Like the first two libraries I reviewed, the Columbus Metropolitan Library offers many ways for their users to access the databases they provide. Just as CML shares many of the same databases with the other library systems I am reviewing, they also share similar types of pathways to these databases. For this review, as in the others, I will be asking the same three questions:
- What pathways are available for accessing the databases?
- What type of assistance is available to explain or guide the use of the databases?
- What explanations/tools are available to determine which database to use, particularly for those looking for materials for Children?
Pathways for Accessing Databases:
From the main CML homepage there are two primary access points to the subscription databases they provide, first a quick search box and second a link to their databases listed under “Reference.”The quick search box is virtually identical to that search tool provided by the Salt Lake County Library system. Once users have established proxy access to the catalog through putting in their library card number and pin number, users can search many databases at once as well as searching the catalog. This search box appears on the front page of the website, and on the sidebar of the webpage on most pages, but is not heavily promoted elsewhere in the library, either by employees such as myself or by instructions on how to search databases.
The primary tool for accessing the databases at CML is the main reference page. It contains various sections, some of which overlap. The first section of the page entitled “Premium Resources” focuses just on those subscription resources. It provides a drop down menu listing all subscription databases by name and then by subject area groupings, as well as a list of databases with descriptions of their content. There is also a link to a list of electronic journals that are accessible from various subscriptions.
The next major section combines subscription databases with other resources on subject specific pages that they created. These pages bring together suggested books, websites, and subscription databases. The first section features the “Popular Topics” which have substantially more information directing people towards the information they might need. Rather then focusing on usability issues, these pages focus on directing users to information resources for specific needs.
On the sidebar of this page, the library has a rotating display of three “Featured Resources.” One is usually a subscription database–such as World Book Online, another is a link to a resource page–such as the Ready to Readpage, and the last is a link to a database that CML runs, such as their Columbus (Ohio) News Index Obituary Search. These change periodically to feature different resources, so are not a reliable pathway to any given resource.
Another location for users to access subscription databases is through the Teen’s and Kid’shomework pages. These pages contain some lists of web sites and subscription databases broken down by topic area and rough age group. The Kid’s page also has links to the TumbleBooks, which is a subscription database that allows users to read full texts of books and play educational games.
Assistance in Using the Databases:
One of the main ways that CML attempts to help users with their databases is through helping them select which one best matches their information need. This is done through the subject specific pages on the main reference page. Users are pointed to those databases that have specific information that matches their needs. However, there is less attention paid to how to actually navigate either their general search tool, or the specific databases they subscribe to. In part this might be because with so many databases it can be overwhelming to try to illustrate how to use all of them.
As part of CML’s attempts to focus on subject specific information rather then focusing on specific tools, they do offer tutorials and FAQs to answer general questions. These are located on the sidebar in drop down menus, and cover both information on how to find materials using databases and the physical library. The answers to frequently asked questions deal with such issues as: “How to find an article,” “How to research a topic,” and “How do I download digital books.” These are very short answers, providing more information then instruction, for instance they answer the question of “What are Premium Resources?” like this
The Premium Resources are online reference sites that the library subscribes to for customers to use both in the library and at home. Databases range in subject area from literature to magazine indexes to encyclopedic entries. They can be accessed with your library card number and PIN. Some databases can only be accessed from within our locations.
While it does let users know they need a library card number and pin, it does not actually provide any assistance beyond that. In addition to these FAQ, they also offer some simple tutorials. Like the FAQs and the reference page, these are designed to show how to use ALL the resources, including the online databases, to find information. The tutorials cover such topics as Family History, researching an artist or antique, as well as various business topics.
Database Choice—Descriptions and Age Appropriateness:
Interestingly, while CML’s databases tend to be organized around helping users find those that will best answer their information needs, they don’t have a lot of information about sources for students or age levels. While they have a list of premium resources for Homework Help, it is not promoted, and is not linked from either of the pages.
The two homework pages in the kids and teens areas have a few subscription databases represented, a small number from the total group. On the kids’ homework page, there are three subscription databases mentioned: Litfinder, Culture Grams, and the World Book Encyclopedia for kids. Perhaps these are the only ones they feel are appropriate for younger kids, though there is no link to the Searchasurus tool available through their EBSCO subscription. The teen homework page has more links to databases than the kids’, but the descriptions are exactly the same as those given on the general page.
Overall Review of Database Accessibility:
One of the strengths of the subscription databases offered by the Columbus Metropolitan Library is that they are well integrated into the other subject related offerings and recommended websites, both through tutorials and through subject specific pages. They also address the unique information needs of certain groups–the exception is children and teens. Yes the two groups have their own pages, but the sections specifically addressing information needs are very weak. Hopefully, this will be resolved with the creation of a homework help page, to complement the Homework Help Centers the library offers at many of its locations.