Libraries are often considered places of wonder and magic. The association is made with stories that live there, particularly those of literal magic and fantasy such as Harry Potter. Sometimes, the very concept of writing and literature is felt to be magical. Both apply: libraries are special places, in part because of the content they offer. Some of that content is hidden by paywalls or other restrictions to the “free web.”.
Occasionally, too, librarians are viewed as magicians, when they obtain hard-to-locate sources within the “Invisible internet” or demystify the complexities of advanced database or Google searching techniques.
These are all valid and helpful associations.
But, increasingly, I feel as if our powers are fading and outside forces are casting a spell upon us. I am speaking, in this case, of our databases and journal articles and the content we provide to our patrons in this manner.
I have tried to offer access to the richness of mainstream periodicals and journals with our library services. I do not want any patron, faculty or student, to have to pay for The Washington Post or Atlantic Magazine or even most journals. Essentially, with the help of our library databases, I try to offer an internal, miniaturized version of the best of the web. Or, that is my intention anyway, perhaps naive. This is a radical, even magical, idea that all libraries, from public to academic, offer to one extent or another.
However, I am increasingly stymied in this ambition. I speak specifically of the increasing supplemental and interactive content. I do not expect to provide access to the New York Times games, although that would be great. But I do want to offer interactive maps that accompany articles, for example. But my biggest conundrum is access to the proliferating “newsletters” and bonus content offered by magazines and journals, from The Atlantic to America Magazine. Too often, these are not included or offered too late to be of much value to my patrons.
At the same time, I believe such features will only expand as media companies try to entice more personal subscribers. With that, the power of the library fades, as more content is out of reach. So, the big question, what can I/We do about this? Accept that more patrons will need to purchase content on their own, will that make libraries less special, magical? Suggestions and ideas are welcome.
What do California, Hawaii, Minnesota, Indiana, Nebraska, Idaho, Utah, Oklahoma, and Tennessee have in common? Each state’s legislature has considered and/or passed laws criminalizing databases, building a narrative of fighting against content that is “harmful to minors” (and other terms I’m skipping because they may trigger sensitive Internet filters).
Update: These laws have passed in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Idaho, and Utah. In some cases they make librarians and educators individually, criminally liable for students accessing sources deemed undesirable. Next legislative season they will be coming back in several more states.
This particular movement has been underway since a Colorado couple filed a lawsuit against EBSCO and the Colorado Library Consortium in 2018, alleging that databases “knowingly [provide] sexually explicit and obscene materials to school children” and that the Consortium “purchases from EBSCO and knowingly brokers sexually explicit, obscene, and harmful materials to Colorado school children.” According to James LaRue, the former director of ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, it was the first known challenge to a library database. The lawsuit was dismissed, but in its wake a connected individual in Utah filed a complaint that led to the state turning off all access to EBSCO’s K-12 databases while it was investigated. Although specious, the state of Utah has since maintained over 1500 blocked terms in their state consortium-purchased K-12 databases and has now passed anti-database legislation (and demonstrated consistently via usage reports that students are not searching for inappropriate content). The pandemic has since helped popularize the narrative perpetrated by that lawsuit. Various political groups fed parents’ worries that children isolated at home during online school were using databases that – they led parents to believe – were giving students the capacity to access materials that were harmful to minors.
Legislators in many states have introduced bills designed to shut down statewide database access unless massive filtering takes place.
So far, I have seen three general flavors of legislation:
Requires all databases purchased for use by K-12 students (generally at the state and/or school district level, sometimes including other entities such as public or university libraries) to have “safety policies and technological protection measures” that filter and prohibit sharing of materials that are harmful to minors, etc.
Penalty for noncompliance is termination of contract and withholding payment;
Very common version of legislation;
Appears across states to come primarily from a template;
Examples include Idaho (enacted), Utah (signed by governor 3/21), Oklahoma (in committee) and many more (many voted down or languishing in committee).
Requires schools to provide convenient methods for parents or guardians to track, monitor, or view curricular and supplemental learning materials.
