Monday, May 23, 2005

The Venerable Readers' Guide

For years, high school and college students have used the Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature, one of the most well known periodical indexes.

However, as more and more (especially) academic libraries provide access to large article databases, such as Expanded Academic ASAP (InfoTrac) and Academic Search Elite/Premier (EBSCO), they are choosing to cancel their subscriptions to Readers' Guide, whether they be print or electronic. There is some justification for this. Readers' Guide only indexes some several hundred magazines and journals, whereas Expanded Academic and Academic Search Elite provide full text access to several thousand publications, many of those which are indexed by Readers' Guide.

"Opponents" of Readers' Guide will often scoff at defenders of this venerable work, accusing them of not "letting go" of a standard reference work that is now, in their view, past its prime and supplanted by other databases/indexes.

That may be true, but I had a real reference interview in which I, a reference assistant at a major research university, was unable to help the patron because the library had no indexes to the magazines he was searching. Specifically, the patron wanted to find articles in Teen and Seventeen magazines. According to Ulrich's, these two magazines are indexed by Readers' Guide, but not by Expanded Academic or Academic Search Elite. While we do have older Readers' Guides, we cancelled our print and electronic subscriptions last year, so the patron couldn't use them to find more current articles.

Do I have a point in all of this? Well, for one, Readers' Guide is still useful for providing access to more "popular" magazines. And, two, considering replacements for standard reference sources involves some amount of study and comparison. For example, here are the source lists to Readers' Guide (electronic edition), Expanded Academic ASAP, and Academic Search Elite. As you will see, indeed, the latter two resources do not index Teen and Seventeen!

1 comment:

Michelle said...

I agree with you, Alec, about the usefulness of Reader's Guide. Each year, I have at least one reference question like the one you described (thankfully, our subscription to Reader's Guide is still active).

In addition, I find that print indices can be a great teaching tool in helping students understand why online indices work the way they do. The print version illustrates controlled vocabularly and the organization of information in a discipline in a way that databases sometimes disguise.