Friday, July 1, 2011

Information Literacy: Necessary for Librarians, Too

Reference librarians often need to apply evaluation skills in their jobs.  I constantly need refreshers to remember the ACRL's Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education.  Here's a direct quotation:
Information literacy forms the basis for lifelong learning. It is common to all disciplines, to all learning environments, and to all levels of education. It enables learners to master content and extend their investigations, become more self-directed, and assume greater control over their own learning. An information literate individual is able to:
  • Determine the extent of information needed
  • Access the needed information effectively and efficiently
  • Evaluate information and its sources critically
  • Incorporate selected information into one’s knowledge base
  • Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose
  • Understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally
When a local or state consortium reviews database contracts this can change what individual libraries make available to their patrons.  New resources can be made available, especially if the state covers the costs of databases for which the individual already subscribes.  Idaho's state library operates the LILI (Libraries Linking Idaho) website and made an announcement not long ago that told which databases had acquired for residents of Idaho to access over the next year or two.

Recently, I was asked to look for and make recommendations for a political science database.  My supervisor recommended that I use three resources I was not aware of previously: CUFTS, JISC, and Charleston Advisor.

CUFTS: Open Source Serials Management offers a  tool that allows you to compare periodical titles between two different databases.  This resource comparison tool lists hundreds of databases created by some of the major database providers.  Say you want to compare the ProQuest Central database with EBSCO's Academic Search Complete database.  It may take a few minutes for the report to load, but when it does it is easy to see each periodical title according to their distinctions.  Duplicate titles that appear in both databases are listed next to each other in two columns, so it is easy to see which one just indexes, which one offers full-text access, and the years of coverage, including length of embargo periods.  At the end of this long chart, CUFTS gives the number of duplicate titles, then it lists the unique titles in each database with the other coverage information given as well.
  • Found 4170 duplicate holdings.
  • Found 13502 unique holdings in the ProQuest Central database.
  • Found 9664 unique holdings in EBSCO's Academic Search Complete.
What kinds of things should database evaluators be watchful for? Many of these questions can be answered using the CUFTS: Resource Comparison tool.
  • Does the database contain a lot of freely available content, such as government documents?  This can pad their numbers.
  • How much of the content is current?
  • How far back does the content go?
  • How much full-text access is provided?
  • Are important journals or magazines available in full text?
Like the website indicates, the Charleston Advisor offers "critical reviews of web products for information professionals."  It might be a bit tricky to find reports that are useful, so try browsing their list of reports. They have well-researched reports that go back ten years or more.  Reports are published as pdf's.  They give an overall score for the resource, plus they grade on specific aspects of a resource:
  • Content
  • Searchability
  • Pricing Options
  • Contract Options
As an example, the Ninteenth Century Masterfile earned 4 3/4 stars over all out of five possible stars.  Searchability earned only four stars and received five stars in all the rest of the categories.  For content they claim: "This is the most comprehensive research tool for nineteenth century studies. It should be the researcher’s first stop to explore the literature."  It seems like a great resource for evaluating academic databases as long as you can find the product you are looking for.  I had difficulty finding very many reviews on political science products.

Last, the JISC: Academic Database Assessment Tool also makes it easier for information professionals and librarians to evaluate vendor products.  Admittedly, this is the one I know the least about, but the home page shows that they have links to search and compare title lists of major bibliographic and full-text databases.  They explain their site in these terms:
This site from JISC Collections aims to help libraries to make informed decisions about future subscriptions to bibliographic and full text databases. More information about the site's data sourcing and comparison method is available on the 'About' page.

View visual dashboards showing charts and stats for each database.
Review dates that title lists in ADAT were last updated by suppliers.

Generate tables comparing the key features of database platforms.

Compare and contrast the core functionality of eBook platforms.

It looks like a useful tool.  Take a look at them and let me know if you found them helpful.  What do you look for when evaluating databases for your institution?

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