Nebraska’s bill, currently undergoing amendments from the Judiciary Committee, is particularly pernicious and is intended as a model for other states. In addition to the requirements above, the Nebraska bill requires that schools:
Assign each K-12 student an individual logins for any state-contracted databases, outlawing group accounts; and
“Provide the account credential of each student in kindergarten through grade twelve to such student’s parent or guardian and allow the parent or guardian access to all materials accessible to the student.”
The bill also outlines situations in which individuals can sue database vendors and and claim damages.
History suggests that we will see continued attempts at legislation on this topic across the nation; the inciting rhetoric suggests that the library vendors’ products themselves are not the actual target. Rather, the legislation seems to be aimed at libraries and the schools they serve. All of which leaves students caught in the crossfire, impacting their access to information as well as their privacy.
Why support vendors?
Last week, a nationful of librarians raised voices in protest when Follett reached out to say they were considering complying with so-called “Parents’ Rights” legislation being promulgated in a number of states. Many librarians responded viscerally–not only due to our belief in intellectual freedom, but also in the knowledge that many administrators might see that optional “fix” as an easy answer if Follett made it available. Furthermore, we worry about whether technological changes demanded in one place might come to impact our students’ access to information in another place. So we fought back against Follett and now feel empowered and righteous in our victory.
Meanwhile, the laws and bills that forced Follett to consider adding optional modules remain in place. Of course vendors with business models requiring money from libraries need to act in accordance with the ethics of librarianship. That said, I could not help spending last week wishing to see the energy that went into anti-Follett advocacy aimed instead at our state legislatures and the encoding of censorship into law.
If we want our students to continue to have intellectual freedoms, it is critical that we focus our efforts on ensuring that our vendors will maintain the legal rights to provide all of us with the educational content they can provide.
What can I do?
So, if you have energy to give, how can you help? A group of librarians is working on a strategy now. We are happy to have more hands to make this work lighter.
Now: you can help identify if any legislation is passed or pending in your state that would impact database access. Whether in so-called “parental rights” bills, freestanding bills requiring enhanced filtering, or other mechanisms for parental reviews of “supplemental educational materials,” we are trying to get a sense of what attempts to block intellectual freedom through databases are out there. Please feel free to use this anonymous form to point us towards legislation impacting databases.
Sign up here and we will reach out and find a volunteer task that works for you. Also, watch this space. We are constructing a crowdsourced monitoring tool so we can try to keep an eye on what is being blocked in different parts of the US.
In gratitude: So many people have helped me understand what is happening here. Many of them cannot be named due to risk in their workplaces. However, the entire ad hoc working group for building realistic databases has worked together to reach this point. Some of our colleagues’ comments about unsearchable terms on my last blog post started a process. Several anonymous individuals helped me understand more about what was going on. EveryLibrary tracks legislation and has helped me better understand the movements underway. My family have been supportive as I have lost sleep, and … well, everyone I have encountered has had to listen to this tale as we followed its twists and turns. Thank you to each and every one of you. And, thank you to to village of librarians and Americans committed to intellectual freedom that it will require to move forward and safeguard our students’ right to learn.
Over the past eighteen months, many of you have asked how you can help encourage database companies to reformulate their core products to reflect a wider range of identities and perspectives. Luckily, there is a quick and easy way you can contribute: reach out to your vendors and ask for what you need!
This action can be as simple as picking up the phone when a rep calls, sending a short email, or adding this topic to your contract renewal conversations.
We have found that when two or three librarians from different geographic regions have reached out offering feedback about product offerings (as when companies have done marketing blasts for new “ethnic” databases over the past year) it makes people within the company take note. Imagine if a company hears from twenty or thirty of us? Or two to three hundred? Alone we are just one independent school. Together we represent a significant customer base for most of our vendors.
To help you out, below please find potential talking points to use with vendors. Credit where it is due: Sara Kelly-Mudie led the way documenting these points, a group of eight additional independent school librarians from around the country contributed to the conversation, and then Sarah Levin of the Urban School of San Francisco and I ran these past the Bay Area Independent School Librarians group last fall for feedback. So – we hope you will find a point or two that can help you get started.
Whether you work from these points or have another approach based on your personal observations, if you have wished for more diverse, equitable, and inclusive school products, now is the perfect moment to let your vendors know. We will not get what we do not communicate that we need.
