Each Friday before the ALA Conference, the Independent Reference Publishers Group (IRPG) gets together to have a program and discussion of issues surrounding reference publishing. The ALA Annual meeting was no exception. A large group of publishers and librarians gathered to figure out, “how did we get here?” A panel of librarians, LIS instructors, reference contributors, and wholesalers, organized by Peter Tobey at Salem Press, presented some thoughts and challenges for reference content and reference publishing. A summary of these comments is below. The panelists included: Buffy Hamilton, a teacher/librarian from Creekview H.S. in Canton, GA and blogger at The Unquiet Librarian and 1/4 blogger for Libraries and Transliteracy; Sue Polanka (me); Dave Tyckoson, Associate Dean of the Madden Library, CSU – Fresno; Bernadette Low, a frequent contributor to reference content from the Community College of Baltimore City; William Taylor, Manager, Continuations iSelect (R) and Standing Orders at Ingram Content Group; and Jessica Moyer, a doctoral candidate in literacy education at the U of Minnesota and instructor of a MLIS reference course.
Buffy Hamilton focused her comments on how she is teaching HS students to use reference materials. She is using NetVibes to have students customize their own reference sources, mixing paid and free products together, which she supported. She is very involved with the design of research assignments, having the ability to discuss research assignments with the faculty at her school prior to the students working on them (we academics were green with envy). Based on her comments of working with students, encouraging them to use vetted sources, and citing sources properly, I am hoping that my university recruits heavily from her student pool.
Dave Tyckoson prefers to not mix the two (free and paid) because of the challenge to accessibility of fee based services. His comments later in the program revolved around the reference collection and the need to circulate the collection to encourage greater use. Dave suggested that directories, bibliographies, and biographical collections were dead and that other reference materials weren’t far behind. He encouraged publishers to “publish good content and let the librarians decide where to put it (reference, circulating, etc).”
Some publisher comments included:
- How do we get our content in front of the user when we start? We need to break the content out of our containers and put it in front of them via search engines.
- If we mix (free and fee), we succeed credibility to the free stuff. The free stuff is the portal we are avoiding.
Sue Polanka got on her typical soap box about wanting her reference content together in a single interface. As all eyes in the audience rolled to the back of heads, she admitted that this will not happen, but want to encourage publishers to work together to get users into a single platform. She is concerned that publishers are not working together, each is coming out with their own strategy. Sue does not want us to lose to Wikipedia. How do we get our content together and accessible on the web? Can we build a credible, fee-based Wikipedia-like source for our users, supported by libraries and publishers? Studies show that only 1% (or very small amount) of the students are using library tools and the other 99% are out there on the web. For the 1% that we do see, we can really help them. We need to work together to make quality, vetted reference content discoverable on the open web with links back to the library. Sue suggested using metadata more effectively and getting reference titles into link resolvers along with snippets of free content on google books. She also mentioned the possibility of indexing reference content within journal databases, citing a statistic from the LJ/Credo Reference, the Missing Link webinar that 68% of attendees were in favor of indexing reference content in journal databases, 4.6 % said no, and 26.7% were undecided. Sue also recommended losing the words reference and encyclopedia since many students think of “reference” as their bibliography and are told not to use encyclopedias by professors.
Bernadette Low provided an interesting perspective on reference publishing from a writer/contributor view. She explained the process of writing and becoming an expert in a topic and hoped that references to contributors with possible links to more information/writings about the contributors could be made possible.
William Taylor from Ingram encouraged publishers to include as much metadata as possible with their titles and to include interesting book cover images. He said some publishers do well/not so well with their print content sales because of these features or lack thereof. In a web catalog, a title with a cover image has between a 30-40% better chance of selling over a title without an image. Taylor stated publishers and vendors need to work closer together to meet their customers needs. This includes publishers having vendors distribute their titles so customers can have a one-stop shop for purchasing, populating their OPACs with title data, and receiving cataloging and processing. There is room for improvement on both sides. There were some comments from publishers in the audience regarding the sale of reference titles via wholesalers due to the publishers’ needs of more customer data (school/library names, editions purchased). Data is currently provided at the channel level by publisher. It would be helpful if the channel data was available at the publisher’s title level. Publishers stated this would help them create new titles and assist in planning their independent marketing efforts. Ingram will look into providing this additional level of information.
Jessica Moyer described how her MLIS students were conducting introductory reference resource exploration through assignments. The greatest challenge to students was the ease of use of reference materials. She asked her students to use print, free, fee, and electronic content to answer every question. They frowned on the use of complicated reference materials, wanting simple indexing.