Understanding Reference Products

Have reference sources eroded in quality in the online era? We’re all aware of the challenges facing us and our users in vetting (or not) the authority and credibility of free sources available online. But the quality of contemporary vetted sources is worth examining in its own right.

Many librarians continue to value traditional authorities, even if users do not. An answer may be found quickly via one’s favorite web search engine, but awareness of vetted sources may lead to quick answers as well. Choosing a vetted source first in looking for the answer can offset or reduce time spent carefully evaluating candidate retrieved websites.

The migration to online reference works has given publishers an opportunity to repackage their offerings, to the frustration of many budget managers. Options may include both subscription and ownership models. Purchases may require an annual maintenance fee in addition to the one-time allocation, and the annual fee may or may not include updates to content. Aggregator platforms are an additional source of confusion, not the least of which is figuring out if a library is paying twice or more for the same content available on both a publisher and an aggregator platform or via multiple aggregators. What is a library to do when a valued publisher pulls out of an aggregator but the library remains committed to the aggregator? McGraw Hill learned the hard way that aggregator loyalty can trump individual titles, especially when the publisher only offers titles in inseparable packages. Cambridge Handbooks Online and Oxford Handbooks Online are also bundled. Unaffordable pricing models result in sources not being available and therefore not used by patrons. High-quality but unaffordable sources are as useless as junk sources.

Denise Beaubien Bennett’s full exploration
is at The Ebb and Flow of Reference Products.


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