out?
University of Maine: We will have OVID in full-text. There is pressure from the faculty not to cancel Time and Newsweek, since OVID does not yet come with photos.
DePaul University: No image files?
Maine: No.
Florida Atlantic University (FAU): Are you being pressured into not acquiring the electronic full-text files because of the lack of images?
University of Notre Dame (ND): Will you cancel microfilm?
Maine: No. In real dollars, the crunch is in serials.
University of North Carolina, Greensboro (UNCG): We only have Infotrac now. It's not very thorough, though, and that includes the indexing. There is no guarantee that the article is in there. Loss of browsability is one problem. And deciding what to cancel on a case by case [title by title] basis is very tedious.
ND: You lose the ads [with electronic full-text]. Our kids use those.
Maine: Ours, too.
Texas Woman's University (TWU): The ads are useful for fashion design and drama, for period costumes, for example. Another example of how the ads came in handy was when the Business Department needed to know the price of bread in 1911. The classifieds in journals are sometimes used for job searching and these are not included in the electronic versions.
College of St. Catherine: canceled less used titles, especially items available in full-text Infotrac. We have it through a statewide contract that is renewable each year. The catalogers are not happy to catalog hundreds of full-text [print] items especially if they come out in full-text on IAC. How do we make our students aware of [the availability] of PsycLIT or Psychological Abstracts on IAC? It's a huge problem.
DePaul: Are electronic resources a complete substitute for paper? If you set criteria when you think about canceling [titles], at least you have a systematic way of doing it.
Chair: Are other libraries considering switching vendors because of price changes from year to year?
University of Rochester: As consortiums come in, this will become more of a consideration.
Rutgers University: (Women's Division) With numerous titles duplicated, we were required to cut duplicates. We bought ProQuest to replace probably eighty percent of our titles. The big problem we find is not having the most recent issues as a result of a six to eight month delay [between publication of print version of serials and receipt of electronic version].
Chair: Are there specific journals that create a problem?
Rutgers: Assigned popular and scholarly journals. We have mostly popular periodicals, e.g., Time and Newsweek.
Smith: How do you decide which electronic databases to go to? Who decides this and how is it working?
Rutgers: A Collection Development Committee decides for all nineteen libraries. A sub-committee works with CD-ROM and other electronic resources, and they take recommendations from various campus interests.
Chair: Is the Public Services component represented on the committee?
Rutgers: Not really.
DePaul: Consortiums take decision-making out of normal hands as they go to deal makers. The cheapest [databases] may be chosen, perhaps all web-based. Those who service these [databases] have less and less say in what is selected. Quality gets pushed to the bottom.