Talking points for vendor reps
The core school database product should offer a realistic reflection of the people who live in the United States/Canada/your country. We should not have to buy “special” add-on databases representing “other” identities or perspectives (be they socioeconomic, ability-based, racial/ethnic, religious, gender-based, etc.) in order to offer basic representation of the people present in our school communities and in our country.
*We are so excited to share that our institution is expanding its commitment to equity in every department. Here in the library we are auditing all our services and resources, including databases. *Much like our collections, our electronic resources need attention if they are to reflect our communities and provide the perspectives we need. *As we think about which vendors we will continue to patronize, we have decided to prioritize those committed to building central products that reflect the diverse experiences and perspectives of our students and their communities. *We’re so excited to see the equity work you’re currently doing – identify two or three things you have noticed (examples here and here), OR ask them what they are doing to recreate their core school product to be equitable and inclusive – to reflect our nation in a realistic way. *Looking ahead, as we consider our next round of renewals, we have a few questions: Are you committed to offering a broad baseline of experiences and perspectives in your flagship product (rather than in add-on packages)? *What is your current equity audit process and timeline? Do you have a rubric? *Are there simple ways to offer feedback about gaps? *Thank you in advance for your time and attention. We look forward to hearing from you and to our ongoing collaboration.
Responses to the objection that this ruins databases’ profit model:
*At this moment, our institution is looking to represent our population and those we study. *We are exploring many vendors’ offerings and, while none is exactly what we’d like, some are moving with intention toward our ideal. *We are happy to work alongside a vendor for another year or two as you work toward realizing the commitments we asked about above. If we don’t see significant growth after that, we’re happy to take our business elsewhere. *We believe the vendors most willing to engage in this work alongside libraries will be poised to capture our attention in the next round of renewals and beyond. *We don’t mean that you have to “give us everything” – we understand the value of being able to purchase extra depth in areas central to individual schools’ curricula. However, databases that do not provide realistic representation of our national population do not actually provide the sources our students need to be educated adults.
A January email to the AISL listserv posted by Dave Wee sparked my interest. In it, he asked several questions relating to students and database use and if you’re interested in how some of your peer schools answered, be sure to check the Google Sheet linked in his email. As part of the process of thinking about teaching students how to identify and find the information they need, I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can help them discover and access that information in our databases. Many of us lament our students’ reliance on Google—their aversion to using databases for research unless required by their teacher is almost like a religion for them. “You can lead a horse to water, but can’t make them drink” comes to mind. Dave’s question, “How do you organize your databases on your library page to get kids eyeballs on the right databases?” begs another question: can our students even find our databases when we aren’t specifically leading them there?
Correction: Thanks to Dave Wee for pointing me toward the original questions posed on the listserv. I seemed to have lost the original thread, but picked up Part 2 in April 2021, when Matt Ball posed questions and received some terrific suggestions from AISL librarians as to how they’ve organized their databases. Apologies all around for this omission.
Where Are Your Resources?
Let’s face it—most databases are expensive and in an effort to get the most from our budget, we spend a lot of time evaluating specific ones, implementing trials, and encouraging our faculty colleagues to help us choose ones that meet the needs of our students and support our school’s curricula. From a return-on-investment perspective, when budget time rolls around, usage statistics often help us make data-driven decisions. But what do those stats really tell us? Do they pinpoint access pain points that keep our electronic resources out of view? Do they help us re-evaluate our instructional programs, or take into account how we integrate our resources in our learning management systems or LibGuides? Not to mention the impact of COVID-19 on trying to evaluate anything related to how our library programs are going. Before we can dismiss the value of any particular resource based solely on usage stats, first we need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to make them discoverable. For a start, I’d like to answer how we organize our databases (and other electronic resources) to make it easier for students to find the resources they need.
LibGuides A-Z List to the Rescue
Here at Kent, we use LibGuides CMS and their A-Z Database List makes organizing databases and other electronic resources a breeze. But, and here’s the caveat, unless you have enough time to provide instruction on individual databases so your students know each of them by name (seriously, who has that kind of time?) you’ll need to somehow organize your list. Fortunately, one of the features of the A-Z List is it gives you the option to easily organize your resources by database type, subject, and vendor.
