Give Your Reference Manual an Extreme E-Makeover

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Washington State University Libraries ]On: 25 October 2014, At: 00:26Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    The Reference LibrarianPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/wref20

    Give Your Reference Manual an Extreme E-MakeoverSteven J. Bell aa Research and Instructional Services , Temple University , Philadelphia, PAPublished online: 12 Oct 2008.

    To cite this article: Steven J. Bell (2007) Give Your Reference Manual an Extreme E-Makeover, The Reference Librarian, 48:2,73-75, DOI: 10.1300/J120v48n02_11

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J120v48n02_11

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  • PENCILS NEVER CRASH:THE THOUGHTFUL INTEGRATION

    OF TECHNOLOGYFOR REFERENCE SERVICE

    Steven J. Bell, Column Editor

    Give Your Reference Manualan Extreme E-Makeover

    Steven J. Bell

    Linus, the Peanuts character, has his security blanket. Reference li-brarians have their own version of the security blanket. Call it the ref-erence manual. In this three-ring binder the reference librarian storeshis or her accumulated knowledge on paper. And like Linus, partingwith the security blanket is no easy task. While these manuals have theirvalue they take time and effort to keep orderly and up-to-date. My modestproposal is that reference librarians should give their old print manualan extreme electronic makeover. Blasphemy you say? Lets examinesome ways in which technology can hasten that overdue modernizationof the reference manual.

    In my first real reference job back in the mid-80s the senior librariansdirected me to start a personal reference manual. They even gave me

    Steven J. Bell is Associate University Librarian, Research and Instructional Ser-vices, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA.

    The Reference Librarian, Vol. 48(2) (#100) 2007Available online at http://ref.haworthpress.com

    2007 by The Haworth Press. All rights reserved.doi:10.1300/J120v48n02_11 73

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  • a nice wide three-ring binder. For the next several years I packed a veri-table treasure chest of information into that binder, everything from im-portant campus phone numbers to instructions for conducting complexor arcane procedures on obscure databases. Within a few years the man-ual was bursting at the seams. It became increasingly difficult to findanything that could help to answer a reference question. Then disasterstruck. My manual just disappeared one day. I never quite figured outwhat happened to it, but it was a blessing in disguise. I committed tofinding better ways to store and retrieve the exact type of informationfound in my reference manual. I committed to create my own referenceE-manual.

    I discovered that reference librarians have a number of referencemanual alternatives, some of which can be used in combination. One ofthe first possibilities is developing a Web site that serves as a personalreference information center. This works great for storing annotatedlinks to internal and external Web sites. The browser search feature(Edit>Find on Page) works reasonably well for locating specific links.Reference manuals often contain policy and procedure documents. BothWord and PDF documents can be uploaded to the Web page, and whenthese documents are well-organized, finding them is a snap. For thoseprint documents for which electronic files never existed or are no longeravailable, scanners come in handy for conversions to PDF documents.

    But even Web pages can become unwieldy and in time might be justas cumbersome as the old manual. A personal Google search to go alongwith a personal page can enhance retrieval, and Google Custom SearchEngine (http://google.com/coop/cse/) allows anyone to create a searchengine that indexes and retrieves content on specified pages. A customsearch box can be placed right on the main page of your personal refer-ence e-manual. Given our contemporary technology lexicon, perhapsId even call it an iManual.

    If starting and maintaining a Web page seems too daunting there mightbe other options for managing important links. Bookmarking links is anobvious way to keep them organized and accessible. There are a numberof Web-based services that will allow reference librarians to reach theirbookmarks from any computer at any location. There are traditionalbookmarking services such as Backflip (http://www.backflip.com) forthe storage of bookmark links on an easily accessible Web page. Back-flip allows for a number of organizational schemas (folders, keywords,etc.) that make bookmark retrieval easy. With the optional bookmarklet

    74 THE REFERENCE LIBRARIAN

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    http://google.com/coop/csehttp://www.backflip.com

  • that installs a fast add feature to ones browser, any Web page can beadded to Backflip in seconds. Ive maintained a Backflip account forseveral years now and the service has been steadily reliable.

    One problem with bookmarks is link rot. Sites may cease to exist orthe URLs may go bad. Thats where FURL (http://www.furl.net) comesin handy. It not only functions as a bookmark service, but actual Webpage content is saved to the systems servers. So even if a Web page isno longer available in real time, a version of it exists in your FURL ac-count. Unlike Backflip, FURL is also a social bookmark site. Links canbe made public so other members can see what you bookmark, and vice-versa. This can offer some utility for discovering new and similar sitesto those you are bookmarking. If preferred, FURL can be completelyprivate. Other public social bookmarking sites include Del.icio.us (http://www.del.icio.us) and Citeulike (http://www.citeulike.com), but theyjust store links, not the actual content of the Web pages.

    What about the documents that cannot be added to bookmark services,such as those policy documents, vendors search tip handouts, and similardocuments? If a specialized, personal Web page isnt a solution, thesedocuments can be stored in a shared network drive. Its fairly commonfor librarians to have storage space on local networks. Those networkdrives can be accessed from any on-site computer and off site if VPNtechnology is enabled. Between local storage drives (you might evenconsider a portable USB hard drive that can be carried out to the refer-ence desk) and bookmark sites, reference librarians should have con-stant access to all the content that would have gone into the traditionalmanual.

    Keeping with the theme of this column, the technologies describedabove are low threshold, and time-tested for their reliability. Gettingstarting with Web-based bookmarking sites is easy. So if you are stillclinging to your print reference manual, maybe now is the time to ridyourself of that security blanket. Now that you know that theres an elec-tronic alternative, perhaps its time to start your own extreme referencemanual makeover.

    Pencils Never Crash: The Thoughtful Integration of Technology 75

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    http://www.furl.nethttp://www.del.icio.ushttp://www.del.icio.ushttp://www.citeulike.com