Recently I volunteered to take on the role of Liaison for the University of North Florida Mathematics Department in addition to my current responsibilities with the College of Computing Engineering and Construction). I’ve always loved Math and my time in the Six Sigma program only deepened my affection for the field. As a librarian, though, I have found the role to be challenging. Being good at math and studying or researching Mathematics are two completely different things. What do Math faculty, students and researchers want? Getting an answer to that is rarely as simple as asking the question. You have to build a relationship with faculty who are focused on their classes and their research far more than on library collection development and rightfully so. After months of trying to meet with Mathematics through their Faculty meeting, I was approached by Mahbubur Rahman, Associate Professor of Mathematics, to discuss the needs of the faculty and students of Math.
Dr. Rahman, who is teaching Ordinary Differential Equations (MAP2302) and Linear Algebra (MAS 3105) this Spring, is clearly passionate about Applied Mathematics. He shared a list of databases and books that he and his fellow faculty beleived were critical to the academic development of their students. He mentioned that he had sent students to look for these titles and was told that they were not in the Library. In some cases they were correct. In others, they were not.
As with any request from faculty, I shared Dr. Rahman’s list with Robb Waltner, our Head of Acquisitions. Robb investigated the books and journals and produced three very useful reports. The first report showed that some of the requested items are, in fact, available from our library. It also showed the coverage dates and sources for the journals. The second report showed Library resources for Mathematics that were underutilized. Underutilized journals are resources that have a very high cost/use ratio relative to the cost of interlibrary loan. These journals could be considered for cancellation in order to pay for the requested titles. The third report showed all of the Math ejournals in our A-Z list. These were fantastic resources to share with the Math Faculty with one caveat. The list of resources had not been de-duplicated. That meant receiving a 2300 line list showing eJournals availability through as many as 15 different sources. As a rule, we don’t share documents like this because they can be hard to navigate and they also beg the question, “Why do we buy the same resource so many times?”. Of course any Librarian familiar with eResource acquisitions understands that we have little choice in the matter. While it may be possible to buy only what we need on a title-by-title basis, it would cost far more than simply buying large packages that may include duplicate content. Another reason for duplication is that some titles included in the packages are free or open journals and, so, everyone includes them.
The first challenge was to put the report into something more appropriate for the Math Department. Removing the duplicate titles from the spreadsheet required piecing together a formula for filtering out the unwanted rows. There are a variety of ways to accomplish this but I chose COUNTIF($A$2:A2,A2) to identify the count of appearances made by each row. This placed an ordinal number in a column adjacent to the titles identifying its place in a series of duplicates. Then I filtered out everything other than “1”, which represented the first occurrence of the title. This method also showed me that we had 15 sources for SIAM Review. The final output dropped the count from 2300 down to 926. From a sheer volume perspective, this appears to be substantial support for the Mathematics department but quantity may not have enough quality on its own and we will have to consider the value of some of these journals against the value of those requested.
The second challenge was in response to the statement that students had been to search for this content and left the library believing that it was not available. Of the three books, An introduction to Chaotic Dynamical Systems (2nd ed.) Devaney, Chaos and Fractals: A Computer Graphical Journey/Pickover, and Dynamical Systems and Chaos/Broer, one (Dynamical Systems and Chaos) has been in the library collection since ~2011 as part of our Springer eBook collection. In response to Dr. Rahman’s request, Robb added the other two titles to our system (via PDA) and they are now available as eBooks. In an effort to determine why Dynamical Systems and Chaos had not been found, I searched OneSearch by keyword and by title. In both cases the eBook was the #1 hit. Curious as to why students couldn’t find the book in our system, I tried searching with the information exactly as provided by Dr. Rahman “Dynamical Systems and Chaos/Broer”. Unfortunately, this broke the search and no results were displayed. This is not surprising. EBSCO’s EDS has always had a problem with natural language queries and this type of search appears to fall into the same category. As a reference, this search in Google works perfectly delivering the title throughout the first page of results.
Three of the seven journals requested are also available in the library. The Journals of Applied Probability, Advances in Applied Probability, and Sequential Analysis – Design Methods and Applications are available in the library. The first two are part of EBSCO’s Business Source Complete, the latter is one of the Taylor & Francis package. When a resource is part of any EBSCO package, we can be assured that its content is indexed by OneSearch but I wasn’t so sure about Taylor & Francis so I performed another test. First, I located Sequential Analysis via our Search A-Z Publication and browsed an article from 2014. I didn’t want to use 2015 just in case EDS was slow to index their content. The first article was Asymptotically Pointwise Optimal Change Detection in Multiple Channels found in Volume 33 Issue 4, 2014. A quick title search in OneSearch proves that at least some of the content of this resource is readily available in our primary search tool. As to why students were unable to find these titles, one possibility is that they searched the Databases by Subject link directly above the Search A-Z link. That would send the students to databases and not to individual eJournals.
After completing the De-duplications and verifications I was able to compile the necessary information to deliver to Dr. Rahman. As always, I reminded him of our SelectedWorks site and offered to meet with him and the entire Mathematics department to discuss library products and services. I also reached out to EBSCO to share our difficulties in hopes to leading to improved search mechanics and to Acquisitions to include Business Source Complete as a recommended database for Math students on our Databases A-Z page.
In truth, this process was very simple and natural for me but, while writing this post, I realized that it is a more complicated process than some might expect. To address this I have created a process map of the experience which I believe to be applicable to any such situation. It shows the work involved not only in providing resources and information to our patrons but also in the effort we need to take to continuously improve our library products, services and delivery systems.