The Salt Lake City Public Library has a very simple opening page, that directs users interested in electronic research to a “Research Center.” Like the county system, the city library provides access to databases provided by the Pioneer State library system as well as subscriptions funded through the city library distinguishing between those resources provided by each service. Also similar to the county system, they have included selected database resources in their “homework help” section on their teen page. As I review the way that these databases are integrated into the electronic presence of this library, I will ask 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?
Answering these questions will help me to determine, not only what types of services are offered, but how well users are able to navigate the website independently to find answers that are suitable to their information needs and their developmental levels.
Pathways for Accessing Databases:
Subscription databases on the Salt Lake City Public Library are primarily accessible from a Research Center opening platform, which directs users to different subscription services. These include the Pioneer Databases, the general subscriptions, those through a partnership with the Foundation Center in New York, and their netlibrary audio book subscription center. Services targeted at teens and children are also located on Homework Help pages for each age group, where they are mixed together with general resources.
From the opening platform, most of the subscription services are accessible from a page called “search databases.” This page has three different listings of the databases, one by subject, one in alphabetical order, and one with the descriptions. In the topical area each database is broken down into the component parts that would work within each topic, such as the different EBSCO database interfaces. Since they are broken down into parts, there are more services listed in the topical areas then in the alphabetical, and more in the alphabetical listings then in the descriptions. Bellow the side by side alphabetical and topical lists, there is a listing with descriptions. This listing groups services together by the service provider, so rather then ten different listings for EBSCO databases, there is one paragraph about all of them. The descriptions are very short, and not always illustrative of what is actually available through them.
Databases are also accessible through pages specifically designed to help children and teens with their homework. There is a Teen page and a Kid page which offer a selection of databases that are aimed at these groups, and an additional page called “Databases for the Student.” )
Assistance in Using the Databases:
The Salt Lake City Library system offers quite a bit of assistance for the general user who wants to use their subscription databases. The opening page of their “Research Center” points out that these services are accessible from home with a library card—an important accessibility feature that is not always spelled-out right out front. They also provide links to tutorials provided by the databases they subscribe to, such as the video tutorial for the EBSCO Kids Search.
Beyond the continual reminder of the need for a library card, the City library also provides a very useful research guide directly aimed for students. It provides an extensive explanation of what the databases in general are and what they are useful for, offering specifics on what classes what databases might prove useful for students to use. Unlike the lists of databases on other pages, this provides more of a narrative account of the resources. The one weakness of this resource is that it is almost impossible to find, both on the website and in the library. (I saw it on one pass through the site, but it still took me a good 15 minutes to find it again when I went back to write this up
More prominently displayed then this “Student Guide” is a great bullet point presentation on several key resources for teens. This is a great resource because it not only provides students with information as to WHY they should use a database, WHAT they will get from using it, but most importantly HOW to use it. In step by step instructions, the guide walks users through the somewhat complicated pathway to accessing these databases. It would be nice to have a more visual tool to present this material, but the information is spot on. Unfortunately the kid’s “Homework Spot” is merely a list of databases for kids, with the warning they will need their library card number, and a list of general internet websites.
Database Choice—Descriptions and Age Appropriateness:
This category overlaps with the previous one, because offering clear and concise descriptions of databases is one of the best forms of assistance that libraries can provide their users. It is important to tell users a few crucial pieces of information in these descriptions: WHO, WHAT, WHY, and HOW. On the main research center, the Salt Lake City Library breaks the databases down into subject groups, which indicates to some degree what will be found there. They also provide short descriptions of the databases that do not all answer these questions. For instance this is what they say about their EBSCO databases on the main page:
“EBSCOhost Research Databases (via Pioneer) | EBSCOhost Tutorials | these powerful tools index millions of full-text articles across all subject areas. Includes: Academic Search Premier, Agricola, Alt Health Watch, Business Source Premier, Clinical Phamacology, Computer Science, EBSCO Animals, ERIC, Fuente Academica, Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, Health Source, Legal Collection, MAS Ultra – School Edition, MasterFILE Premier, MedicLatina, MEDLINE, Middle Search Plus, Military & Government Collection, Newspaper Source, Primary Search, Professional Development Collection, Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection, Regional Business News, Religion and Philosophy Collection, TOPICsearch, and Vocational and Career Collection.”
This is just a list of databases they subscribe to, and only incidentally answers any of these questions. On the page designed for teens, however, they offer a much more pointed explanation of what can be found through this tool, why people would want to use it, and even offer a step by step guide on how to use it:
“EBSCO Student Research Center
Why this site is great:
- You can click “Visual Search” at the top of the home page and use an interactive search feature (GROK) that helps you narrow and refine your topic
- In addition to the typical newspaper and magazine articles, this site will pull up RADIO AND TV TRANSCRIPTS
- You can access COUNTRY REPORTS, STATE REPORTS, MAPS AND FLAGS
- This site has an excellent collection of PHOTOS and an easy way to access them (click the” Photos, Maps, and Flags” icon, and then type the subject you want in the search box)
- You can easily limit your search to “PRIMARY SOURCE DOCUMENTS” if that’s what your teacher has requested.
How to get there:
- Click here
- Then click “Student Research Center – High School and Middle School”
- If you are at home,
- Go to our library website at http://www.slcpl.org.
- Click “Research Center” on the left side of the home page
- Click “Search Databases”
- Go to the Alphabetical list and click “EBSCO Research Databases” and log in with your name and library card number
This second description also demonstrates how databases can be presented answering these questions as well as addressing specific groups of users with particular information needs. Many of these databases are designed with specific interfaces for distinct developmental levels—such as the High School and Middle School search. It would be really useful if more of the descriptions pointed this out.
Overall Review of Database Accessibility:
In a lot of ways the Salt Lake City Public Library has many excellent features to promote accessibility to their databases, but they are very unevenly deployed. Their presentation of databases for teens is excellent, but the general page on databases is overwhelming with little specific direction for users. By extending the type of description available to the teens to other areas of the website, the library would better be able to serve all of its customers. Even the presentation to the teens could be improved through the supplement of a visual tool that could illustrate the needed steps needed to access databases.