Homework Help Around the Clock

Whether you are in elementary school, middle school, high school, or college, you can always use a little help with your homework! Massachusetts libraries are here to help 24/7 with reliable information from our databases. Whether it’s art, geography, history, or science that you need help with, we have a variety of resources that are available on a wide range of subjects available for you around the clock!

To get started, visit the MBLC’s public portal at Mass.gov/Libraries, select your grade level and find which resource will help you. The information is available for you free of charge and can be accessed at anytime and anywhere with a Massachusetts library card.

The best part of Homework 9-1-1 is that all of the information is reliable and sourced! You don’t have to worry about whether what you are reading is true. This is information that you can’t find through a simple Google search or on Wikipedia.

To learn even more about how to use the Massachusetts databases visit your local library and ask a librarian. They can show you the best ways to utilize the resources to get the information that you need.

You can find the Homework 9-1-1 resources and all of the available databases and electronic resources at Mass.gov/Libraries.

Shop ‘Til You Drop

Shopping for Statewide Databases : Chasing the Best Value for the Commonwealth

Tragedy and Comedy masks : From the Baths of Decius on the Aventine Hill, Rome
I’ve got some good news and some bad news…

By Paul Kissman, MBLC Library Information Systems Specialist

We’ve just completed a procurement process for the next set of statewide databases, a fifteen month long odyssey. There were moments that put me in mind of those old shopping-themed TV game shows. Some days we were contestants on Supermarket Sweep, as we frenetically raced the clock to put as much quality content in the cart as possible before the bell rang.  At other times, we were competing on The Price is Right,  guessing at that ineffable figure, the actual dollar value of a database.

But it was no game, and there were no big prize winners at the end.  With a 30% reduction in funding we knew right from the start that the results of our efforts were going to be bittersweet.  We are proud of what we accomplished, and Massachusetts libraries will continue to have a strong core set of databases.  But we also know that we have lost access to some very important products; our shared resources are that much smaller.

Where Do We Stand and How Did We Get Here?

Beginning July 1, Massachusetts libraries will have the same three vendors and a set of database products that looks an awful lot like what we have today — just diminished.

Some of you may wonder, “Why all the sound and fury then? Why the big process?”  Are we complacent, taking the path of least resistance?  Maybe we lack the courage to try something new or maybe we have a hidden bias in favor of the incumbent vendors and familiar products.

Though we heard from many libraries and invited input along the way, including a month-long open trial and vendor demonstrations to representative stakeholders, our decision-making process may look like a black box to many of you.  Without going into the gory details, here is what the procurement looked like from the inside.

Peeking Under the Hood

Who exactly sets the stage and makes the final procurement decisions? MBLC and MLS, with a sprinkling of Library for the Commonwealth.  These three organizations have worked hard to complement each other’s offerings.  With shrinking budgets and other critical priorities we can’t afford not to.  Though I’d like to think we would anyway.

MBLC appointed an advisory committee of ten very smart and knowledgeable librarians from academic, school and public libraries to help guide us through this process.  They were content specialists — the ones doing bibliographic instruction, working with teachers, students and the general public every day. Their contributions were incredibly valuable.  They each represented their own library types’ interests but showed great sensitivity to how different products would be valued by users of all types of libraries.  Not an easy thing to do.  They analyzed product titles to gauge full-text content, overlap, uniqueness and value. I came out of the process with tremendous respect for their skills and experience, and I am grateful that they were there every step of the way.  Thanks guys!

We first began to experiment with databases for all regional members twenty years ago.  Gale/Cengage, then Information Access Company, was our first provider with some general periodical content.  Since that time we have run five procurements and have contemplated many approaches.  We’ve considered targeted solutions for different library types:  school-centric products for schools, more specialized databases for our academics and special libraries, local newspaper products only available to parts of the state.  We’ve tried creating a market basket, where preferential pricing was offered for libraries or groups wishing to supplement what the state could offer.  Five years ago, we managed to expand the subject areas and types of resources, asking for genealogy and language learning products, both general and specialized encyclopedias.  Though the genealogy and language products didn’t pan out, we were able to add a general encyclopedia for the first time.

