As part of her job as head of resource acquisitions and delivery at Boatwright Memorial Library, Anna Creech procures free trials of various database programs for student and faculty use. If these research products and collections meet the needs of students and faculty, as well as the functionality that librarians expect in interfaces, then Creech considers submitting a purchase request for permanent use of the programs.
Trials last for different amounts of time, but most last around a month. There are usually about 10 trials available each year through the library's website, and the number purchased each year after trial periods varies, she said.
"Sometimes we get great feedback from students, faculty and staff as we did when we trialed the National Geographic collection last spring," she said. "Sometimes we hear nothing. Sometimes we trial a resource even though we know we don't have funds to purchase it right away, simply because we want to know what would be useful or what we need to plan our budget around."
There are four active trial programs Creech has set up through various publishers: Artemis: Literary Sources; Met Opera on Demand; Cold War Intelligence: The Secret War Between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., 1945-1991 and American Indian Histories and Cultures.
Artemis: Literary Sources combines several large databases and enables advanced search features, such as term clusters, which allow visualizations of search results of connected authors, topics and publications. Met Opera on Demand features an archive of decades of performances from many media formats, including radio and video broadcasts and recordings of live events. Artemis: Literary Sources expires Thursday. Met Opera on Demand expires Friday.
Cold War Intelligence provides the declassified documentary record about the successes and failures of the U.S. intelligence community in its efforts to spy on the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and will expire Nov. 10, Creech said.
American Indian Histories and Cultures provides digital excerpts and entireties of manuscripts, artwork, photographs, newspapers and rare printed books, from Native Americans' earliest contact with European settlers to the mid-twentieth century, Creech said. Among the rare and original documents are treaties, speeches, diaries, historic maps and travel journals, she said. This trial will expire Nov. 12.
Mid-semester purchases with one-time costs, such as complete digital collections, are easier to purchase than continually growing programs with ongoing costs, Creech said. Purchases and subscriptions can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars per year for each program, she said.
"We try to target the trial periods to be during the middle of the fall or spring semesters, when they are likely to be useful to a researcher," Creech said. "A student late last fall semester told me a particular resource we had trialed was exactly what was needed for a senior thesis."
Creech said that usage data from publishers and user comments on the trials through SurveyMonkey were most important in trying to determine whether programs such as these should become fixtures.
"Publishers offer anonymous data, like how many times someone from UR searched within the resource, or how many times a full-text article or book was viewed," she said. "These are good indicators of value to the community and trends, but there is no way for me to know if the use of the resource benefited the person who accessed it."
Theatre professors Johann Stegmeir and Walter Schoen said that they were not aware of both resources, but that they could see how students would benefit from the programs. Stegmeir uses Digital Theatre Plus, a resource similar to Met Opera on Demand, in his classes, and believes students would get better access to world-class performances through Met Opera on Demand, he said.
"My colleagues and I spend time in most of our classes teaching students to evaluate research sources as they relate to theatre and dance," Schoen said. "Artemis is the type of program that will assist students in furthering their research beyond the most obvious online sources."
The creator and coordinator of film studies, Abigail Cheever, said that the advanced search features of Artemis: Literary Sources would simplify the research process and enable all students and staff to sift through potential research materials more quickly.
"It's crucial that students are aware of these resources in their first semester," Cheever said. "The Met Opera resource is specifically useful for film studies students, as well as music and other departments that might study opera. Being able to see these works as performances is crucial to any understanding of music and form."
Creech said students could find more information on trial resources in the right column of the library's "Research Databases" page and some Spiderbytes and faculty departments that match the nature of content in a particular resource.
Contact reporter Zak Kerr at email@example.com