Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Catalogs, databases, and search engines. What’s the difference?

Catalogs, databases, and search engines are great topics and you actively discussed them. I love the idea of professors using Amazon to find books for their students to read. My comps and dissertation advisor used Amazon all the time. He said it was faster than the catalog. Well, maybe. But remember Amazon serves a different purpose. It provides a list of what’s available on its website and through its vendors. Amazon is not a library catalog, it’s a giant searchable sales catalog.

The library’s catalog shows the user where the books are supposed to be located on the shelf and groups like books together. A library catalog (OPAC) is not a search engine. It only searches the materials in its universe, not the internet. Even the subject specific databases accessed through the library’s website are not the library catalog. The library provides a portal or pass-through to the databases which contain access points to their own small universes. Because of the complexity, and silo nature, of proprietary (fee-based) databases, many of our patrons don’t “bother” to use them. If we can reach the professors and the teachers, if we can reach the students, then we have a hope of getting them to use the proprietary databases. The Oxford Reference Shelf (www.oxfordreference.com )[1] is a great example of a database that accesses multiple resources through one search box, or you can search each reference book separately.[2]

[1]According to the website, Oxford Reference Online will become, as of 12 April 2012 Oxford Quick Reference and Oxford Reference Library.
[2] Kent State students access the service through Reference (below the main search box), then Dictionaries and Thesauri; then Oxford Reference Online.

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