We have to find products that appeal to all types of libraries.  The scope of the our procurement is determined by usage statistics and surveys.  Usage statistics are necessarily limited to current product offerings. However, when establishing the procurement scope, we only use these statistics to draw inferences about subject coverage, not about particular titles from particular vendors.  The only exception to this rule is The Boston Globe, a specific title.  A large library survey in the spring of 2016 gave us broader insight into library preferences.

Why Do We Always Seem to End Up with the Same Vendors?

The answer is fairly straightforward.  They have consistently provided the best value for the Commonwealth.  It doesn’t mean that this will always be the case.

In the past we’ve disqualified vendors because they could not demonstrate the capability to roll out services statewide, work with our statewide login process (geolocation for users in Massachusetts) or set up 1,600+ library accounts. They couldn’t provide interoperability with library discovery systems and knowledgebases, provide granular usage statistics and related management tools. Not this time.  All six vendors were sufficiently qualified.

We try really hard to be objective and open to new solutions.  I know that I get enthused about new products, new platforms, new vendors. I also like to see the progress that familiar companies have made with their user interfaces.  From one procurement cycle to the next, the three big periodical vendors, EBSCO, ProQuest and Gale seem to leapfrog past each other in user interface design and usability .  This time around all three main platforms were really solid, with contemporary interfaces providing excellent user experience.  That hasn’t always been the case.

From the library community we hear competing interests.  Some academics have urged us to license EBSCO so they can repurpose their limited budgets. Public libraries and schools may not want us to change vendors because then they would have to extensively retool and retrain patrons.

There is no alchemical mixture of intangibles at work here. As with any rigorous procurement, we use weighted score sheets to evaluate the various components of each proposal.  Content (which is weighted most heavily), organizational qualifications, technical qualifications, ability to license to all our users, all are evaluated and quantified.  Cost is the last factor we look at.

What’s on Offer

It is important to remember, we can only evaluate what the vendors propose. Sometimes librarians will ask why we didn’t license a particular product.  Often the answer is, “It wasn’t proposed”.  Sometimes products are simply out of scope. Sometimes proposed packages don’t provide enough valuable content to schools, or academics, or even to public libraries.

Sometimes there is not a good business case from the vendor perspective.  We can’t afford to replace the large base of existing academic contracts for products like Academic Search Premier from EBSCO.  EBSCO has indicated that a statewide offering this comprehensive would be way beyond our means and so they don’t propose it.  Thus, academic libraries see they will need to keep their EBSCO contracts, but they also find tremendous value in Gale Academic OneFile as a complement to their own locally-licensed content.

The Globe is the Globe.  We reached out directly to both the Boston Globe and New York Times, but they declined to bid.  For the Globe, ProQuest was the only game in town.

Encyclopedias – World Book and Britannica were both highly esteemed products. Britannica appealed more to public and academic libraries, as World Book seemed more targeted to K-9. At the end of the day, Britannica had the broadest appeal, and was the product that we could afford.

So here we are, entering a new fiscal year with old friends.  We ended up here for good reasons. Maybe next time around things will turn out differently.

It’s Always Baseball Season at Massachusetts Libraries

Opening Day is getting so close you can start to feel it; the days are getting longer, the snow is melting, and the air is getting warmer. Pretty soon we’ll be back to the pennant race, but for now there is still more time to wait until the first pitch.

To fill this gap, you can find books, pictures, newspaper articles and more from your local library to satisfy your baseball needs until opening day rolls around.

Because baseball is the sport that best lends itself to literature, reading may be the best way to get excited for the new season. Baseball has been the muse for countless authors since its earliest days as a sport. Concord resident and Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s memoir “Wait Till Next Year” tells her story of growing up in New York when the Dodgers, Giants, and Yankees all competed for the city’s loyalty. “Ball Four” is former Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton’s diary of the 1969 season as he tried to restart his career with the expansion Seattle Pilots as a knuckleballer. Bernard Malamund’s classic “The Natural” is probably more famous for its film adaptation starring Robert Redford, but the book (Malamund’s first) is just as good.  All of these books and many more baseball classics can be found through the Commonwealth Catalog.

