Monday, November 15, 2004


I'm a little hestitant to suggest this amazing union catalog (collection of library catalogs) from RLG (Research Libraries Group) to distance students, just because it will cause that frustration of finding out that something exists when you can't get at it. But the search capabilites are great and it may allow you to find that perfect resource that actually exists in your local library, or can be obtained through Interlibrary Loan.

RedLightGreen is a special library catalog. The books (etc.) that are listed here are from research libraries all over the world. So far, no big deal. You can search worldwide library catalogs on the web or via the database WorldCat, or even in Google and Yahoo. What makes RedLightGreen special is the search. Specifically aimed at undergraduate students, the search is much more intuitive than your average library catalog. Some of the features include:
  • automatic "stemming", searching of word variations (i.e. put in cat and also get cats)
  • limit to exact word when you really want it (i.e. put in +cat and not get cats)
  • search authors, titles, keywords, etc., in the same search
  • use Boolean AND, OR, and NOT (and it doesn't care if you capitalize the Boolean terms)
  • phrase searching using quotation marks
  • limit by language (in More Search Options)
In other words, it makes searching for books in library catalogs much more like searching the web in a search engine.

It also combines different editions and versions in your results list, so you aren't looking at multiple entries for often-republished works, such as Shakespeare's plays. When I search for Shakespeare Othello, it looks like most the versions and editions of the actual play are represented by the first 4 entries, which include over 2000 separate editions. Imagine searching a regular library catalog and having to go through 2000 entries before finding the critical reviews!

Once you have found some interesting books, you can look them up in your local catalog. If you sign in (registration is free), you can set a particular library catalog as your default, but you can also choose others while you search. For instance, under United States, Connecticut, is the the Connecticut State University System, which links to the CONSULS catalog. You can also search for a library using a city name.

Another advantage of signing in is the ability to save records in bibliographic citation formats. MLA, APA, Chicago, and Turabian are supported. The references can be emailed, printed or copy-and-pasted. They are also saved under your log in, so you can go back later and find the reference you used before. The citations, at least in APA, are not 100% complete--you need to add the correct designation for editors, translators, and other non-author names. However, it points this out and gives instructions. As will all bibliographic citation software, you need to double check before you submit your papers.

Now, if it is so wonderful, why did I hestitate to recommend this? While searching is great, finding the actual book is more difficult. You have to look up each book in each library separately, unless you have a local combined catalog available. For instance, if I find a book I want, I can check for it in CONSULS and get all the CSU schools, but I have to reselect a library to search in Yale or the New Haven Public Library catalog. (I sent in a request for them to add reQuest [leave the login form blank to search without logging in], the Connecticut statewide catalog, which includes many of the state's colleges and universities, plus the public libraries.) If you have only one local library handy, this shouldn't be a problem, but it could be a real pain if you normally have access to half a dozen libraries.

I'd love to see the ease of searching in multiple libraries that exists in the WorldCat Library Lookup, combined with the search capabilities of RedLightGreen.


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