Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 30, No.2

September 29, 2005


Librarians share their research


By Karen Herland

Most of us think of librarians as resources to help us find the information we need, but the Librarians’ Forum, held Sept. 16, was a chance for librarians to move their own research to centre stage.

“It’s an opportunity for us to reflect on issues raised by our profession,” said William Curran, Director of Libraries, in his opening remarks to the fourth annual Librarians’ Poster Forum, held in the Vanier Library.

A key theme raised by many of the 13 presenters was access. Because librarians are the link between people and data, making that connection as comprehensive and seamless as possible is key to the profession.

Alex Guindon, recently tenured reference librarian at Concordia and president of the Forum, said librarians from outside Quebec participated for the first time this year. Three presenters came from the University of Ottawa, five were from Concordia and the remaining five represented other Montreal universities.

Technical errors

One of the first presentations was by Laura May, Collections Access Librarian, who studied how technical errors “prevent the user from retrieving all relevant data.”

Her research on the ProQuest dissertation and thesis database revealed that nearly four per cent of errors on the site are due to problems with the optical recognition software being used. These translate into typos that skip certain materials in standard searches.

Alex Guindon has been studying copyright as an historical and philosophical concept for the last year and a half, and has explored the expanding definition of protected work.

Initially, just novels could be copyrighted; now musical works, images, translations and software are equally protected. In Canada, copyrights last 50 years after the death of the author. In the US, that period is extended to 70 years.

Blurring boundaries

Guindon is concerned about the shrinking boundaries of the public domain and the erosion of a distinction between ideas and expression. He sees the librarian’s role as “a fight for user rights.” He praised groups like Creative Commons, which are developing broader standards of information sharing and fair use.

Librarians are acutely affected by digital technology. Cameron Metcalf, from the University of Ottawa, shared the results of a user survey of that university library’s recently redesigned website.

“If researchers don’t get it, what are undergrads doing?” he said. “What about the parents who are thinking of sending kids here?” His project was able to track navigational difficulties and led to concrete solutions.

Patrick Labelle, instruction librarian at Concordia’s Webster Library, helps produce Bibliofile, the librarians’ newsletter for faculty members.


He presented an initial analysis of MetaFind, a tool capable of searching multiple databases and catalogues and producing a single list of results. Although the tool is new at Concordia, similar search engines are controversial for librarians, who are concerned that quality and specificity might be lost.

Labelle is just beginning his investigation but is unwilling to dismiss the possibilities. “If it helps some people find what they’re looking for, it’s useful,” he said.

He ended his presentation with a cautionary quote from Roy Tennant, a digital librarian from California and the author of three books on digital libraries and the internet: “Only librarians like to search; everyone else likes to find.”