If the early history of the game is what piques your interest, you can find information and artifacts through Biblioboard’s baseball anthology. It has early rules, how to guides, pictures, and histories to educate and entertain you.

You can find more of Boston’s baseball history at the Digital Commonwealth. Search through old photos of the Red Sox, the Boston Braves, and the teams that have visited Boston to take on the hometown teams.

If all of this isn’t enough, and you just want to relive the recent Red Sox glory days, head over to www.mass.gov/libraries and search through the archives of the Boston Globe to take yourself back to 2004, 2007, and 2013, and feel like you’re winning the World Series with the Sox all over again.

We hope that you enjoy these fun resources all season long as you kick back with some peanuts, Cracker Jacks, and root, root, root for your home team.

 

What’s all the Buzz about Audiobooks?

What is the fastest growing segment of the publishing industry right now? According to an Audio Publishers Association sales survey, it is audiobooks.

The Wall Street Journal reports “35,574 audiobook titles were released in the U.S. and Canada in 2015, compared with 7,237 in 2011.” They go on to explain that “People listen to audiobooks while traveling, exercising, gardening and relaxing at home. They switch devices from one activity to the next, listening on smartphones, tablets, computers and MP3 players.”[1]

What is even more exciting is that libraries are taking notice too, and there is an expanding collection of audiobooks available for Massachusetts residents to enjoy for free. Through the Commonwealth eBook Collections (CEC) and other services offered through your local library, you can borrow and listen to hundreds of today’s top titles. All you need to access these titles is a library card!

To listen to audiobooks through the CEC, visit www.commonwealthebookcollections.com and simply search for the title you’re looking for. In addition to audiobooks, you will also find eBooks and other digital resources that you can use.

If your library is not a member of the CEC, visit the Boston Public Library’s website to learn how you can access their digital materials as a Massachusetts resident through their role as the Library for the Commonwealth (http://www.bpl.org/collections/downloadable.htm), or contact your local library and they will point you in the right direction to begin listening to your favorite books.

Now, when you are preparing for a road trip, doing yardwork, or just looking for something to listen to around the house, you can enjoy some great audiobooks courtesy of your local library. Happy listening!

 

[1] http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-fastest-growing-format-in-publishing-audiobooks-1469139910

 

Happy Read an eBook Day!

Did you know today, September 16th, is Read an eBook Day? I didn’t either, but I just so happened to download the electronic version of Stacy Schiff’s The Witches: Salem, 1692 this morning, and OverDrive let me know what’s up.

I live in Somerville and The Witches is our city’s community reads title for 2016. Last night, I checked out the 400+ page hardcover tome and immediately dreaded lugging it around town. Luckily, Minuteman Library Network’s OverDrive collection came to the rescue – I now have the ultra-portable ebook version on my phone, too. Woohoo!

There’s even a hashtag, #eBookLove, for y’all to wax poetic and join in the celebration. What are you e-reading right now? Let us know!

Massachusetts Libraries (mass.gov/libraries) Relaunches

Massachusetts Libraries (mass.gov/libraries), the online portal for statewide library resources & services first launched in 2007, has been completely redesigned. We wanted to keep it simple and user-friendly while also offering personalized access to catalogs and collections.

screenshot of massachusetts libraries website homepage

Visitors are first prompted to find their local library by entering a zip code, town, or library name. The new site is then customized with access to their home network’s catalog and the Commonwealth Catalog, making it easy to search both locally and throughout the state. It also helps visitors find ebook collections and provides immediate access to online articles. And there’s a new A-Z title list of all research journals, magazines, and newspapers available through our statewide subscription.

In the Your Local Library section, visitors can find out about classes, events, and workshops – such as summer reading and early learning programs, high school equivalency exam prep, and English learning groups – at nearby libraries and literacy centers. The Digital Collections page highlights digital libraries and special online collections, great resources for teachers and students looking to explore history in Massachusetts and beyond.

We’ll be testing the site with users and consistently making adjustments throughout the coming months, so we welcome any and all feedback on the new site! Send your thoughts and comments to answers@mblc.state.ma.us.