No, vendor, we don't want a pile of crap actually

Dec 02 2017 Published by under Collection Development, interfaces, libraries

Large Copper Dung Beetle (Kheper nigroaeneus) on top of its dung ball

Yes, I have posted about this a number of times, and no this will probably not be too different.   Our vendors have swept up the little competition and then redone their boutique databases to make them - generally - work like piles of crap.

So there are two massive 3rd party aggregators that sell massive piles of crap. Don't get me wrong, these are super attractive to libraries who can then say: look at all these titles we cover! Look at how much content we have! The problem is that with our current state of information abundance, with lots of big package deals, with more and more open access, and with informal scholarly sharing < cough >, getting the full text of recent articles from big name journals really isn't a thing.

The thing is efficient, precise, thorough, appropriate information at the right time and place. I say: I need exactly information on this thing! The aggregators go: here's a massive pile of crap!  I'm like, well I don't need a pile of crap, I need exactly this thing. System returns: here's another pile of crap!

Look at the Aerospace database, for example. Used to be the only real database that covered hypersonics and was thorough at all at covering AIAA and NASA technical reports. It was CSA when I got to know it. Compendex, in comparison, is just adding AIAA stuff this year and isn't going back to the 60s. CSA databases got sold to ProQuest. I have no idea what the hell they've done with it because every time I do a search I end up with trade pubs and press releases - even when I go through the facets to try to get rid of them.

CSA used to have a computer science database, too. The current computer collection in ProQuest doesn't even allow affiliation searching. Also, a search I did there yesterday - for a fairly large topic - didn't return *any* conference papers. For CS. Really.

This is not to pick on PQ, ok maybe it is, but their competitors really aren't any better.


At the same time, we keep having people tell us at my larger organization, that we *must* get/have a discovery layer. Let me just tell you again, that we did a lot of testing, and they did not provide us *any* value over the no additional cost search of a 3rd party aggregator. They are super expensive, and really just give you - guess what - all your stuff in a huge pile of crap. I hear nothing but complaints from my colleagues who have to deal with these. The supposition was that we wanted a Google interface. Ok, maybe a sensible quick search is fine, but that only works when you, like Google, have extremely sophisticated information retrieval engines under the hood. Saying - hey we cover the same journals as your fancy well-indexed database but without the pesky indexing and also lumped together with things like newspapers, press releases, and trade pubs... is not really effective. It's a pile of crap.

You may say, "But think of the children!" The poor freshman dears who can't search to save their lives and who just need 3-5 random articles after they've already written their paper just to fill in their bibliography due in the morning....

Is that really who and what we're supporting? Should we rather train them in scholarly research and how to get the best information? And anyway, for my larger institution, we hardly have any freshmen at all.

No, vendors, we do not want a large pile of crap, but thanks for offering!

2 responses so far

  • Doug K says:

    Ha ! a fine rant, thank you..

    I work in tech support and need good documentation, but we get served similar piles.
    It's a sort of cargo cult - provide a Google-like interface and mark the problem of search solved.
    No, a nice simple search box that returns undifferentiated piles of crap, does not solve the problem..

    For documents in the public domain I use Google to search the vendor websites. Documentation behind paywalls is frequently useless since the proprietary search engines dump hundreds of irrelevant documents into the pile, for reasons unknown. It's similar to the state of search engines before Google. In those days I used a search engine aggregator to conduct the same search on multiple search sites, and trudged through the piles patiently. Google made me lose patience with that kind of nonsense. As I used to say in those days, what the web needs is a good librarian..

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