Winter 2014 issue of eContent Quarterly is now available. The topic can best be summed up as follows: “The articles in this issue attest to the fact that the needs of the user are the single most important aspect of content development.”
Below is the full Editor’s Introduction as it appears in the issue. Thanks to the librarians, publishers, and ebook vendors who continue to support the mission of the journal. Having just returned from ALA Midwinter in Philadelphia, I was encouraged by the feedback received and inspired by the continued interest from industry professionals to contribute. So keep proposing topics. And keep sharing your stories. More important, keep experimenting no matter the cost. If you are, you are doing your part. — Mirela Roncevic, co-editor
Download this and other issues of eCQ at www.alatechsource.org/ecq.
From the Editors
Welcome to the second, Winter 2014 issue of eContent Quarterly. Since launching the journal at 2013 ALA in Chicago, our goal has stayed the same: while the library and publishing industries remain in a state of flux, we want to tackle e-content from every angle and through the voices of a variety of information professionals shaping it. This includes public, academic, and school librarians as well as publishers, aggregators, book distributors, and all others in the business of selling e-content to libraries.
While the intention isn’t to center each issue of the journal on one theme, things often serendipitously fall into place, making it hard to ignore the common threads among the articles. So while Issue 1 offered four articles on four distinct topics by four individuals with varied backgrounds—an experienced book vendor, a gadget-loving academic librarian, a metadata specialist, and a K–12 educator and a children’s librarian—the issue’s overarching theme was the importance of partnerships. Issue 2 is as eclectic but it, too, echoes a subject that rises to the top: the needs of the user.
In the opening article, Lura Sanborn provides a sweeping overview of the digital market and the reasons why embracing a buildingless library makes sense for every institution not “there” yet. With an “I’ve made up my mind” attitude toward e-only collections, Sanborn addresses “the sheer magic digital collections bring to the research environment,” encouraging librarians to consider moving “beyond the building.” And Sanborn’s actions speak as loud as her words: at St. Paul’s School in Concord, NH, she replaced the Faculty Room Library (after it was shut down) with a Faculty Digital Library (with the help of the LibGuides software), which led to an even more comprehensive and tightly welded collection.
While most articles featured in the journal are narrative-driven and tell stories to inspire and instruct, general overviews such as Sanborn’s are just as important. As we get tangled up in in-depth discussions about e-content—replete with words and phrases that often have entirely different meanings outside the confines of our professional worlds—we shouldn’t forget that a significant number of information professionals still needs this type of encouragement and sobering reminders of why their resistance (or inability) to go digital is only hurting them and those they serve. “I will happily push our photocopier into the pond if it means I can buy the last three years of Harvard University Press’s titles in e-format,” proclaims Sanborn, rightfully asking: “When did the academic library become all things for all people: copy center, university press, maker space, snack bar, and study center?”
What follows Sanborn’s overview are three articles discussing, in different ways and within very different cultures, the importance of the user in the process of creating as well as implementing e-content. John G. Dove, currently senior publisher at Credo Reference, shares perspectives of three distinct “e-reference” companies catering to libraries. Dove has extensive experience in technology businesses, including e-publishing and online education, but it is his fascination with the purpose of the reference book that has informed much of his research in recent years and has contributed to solidifying the Credo brand in library circles. Quoting the first sentence of the preface to the first edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica, Dove reminds us that no matter what type of content we are aggregating online, we must always pay close attention to the utility of the published work.
And to be successful at transforming the purpose of a published work online, we must put the user at the center of design. Dove profiles three companies whose products represent user-centered approaches to designing online reference platforms, including Credo Reference, iFactory, and Reverb, and shares insight from their leaders.
The remaining two articles may be defined as informal (but insightful) e-content case studies, in which two academic librarians and one school librarian share the initiatives they’ve taken at their institutions to bring e-books to their users. We have strong, personal interests in these two stories, since we attended the two schools during our formative (alas, predigital) years: Mirela attended New York University (NYU), both undergraduate and graduate, while Sue is a graduate of the Mother of Mercy High School (MMHS) in Cincinnati.
Angela M. Carreño and Bill Maltarich, both involved with expanding NYU’s e-collections, share their institution’s much-admired, dual-hosted e-book strategy and describe each of its three imperatives—Aggregation, Integration, and Cooperation—in great detail and with realistic expectations for the future. Their goal: to highlight what has worked well and what hasn’t, in the hope of helping others avoid the pitfalls NYU faced along the way. What resonates throughout, among other things, is the librarians’ keen awareness of the users’ needs and the insistence on giving them as many “points of entry” into the content as possible. While NYU’s e-book strategy has been quite successful and has helped serve the needs of what has become a Global Network University requiring a true “global” library, Carreño and Maltarich remind us that the strategy remains and will likely remain a work in progress.
Linda Behen of MMHS also points to the constancy of change in her own story: “At the time this article is published,” she says “it’s to be assumed that we’ve already made some changes to our program.” She describes her school’s approach as “not necessarily original,” but its combination of various tools and strategies make it unique. MMHS takes into consideration that there is no single device or method that can solve every information need. This is why its students have access to both a Mac and a PC lab, a 1:1 iPad program, a BYOD (Buy Your Own Device) program, library loaner laptops, Kindles, and more. “Individual preferences change as an assignment or informational need changes,” says Behen, “and the library’s goal is to satisfy that momentary need, and more importantly, to develop students into curious, savvy information literate users who confidently approach, and perhaps even embrace, the hunt for useful and reliable information.”
Regardless of what type of library user we may be profiling—be they experienced researchers using sophisticated reference products, undergraduates attending a “global” university, or high school students in the Midwest with varied financial backgrounds—placing their distinct, and constantly evolving, needs at the center of product development (as described in Dove’s article) as well as a library’s e-content strategy (as described in NYU and MMHS stories), is paramount. The articles in this issue attest to the fact that the needs of the user are the single most important aspect of content development.