February 11, 2007

Libraries as Obstacles to Research

At one level I knew what I was getting into coming to a university that had virtually no collection in my subfield. On the other, I have never ceased to be astounded at how many ridiculous obstacles to research it is possible to encounter.

My petty rant for the day is with the online access to journals. Some say that online access is the remedy for libraries that have neither the funds or the space to subscribe to journals, and thus they can subscribe to online databases chock full of goodness.

Except. Except.

Today I have been repeatedly frustrated by online databases (to which the university subscribes) that link to specific journals, access to which is denied because the library doesn't electronically subscribe to that specific journal. What the...??!! With others, the university subscribes, but we individuals are blocked by ISP, so that we can only access from campus computers, with no way to bypass and work from home.

Next on the list is the interface itself, with the infinitesimallly small window of opportunity to work before one is required to re-login. Not a big problem right? Well, it wouldn't be if the logout didn't wipe what you were working on. Completely. So that if you have up multiple pages of a search, and click on one link to open in a new window, and your login has expired, it doesn't just block the new window. It asks you for a login, but doesn't take you to what you were trying to open, but the main page. And then, (!!!) when you go back to the prior page, the one with the list of sources to try again to open the link since you have now logged in, guess what? It is wiped too, and has taken you back to the main page. And I'm not talking about leaving your computer for an hour to surf or blog or make a sandwich, I'm talking about the time it takes to open a link, read an abstract and make a decision to download the article.

Grrr! Argh!

I'll let Baltar tell you about the 37 IDs you have to have for inter-library loan.

Posted by binky at February 11, 2007 04:31 PM | TrackBack | Posted to Petty Rants | The Academy


it probably won't make you feel better, but there's a similar process with the outrageously expensive (and thus, one might fairly expect, well-designed) westlaw (and perhaps with lexis, though i very seldom use it). although it takes maybe 20 minutes, once you've timed out on westlaw, _any_ operation you try will return you to the login screen, but logging in will merely return you to the default entry page. there are ways to find your former location, probably more than are available to you, but it's not the fastest site so it can take several page loads and thought-involving steps just to get back to where you were. so at least to a point i empathize.

Posted by: moon at February 12, 2007 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

But Westlaw (and related thing; Lexus/Nexis) are useful to normal people (if you include lawyers in a definition of "normal"). What binky is talking about is used entirely by academics. Our university has built in these firewalls to keep out non-academics from getting access to knowledge. They do this because of copyright law (the university has bought an exemption from the copyright, but only for university faculty/students/employees; they are required by the contract to exclude those people who aren't part of the university). But, who the hell would "steal" contents of academic journals? Who, exactly, are they trying to keep out? Is there some great raft of hackers knocking at our firewalls trying to steal the latest issue of American Political Science Review?

I understand the contract says that the University has to exclude non-paying people, but what I have never understood about this library system is why they have invested so much time/money in creating these elaborate and complicated security systems. They actually have a different username/password than normal student/faculty email login (which, to boot, is a different login/password than the ones students/faculty need for their financial/student records). Why? Why not use the normal email? It adds a level of complexity that makes it significantly harder to actually get an article/book (fact: you can't even search the holdings in the library without a password: in other words, a random citizen (who's tax dollars paid for the library) can't even know what books exist in the library. That's just insane.).

I could rant on and on about this.

Posted by: baltar at February 12, 2007 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

all good points. of course the law is by definition public, and one cannot help but question what compromise among evildoers has led to the most efficient legal collections and interfaces being exorbitantly expensive private sources, or why our governments can't provide the masses with a legal interface every bit as functional and complete as westlaw's (which is very good, in its way).

Posted by: moon at February 12, 2007 01:33 PM | PERMALINK

Huh. That is a good question.

Posted by: baltar at February 12, 2007 02:52 PM | PERMALINK

So today I was at it again, and discovered something. I'm not sure if this is a new feature, or I was too blinded by rage to notice last time. On the library search page (for the library collection, not the electronic journal access) there is a timer ticking downwards, with minutes and seconds. That's right kiddies, you get 30:00 and counting to use the li-berry. :eyeroll:

Posted by: binky at February 25, 2007 02:28 PM | PERMALINK
Post a comment

Remember personal info?