2. Decision making process in cancellation of printed reference resources when there is duplication of databases in several formats. [originally item #3; see footnote, page 2.]
Chair: Is anyone else with Lexis-Nexis? [Most hands go up.] Any thoughts?
DePaul: We've been putting this off as long as possible as we have another year to decide.
University of Florida (UF): There's a twenty percent [price] increase coming. We haven't decided yet.
Clemson University: We have Lexis-Nexis with an educational account. We'll have it for one more year. We'll move to an academic account in a year. This will cost $122,000 and is quite different from what we've paid before.
TWU: We've locked ourselves into electronic. How will we ever get out? In twenty years, what will happen if we cancel one full-text for another and if one journal is not available full-text? What will we replace it with? And, if everyone's doing this, where will we go to be able to get something on interlibrary loan? Science Magazine was canceled without our knowledge and ILL suddenly had an enormous number of requests [for that title]. It was reinstate because of very heavy demand. No thought has been undertaken. There's no plan. That's why we have problems.
California State University, (CSU) Fresno: Based on the needs of our users, we've done a good job of building our collections. Our core is what our users want. Now publishers dictate this, and we're going to be in trouble eventually. What guarantee do we have that we'll still have something [available] if back files are out.
ND: I see up and down here that decision making has been taken out of our hands and [taken over] by people who don't know what they're doing.
UNCG: And those decision makers don't have to face the wrath of the users.
CSU Fresno: We should research [how often this scenario occurs]: An administrator asks for an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education and instead of sending...a copy from the print edition, we send instructions on how to use the full-text electronic database. They'd be the last to use this even though they yell for it. They always come over to copy print sources.
University of Oregon: We have lots of input [at Oregon].
Chair: What's the structure?
Oregon: Our Department Head brings things back and we discuss things in great detail. We have a thorough review, and we make decisions pretty fast. We dominate the consortium as we have more titles than the others put together.
Maine: We have a committee in Reference but the final decision rests with the Collection Development Officer.
Cleveland State University (Cleveland SU): I'm the only one here from an OhioLINK institution. [Decision making on cancellations] is truly out of her hands. Sometimes [paper] is canceled before the electronic [version] is even up. We' ve had to put up a fuss about basic sources. [The situation] will only get worse. E.g., OhioLINK brings up untested products. The DIA [?; maybe DAI, Dissertation Abstracts International?] file only had two-thirds of the entries [that are available in] paper. Previously we put our hard copies in storage. So we put pressure on OhioLINK who pressured UMI to bring full-text up-to-date.
Chair: Does anyone have a good solution or resolution?
CSU Fresno: Publishers recommend we buy a bunch of [rubbish that] our users and we don't want. Our administrators see it as a solution to a non-existent problem. JSTOR is an exception. Other full-text databases don't go back too far. Users don't sit and read; they print out and take it home. We've fallen into the trap of thinking that full-text is something we need to keep up with the rest of the pack. It's been around at least fifteen years, Dialog e.g. It now drains from other resources and it doesn't even fully reproduce other sources.
Chair: Do people find that full-text availability drives students' wants?
Several others: Yes.
Chair: It affects the pursuit of truth even at the undergraduate level.
UNCG: [Going electronic] saves space. We're considering JSTOR . We have a major space crunch. We've only been promised storage space, not a new building.
UF: Some JSTOR periodicals with low use are sent to storage. Not current files. Just the back file. We haven't canceled anything yet.
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM): We haven't canceled anything because they're low-cost to begin with. The chancellor mandated the cancellation of paper especially Wilson (at Madison, the largest campus in the state) when...elected.
DePaul: There's a corollary issue that comes up with cancellation of microforms and different formats: what do you get for your years of cancellation? We faced this issue with ISI. The price was so [sharply and abruptly increased]. Even when you think you're buying something, you may not actually be getting it. What do you have after all that expenditure? We'll pay for it four times. I agree with David [CSU Fresno]. We've been sold a bill of goods.
Rutgers: We've been marketed into believing that if you're not getting this particular electronic database in Reference, you're old-fashioned, out-of-date. So we're being pushed into this. The "deal makers" are the problem. Even with our input, decisions are made that we often disagree with because someone else cut the deal.
American University: We've had some success with Project MUSE. Our Humanities faculty particularly like it, e.g. all Johns Hopkins University Press [journals are available]. The back file is not deep yet. The full-text appears about one month before the print comes out. The mandate is mainly driven by space [considerations]. The guidelines determine that e.g., science journals from 1990 have to go to consortium storage space. Lexis-Nexis has become a heavily used source, often with the misconception that, like the Library of Congress, it has everything. The large impending price increases with Lexis-Nexis are of great concern to me. Rochester: Regarding Lexis-Nexis, we find that Dow Jones News Retrieval Service has enough overlap with Lexis-Nexis that we can reduce the number of passwords to Lexis-Nexis and use Dow Jones. It has an easier interface than Lexis-Nexis.
Chair: Is there any pressure to cancel paper indexes, e.g., Wilson?
DePaul: Wilson paper indexes are sometimes easier. You just open them up. They are a basic source for undergraduates, even for scholarly journals. Even though they're widely duplicated, I think we should keep them. We're [a] private [university and although] we're open [for anyone to use], no one [other than our primary users] can use any of our PCS, except OPAC. People from the community can use our resources but [they say that] "you can't find what's in them." So, we want some kind up backup that they can use.
Maine: Expanded Academic Index doesn't have the quality and coverage of the specialized Wilson indexes.
Cleveland SU: OhioLINK is concerned that use of their indexes is down. People are using websites so this impacts consortiums' index links. We'll probably buy access to individual ones. OhioLINK is good, but even the big planners run into snags.
Smith: We kept Readers' Guide so that when the public library across the street is closed, their users who come in (those who are afraid of computers) [can access it]. We canceled Historical Abstracts.
DePaul: It's hard to justify not canceling them.
UNCG: There is lots of pressure to cancel Wilson [at UNCG]. We have Expanded Academic Index but we've held onto them [Wilson indexes]. But we do have lots of duplication.
UWM: We've added a number of web products: Contemporary Authors, a number of Chadwick Healy products. We need web browsers but have a limited number of them that are mostly networked. We're hoping to go to a launch page and make these accessible. In the meantime, you can't use these here [at UWM] but if you go home...
St. John's University: Can we propose this problem to the RUSA board and influence the market place?
Chair: David [CSU Fresno] is our representative to the MOUSS board.
CSU Fresno: It can be raised there. We should have a program at ALA. It would "sell out": reference librarians dialog with vendors.
Chair: [I suggest a] panel of collection development officers, reference librarians, and vendors.

3. How reference departments deal with electronic information/data that is stored in outmoded or obsolete formats, incompatible with new equipment.

