Thursday, July 2, 2009

Databases, part 2: How subscriptions work

There's nothing like the feeling one gets after digesting a six-hundred-page monster book. I just finished up Brothers by Yu Hua (which I originally recommended here), and it really is a fantastic book -- plenty of dirty humor mixed up with trenchant commentary about Chinese culture and a sort of unflinching confrontation of some of the nastier aspects of revolution. It's a big book, but doesn't read like one at all; you don't find yourself counting how many pages you have left before it's over. That's the sign of a good read.

Just thought I'd sneak that in before continuing with our topic for the week, to show that I do read the stuff I recommend and enjoy it! It's on the display table by the entrance facing the SAC for anyone who might want to pick it up.

Anyway, last week, we talked about accessing databases off-campus. Some have asked me about finding journal articles, which I've already covered here, and others became curious about databases in general after reading last week's post, so today we'll talk a little bit about how our electronic subscriptions work. These days, most of the newer non-deaf-related subscriptions coming into the Gallaudet University Library are online-only, and we're working on cutting down on our print issues, so electronic subscriptions are becoming more and more important.

The word "database" is, to use an example I've used before, a lot like the word "fruit" -- apples and oranges are two different kinds of fruit, and very roughly speaking, we have access to two different kinds of databases:
  • A publisher: We can subscribe directly to individual journals or to a group of them from a single publisher. The Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education is a good example of this; it's published by the Oxford University Press, an academic publisher. They have dozens of journals, but we only actually subscribe to that one. Haworth Press is an example of the opposite -- we subscribe to 27 journals from them, including the Journal of Social Service Research and Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, a useful resource for college students if I ever heard of one!
  • An index: ProQuest Research Library and Ebscohost Academic Search Premier are two examples of an index. They don't actually publish any journals -- they just basically collect information about them. However, a lot of times, they can strike up deals with the publishers of those journals for full-text access, which they can then turn around and provide to their subscribers. We get the vast majority of our electronic journals through indexes like ProQuest (6,761 listed journals), Ebscohost (5,924), and LexisNexis (11,029!).
One thing that's important to understand, though, is that although we do have a huge number of journal subscriptions, we don't necessarily have full-text access to all of them. Sometimes, access may be determined by the index's deal with a particular publisher. Other times, access may be determined through various kinds of subscription plans, which can boil down to:
  • Partial access: The terms for this kind of subscription varies, but our current partial-access subscriptions involve abstract-only for students and faculty, with full-text available on request. Under this plan, we get to pay for each individual full-text article downloaded, which is more cost-effective than paying for the whole shebang. We use this plan for the ScienceDirect index, for example.
  • Full-text access: ... when it's available, that is. Sometimes publishers will allow one index to provide access only to abstracts, while making the full text available to another one in order to reach as many scholars as possible. Other times, full-text access can vary even within a single journal for many different reasons, ranging from simply not having had time yet to fully digitize older issues to the publisher's deal with the index in question.
Most databases offer a range of options that fit what I've outlined here, with endless variations that I won't go into here. Our decisions about what kind of subscription to get for a particular online journal or database depend on a number of factors: Are students and faculty requesting journals from this database? Are there enough people using it? Does this database have enough potentially useful journals to justify getting a subscription at all?

With a brand-new database, we'll usually give it a shot for one year. If enough people use it, we'll try to keep it or expand access, depending on our budget constraints. If the cost can't be justified, then we won't keep it.

So what kind of costs are involved? Well ... that's another post. Next week's, in fact. We will also not be doing Questions of the Week until our little series on databases comes to a conclusion, which will occur the week of July 17th with a blockbuster post detailing the new databases we're getting for the Fall semester! There'll be explosions and stuff. I promise.

Okay. See you next week. Enjoy your July 4th weekend! Just remember: allow yourself enough time to get away before the fuse runs out.

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