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Research Databases & Resources Project Page

Project Description:

Research Databases and Resources ( is a database-driven resource discovery tool to help users find out about resources of interest to a subject area or to a type of information. It is an ASP.NET Web application driven by a SQL Server database.

In 2008, the Research Databases & Resources site won the Gale Cengage Learning Award for Excellence in Reference and Adult Library Services, which "is given to a library or library system for developing an imaginative and unique resource to meet patrons' reference needs."


Q: Is Research Databases and Resources available for other libraries to use?

A: While we are happy to share the source code with other libraries, it currently depends on several other in-house systems to function, such as our online staff directory and campus information systems.  So, it could not be easily adopted by another library. Due to our staff size, we are also unable to provide support to other libraries related to this program.

Q: How is the content of Research Databases and Resources contributed?

A: Our librarians all contribute records to this resource. For selection, they rely heavily on reviews from Library Journal, The Charleston Advisor, Choice, and numerous discipline-specific journals and resources. For product descriptions, librarians usually create entirely new annotations, but often refer to product descriptions found on the materials. We also use communications from vendors to keep the annotations current and accurate. Subject librarians set their own criteria for inclusion depending on the needs of their academic discipline(s). As a result, Research Databases & Resources is inclusive, although the individual subject pages have scopes as determined by the subject librarians.

Q: What is the primary audience for Research Databases and Resources?

A: Our primary audience includes James Madison University students, faculty, staff; however, we did include features to specifically benefit non-JMU users, such as the limit to Open Access resources.

Q: What is the usage of this site like?

Quantitatively, one can see the impact on patrons is by looking at the increase in visits to this area of the library web site when compared with the previous iteration of this area of the web site. The number of visitors to this area of our web site increased from 537,871 (August 2005-August 2006) to 891,874 (August 2006-August 2007), a 66% increase. These statistics do not explain why there was an increase, however it far outpaced the increase in visits to our library home page, which increased in use by 17% over the same time period.

Looking at individual pages within the two sites provides an additional view. For example, we had previously offered static web pages that listed resources by the “type” of information, and all together, these pages received about 8,000 visitors. With the new system, “type” pages accounted for about 42,000 visitors. One of the biggest surprises is the patron interest in the “more info” pages, which display the full record of information about the resource. Cumulative visitor counts for these pages increased from about 117,000 to about 239,000 page visitors, an over 100% increase from 05-06 to 06-07. Clearly, this area of the site has increased in both content and richness.

Just last month, we built an advanced statistics tracker that will provide individual librarians with statistics for each subject, type, and combination page in the resource.

Q: Tell me more about the features of the site?

A: Subject librarians have almost complete control over the organization and content of their subject pages. They can also create customized “lists” that can be syndicated throughout the library web site, allowing them to base their area of the web site either on a more structured layout, or on an entirely custom layout that “pulls in” lists of resources as appropriate. These lists can also be syndicated to other web pages, such as our course management system. Therefore, anyone choosing to use a syndicated list enjoys all the updates made to the central database.

When librarians choose to include a resource on their subject page or list, they can add it to one or more categories, and they can also replace the “default” annotation with a custom annotation for their subject. For example, many librarians include JMU Library Catalog on their pages. The Media Arts & Design Librarian has changed the annotation for our library catalog to one that explains how to find film criticism in the catalog.

Another area of innovation is the ability to assign resources to a “type” of information. In this way, users who know they need “book reviews” but don’t have an academic subject in mind can begin with just this type of information. Similarly, one can list all our library’s resources that are useful for finding images, or videos. Additionally, the user can combine types and subjects, for example, to find all Chemistry resources with Articles from journals.

Research Databases & Resources displays an “alert” field for each record that always displays, but is usually null. This field is used to display notices such as service interruptions, impending interface changes, or other urgent news about a resource. In this manner, anywhere that links to a Research Databases & Resources resource will be automatically updated with the latest news about a resource.

Another innovation is the use of alias links not only to connect to the resources, but to detect off-campus users. Many libraries have used alias links in order to try to prevent users from bookmarking subscription database links that often change from year to year. Our alias links also perform a “check” to determine if the user has the appropriate IP address; if not, they are sent to the instructions page for off campus access.

The “thumbnail” images that accompany each database were a controversial feature, but one that has proven valuable as students coming to the Public Services Desk for help often do not know the name of the resource they tried, but they do seem to remember what it looked like.

Q: Where can I get more information about Research Databases & Resources?

A: Please contact Jody Fagan,

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Last updated: Wednesday, August 29, 2012

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