Monday, July 25, 2011

Keeping Up with Reference: The True Value of a Reliable Reviewing Source

Things change quickly in the world of reference. Technology has us all wondering what the next new "thing" will be and keeping up with these changes can be a job in itself. Where we used to be concerned mainly with what new print resources were available, librarians now have to keep track of new developments in the areas of e-books, databases, and apps, and the list keeps growing. As a library's budget is cut, and oftentimes staff right along with it, librarians are forced to choose between face time with their patrons and keeping up with the latest news in the industry that will help their library run smoothly.

Now more than ever, Librarians need to turn to trusted sources to help them keep current on what new products are coming out, what updates have been made to important resources, and who's merging their resources to create bigger and better products. It all comes down to one thing: where should you spend your library's precious dollars.

In the long run, turning to a trusted reviewing source can save you time and money. Why?

1. It lets some else keep up with the swift changes in the industry. If you're like most people with a little money to spend then you are probably bombarded with advertisements, e-mail campaigns, listservs, and press releases. Countless hours can be spent pouring over these ads, hours that may very well be better spent working with patrons or creating new services for your library. A good reviewing source will continually be mining the latest products on the market and give you access to reliable information about those in one place, and in an easy-to-search format.

2. It allows you to rely on the opinion of your peers, not on the hype. It's a company's job to make you believe that their product is the "best" and they'll spare no expense to make you believe that. Your library peers, however, have a different and more valuable perspective. A good reviewing source looks to librarians working in the field, creating their own collections, to provide you with the best advice on how new reference products can be used in a library setting. Most librarians have strong opinions on what works for their patrons. Dialog between librarians should be the driving force of a professional reviewing source.

3. It will help you discover how new products in the field compare to the products your library already owns. Libraries are full of materials—print and digital. Some are well used and some, unfortunately, are not used at all. Very rarely is a new product the very first of its kind. Most products out there have strong similarities with other titles on the market. Before you are tempted to buy the latest and greatest of any new product, you should find out how it compares to other resources that your library already owns. Sometimes it will be worth the investment and other times you'll discover that what you've got is perfectly fine (or even better) than the new product with all its bells and whistles. Once again, let your peers and experts in the subject give you some advice and share their professional insight.

4. It allows you to search by the topics your library's interested in, but gives you the option to look at everything else available. It's a good bet that you know the topics your patron's are interested in and what areas of your collection need new life. A good reviewing source will save you time by providing you easy access to the latest resources in the subjects you're interested in. Keyword searching, subject headings, and the ability to limit searches by publication date all help pinpoint your research and save you time in the long run. However, even though you have specific subjects you're interested in it's always nice to have the option to search other topics. A good reviewing source will allow you to limit your searches, but be comprehensive enough that you can find things you never even knew were out there.

There are several strong reference reviewing sources on the market. American Reference Books Annual, which has been published by Libraries Unlimited for over 40 years, offers all of the benefits of a reviewing source listed above—critical reviews that offer strong comparisons between like sources, reviews written by professionals within the field, and a comprehensive look at all resources on the market today. Used diligently, a top-notch reviewing source can save your library money in the long run by helping you pick the best resources for your library while also allowing you to do your job more effectively and efficiently.

-- Shannon Graff Hysell
Shannon Graff Hysell has been editor of American Reference Books Annual for the past ten years. She is also editor of Recommended Reference Books for Small and Medium-sized Libraries and Media Centers and ARBAonline.

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