Reference & Research

This category contains 21 posts

MCSearch & Milligan College featured in EBSCO’s “Customer Success Story” marketing

By creating a strong library research platform with the speed and simplicity of a commercial Internet search engine, Milligan College makes its library holdings even more accessible to students and faculty.

Soon after Milligan College Library’s launch of MCSearch in early September 2011, we were contacted by the public relations folks at EBSCO Publishing to do a “Customer Success” story for their promotional/marketing materials.

MCSearch is our custom implementation/branding of EBSCO’s Discovery Service platform. MCSearch is best described as a search engine that provides a user experience not unlike Google, but its search capabilities focus on library-provided information resources instead of the open Web. In our own promotion, we have branded MCSearch with the tagline “One search box–for the good stuff” to underscore the ease of use search experience applied to accessing the quality information resources provided by the Library.

We recently learned that our story has been released. Here is a direct link to the five page piece (pdf) covering the launch. Links to the story appear in two locations on EBSCO’s website: On the EBSCO Customer Success Center (see  http://www.ebscohost.com/customerSuccess/ > Colleges/Universities > Customer Success Stories), and on the EDS Support Center (see http://support.ebsco.com/eds > the Customer Success Stories section on the home page. Our story is the third item.) It’s a nice read that features both the Library and Milligan College. Check it out!

Introducing MCSearch: One search box–for the good stuff

The P.H. Welshimer Memorial Library is pleased to introduce MCSearch to the Milligan College community. What is MCSearch? We think our tagline says it all: “One search box–for the good stuff.”

One search box. Students are familiar with Google and other popular web search engines. They like the ease and convenience of being able to type a few keywords into a search box and get tons of results. But how relevant, reliable, or current is this information for academic research purposes? This is a serious question. Students need to acquire skills for evaluating information accessed from the open web. (The Library provides instruction to students in information literacy skills like information resource evaluation.) However, given a choice between digging hard for the best available information resources or the convenience of a Google search, students are often satisfied with “good enough.”

What if there was a tool available that provided the ease and convenience of a Google search, but the information resources searched and results returned were those provided by the Library? Students could get to the stuff that was truly good instead of just good enough. This is exactly what MCSearch does.

The good stuff. Every year the Library spends tens of thousands of dollars to provide Milligan College students and faculty with high quality information resources to support their coursework and research. Books, media, print and electronic journals and magazines, e-books, subject-based print and electronic reference works (encyclopedias and dictionaries), and numerous subject-based and multidisciplinary databases for accessing journal articles online. We also provide an array of tools such as online library catalogs, journal finders, link resolvers, and database interfaces to help students and faculty search these resources. We make this investment because, frankly (and contrary to much conventional current day “wisdom”), you can’t get everything you need on the open web. Academic information resources are costly to produce, publish and distribute. Although there is a slowly growing open access movement in academic communication online, generally speaking, the good stuff isn’t free.

One search box, again. The “killer feature” that makes a search engine like Google so powerful and compelling is that a single query is applied simultaneously across a multitude of sites and resources on the World Wide Web. Can you imagine having to browse or search each site on the web individually to try to find information you were looking for? I’m showing my age here, but I first got online in 1994, almost 5 years before the Google search engine started attracting attention on the Web. I still remember when Yahoo! was literally just a running list of websites. But enough about that. My point is that search engines have profoundly altered the way we search for information. What if it were possible to apply some of this kind of power when searching the Library’s information resources–a single query applied simultaneously to the Library catalog and databases, rather than searching each of these sources individually? This is exactly what MCSearch does.

The emphasis is on discovery. As the Library evaluated the various print and electronic information resources it provides to students and faculty, it occurred to us that in many ways we have enough stuff. What we felt we needed was a way to make the stuff we have more discoverable. MCSearch is not about “dumbing down” the research process, or pandering to the bad study habits of lazy students. Using a search engine effectively still requires skill and discernment. But because MCSearch applies a search query across a range of Library resources and formats at once, it can bring to the surface information a student may not have otherwise discovered through conventional means. This brings a delightful element of serendipity to the research process.

