References & Rewards

Earlier this semester, I wrote about the library’s new partnership with Gale and the launch of Artemis, an exciting new platform for Gale’s digital collections. Our partnership with Gale continues to develop, and I’m pleased to announce a new model for our largest and most popular online reference collection and a new prize for undergraduate work in digital studies.

Next gen reference for generation Y

refstacks_aFifteen years ago, most reference sources were still in print format, lounging in separate stacks on the main floor and proudly proclaiming their special “in library use only” status. Libraries like ours purchased titles on an “as needed” and “just in case” basis, and students browsed shelves or consulted librarians for help in retrieving information from the volumes.

With the advent of online reference sources and Wikipedia, everything changed. Some libraries and publishers have struggled to adapt and re-envision “reference” for the digital age. Simple online versions of standard reference sets aren’t enough anymore; when all of us use Wikipedia, and consult it first, we expect something more from fee-based reference sources. We expect not simply authority, quality, accuracy, currency, comprehensiveness, breadth, and depth, but also relevancy, ease-of-use, speed, and tools to use, share, and analyze what we find. Reference sources need to satisfy the “grab it and go” habits of students while providing information of the highest quality. They are not simply competing with Wikipedia but with all the information on the Web.

A decade ago, Gale launched the Gale Virtual Reference Library, a full-text, cross-searchable collection of individually-purchased titles. We immediately purchased some titles and also encouraged NC LIVE to acquire material, which it did. This collection was popular among students from the very start, and it remains our most heavily-used online reference collection. Over the years, we’ve acquired more than a thousand titles, and the Gale Virtual Reference Library now supports research in all disciplines.

Online reference was a game changer, but how can libraries and publishers satisfy the demand for “more”? Can vendor-produced and library-supplied reference sources remain relevant? Can they continue to offer something unique and useful, and something that students will want to use?

Gale has just launched a new User Driven Acquisitions model for the GVRL, and it provides the “more” in a way that should make this collection even more popular among students, at a price that we can afford. Gale has given us access to the full text of over 2,000 titles published by Macmillan, Scribner’s, St. James Press, and other Gale imprints, and we have committed to spending a certain dollar amount by the end of the spring semester. These funds will be used to purchase the titles that have been most heavily used over the course of the semester. In other words, our students will have immediate access to the full text of thousands of high-quality sources, and we’ll have a semester’s worth of data before we make a purchase decision. We’ll pay for what students and faculty use the most.

This new model for the GVRL is shift from the “just in case” model, and it is an adaptation of the “just used” model of other user-driven acquisitions services. It seems appropriate and fitting for online reference sources, whose use differs from regular books and e-books.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how our students use the GVRL this spring, and what titles end up being the most frequently consulted.

Will we still purchase reference sources in addition to the UDA model for the GVRL? Of course. But user-driven-acquisitions will continue to expand. I’ll write more about this in a future post.


This spring, we’ll be providing students with more than enhanced online resources; we’ll also be rewarding their use, analysis, adaptation, and contributions to digital scholarship.

Students working on digital studies projects are used to getting grades for their class projects, but they’ll now have an opportunity to submit their completed projects for a special prize: The Digital Studies Research Prize.

The library and Gale are sponsoring the prize to recognize undergraduate achievements in digital studies and to promote the use of library resources in this rapidly growing field.

A committee of librarians, an instructional technologist, and faculty will set the criteria and schedule for prize submissions and awards; this committee will also be responsible for reviewing and evaluating submissions.

In January, we’ll have more detailed information, including details on how to submit applications.

We expect to hold the awards ceremony towards the end of the spring semester. Gale staff will join us on campus then to present the award and honor the recipient.

Watch for more information about this exciting initiative soon!