This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, April 28, 1993

April 28, 1993 - Pioneering project - EBSCO magazine article summaries

It isn't easy being a pioneer. There are sudden twists in the road. The weather is unpredictable. The dangers are hard to gauge.

On the other hand, there's a certain amount of freedom when you step beyond the familiar. You learn things about yourself that you wouldn't have known before. You get a close-up glimpse of the future. All in all, pioneering can be exhilarating.

It happens that the Douglas Public Library District is something of a pioneer. We're the first library in the nation to load the EBSCO Magazine Article Summary database on its computer catalog.

Who or what is EBSCO? Mainly, it's a company serving as a "jobber" for magazine subscriptions. Instead of us trying to keep track of some 260-plus titles -- all of which need to be re-subscribed to on an irregular schedule -- EBSCO gives us a way to combine most of our subscriptions into one big order. This is not only convenient for us, it also saves us money.

But the Magazine Article Summary (or MAS) is a new wrinkle. Instead of providing us with a paper copy of the actual article, it provides us with ELECTRONIC citations and abstracts.

These citations are very similar to the usual computer catalog entry. That is, when you do a search by title or subject, the computer will show you the full and correct title of a matching entry (including author, magazine name, date, and page numbers).

But the abstracts are what make the tool so useful. For one thing, and unlike some of the other periodical databases, every article HAS an abstract.

Once you find an article -- on some software package or automobile make, for instance -- you'll find that you have a whole lot more information at your fingertips than you would from a "Readers' Guide to Periodicals" listing. Sometimes, the abstract alone will tell you exactly what you want to know, in which case you don't even need a paper copy.

Other times, the abstract may not tell you what you need, but it will tell you whether or not you're likely to find what you need in that particular article.

All of these things save time not only for you, the patron, but also for the library staff. With good abstract information, you won't have to go trudging around the library yanking magazines that MIGHT have what you want. And we won't have to trudge around putting them all back -- just the ones that were actually useful to you.

Have you ever tracked down an article only to discover that some scurrilous vandal has torn it out of the magazine? It's virtually impossible for somebody to cut a piece of an abstract out of a computer.

The DPLD is a pioneer in another way. In brief, we have tried to establish a new legal precedent. Up until now, the vendors of such databases sold LICENSES to the data, not the data itself.

What does that mean? The MAS is available as a product on CD-ROM (which are like music CDs, but contain data for use with a computer). And like many CD-ROM products, when you stop subscribing, you're honor- and contractually-bound to send everything back.

But the DPLD secured what is, I believe, the first contract in the country that enables us to keep any of the information we have loaded on our computer catalog. So if at some time, we stop subscribing to EBSCO's product, we don't have to purge our records of anything we have found useful.

We think this represents something of a breakthrough in making current periodical information available to the public.

All that's the good news. What's the down-side? Well, an MAS search doesn't work EXACTLY like one of our regular computer searches. We're still puzzling all that out. So please be patient if our computer terminals display some unusual messages over the next several weeks about some new approaches for searching our records.

But that's life on the frontier. When you're blazing a trail to the promised land, you can't count on all the usual conveniences.

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