Managing Electronic Resources in Technical Services
by Ladd Brown and Molly Brennan Cox
As electronic information becomes a staple in libraries, it becomes necessary for libraries to devote more staff time to ordering, licensing, and controlling electronic resources. At Virginia Tech, staff members have taken on new responsibilities and have learned new skills, and the workflow in the Technical Services department has changed to reflect this new environment.
In the traditional print environment, the workflow for acquiring materials is well established. The workflow is fairly linear: from the point of request, to the placing of the order with a vendor, to receiving. At Virginia Tech, e-resources are requested, and subsequently placed in the workflow, from a variety of places. Similar to the print environment, e-resources are requested by subject bibliographers or collection development staff. E-resources are also made available through consortium agreements, bundled with print subscriptions, or available "free" on the web. They also enter the workflow when titles change from print to electronic-only or when users personally register for a title on the web and then ask the library to help solve access or invoice problems.
Most steps in acquiring e-resources are not so different from obtaining print or other formats. Two areas that stand apart are licensing issues and record keeping, both of which tend to generate paper. Licenses are amended and drafts are exchanged between the licensee ("us") and the licensor ("them"). Complete files will contain all of these copies. It is prudent to retain notes of purchasing decisions, preliminary negotiations, contact information, and post-purchase information that may aid in the successful delivery of the e-resource. If a crisis occurs or there is need for problem solving, nearly all these records are relevant and certain to be of some value, either in re-establishing access or to serve as background data. Much of this information will be in electronic form (e-mail correspondence, word-processed memos, web sites, internal databases and spreadsheets), but much of it will be in the form of handwritten notes. Keeping extensive and well-organized files is important when pulling together information to solve a problem or answer a question.
Before licensing became ubiquitous, library staff was not required to do much investigation or handling of these legal documents. Even today, with a myriad of sources for license education, it is still a complex process. License examination and negotiation slows down the acquisitions process. Some licenses are immediately controversial. At other times, the whole matter of obtaining the e-resource hinges upon a seemingly irrelevant clause or an issue perceived as trivial by one of the parties. The concept of limiting database access to geographical confines such as a certain building or main campus may make perfect sense to an information provider, but to a university with remote graduate centers it does not. If this small matter is not agreed upon, then the contract goes unsigned, and the product is not purchased.
Once the licensing issues have been resolved, then the order is placed. In the traditional serial/print workflow orders are primarily placed with a subscription vendor. Due to the complexity of ordering, licensing and maintenance, Virginia Tech is placing most orders for e-resources directly with the publisher or information provider rather than with a subscription agent. This may change in the future as subscription agents develop their skills and find their niche in this market. There is a recent example1 of a subscription agent working on a library's behalf to negotiate a license, using a pre-signed standard academic single site license created by John Cox and Associates. As part of this agreement, the subscription agent takes care of registration, licensing, and invoicing. It is an interesting development, and one our general counsel will continue to monitor.
Even after the product is purchased or access is made available, e-resources continue to affect the workflow. With other formats, the concept of sale and ownership prevails and, as owners, libraries can manage these resources under this precept. Within their established policies, libraries can bind, lend, repair, archive, or withdraw as they see fit. With e-resources, constant vigilance becomes a part of maintenance. Is there compensation for lengthy downtime written into the license agreement? Are the peripheral and auxiliary aspects like printing, viewing, and downloading causing a problem? Is the electronic environment consistent within the institution, or are there variations in the levels and quality of access from building to building, campus to campus? Some of these difficulties require technical expertise to untangle, but access to contact information, purchase information, and important background information will often involve technical services staff. If e-resources are cataloged, then any major changes, such as increase or decrease in the backfiles or URL changes, will entail new responsibilities for the cataloging department.
Duplication is one of the new concerns or decisions that needs to be made when electronic resources are acquired. For example, when an e-resource is requested, staff must verify that the title doesn't duplicate or overlap any existing print resources. If it does duplicate, is it intentional duplication? With shrinking library budgets, staff must be aware of electronic titles that duplicate print titles. These duplicated print titles are often possible candidates for cancellation in the future.
