Tuesday, November 24, 2009

How to represent The Reference Collection online

When does a collection of books become more valuable than when its part of a larger library or works? Are libraries just troves of unprocessed ore? Should we think of libraries in terms of collections of items instead of concentrating on the individual items themselves? [me in 2006]

So I have been thinking about how to represent both the print and the online Reference Collection on a library website and I'm at the point in which I think writing down the threads of my thoughts might be useful - if only for myself. So...

Academic research libraries have REFERENCE COLLECTIONS and these collections were often on the first floor of the library for easy reference and they were never circulated in order to ensure that they would always be available. (In some libraries, every single dictionary and encyclopedia was placed in the reference collection, because these were considered REFERENCE BOOKS - but this is another matter.)

In many library catalogues, books in the Reference Collection can be given a "location" of The Reference Collection - First Floor. It is technically possible to add a similar "location" to e-reference books but there are several drawbacks. First, its technically untrue. Secondly, it doesn't allow items to be part of several (reference) collections/locations. Thirdly, while most library catalogues allow one to search against the limit of a particular location, most library catalogues don't allow one to browse the collection by location.

If ebooks aren't represented in the library catalogue, then ebooks are separated from their physical brethren, and cannot be found for one search of 'books' - either directly through the catalogue or indirectly, through an OpenURL search. One way to retrieve lists of reference books that bring back both print and ebooks is through LCSH's Free-Floating Subject Subdivisions. But then you get every dictionary for a particular subject - and no dictionary for the subjects that are related, or just a little more specific or just a bit broader than what you've asked for.

One way of thinking of the reference collection is a the physical manifestation of a bibliography that was hand-picked by a particular author. A bibliography could have links to both ereference and print reference materials and could be as selective or as expansive as the owner would like it to be. A reference collection could be as simple as a list of saved items in a user's "bookbag." Bibliocommons is the only library catalogue interface that I know that allows users to create collections of both library-owned and other books in one collection. Biblicommons users can also create lists of items.

When I stumble upon an item that I want to 'reference' later, I either save it in either delicious or in zotero. At one time, I used to save things in RefShare. The RefShare link goes to a bibliography dedicated to Library Subject Guides - which can also be considered the "Reference Collection" of the online and print hybrid library.

More later I think.