Filter on the way out. Because general or broad keyword searches tend to return too many results that are not necessarily relevant, conventional catalog and database searching with limited features encourages the user to formulate precise search queries in advance to get the best results. MCSearch also allows the user to apply limiters to search queries in advance to narrow search results. However, a particularly powerful capability of MCSearch is the ability to filter results after the search is completed. MCSearch includes the ability to easily refine or “facet” results by various criteria (date, format, subject, provider, etc.). This capability removes the “problem” of too many results, while still providing the opportunity to discover valuable resources from unexpected sources.

Try it out now! We will be providing more usage assistance in subsequent posts and instruction sessions. But right now I would like to encourage you to just take some time to play around with MCSearch and get familiar with its capabilities. Feel free to contact us with any questions, and we especially welcome your feedback.

Closing the distance between classroom and library: An open letter to the faculty (2005)

This post was originally published to my now mothballed blog, Voyage of the Paradigm Ship on February 28, 2009. The “open letter” transcribed below was sent to the faculty over 6 years ago. The message about information literacy is still relevant, though I am pleased to report that in the intervening years we have witnessed far greater collaborative interaction between faculty and librarians. And as far as the library as place is concerned, rather than a “student expectation that technology will at last make the trip [between the classroom and library] entirely unnecessary,” we have actually witnessed exponential growth in student use of the library for study and learning. Fascinating!

I was doing a little house cleaning in my email folders the other day, and I came across the following “open letter” I sent to the faculty back on April 27, 2005. I was still Reference Librarian at the time, and just two months into the job. I believe this was my first formal communication with faculty regarding information literacy and the changing nature of libraries and information resources. I hit upon the idea of the classroom and the library as separate “domains” that risked an ever widening “distance” for students. I used this metaphor as the basis of an appeal for greater intentional collaboration with faculty in order to bridge the gap. (The mug shot was original.)

As an extension of my role as Reference Librarian, I want to make myself available to you as a resource—and potentially more than a resource—for bibliographic instruction and information literacy in your courses. Allow me to share some of my thinking and interests in this area.

It is conventional (for my generation, and for many generations prior) to think of the library as a place where information resources are stored. Users go to the library to access these resources on an as-needed basis. For students, the need is typically oriented toward completing class assignments. Bibliographic instruction in this vein seeks to inform students

1) about the relevant (subject and course-related) resources that are available in the library

2) how to go about accessing relevant resources in the library, and

3) how to productively use these accessed resources in support of the learning process.

This is an important exercise. However, viewing the library as a place—an information “warehouse”—may contribute to more than just the sense of physical distance required to traverse there from the classroom. A potentially problematic metaphorical distance may also be building up. The greater this perceived distance, the harder it is for students to see the intimate relationship between classroom and library in the learning process.

The sheer volume, availability, and mobility of knowledge and information resources in non-print and electronic formats is certainly one aspect contributing to the increased sense of distance. Imagine all this information, just a few keystrokes away, and all conveniently accessed from the comfort of home or dorm room! Some lament this as the death of the book and the demise of the library as we (my generation, and for many generations prior) have always known it. I am less pessimistic (though I recognize that changes are inevitable). Besides, having access to an ocean of unmediated information is not necessarily helpful. (In fact, it can be exceedingly frustrating!) Access to information never directly translates into the acquisition of knowledge. But the new(er) reality does suggest to me that a broadening understanding of what the library is and how the library functions in the learning process is needed. In many ways, it must be admitted that the sense of distance was there even before the introduction of electronic information resources. Students, to varying degrees, have always complained about having to make the trip from classroom to the library for information needed to complete their assignments. It’s just that we can see the distance more clearly with this increasing (if still largely imagined) student expectation that technology will at last make the trip entirely unnecessary.

Physical distance exists as a result of practical considerations of space. (We need a place where we can store and organize books on shelves so we can retrieve them later as needed.) But metaphorical distance doesn’t take up space. The “ah-ha” for me considering this technological capacity to electronically disassemble information content from information format is not that I should lament the death of the book (which I do not believe) but that I should be provoked to focus even more attention on the nature of information itself. Yes, new information formats require the learning of new skills (e.g., database searching, electronic document delivery, etc.). This is an important part of bibliographic instruction today. But bibliographic instruction in the vein of my present thought broadens beyond a discussion of the format of information resources or where they can be found, to include a discussion about how to think about and use the information contained in whatever format, wherever it is found. This is where bibliographic instruction extends toward information literacy.

