Stroll into today's university library and you won't find the librarian thumbing the card catalog or stamping due dates in books. More likely, he or she is helping an advanced graduate student navigate an electronic database or fielding questions on library holdings in an online chat room. Indeed, librarians of the Information Age are technology-savvy research sleuths: They are human search engines with the ability to dig deeper than widely used search engines like Google. What's more, experts say, they know the needs of today's information-seekers like no one else.

With an eye toward tapping that unique expertise, APA has formed the Library Advisory Council, a group of nine university-based librarians with expertise in areas from psychology to education to "e-content," or electronic information, who will be APA's direct link to faculty, students and other consumers of PsycINFO, PsycARTICLES and other APA electronic databases.

The council--which had its first meeting in October 2004 and will meet for a day every fall and spring with APA funding--will advise APA on how to streamline PsycINFO's search capabilities, identify emerging markets and research trends, and package electronic resources and products in ways that appeal to libraries' budgets and needs, for example. Feedback from a recent meeting, for instance, led APA to add a PsycINFO feature that sorts research studies by methodology.

"Librarians have an expertise and knowledge about how our products are used that we can't have," says APA's Susan Hillson, who manages customer relations for PsycINFO. Adds PsycINFO Senior Director Linda Beebe, "They are our eyes and ears on campus."

Collection and development

The council isn't APA's first interaction with library science: APA Publications and Databases staff have hosted round-tables with librarians at the American Library Association meetings for more than five years to poll librarians on how APA's products are working or need improving and to offer updates on product enhancements. In fact, the library community's suggestions prompted APA to move its print journal Contemporary Psychology (CP) to a more timely online book review publication called PsycCRITIQUES, says APA Publisher Gary VandenBos, PhD, of the shift that happened last fall. CP's old format didn't much pique librarians interest in acquiring psychology books: The format and print production lag time allowed APA to review only about one-sixth of all new psychology books, and the reviews appeared when the books were three years old.

"[Librarians] were very clear in saying 'If you want a review publication in the field of psychology, which we think is a legitimate need, you have to review at least 50 percent of the books...and you have it get it on the street 90 days after you see the book," says VandenBos.

In another collaboration in 2002, APA appointed a regular seat for a librarian to serve on APA's Electronic Resources Advisory Committee--a group of psychologists who advise APA on its Web-based products and content. The association also recruited Northwestern University librarian Leslie Bjorncrantz, now a member of the council, to help search for the new editor for PsycCRITIQUES. Because librarians' feedback was quickly becoming an essential part of APA's electronic product development, APA formalized the interactions through the formation of the council, a step that was also a growing trend in the publishing world, notes VandenBos.

"The council gives us an opportunity to engage their expertise in a focused manner for a full day," says VandenBos. "We can accomplish in one day what we imprecisely get through six months of informal meetings."

Coming soon to a library near you

APA isn't the only party that will benefit from the collaboration: The library community has a vested interest in seeing APA develop the best products possible for its patrons, says Darlene Nichols, a librarian at the University of Michigan who serves on the council. "PsycINFO is one of our most important databases," notes Nichols. "Psychology is simply something everyone on campus uses at some point."

In fact, Nichols and the other members of the council have opened APA's eyes to an emerging market for the multidisciplinary PsycINFO--the engineering community. More engineering students are tapping PsycINFO for human factors research than ever, they say, and their feedback has prompted APA to consider ways to better meet their needs.

Additionally, they have suggested APA:

  • Step up PsycINFO librarian training. Librarians say they need more training in PsycINFO's ins and outs, in part because often they need to teach users the bells and whistles of several different versions. PsycINFO is delivered through 12 different vendors (PsycARTICLES through eight), each with its own unique search engine or platform, notes Beebe. And because PsycINFO's content has multidisciplinary appeal, librarians commonly need to know more than one type of platform, says Beebe. "The medical school may use one platform, while the psychology department prefers another," says Beebe. "But librarians need to be able to teach users to use either one."

To help, APA is developing updated PsycINFO "train-the-trainer" materials and programming tailor-made for librarians that include online tutorials, and Webinars--Web-based training sessions that incorporate PowerPoint and live discussions. APA staff will offer workshops online and at the American Library Association meeting and other library conferences this year.

  • Refine PsycINFO searching. Librarians have encouraged APA to tease apart its search fields to help patrons find what they need faster and avoid overlap in the different fields, says Hillson. As a result, APA is rolling out several changes to PsycINFO searching, including a new "Publication Type" field that will allow users to limit searches to journals or books or dissertations, among other options. A separate "Document Type" field will distinguish the components that make up a publication, such as journal articles or book chapters. And a new "Methodology Type" search field will allow researchers to isolate, for example, clinical case studies or meta-analyses.

  • Reach out to nonacademicians. According to librarians, "academicians aren't the only game in town," says Beebe. Librarians say fewer faculty members are coming into the library--instead doing much of their research from their home or office computers--and that a growing number of PsycINFO users and library patrons aren't affiliated with the university.

"We need to think how we can reach those unaffiliated professionals," says Beebe. "Our audience is broader than traditional researchers now."

Further Reading

For more information on APA's electronic products and databases, including PsycINFO, PsycARTICLES, PsycBOOKS, PsycEXTRA and PsycCRITIQUES, as well as its print books and journals, visit APA Publications.