Multigrain Discussion: The 12 Planets and the Unidentified Flying Elephant

by | Sep 17, 2012 | 0 comments

The 12 Planets and the Unidentified Flying Elephant

By Sue Wiegand

 Okay, so the elephant isn’t really flying, but the six blind monks in the old story who were trying to identify it based on different parts of its anatomy (“It’s like a tree branch!” cried the one who touched the trunk, and “No, it’s a pillar!” from the one with a hold on a leg) have something in common with astronomers as they debate the definition of a planet  and how many planets that gives us in the solar system, depending on the definition.

It also gives all of them something in common with librarians.  When we’re selecting ejournals and databases, what we call them matters.  It also matters when we’re trying to provide access via links, lists, and cataloging.  It matters when we troubleshoot when the linking, listing, and cataloging doesn’t work according to expectations.  Most of all, it matters when we’re examining usage statistics and otherwise evaluating those expensive delicacies as served up to our users for their educational delight.  We don’t want to disappoint our library patrons.

Why does it matter?  Because we need to be talking about the same thing when we’re talking about e-resources—otherwise, we don’t know what we’re talking about.  It’s a big debate—and I don’t mean just whether you put the hyphen in ejournal or not.  Linking to a journal provided by an aggregator, useful as they are for many purposes, is not the same as providing an individual online subscription.   An aggregator provides licensed content, subject to what the publisher wishes to include.  Zap!  It could be gone after the next license negotiation.   (See Barbara Fister’s post in Inside Higher ED)

Everyone loves JSTOR.  But what if your user is expecting to reach the current issue, which is not included in your subscriptions?  Whoops, that user will be disappointed.  Even if the article is included in another database, if the intricate dance of the linking parameters (I like to refer to it as a tango) doesn’t return expected results, you have lost that patron.

When you’re showing someone how to find an article, how annoying is it when your expectations for what you thought was available are not met?   Are NISO Emetrics standards the answer?   What is a “print-equivalent”* subscription anyway?   Can we improve the situation?  Does it matter to you?  Questions, comments, suggestions, and rants all welcome!



*A “print-equivalent” online subscription should offer the same benefits as the print, such as images, cover-to-cover content, stability, linking, rights, perpetual access.

( Sue will be expanding on this concept as well as on a number of others in an upcoming  article in Against the Grain so stayed tuned.)


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