I have an interest in narrowing the sense of distance for students, not by lamenting a lost past or resisting an uncertain future for the library, but by proposing a stronger on-going relationship between myself as librarian and you as a faculty member. I fully appreciate and respect that the classroom is your domain, and you have the responsibility to guard it well for the tasks of teaching and learning. But I also believe the library needs to be conceptualized (by both librarians and faculty) as more than just a domain of support to the classroom in the learning process. After all, it is the separation of domains that creates the sense of distance. I believe the distance can be narrowed by inviting the library into the classroom. Information literacy aims for the library to be more integrated with the classroom in the learning process. It proposes a more active role for librarians to respond to partnering opportunities with faculty so that students will more readily sense the intimate relationship, and come to place a higher value on the gift of knowledge as a result. I welcome and look forward to the opportunity to talk with you further about bibliographic instruction and information literacy prospects in your classroom as you begin to plan your courses for Fall Semester 2005.

Summer fun with Google

Summer time is almost here (and many of our blog readers are already on summer break), so this post is devoted to some lighter fare from our friends at Google.

Google Recipes—This spring Google launched a new feature, Google Recipes. I stumbled across it when I was craving lemon meringue pie. I did a regular Google search for lemon meringue pie, then realized while scanning the recipes that I didn’t have a required ingredient, cream of tartar. I went back to revise my search and what did I see:

I could now filter my results: by ingredients that I did (or did not) have, by cook time and by calories. WOW! I quickly clicked the NO box next to cream of tartar and instantly I had a new list of recipes that did not require me to make a trip to the store. The best part is you don’t have to do anything. If you type search terms into the regular Google search box and it yields results including recipes, the recipe features automatically pops up on the left hand side of the results. I love it! And the lemon meringue pie made without cream of tartar? Delicious.

Google Doodles—I think most Google users are aware that occasionally the folks at Google play around with their logo. Google has named these Google doodles. The first Google doodle appeared in 1998, the year that Google was founded. But doodles were few and far between in the early years.

They are now appearing with much more regularity and are far more complex, and even interactive. Yet I think fewer people see them, because they use the Google toolbar which takes them directly to the requested webpage without a stop at the Google homepage. This is too bad. Some of the Google Doodles are country or region specific. To see all the doodles, including international ones, go to http://www.google.com/logos/. There are also links to the all previous doodles and a brief history of doodles.

My recent favorites are: Martha Graham’s birthday, Jules Verne’s birthday, 160th Anniversary of the first World’s Fair and Robert Bunsen’s birthday. My only complaint about the Google doodle website, is that the interactive doodles are NO LONGER interactive on the site. If you want to see the doodles in action, search YouTube for (as an example): Martha Graham Google Doodle. Enjoy!

“The library is the hub about which the academic wheel of education turns”

Librarian John W. Neth, Jr., with his student assistants. Photograph from the 1954 Milligan College yearbook.

This post was originally published on my personal blog, Voyage of the Paradigm Ship on May 25, 2009. I am in the process of de-commissioning the Paradigm Ship but plan to periodically republish relevant posts here.

The other day a professor handed me a photocopy of an article he stumbled across while browsing back issues of The Stampede, Milligan College’s student-run newspaper. The article was entitled “Library News,” and was dated Tuesday, October 15, 1953.

The article reported on the recent arrival of the new librarian, John W. Neth, Jr., and changes he was instituting in the Library. In 1953, the Milligan College Library was not housed in its own building, but occupied several rooms in Derthick Hall, the main administration and classroom building. A floor plan of the reorganized library was included in the article.

I read the article with a mixture of amusement over how much has changed in libraries and librarianship over the past 55 years, and admiration over how much has remained the same.