4. Provision and staffing of, and access to, non-bibliographic data sets, e.g., computer labs, in reference service areas. [subsumed in topic #3.]
Chair: This is the issue of having electronic products such as government databases and having obsolete equipment that will not allow us to run them as our platforms are chosen by someone else [other than the reference librarians and support staff that will service the databases and assist users with them]. And our CD-ROMS will not work with these [platforms]. How do you manage? In our case [Maine], we let people check them out if they have the equipment [to run them].
UWM: Some of these [databases] are kept in the Reference Office and we retrieve them [when requested] for use. Systems maintains them. Other things that get less use, we send to Reserve with the warning that we won't give software support. Now, we'll have a multimedia center. We know less and less how to deal with these databases.
Chair: Who does the staffing?
UWM: The Media Department has three staffers: one professional and two paraprofessionals. They have the projection room. [The media center] is coming into being.
Smith: Sometimes equipment won't run older or newer stuff. We've worked as well as we can with the campus System Office. Many faculty offices are not wired yet. It's a struggle.
TWU: One thing driving our [TWU's] whole electronic system is remote access. We've planned obsolescence on some things. We have four campuses in three cities; one is several hundred miles away [from our main campus]. We're looking at Internet access. We always have problems with our CD-ROMS--many are on a tower. They have not been accessible on our campus server. When the tower breaks down, that's it. They are not maintained and no effort will be made to make them accessible. We will buy no more CDS, only Internet access, and what we can convert to the web is what's driving this. The focus is on very, very remote access and developing a distance learning center. We hope our tower holds up.
Smith: In moving from CD to Internet, how does this affect price?
TWU: One thing that's bothered me about the whole conversion is that no one has done a cost comparison between the Internet, CD, and paper. I'm leery of all these special offers. How much will this cost me, without the special offer, next year?
Smith: And what are the licensing restrictions?
TWU: Yes. Prices go up; nothing ever comes down.
FAU: Except, as you said, temporarily as part of special offers. But once you've gotten past that, the price increase upon renewal more than offsets any initial savings.
TWU: Everything we subscribe to is essential to our curriculum. We can't cut any more. This has always bothered me about this conversion. We'll soon not be able to afford all the electronic access at TWU. We have a dependence on electronic access to Social Science Index and some of our journals are duplicated. For cataloging, only a note will be made. That's not sufficient. We have to identify when full-text started. More in-depth indexing is needed. Lots of little details are discovered only after a decision has been made. Students are geared to electronic formats especially with indexes where there are great advantages over paper indexes.

5. The efficacy of staffing reference desks with non-reference personnel.
FAU: [reconstructed from memory; unable to take notes while describing my own experience; questions from others in discussion were probably omitted.] In my current position, although I provide reference and research services, it is generally highly specialized and strictly subject-oriented. I'm the Judaica Librarian, which means I oversee a unit, which for the eight years prior to my arrival, operated virtually as an autonomous entity, staffed and directed by non-librarians and volunteers with no prior library experience. Our collection occupies a whole floor that is accessible only by key. Over half of the collection is still unprocessed and security is always a major concern. Budget and staffing are low. Visitors to, and users of, the collection have to be accompanied by staff at all times. We have no conventional reference service point. If people have Judaica reference questions that cannot be handled at the general reference desk, they are referred to Special Collections (open only Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm) and/or to me. We handle reference this way for "drop-ins" and by appointment (the preferred method) and get a lot of phone calls, faxes, and e-mail questions from all over the country in addition to our those from our campus and the local community. I volunteered during my first semester at FAU to help out on the general reference desk to keep up with advances in reference librarianship; to see how many users at this first point of contact had Judaica questions and gauge how the library as a whole, including my department, of course, could be of service, to them; and to help out the Reference Department, which was short two librarians during that period (both on sabbatical). As I had extensive experience in reference work already, I underwent minimal orientation and worked the reference desk two hours a week. I enjoyed my time there but a lot of my staff (consisting largely of elderly volunteers from the local retirement community) and sometimes colleagues in my unit knew exactly where to find me and occupied a large portion of my time at the reference desk. It soon became evident that I wouldn't be able to concentrate on assisting users to the extent needed and the "experiment" of this non-reference librarian working the desk had to be shelved.
Maine: We "abuse" our Camden State [?] [Rutgers University Law School - Camden State Law Resources, Maine?] librarians in the same way. [The current one] is a half-time librarian [at U of Maine?].
FAU: I think training could be better. Better communication between the departments would enhance our understanding of what everyone does. Some periodic dialog with colleagues in various sections in informal settings as well as at meetings might be helpful.
Rutgers: We have a number of [Women's Division] staff members interested in learning library science and getting and M.L.S. They ask if they can work in Reference. We have a staff development program in the building. Regularly (every few weeks), we have a workshop on collection development and other areas so that we have a number of people who are more knowledgeable [which makes] for better referrals, etc.
UNCG: We have three non-reference librarians at the desk and a good program of cross-training. There is good rapport and we learn about each other's departments. This is good for all of us. We need the help. It's also good when we have meetings.
Chair: Does the reference staff feel any threat? UNCG: No. We're happy. A former Reference Librarian, a person from cataloging would take the initiative [by approaching Reference about working the reference desk]. [Also, the] Music Librarian--there is no separate Music Library; although one is being built, it will take five years--may [work (or has worked the desk)?], a librarian with some reference background.
Chair: There has been a great deal of resistance in some places I've worked.
Rutgers: This is especially an issue where there is faculty status. If anyone can do this, why have professional reference librarians. A person who is not a professional librarian may not know where to make referrals. This may give the user the impression that a question was answered, but in fact, it wasn't.

The Chair adjourned the meeting at 11:30 a.m. [There was no time to discuss topics #6-8.]

Submitted by Elliot Gertel, Florida Atlantic University, Secretary