Rethinking Reference Collections

I saw this online class, Rethinking Reference Collections, on Infopeople’s website and it got me thinking. 

First things first, for those interested in the class here is the info: (It appears a course directed toward general library, not specifically medical library.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011 – Monday, October 17, 2011

$75 for those in the California library community and Infopeople Partners, $150 for all others.

Course Description:
This four-week online course will encourage you to rethink your reference collection and identify changes that reflect today’s realities while promoting increased user and staff satisfaction. You will learn how to determine usage of print reference materials, make weeding decisions, and find sources for reviews of reference resources in both print and online formats. Through reading materials, assignments, discussion, and interaction with the instructor and other learners, you will explore ways to promote reference collections and resources to your user community. In the third week of the course, you will have an opportunity to participate in an online meeting to discuss collection evaluation and promotion of usage.

For more information go to:

Now that the course information is covered, I can tell you how just the description started me thinking about reference collections and medical libraries.  How many libraries keep the reference collection separate from the circulating collection?  Why?  Is it because of some old way of how we used to keep reference books separate?  With some things it makes sense, you have one spot where all the dictionaries, thesaurus, drug books, etc. are located.  But in some ways it doesn’t make sense (to normal people).  You have Hurst’s the Heart and all other new cardiology textbooks on the reference shelves.  To the average person, that means they have to go to two different places to find cardiology books, the circulating shelves and the reference shelves.  Last year we started noticing that more and more of our patrons were having problems finding books.  Some would go to the circulating collection and complain about the lack of current core textbooks, while others would go to the reference collection and lament that there were no books available to check out.  People weren’t used to going to two places.  When you think about it, why should they go to two places? 

The locations were just there to help people realize what was available to circulate and what had to stay in the library.  So we decided to merge the two sections together.  Now reference and circulating books are shelved with each other.  The reference book has a red dot on it, indicating it is reference and can’t leave the library.  Now users can browse the shelves more efficiently and get better idea of our entire collection rather than walking back and forth.  

Of course that just covers the reference collection in book form.  That doesn’t really cover one of the major ways our reference collection has evolved.  As a large institution that has over 41 buildings on more than 140 acres, not everyone is able to get to the library to use the reference books.  Long ago we began purchasing electronic book packages containing popular reference book titles.  These books allowed our users to access the “book” from any on campus computer or from home.  This made the reference book “circulating,” it wasn’t locked up behind the library doors.  Yes the printed edition was, but the online (and often more current) version was free from library confines.

There has been a lot of discussion about ebooks, usage (or lack of), pricing, available editions, DRM, multiple versions, etc.  That doesn’t mean they are easy or that we don’t have any growing pains with them, we do.  But people are using them, and using them a lot.  Are they hitting the numbers that we see with ejournals, no.  But they aren’t sitting on the virtual shelf barely used either.  Perhaps it is because we are a large institution and our users don’t have time to trek across campus to look up something in the library, that they can access with a click of a mouse.  One thing is for sure our medical reference collection is going more and more online every year. 

The other reference collection that has shrunk considerably in the past few years is what I like to call the librarian reference.  I remember when the MeSH guide was always within arms reach and the Encyclopedia of Associations was right behind me, The Official ABMS Directory, and the AMA Directory of Physicians were used a lot.  About the only thing I use every once in a while is the AHA Guide.  Everything is online.  Why buy the print?  Once the shelves behind the reference desk were full of books.  Now….

What changes have you see in reference collections?  How is your library changing with them?  Besides moving to online, what are other changes that you see happening?

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