Expansion of Electronic Resources:
Superhighway to Campus Visibility
Francie C. Davis, M.S.L.S.
Reference & Electronic Resources Librarian
Dowling College
Oakdale, NY 11769-1999
phone: 631-244-3283
fax: 631-244-3374
davisf@dowling.edu
PowerPoint Presentation
Planning
Communicating
Training
New Visibility

What a wonderful opportunity we have as librarians. We can revitalize our images, in one fell swoop, by simply by doing our job, embracing the changes that are being thrust upon us and demonstrating what we do best: evaluating, selecting, and disseminating information. At Dowling College we have done just that. We recently converted to better access to our database subscriptions, expanded from citation to full text access, upgraded from DOS to Windows 95, CD-ROM to online access, stand-alone to networked access, and paper to CD-ROM access. We also converted the image of the library and the librarians to cutting edge and technologically astute. Formerly seen as stepchild members of the faculty, the librarians are now a well-respected segment of the faculty. How did this all happen? This paper will discuss the steps necessary to the success of such a project and the fact that the successful project, by providing cutting-edge technology campus-wide, seriously improved the view of the role of librarians on campus.

Dowling College is a small liberal arts college located sixty miles east of Manhattan on the Connetquot River in an old Vanderbilt mansion on the south shore of Long Island, New York. Our student body is non-traditional and the main areas of specialization are Aviation and Transportation, Business and Education. Dowling, a relatively young institution, founded in 1955, relies heavily on its electronic resources to supplement its small collection.

When we decided that access to full text databases would be beneficial to our customers, several elements went into operation. All of them were essential to the success of the project. All of them comprise the Critical Success Factors necessary to the success of the operation. They are planning, communicating, and training. One should not undertake a project of the magnitude and breadth of ours without considering those three elements. Let me repeat them. You must plan for the conversion and consider the consequences. You must communicate with EVERYONE who will be affected by the conversion. And you must train everyone who will need to understand the use of the new system. All of this is simple, good common sense you say? It is when you step back and think about it, but when you are deeply involved in it, common sense can go out the window.

Planning

Let us look at what I mean by Planning. If you were to undertake such a conversion, you would need a Technology Plan that addresses how such a conversion will impact not only the immediate resources, but also how it will impact the rest of the campus. For instance, under Windows 3.1 the entire campus had access to our networked CD-ROMs, but our conversion from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95 while the rest of our campus was still using Windows 3.1 meant that access to our networked CD-ROMs was reduced from whole-campus access to library access only. That meant a diminution of services instead of an expansion of access until the rest of the campus caught up.

While formulating this plan, it is important to involve several elements on campus. Get your Computer Services Department involved. You will need their advice on hardware and the feasibility of the project. It is vital to have their input, because the success of the project will rely heavily on their technical expertise. The plan will also need the approval of the administration in order to get funded. If you have prepared a plan before you approach administration with your request, you will have a greater chance in getting their support for your project.

It is vital to enlist the support of colleagues. This is one of the big challenges because change is not always welcomed. I found this step to be especially important because budget cuts impacted this project and I needed to rely upon each of my colleagues to voluntarily offer a substantial portion of her budget to support the success of my project.

All of this will take time and patience. If one can plan for time and patience, do so!

Part of the planning process is to evaluate. You will need to evaluate the different full text providers you are considering with regard to the population served. Which databases will give you the best coverage for your curriculum? With our population of non-traditional students, I wanted a database that would give the easiest, most intuitive access, thus requiring the least amount of instruction. Be sure to be thorough in this evaluation because there undoubtedly will be challenges to your decision.

Preview the various resources and get feedback from as many users as you can. Then do a cost analysis to see which, if any, subscriptions can be cancelled to make this project affordable. You may be fortunate and not have to consider budgetary constraints and, hence, cancellations. I was not.

Part of the planning process is to anticipate both the expected and the unexpected. You need to plan for the following:

  • Opposition to change. How will you handle it?
  • Access to the databases. What type of security will you use? Will you use IP authentication or passwords?
  • Web access to the databases. Do you have control of your own web page? Is the web version as good as the CD-ROM?
  • Networked CD-ROMs. Will access be possible from the entire campus? Off campus?
  • Training of staff, students, faculty, administration
  • Reworking manuals for your customers and staff
  • Transition from one system to the other. What will you do?
  • Communicating

    Because transition is truly a four-letter word, one of the essential components to consider is communication. Communicate with EVERYONE! Communicate more than you ever think is necessary. Let the administration know what you are up to. Let Computer Services know what you are up to. Let the faculty know what is coming so that you enlist their support. Tell the students what is happening. But above all, let your staff know. Tell them what is happening, when to expect it and what the ramifications will be. Give them written lists of how the transition will unfold. Remember that since they will be on the front lines, they need to know what to expect. Do not assume that they will understand the consequences of your announcements. Do not even assume that they read or listen to your announcements. But if you put it all in writing, they will be able to refer to the written notices when they have the need. And they will.