To create database types and vendors, choose Content>>A-Z Database List from your menu on the admin panel of your guides.
From the landing page you can begin to organize your databases by database type and vendor. For inspiration, I find the LibGuides Community site to be invaluable. I spent time exploring other K-12 and Academic libraries using LibGuides to get an idea of the variety of options for this.
Choose Your Types Wisely
When deciding on database types, I thought about how we teach source types here at Kent and the common language of research we use. If there’s one piece of advice I can give at this point, it’s don’t go down library lane and start wading in the weeds, trying to come up with as many types as possible. Keep it simple; we humans have only so much mental space for decisions. You don’t want your students to get hung up on having to sort through so many database types that they’re worn out before having to choose which one of those databases to search.
Remember: the goal is to make finding the right database easier.
For a number of our resources, the source type (primary) and database type are synonymous, but for others, such as our image databases, I needed to decide if I wanted to assign them an additional type aside from primary source. You’ll see above, we decided to create an Image Collections type as our students frequently create presentations and this makes it easier for them to find images that are rights-cleared.
The A-Z List is flexible and allows you to add multiple database types so I applied the Primary Source and Image Collections types to ImageQuest. So whether a student is looking for a primary source map from the Colonial Era or an image of a bee for a science presentation, they will be directed to ImageQuest.
Best Bets and Popular
Think carefully about checking the Best Bets and Popular boxes when adding or editing databases. Too many Best Bets, and the ID loses its meaning—aim for 3 at the most for each subject—same with designating a database as popular. Best Bet databases will appear in a highlighted box at the top when filtering by Subject on the A-Z Database List and popular resources will display on the sidebar with a heading of the same name.
Finishing Up the A-Z List
Next, I added our vendors. This filter mostly serves to help us as we review our databases, but I occasionally show this to the student who is interested in strengthening their research muscle and want to understand the inner workings of our guides.
To create subject headings, choose Admin>>Metadata & URLs from your menu on the admin panel of your guides. You apply these subject headings to your guides as well as your database assets.
Finally, a link to the A-Z Database List was added to the Research column on our library website Quick Links menu. You’ll see I also added several direct links to other databases: Source Reference, JSTOR, and the A-Z List sorted for Primary Sources as students are frequently looking for background information, journals, or primary sources.
Next Time . . .
Another of Dave’s questions was on instruction: “Do you teach kids to use different databases at different points in their research or do you pretty much just recommend databases based on the topic?” Although our A-Z Database page has gotten over 950 views this year, most of our databases are accessed through the LibGuides we create to support research in specific classes as well as our EDS searchbox. But that’s a topic for another post. Until then, happy searching.
Back in September, 2020, I sent out a call for help across AISL and other school librarian-oriented lists in hopes of finding databases that provide “diverse, inclusive, and equitable access to perspectives mirroring the composition of our country in magazines, historical newspapers, and contemporary news.” Generally, database companies sell “core” collections that are positioned as “high quality sources,” comprised almost entirely of white-perspective news outlets. Then they up-sell from a menu of discrete “ethnic” packages to provide “alternate perspectives.” Students deserve better.
Thank you to the many folks who responded hoping to hear of a good database in which to invest. Sadly, the answer is…so far I’ve found no way to buy this unicorn of the database world. Ultimately, I started doing my own diversity audit of our databases and others on the market to try to better articulate the nature of the problem.
I am currently only part way through this process. First semester ended up (happily) being much more crowded with instruction than I had anticipated. Even the terminology I use to think about this set of issues is still in crude form. Here is an update on what I have learned so far, however. To date I have focused on US news, historical and contemporary, and have only been able to compare offerings from two companies. This work has served — at the very least — as evidence that the problem is real and pressing.
In the fall, I had not yet fully realized the insidious nature of the juxtaposition we often attribute to databases: quality sources vs. alternative perspectives. I’ve been sitting with this formulation increasingly in the intervening months, and contemplating how our professional narrative around databases is driven by the marketing efforts of the database companies themselves. Consider the act of marketing a database as “providing researchers access to essential, often overlooked perspectives” that exists because the perspectives have been intentionally overlooked and isolated to sell us another database. So how much does the title list of an intentionally curated “ethnic” database (which mysteriously includes the LGBTQ+ collection, by the way) overlap with a product intended for high school?
