Three reference works have been available on-line long enough to have generated substantial usage data. These are The Concise Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, Columbia Granger's World of Poetry, and The Oxford English Dictionary. Three other titles (Chaucer Name Dictionary, African American Women, Native American Women ) have been on-line only since early 1997, so usage data are very short-term for these titles. All three are accessible both through CNet and CWeb.
Most available reference books are used more heavily on-line than in print.
Of the six reference works in the collection, only The Oxford English Dictionary receives sizable use in its print form in the Columbia libraries. At most a handful of scholars use the library copies of the others each month. As the accompanying tables and figure show, each of these books receives much more use on-line. On-line availability seems to increase awareness of these resources as well as make access more convenient.
Early on-line reference books have experienced falling usage over time, substitution of use of a new delivery system for an old one, or a smaller rate of growth of use than might be expected given the explosion in access to and use of on-line resources in general.
In the early to mid-1990s, novelty may have brought curious scholars to the on-line format somewhat without concern for design, the utility of the delivery system, or the qualities of the books. With enhancement in delivery systems and expansion in the number of on-line books, being on-line is no longer a guarantee that a book will attract users. As access to the Web spreads, new graphical Web delivery systems are offering superior performance that is increasingly likely to draw scholars away from these early, text-based systems. In addition, as more competing resources come on-line and provide information that serves the immediate needs of a user better or offer a more attractive, user-friendly format, scholars are less likely to find or to choose to use any single resource.
The Oxford English Dictionary is the most heavily used reference work in the collection. Its CNet format offers good analytic functionality but it is difficult to use. The CWeb format is attractive and easy to use, but its functionality is limited to looking up a definition or browsing the contents.
OED CNet usage dropped 59% from fourth quarter 1994 (2,856 sessions) to first quarter 1997 (1,167 sessions). OED CWeb use increased by 27% from fall semester 1996 (1,825 hits) to spring semester 1997 (2,326 hits). The OED had 173 unique users in the period from March 15 to May 31, 1997, with an average of 2.8 hits per user.
The Concise Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia remains on the text-based platform CNet. As Figure 17.2 shows, usage declined 84% over the past three years, from 1,551 sessions in April 1994 to 250 sessions in April 1997. Usage declined most in the 1996-97 academic year; 7,861 sessions were registered from September 1995 to May 1996 and 2,941 sessions (63% fewer) from September 1996 to May 1997.
Columbia now provides CWeb access to the Encyclopedia Britannica (directly from the publisher's server); many scholars may be using this resource instead of the Concise Encyclopedia. Recently the Columbia community has registered about 5,000 textual hits a month on the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Columbia Granger's World of Poetry is available on both CNet and CWeb. The CNet version is a Lynx, nongraphical Web formulation of the CWeb version. This resource, which became available to the community in on-line form in October 1994, locates a poem in an anthology by author, subject, title, first line, or keywords in its title or first line. In addition, it provides easy access to the 10,000 most often anthologized poems. In first quarter 1995, CNet sessions totaled 718; in first quarter 1997, they totaled 90 (or about one a day). CWeb hits totaled about 700 in the first quarter of 1997. Thus, even though it has declined, total usage of Granger's is still considerable.
Garland's Chaucer Name Dictionary was added to the CWeb collection at the end of 1996. Native American Women was added in January 1997, and African American Women went on-line in February 1997. Their early usage on CWeb is shown in Table 17.2.