    Training

    Training is essential to your project. If you want customers to be successful with your new and improved resources, you need to provide the best opportunity for them. You need to train them on the new features, the idiosyncrasies, and the toots and whistles of the databases. You will need to take advantage of every opportunity that is handed to you. We set up computer literacy classes for the entire campus, conducted workshops, volunteered to address administrative councils, presented at faculty colloquia, revamped our Information Instruction classes, and gave interviews for the campus newspaper.

    New Visibility

    I have not told you of obstacles encountered during this project. You can read about those by going to our library web page and reading my paper given at Computers in Libraries í98. Rather, I want you to benefit from the pearls of wisdom that I learned from having successfully navigated a major conversion of access to electronic resources. More importantly, I want you to recognize what the consequent benefits of such a conversion can be for both the librarians and the library. To do so, I will use specific examples from our experience.

    Let us now look at how the conversion of our electronic resources and campus leadership with technology have given the Library and the librarians new visibility and have changed the librariansí campus image. For some time, the librarians had been providing campus-wide computer literacy classes on Internet Searching, Database Searching, Microsoft Word, and PowerPoint. These classes had become quite popular, especially with the secretaries on campus. We tried many different approaches to getting the faculty to attend, but had limited success. When we converted our electronic resources, we provided ourselves with a golden opportunity. Everyone needed an introduction to the resources. The complete change in the provision of and access to resources allowed each person to ask questions with no loss of face. A major effort to inform the campus of our new resources brought an excellent response. When we provided catalog access to the library catalogs of other colleges, the Associate Provost invited me to show it off. When we began to offer full text online, the Provost invited me to address the College administration and I gladly accepted. I volunteered to teach a faculty colloquium on the new resources available from faculty offices. The response was enthusiastic.

    Perhaps the best response has come from two different programs that we now offer: off campus access to online databases and plagiarism detection on the Internet. Our campus does not yet provide dial-in-access to the Internet and the faculty has been rather frustrated that they could not do the research they wished from home. With Web Access Management, we have been able to provide some of the access they wished by allowing off-campus access to online databases to which we subscribe. The faculty were thrilled and from the number of calls I have had from students and my recent statistics report, I know that the service is well used.

    In addition, I began to run a program to teach faculty how to identify what papers had been plagiarized from the Internet. It is really a back-door way of teaching Internet searching techniques to faculty. And best of all, it works! The satisfaction that one gets upon doing a plagiarism search and finding the contributing paper is considerable. It is especially gratifying when the word-of-mouth publicity for this service increases the demands for it.

    Our web page became a major venue for accessing our databases. We were given control of our web page, redesigned it, converted to a web version of our catalog and, as I have said, provided off campus access to our online databases through Web Access Management, a module available through our library system. The seamless access to databases, catalog, and web page information are all customer friendly. These areas are all designed for ease of use and have been well received by our customers.

    In addition, our web page supports the curriculum with such sections as librarian evaluated Subject Area Internet Resources and Course Support for our information instruction classes. Each of the librarians is responsible for maintaining the annotated Subject Area Internet Resources pages that are designed to supplement and support our curriculum. Faculty and students alike find these to be useful starting points for their research. Among our criteria for inclusion are the following stipulations: each site must be the best on the subject and each site must be good enough to be included in our own personal bookmarks. These criteria helped eliminate the tendency to list all sites on a subject and the pages are, in fact, replacing our bookmarks at the reference desk.

    As I have mentioned, we now put individually tailored course supports for each of the Information Instruction classes on our web page. Each librarian uses these as his/her basis for teaching each of the classes. The students can then refer back to this information from anywhere and we no longer have to print reams of paper and kill a forest to support our program. The teaching faculty is pleased with the customized job each class receives, and they are impressed with the currency of the information.

    We have used the opportunity of having a library web page to bring visibility to the librarians and, in essence, to toot our own horn. We now put the papers that we have written and the PowerPoint presentations we have given at meetings on our web page for others to see. While this allows meeting attendees access to the information, it is also a way of letting the rest of our faculty know that we are professionally active regionally, nationally, and internationally.

    Our catalog provides immense customized service to our community. The catalog gateways to other library catalogs are very helpful when students are doing research. Customers can now do research, place interlibrary loan requests, renew their books, and request that items be held for them from home. All of this is great for public relations.

    With the new contract, the librarians are now represented on each of the standing and several ad hoc committees on campus. Currently, librarians now represent the Library on administrative task forces. In addition, there are other key faculty posts filled by one or another of the librarians. Indeed, our new campus visibility is not the sole byproduct of the conversion of our electronic resources, but I cannot help but believe that it has a great deal to do with the more positive way in which the other faculty interact with the library faculty today.

    What have we learned from our experience? Go for it! Embrace the changes that are coming your way. Indeed, technology is making our job a lot more challenging. But by making our resources more accessible to our customers, by eliminating the tedium of the process of research, and by thrusting us into the forefront of the twenty-first century, libraries and librarians are benefiting from one of the unforeseen by-products of technology. Libraries and librarians are now viewed by many as leaders in this arena. Letís not lose that advantage.