ProQuest: Compared title lists for Research Library Prep and Ethnic Newswatch databases.
Please note that the “Overlap (%)” column conveys how many of the “specialized” Ethnic Newswatch titles also appear in “general” Research Library Prep. It does not convey the percentage of Research Library Prep that are/are not white perspective — those numbers would apparently be vanishingly small.
An issue that struck me immediately as I got started was that scholarly journals comprise, by far, the largest mass of content in Ethnic Newswatch that is also available in Research Library Prep. These sources differ distinctly from newspapers or popular magazines; academic discourse may well be quite removed from the community it studies. That is, a large percentage of the authorial and editorial work is carried out within a realm of authority modeled on European institutions and constructed in our academic halls of privilege. To put it plainly: the perspectives appearing in the University of Pennsylvania Press’ Hispanic Review may not reflect community voices in the same way that those appearing in La Prensa Texas newspaper do. Both source types provide important points of view; their creation does not serve the same purpose.
Important as it is to have a diversity of voices in our scholarly works, they provide fundamentally different types of evidence from newspapers. Not to mention, they are not accessible to most K-12 students.
Gale: General OneFile, In Context: High School, OneFile: High School Edition, OneFile: News, In Context: US History
Checking Black American newspaper titles against Gale title lists yielded vanishingly few overlaps.
In the process of looking at the titles that are listed, the Atlanta Daily World and the Chicago Defender — historically both very important publications in the 20th Century United States — only had coverage from 2014-present, with exceptions from 2015/16 to the present. Meaning, in fact, they only have a handful of issues of each paper.
Once again, these databases provide news sources that almost entirely reside within historically white readerships.
In another sense, it does not functionally matter if a database includes sources from diverse sets of communities. When the algorithm privileges white perspective publications, searchers may never encounter other points of view.
Spot checks of ProQuest’s ranking of newspaper results in Research Library Prep confirmed that their methods for ranking heavily favored specific titles. Specifically, the New York Times dominated results, with a smattering of hits from the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, US Fed News Service and Targeted News Service.
I ran a series of searches, noting how many unique titles were returned for each search, as well as those titles’ spreads across the top 100 results. In essence, how many pages would I need to scroll through to access more than a few titles? I searched for [ the ] — as a word that appears universally in English-language newspapers — and also for words like [ miami ], [ skagit ], and [governor] — each of which strongly suggest local news. In every case, the results looked something like the results for [ the ]:
Returned 81 unique titles
Top 100 results:
95 results from the NYT
Other titles ranked: #37, 41, 71, 91, 95
Other publications in the top 100 results: Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Targeted News Service
However, there is good news. A Gale sales rep who is on one or more school library lists began wondering about this issue themselves, and carried out an independent audit that they then presented to their acquisitions department. As a result, when I last checked in this past November, Gale publisher relations personnel have identified:
Licensed periodicals where the issues aren’t current
Updates are in various states of progress
Important periodicals with lapsed agreements
Updates are in various states of progress
Over 140 new periodicals from the following communities: “African Americans, Arab Americans, Hispanic Americans/ Latinx, Native Americans, Ability Diverse, LGBTQ+, Women, & more”
Requests have been sent to publisher relations to pursue license agreements
Though not within the scope of my current work, Gale has also taken a look at their reference overviews and biographies and have made efforts to offer more coverage, as well.
Does this issue interest you? Would you like to join me in fighting for single databases that are diverse, equitable, and inclusive? Whether you would like to audit a database you have, suggest a consistent method for auditing, share findings at your state conference, or talk to your database companies once we have a clear report — kindly reach out. If the idea is that we are better together, let’s unite and make a difference!
I am deeply grateful to my director, Jole Seroff, for being so invested in and supportive of this exploration, and colleague Sara Kelley-Mudie for helping me focus my thinking.
Katsukawa Shunsho, Nakamura Sukegoro II as Aso no Matsukawa, 1768. Woodblock print. Art Institute of Chicago.