The users of the Milligan College Library are noting a definite trend toward a more efficient arrangement of the available facilities in relation to usability … [The] atmosphere of the library is taking on an air of interest.

Giving priority to “usability” and providing an “atmosphere of interest” for users remain very important in the contemporary library. Of course, deference to the user had its limits.

[T]hese changes have been accompanied by correspondingly necessary rules.

Well sure, we still have “rules” today—print periodicals and reference works do not circulate, and we still expect the “return of circulated books on or before the due date”—but we have broken down other long-standing library mores. We no longer prohibit “bringing…soft drinks namely cokes, into the library,” and student discussions (talking) in the library are no longer limited to “subjects relative to their search.” Today we merely ask students who bring food or drink in the library to clean-up after themselves, and while we no longer shush students for talking, we do ask that they consider and respect their neighbors as they interact.

The old rules reflect an understanding of the library as a place primarily where information resources are stored and searched. Emphasis was placed on protecting these resources and controlling the study environment. Today we have a primary desire to make the library a more open and welcoming place. We are less obsessed with control. We recognize that learning is a social activity, and learning is best facilitated when the study environment is comfortable and (even) domestic (I got this term from Scott Bennett).

In 1953, students had to come to the library because that was the only place where information resources could be accessed. Today, while we still stock our physical shelves with books to support the research needs of our students, the storage function of the library has diminished significantly in the face of anywhere/anytime access of information resources in electronic format just a few clicks away, starting from the library website. Students no longer have to come to the library. Whether or not they will depends on the library being more than a storage facility. The question of whether the relaxation of “rules” is pandering to the user, as I imagine Mr. Neth might have insisted, is way past moot. The role of the library itself has changed that much.

But what about the role of the librarian? Rule 5 presents an interesting paradox:

The last resort in any research problem is seeking the assistance of the Librarian. [Consult] the Card Catalog, the encyclopedia and dictionaries, the special reference collection and periodical indexes, and then finally consult the Librarian. However, no one should leave the library without an answer to the question at hand until all the above have been consulted.

The last resort?! At first I was taken aback by the brashness of wording that could be construed as communicating the librarian’s time was too important to be pestered by students seeking assistance with their research questions. But in fairness to Mr. Neth, he was the only full-time staff person, running all the functions of the library with the help of some student workers. Today we have three full-time librarians, a part-time librarian, two part-time paraprofessionals, and a small army of student workers. Even considering that the library was significantly smaller in 1953, Mr. Neth’s time was definitely at a premium.

Seen more positively, this rule (even if originally motivated by pragmatic concern) provoked students to take greater ownership for the research process, and propagated in them a self-service attitude well before its time. Although there are still students who come into the library (often at the last minute) hoping that a librarian will do all their resource searching work for them (yeah right), the democratization of information access fostered by the Web has encouraged all of us to rely less on professionals and experts as authoritative mediators—at least initially. We like being able to seek-out our own answers. The librarian’s role has shifted from mediating information to instructing students how to search effectively for information, and how to better evaluate the quality and relevance of that information for the intended use. Librarians are also more involved educationally in getting students to think-through their research topics, and composing a manageable thesis. We then set them loose. Assuming we aren’t leaving students entirely to their own devices as we endorse a self-service attitude, the rule has a very contemporary ring to it. I like it.

I also like the way the article closes. Mr. Neth expresses a key affirmation of the function academic libraries should play on every college or university campus—both symbolically and in actuality. This affirmation remains every bit as timely and relevant today as it did over half a century ago:

The library is the hub about which the academic wheel of education turns. It is as much a tool in the process of gaining knowledge as is any other individual tool in that program.

Database Searching 101

Ever since Google introduced its single search box on an uncluttered screen, database vendors (and other search engines) have struggled to keep up. In the years since, databases have moved more and more to a Google-like interface. The problem is that these interfaces LOOK more like Google, but they don’t SEARCH like Google. Users are frequently frustrated by very poor results when they try a Google-like search in a database.

