College & Research Libraries News

Using Innovacq to create a subject guide to periodical indexes


By Margaret S. Ferguson

Reference Librarian San Jose State University

and Christina A. Brundage

Reference Librarian San Jose State University

The San Jose State University (SJSU) reference desk is very busy and students often wait in line to get service. SJSU has one main library which serves all students and faculty, and librarians must assist with all types of questions, from business to music. Why not provide students with a tool such as a subject guide to periodical indexes, with which they could help themselves? The guide would be of assistance also to librarians who might not be familiar with all available indexes and to patrons who want to do an exhaustive search of the periodical literature in a field. In order to meet these needs, we created the Subject Guide to Periodical Indexes (SGPI).


SGPI lists our 350-plus indexes and abstracts by broad subject and serves several purposes. As already stated, it allows library patrons to work selfsufficiently when the reference desk is extremely busy. Patrons use the guide to determine one or two main indexes, or to identify several sources in order to complete a thorough search on their topic. Students who might have experience with only a few periodical indexes might otherwise find our index collection overwhelmingly large. The guide is also helpful to temporary librarians, sabbatical replacement librarians who are new to the library, and librarians from other departments who serve on the reference desk only a couple of hours a week. During certain late night hours the reference desk is staffed with only a student assistant who can use the SGPI in helping patrons.

Decisions and procedure

1. Database construction. First, we decided what kind of data would be needed in the final form: subject heading, index title, call number, format of index (print, online, CD-ROM, etc.), and shelf location. We then explored software that would allow us to create an appropriate database and corresponding printed lists by subject. After examining dBase III + and similar packages, we compared the advantages and disadvantages of using the library’s automated serials control system, Innovacq. Innovacq provided an existing database with authority-controlled entries of almost all of the SJSU Library indexes and abstracts. This meant less time for the data entry person to key in, verify, and proofread data. The database is automatically kept up to date by the Serials Department, and is readily accessible by any library staff without having to learn a new database system. If the creators of SGPI were no longer available, other staff could easily manipulate and update the database.

However, with the use of Innovacq, several aspects of the project could not be realized as originally planned. We were only able to create one new field for each index entry: the subject field. There was no place to enter the carefully gathered data regarding index format or shelf location. Also, the final print product did not appear exactly as we had envisioned. However, the advantages of using an existing authoritative local database were judged to outweigh the disadvantages.

2. Compilation of subject headings. The index database was modeled on an existing, outdated drawer of catalog cards which listed indexes by subject. This catalog was unbalanced, with some subjects having many more indexes listed than others and with varying degrees of subject specificity. A few subjects, such as “dewatering,” were no longer of interest to SJSU patrons. In order to create a subject listing which reflects most topics currently requested at the reference desk, new headings were added. We referred to the university’s catalog for a listing of majors, and also used selected DIALINDEX categories. All of these subject headings, outdated or not, were combined in a master list. An alternative would have been to ask individual reference librarians (who at SJSU all have collection development subject specialties) to create their own categories.

3. Data collection. Should the project coordinators create the index lists by subject themselves or should they rely upon the expertise of the subject specialists? We saw no advantage to the former approach as our colleagues were quite willing to cooperate with us on this project. We circulated the new subject heading list, and asked subject specialists to choose the headings which fell within their area. They compiled lists of indexes and abstracts for each subject, indicating the two or three most important titles. They were free to add new subject headings or to delete no longer useful ones. In order to maintain uniformity of response and standardize data, we created a paper form which asked for the subject heading, titles of indexes, call numbers, and format. As explained in a latter section, this data entry form became one of the most crucial aspects of our project.

4. List of subject headings. We compiled a listing of all the subject headings used with several cross references from related headings. This was placed in the front of each copy of SGPI, and acts as a table of contents to help users determine relevant headings. There was a total of approximately 120 subject headings plus a large number of cross references.

5. Data entry. We obtained a university grant that allowed us to hire a student assistant to enter subject headings into the Innovacq database, and to print and correct the final lists. This took approximately 70 hours. Another student assistant designed a cover for us. The campus duplicating center then duplicated and spiral-bound the 178- page guide.

Problems and future implications

Lack of cataloging and indexing expertise hampered the smooth flow of this project. Several problems with data standardization might have been avoided if we had consulted with members of our Cataloging or Serials Departments as we wrote the data entry form. Most subject specialists used popular names for indexes rather than the authority list of names found in the SJSU list of periodicals (for example, “PAIS” instead of “Public Affairs Information Service. Bulletin”). We had to correct all popular titles, because the index title had to match the Innovacq authority list exactly for our data entry person to choose the correct Innovacq record. Also, to find the proper index by call number Innovacq demanded proper spacing. Most data entry forms had been returned by subject specialists with no spacing at all in call numbers. Catalog librarians would have been able to warn us of these authority and database problems, and we would then have written the data entry form to ask for information directly usable by our student assistant without the added step of our having to make corrections.

Catalogers would also have advised that we write our lists by index rather than by subject heading (i.e., list subjects for indexes rather than indexes for subjects), so the student assistant would have to modify each Innovacq record only once. This would have cut down on the hours required for data entry. The Cataloging Department could have been of great help in determining specificity levels for subject headings. Some subject specialists (the “lumpers”) created only a few long lists with quite general subject headings, while others (the “splitters”) broke their topics into several short lists of more specific subjects. This created the potential for confusion on the part of librarians and patrons who would not know whether to look under more general or specific subject headings for their topic.

To alleviate this problem partially, we included a number of cross references in our table of contents list of subject headings.

Future implications include the possibility of transferring SGPI to disk, with Innovacq’s permission, so patrons could access the information either in print or via a computer located in the reference area. This might also allow us to modify its printed format in order to create a more attractive final product.


We have observed several students and librarians using the Subject Guide during the semester it has been available in our reference area. It is serving our original purposes of increasing patron independence, assisting new librarians in becoming familiar with the index collection, and helping student assistants work with patrons during late hours when librarians do not staff the reference desk.

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