I have two sons, one who is twelve and one aged eight. “Ninja” as a term gets thrown around a lot in my house: “You are a total ninja in the kitchen, Mom.” “Get out of my room before I go ninja on you!” “When I grow up I’m going to be a pilot. Or a ninja. Or both.” You get the idea. Cluttering up the costume closet (what, you don’t have a costume closet? We’re the only ones?) are little black balaclava masks, several sets of plastic nunchaku, and at least one pair of those split-toed socks. They are not real ninjas . . . but you can be! Without, you know, all the killing.
In fact, real ninjas in medieval Japan were employed more often as information-gathering agents, or to spread disinformation where that was useful, than as assassins, although that aspect was certainly true as needed. Black pajamas are very slimming, but you don’t need those either, for the goal of the ninja was to blend into ordinary society and work from within – your cardigan sweater will do just fine.
If you have limited paid databases due to budget constraints, below are some terrific resources to help you track down requests from faculty or students without depending on the kindness of strangers. All of us at AISL are prepared to send the occasional article to one another in answer to a request on the listserv, but you’re a librarian – your superpower is in tracking down information in places that regular humans fail to consider. Remember, real ninja were collectors of intelligence, able to blend in with regular people, and that’s definitely you so you can do this. At the very least, consider it a professional challenge to try at least one or two of these. Hone your skills as sharply as a ninjato blade and prepare to cut through reference requests all day long. Some of these resources will no doubt be familiar to many of you, but other approaches might surprise you.
Unpaywall: a browser extension that will reveal whether a requested article is available for free. Once installed, the small lock icon located in a tab to the right of your screen will turn green if the article is located for free anywhere online. A lot of us overlook the value of a straight-up Google search for an article, when plenty of resources are actually out there for free, even the ones that are of a more weighty, academic type.
Remote access to public library databases: your state library system may provide remote access to databases either by detecting your IP location or with a library card barcode number. I realize that it may give you pause to use your personal access to source database articles. Some library systems may be willing to issue a library card to your school. You may also wish to encourage your students to use their own library card numbers if they have them; if their families pay taxes in the state, they are entitled to use its library collections whether it is for public school homework or private school homework.
The Library of Congress does offer free remote access to a great many periodical titles. The link provided here takes the user to a page of subject areas – pick your area of research and browse what’s available remotely. Links at right will connect to the periodical itself, and users can search by date of publication for the exact article they want.
Contact the scholar: scholars are allowed to share their articles privately with you themselves. They are generally not paid for scholarly articles that appear in peer-reviewed academic journals, and they are usually thrilled to be asked to share their work. If you have an author’s name, contact him or her directly via email or phone at his or her college or university, and ask for an offprint or digital copy of the article. You have absolutely nothing to lose by asking, and the scholar in question may send you other material that provides you with more or better information.
A note about faculty or student requests: often it happens that a student or a colleague insists that he or she needs this exact article or the world will collapse into a heap of ashes, metaphorically speaking. Literally or otherwise, this is rarely true. Often a published scholar has written several articles on the same subject and one that you can find will do as nicely as the one you can’t. Search the resources that you do have using the author’s name and some useful keywords and see what full-text results come up. You may end up finding a nearly identical article, published with minor changes, for a different audience or perhaps an even better one.
WorldCat: literally a union catalog of the world and operated by the OCLC, WorldCat covers books, DVDs, CDs, and articles. It returns results ranked by proximity to a ZIP code that the user enters, so you can search a nearby library, or one in a city you plan to visit, or where you have privileges as a result of being an alumnus or some other circumstance. Almost any publicly funded library – including college libraries that receive state funds – will allow you to access electronic or print materials if you are on-site, so at the very least a researcher could scan a print article or download an electronic one.
Hathitrust: an online digital library of millions of full-text books, many of them with their illustrations intact. Because these resources are out of the public domain, which is why they are free, the material tends to be older. However, it means this is a particularly useful resources for books that may be out of print.
Directory of Open Access Journals: more than 12,000 open-access journal titles. These are high-quality, peer-reviewed, scholarly journals, and the DOAJ provides free access to the full text. These journals are valuable enough to be indexed by many major database vendors, but they are out there free of charge for anyone to use. Dive in!