I will give some suggestions on how to improve database searches. But first, a little discussion about how people typically search in Google. One common Google technique is to just type in what you want as a natural language search: How has Facebook changed college students’ attitudes about privacy? This yields 254,000 results. Natural language searches will yield zero results in almost every database to which Milligan or any other library subscribes. Probably the most common search technique (and the one I use in Google) is the string of keywords technique: Facebook college students’ privacy. 40 million results. Yet this search in most databases will, again, yield zero or very low results.

Some of you may be thinking: Why should I even bother with databases, since Google already has so much information on this topic? The long answer warrants a separate blog post. The short answer is that many Google results would not be considered academic sources, and would not meet the criteria of most college research papers. Academic databases contain academic resources that are needed to write academic papers. While there are academic sources in Google, it is often difficult to identify them among all the other results in a typical Google search.

While database searching can be very sophisticated and complex, it doesn’t have to be. A few simple techniques can vastly improve almost all searches.

Search Tip #1 Add the word AND in between all your search concepts. AND is a Boolean operator, a special command to the computer. It tells the computer to find results with all of your search terms. Facebook AND college students AND privacy in a database will give you much better results than a natural language or phrase search. Note that I put the AND between concepts, not between each word. Since I want the concept of “college students”, I did not put the AND between college and students. You really don’t need to understand the why of it to use it, but if you are interested in knowing more, check out:

Search Tip #2 If your search results are low and you think you have good search terms and you would like to get more results, try truncation. Truncation is shortening a word to its stem, so that the computer will find all possible endings for the word. The standard symbol for truncation is an *, which works in almost all Milligan databases. If I change my search to Facebook AND college students AND priva*, the computer will now find results with both private and privacy. The second link above has an excellent tutorial on truncation.

If you would like to learn more about searching in databases or need help finding what you want in a database, talk to me, Mary Jackson, as I’m the most excited about this topic. But any member of the library staff would be happy to help you.

New “Life” for the Library News blog

Welcome to Milligan Library Life, the new name for the Milligan College Library blog. The name change is the result of a decision to differentiate the way we use various communication and social networking media in the Library.

In addition to a website, the Library maintains a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, targeted email, and this WordPress blog. Up to now, we have tended to view these various mediums as multiple ways of getting a single message out to our user community–namely, letting you know what’s happening in the Library. The more channels of communication we utilize, the greater our exposure. Right?

This is true to a point. But as we live with these online mediums we realize that maybe we have more than one message to share–or at least, we may have more than one way to share our message. Now that Facebook has become nearly ubiquitous in the Milligan College community (as it has practically everywhere else), we have decided to push most of the Library’s news and event-type posts in that direction. We have also found it convenient to utilize Twitter as a quick way to post schedule and informational alerts to Facebook and the Twitter widget on our website home page.

What do we do with the blog? The blog format is not really appropriate for short bursts of news information. We discovered that what looks perfectly appropriate on the Facebook wall appears as a cluttered mess in a blog. The blog format lends itself to longer form articles–and invites reading at a more engaged and leisurely pace.

Of course it takes more time to write in a form that invites reading at a leisurely pace. Do we have the time? Do we have anything worth saying using this format? Would anyone be interested in reading it?

These are legitimate questions. But rather than give up on the blog I encouraged the Library staff to experiment with me with this other form of communication in the way it works best. Enter Milligan Library Life. We are fairly competent and interesting folk who make it our business to stay informed about the rapidly evolving information environment impacting all our lives. I think it would be valuable to have us report and reflect periodically on such things as trends in library and information resource technologies, copyright and intellectual property issues, concerns about online freedom and privacy, etc. We could also tell you about developments in the Library or Archives, offer tutorials for using information resources more effectively, tell you about new books and media added to the Library, or review an interesting book we read or a movie we watched.

So here we go. We won’t have any set publication schedule, but we would hope to have at least one or two new posts per week. I will be functioning as the editor, with other Library staff participating as contributing editors, writing on items of interest from their particular areas of expertise. If you are inclined, we would also welcome your comments as a way of generating a conversation. I think it will be fun!

Gary F. Daught, Director of Library Services

View our new Library FAQ!

Got questions about library use or policy? Chances are you can find the answer in our brand-new Library FAQ.

