Stretching the Rules: Improving Access to Electronic Resources in Online
Edited by Emily Hull
Submitted by Laura Townsend Kane, School of Medicine Library, University
of South Carolina-Columbia
Perhaps rules are not meant to be broken, but stretching them a bit can't
hurt. Especially when it comes to cataloging and accessing electronic
materials in an online catalog. Medical libraries today are struggling
with the issues of how to identify electronic books and journals in their
online catalogs and how to train users to effectively locate them in a
search. These issues are particularly pressing when an online catalog
boasts of a hot-link feature.
The University of South Carolina (USC) School of Medicine Library is
addressing the issue of promoting online access. If you use INNOPAC, from
Innovative Interfaces, Inc., you may find the following tips useful. If
you use a different vendor, you will need to think creatively about how
to translate these strategies to your online catalog.
- Limit by location: In your catalog profile, add a specific
location at the bibliographic and item level for electronic books and
journals. Insert that location into bibliographic and item records for
every title in the catalog with a uniform resource locator (URL). Instruct
library patrons to limit by location when searching for electronic
materials. Use help screens in the public catalog to give detailed instructions
on pre- and post-limiting.
- General material designation (GMD): Cataloging rules instruct
that computer file be used as the GMD for all computer-related
formats. This phrase is virtually useless today because of the numerous
available formats. Stretch the rules by coining your own GMDs! Use terms
that would be most beneficial to your patrons, such as "electronic
journal," "electronic textbook," or "electronic
resource." Instruct library patrons to use those terms in a keyword
search to retrieve lists of electronic materials in the catalog.
- Call number: Use a call number with the word Internet
or some other meaningful word at either the bibliographic or item level
for all records that contain URLs. A call number search for Internet
would then retrieve an alphabetic list of all the online materials in
- Subject heading: Because there are no main headings in Medical
Subject Headings (MeSH) that are friendly to electronic formats, you
may need to invent some. Use electronic resource as a subject
heading for electronic books and electronic journal for electronic
serials or whatever makes the most sense to your users; just be consistent.
Subject searches on these terms will retrieve alphabetic lists of the
electronic resources in the catalog.
- Canned searches: At some point, your catalog will have far
too many URLs to make browseable, alphabetic lists useful. Canned searches
will come in handy at that point. Establish options on the main public
catalog page for electronic books and electronic journals. Provide access
to intermediary pages listing the alphabet, with each letter of the
alphabet linked to a canned search that combines an electronic format
location with titles beginning with that letter. Alphabetic lists are
still retrieved, but they are more manageable in size.
To see these principles in action, link to Scarlit, the USC
School of Medicine Library online catalog.
Edited by Emily Hull
Submitted by Everly Brown, AHIP, Charles M. Baugh Biomedical Library,
University of South Alabama-Mobile
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