These suggestions are limited to sources for periodical articles and digitized books. There are sources such as Researchgate and Humanities Commons, that I have purposely left out of this blog post, because they involve a component of networking amongst scholars that was beyond the scope of today’s topic. If you have a favorite free resource for high-quality reference material, please feel free to be the ninja I know you are and leave a link in the comments so we can all benefit from the intelligence you’ve gathered.
Hello again from Tampa Bay! It was wonderful to see so many of you at AISL this month. Many of you kindly asked me about my method for getting resources inside LibGuides to authenticate without resorting to something like EZProxy. A couple of you were interested enough to come on up to my room and watch while I demonstrated on my laptop with a nice cool lemonade to keep us perking along. For those of you who missed that demo, I bring you this very detailed explanation with screenshots and red arrows. It’s a lot more how-to than my usual musings, and I’m glad to be able to share this practical guide.
I realize this method won’t work for all of you – not everyone’s school website is configured to allow it. But if your circumstances will permit, give it a try and save some time and aggravation. The short version is that I’ve asked my library product vendors, primarily Gale and EBSCO, to use a referring URL to authenticate and it makes the experience more like a single sign-on environment for the user. Deep breaths, here goes, with screen shots that are a bit small but still illustrative (I hope):
The Out-of-Door Academy currently uses Finalsite to run its website and act as its Learning Management System (LMS.) We are transitioning to Canvas, but my spectacular officemate and bestie is working with me to ensure the same setup for next year. Here’s a shot of our front page.
So, this is our welcome page that any visitor sees. The red arrow points to a link where students can click to log in with their individual user names and passwords. These are purged when students change schools or graduate, so the user pool is limited only to current students.
Once logged in, students land on a page that lists all of their current courses. Faculty create their own course pages in the portal and enroll students themselves, so I created an Upper School library “course” with my array of resources and one for Middle School, and then I enrolled users accordingly. “Sue Student” is enrolled in both Upper and Middle School Library, so she can choose either one for library resources.
After Sue clicks on Upper School Library, she is taken to this friendly-looking page of library offerings. I have databases and the catalog set up under the home button, and under resources I have a series of tutorial videos to refresh users on how to access their Questia accounts or interpret an EBSCO results page. Sometimes I even manage to update the blog . . . (that’s my Rory, by the way, with a “Librarians Rule” temporary tattoo.) The LibGuides are all parked, here, and that’s the key to the whole business. All the LibGuides I have created exist as live links in that box to the lower right, on a variety of subjects and arranged in alphabetical order, because that is the library way, ahem. Within the LibGuides are an assortment of things: suggested titles from the physical collection for print books & DVDs, database search widgets, etc. but also live links to Gale ebooks and even links to selected articles from EBSCO Discovery Service. These authenticate on or off-campus automatically with no need for something like EZProxy or additional student logins because the databases authenticate via referring URL. The referring URL is the Finalsite page into which I insert the links to the LibGuides, so, because the LibGuides are accessed via that referring URL, all I had to do was call Gale and EBSCO and tell them that’s how I wanted to authenticate. And boom – done!
Thus, when a user chooses a LibGuide, such as the Book Thief guide, I’m showing here, he or she is able to click on those links I have provided within and go directly there without being asked for another password. (Feel free to ask me how I set up the DVD, too, if you like.) I’ve noticed that the setup on the Gale books sometimes asks for a general password and sometimes doesn’t, so I provided it just above them at left. Again, because all of these LibGuides are behind a wall limited to users only, providing that password is still acceptable as only authorized users will see it, and I can change it periodically as students graduate or move on.
I’m including some shots of other LibGuides here if you’re curious about my general technique. I try to maintain a balance between not doing too much for the researchers, because they need to learn how to do it for themselves; and showing them that we do have rich resources right here – no need to Google in most cases. In the case of Shakespeare, we have very deep print holdings, too many to list in the LibGuide itself, so I made them into PDF bibliography and simply posted the bib instead. For Greek mythology, I thought it was important to include some other goodies, like the Perseus Project, that students could really benefit from but which they otherwise might have overlooked.
If you’ve got remaining questions, or would like to see this in action yourself using the dummy account I give to vendors so they can test my security, please get in touch at amandel@oda dot edu.