This list of frequently asked questions replaces and expounds on much of the content of its predecessor, the Library Handbook.  The FAQ serves as the Library’s official policy document, and Library staff will update it periodically to reflect our current practices.

Take a look around and let us know what you think.  If you have any questions, please ask!

Library first floor reopens!

The first floor of the Milligan College Library is now fully open and ready for use!

The plastic wall separating the lobby from the rest of the floor has come down, and you won’t believe how much has changed in the past three weeks!  In addition to the new carpet and paint in the reference area, we’ve opened up the former library office area as open space, complete with tables and chairs, for you, our library users.  Our massive DVD collection has moved onto shelves in the newly-opened area, and we’ve reconfigured the old DVD room as a study room, complete with whiteboard (coming soon).  We’ve also got 26 brand-new computers throughout the building, including five IBM ThinkPad laptops and 13 Lenovo netbooks.  They’re configured for wireless and ready for checkout.

If you won’t be back to campus until August, you can check out all our pictures of the remodeling process on our new Milligan College Library Facebook page—be sure to like our page so you don’t miss a thing.

Please note, however, that the library will be closed Friday, August 6th, due to Faculty/Staff workday.  Remember, www.milligan.edu/libary is always open: you can access online databases, request interlibrary loans, search the online catalog, read an e-book, and much more!

We hope to see you soon!

What’s going on at the library this summer?

Answer: plenty!

Library staff have been busy all summer with a number of exciting projects to make your library more accessible and enjoyable!  The current work began in mid-June, when the old IT area in the basement was cleaned up and painted, and library staff moved in (see photo at right)!  This space is now permanent offices for four members of library staff, and it also houses the staff workroom and Photo Archives.

The area on the main floor that we vacated (see picture at left) will become open space for all library users, with some areas serving as dedicated office space for adjunct faculty.  The area has received a fresh coat of paint, and Physical Plant is removing walls, updating the electrical system, and widening the entrances to make the area more inviting and spacious.

Beginning next Monday, July 12th, the reference area of the main floor of the library will receive a fresh coat of paint and new carpet.  During this time, most of the main floor (with the exception of the lobby, circ desk area, and main stairwell) will be blocked off.  While the computers on the first floor of the library will be inaccessible, the other computers in the building (2nd floor and basement) will be available.  You also can check out laptops for library use only at the Circulation Desk.  The second floor and basement will remain open as always.  Since all the materials on the main floor (DVDs, CDs, VHS, scores, kits, reserves, current theses, etc.) will be unavailable for checkout after the main floor work begins, we’ve decided to extend the due date on all new media checkouts to August 6th as a courtesy to our users.  Since we’ll need to vacate the space by Friday afternoon, we encourage you to come in before 5:oo PM, Friday, July 9th to check out anything you may want or need until August 6th!  Apologies for the short notice, but we just received word about the Friday deadline on Thursday morning!

We’ve posted photos of the work in progress on our Milligan College Library Facebook page, which itself is also a work in progress!  Be sure to “Like” us and check out our photo updates.  We’ll be expanding and improving our Facebook presence as the Fall semester begins, so stay tuned!  You can also keep up with updates here on our library blog and on our Twitter.   

The Million Pennies Campaign for library renovation continues to move forward.  In June 2010, you contributed $49.50 to our efforts, which brings our total to $261.00 for the duration of the campaign.  The library staff would like to extend a hearty thank you to our new June 2010 donors: Susan Bentler, Deven Japengie, and Dr. Bev Schmalzried.  Since the full library renovation is still a few years away, we encourage you to continue to help us reach our goal of $10,000!  Every penny gets us closer to the goal of a dramatically improved library, so we encourage you, our loyal users, to give back generously!

If you’re around this summer, we encourage you to stop by the library to see our improvements!  The library is open 8 AM – 5 PM Monday through Friday until the beginning of the Fall semester, when evening and weekend hours will resume.  Remember, milligan.edu/library is always open:  you can access online databases, request interlibrary loans, search the online catalog, read an e-book, chat with a librarian, and much more!

Thanks, and enjoy the rest of your summer!  Please contact Jeff Harbin at 423.461.8495 if you have any questions.  See you soon!