Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ask a Librarian: Why do/don't you have _________ database?

Databases. Those windows into the world of academia, where you can go to search through countless articles on countless topics. Those great repositories of knowledge, which are often turned to by students frantic to GET THAT ARTICLE NOW. We've come a long way since the days when you had to patiently wait to interlibrary loan every article you needed, or even when you had to go through CD after CD in search of that citation. No, these days, you can search through hundreds or thousands of journals at the same time, just as easily as searching Google (more or less). (Note: I did want to point out that when you search Google, you don't search databases. Google doesn't index them, because they cost money, and Google doesn't. Make sense?)

But where do databases come from? Why does a university have access to some but not access to others? And why in the world does Mantor now have a database devoted to hobbies like Disney memorabilia and knitting? Isn't that a waste of funds?

Well, dear reader, allow me to explain. First of all, databases cost money. Lots of money. Thousands, tens of thousands--even hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the database and the size of the institution that wants to use it. (Larger institution = more expensive, since they have more people using the database). Because they cost so much money, libraries have to be selective about where they get their databases, and which ones they subscribe to. We at Mantor have three main sources:
  1. The State of Maine--This is the source for many of our database subscriptions. Essentially, your tax dollars pay the bill that allows anyone in the state to have access to information. Why is that important? Because schools use it, public libraries use it, universities use it, private individuals use it. Information is power, and you want an informed populace. Trust me. Because the state has the entire state in mind (not just universities), they get a wider variety of databases. That's where things like the hobby database come from.
  2. The University System--For databases that all seven campuses want, we can band together and negotiate a lower price with the database provider. There's strength in numbers. Pool resources, and we end up with more than we could have otherwise.
  3. The University--For databases that no one else wants to team up to get, we get on our lonesome. In our case, JSTOR is an example of this. It's too expensive for some campuses to want, but our faculty and students really like it, so we pony up the money.
To further complicate things, database providers keep raising the price for the databases, so we're in a perpetual loop of deciding what to keep, what to add, and what to cut. It's all about usage and getting the most bang for the buck. Any questions?

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