Part of the new workflow in e-resource acquisitions is gate keeping. Used in this context, the term suggests that the e-resource manager will become familiar with the content of, the packaging or bundling of, and the patron-use or curriculum-support reason for selection of e-resources. He or she must learn to evaluate e-resources within a technical services framework. Which takes priority: a quarterly humanities journal available from a reliable aggregator who advertises that it has 24 x 7 customer and technical support, or a massive engineering e-resource notorious for downtime and the unresponsiveness of the information provider? The e-resource manager's motto is "Be Prepared," and knowing some of these details will help in the event of an access emergency.
Because e-resources are very expensive and in high demand, recordkeeping takes on added importance. Primary records in-clude copies of contracts-from the first draft to the signed copy. Once institution or agency offibjcials have taken their time to sign an approved agreement, always safeguard these signed contracts by using registered mail or commercial delivery services. Secondary records are largely informational, but no less valuable. E-mails, phone logs, and notes will provide history and background information as well as the all-important list of contacts if something goes a-miss or if there is a question. The above-mentioned information can be included in a checklist. This is filled out at the beginning of the acquisitions process or when problems develop at any time during a subscription. Here at Virginia Tech, this checklist has evolved into the Electronic Resource Diary, available at the end of this article. It has two functions: as a tracking tool for important chronology (the diary) and as a source for vital contact information. Having this checklist, or similar tool, just within reach is sound practice. Remember, "Be Prepared."
Ideally, all of this "emergency" information should be online for ease of update and universal accessibility by all stakeholders. The online version of the checklist is in development and will be featured on the acquisitions team web page soon. Paper may still be the best medium for the diary. Some information, such as administrative passwords, may be confidential. The mobile form can also be easily taken to meetings.
Unlike the linear process of ordering and receiving associated with other formats, the e-resource workflow in Technical Services may flow from Point A to Point B to Point G, and then back again. The hub at the center of this circular workflow is often a technical services staff member.
Some libraries have made staffing changes because of new electronic responsibilities. According to Montgomery and Sparks2, in the future libraries will see a decrease in the number of staff in journal check-in, claiming and binding, and a corresponding increase in staffing in the areas of acquisitions, database and web-site maintenance. Already some libraries have shifted positions to address this change, while others have created new positions. These new positions are often given primary responsibility for e-resources and are given titles like Electronic Resources Librarian, Electronic Journal/Information Delivery Librarian, or Manager of Electronic Resources.
Electronic resources exploded onto the library scene long before the position of an Electronic Resources Librarian came into being. The need for a position whose job is solely devoted to acquiring and/or managing and/or cataloging e-resources is readily apparent, but not all institutions can afford to create a new position. Instead, the responsibilities for acquiring e-resources are either re-assigned to one position or spread over several existing positions. At Virginia Tech, we re-assigned a position from monographic acquisitions, creating a new serial-acquisitions assistant. This move allowed the Head of Acquisitions to devote more time to electronic resources. Even with this change, the number of responsibilities associated with acquiring and cataloging e-resources has continued to increase faster than staff can manage. The library has recently made the decision to establish a new professional position. This position will be responsible primarily for cataloging electronic resources but will also assist the head of acquisitions in licensing and ordering issues.
More, More, More
E-resources present a unique set of circumstances. From the management perspective, e-resources dissolve the boundaries in today's libraries. Responsibilities are not so clear-cut anymore. The task forces and committees and other groups committed to e-resources have representatives from almost all library departments. Not only is the acquisition of e-resources nonlinear, it is also interdepartmental.
There are more players involved, both inside and outside the library. Due to the nature of electronic products and the intricacies and/or eccentricities of local environments, technical support is just as important as the sales representative or customer service contact. Technical support is vital-both from the library staff and from the information provider.
There is more money involved. The fee rates (especially for scientific, technical, and medical/STM e-resources) are steep. Without significant growth in the library budget, a greater proportion of the existing budget must be committed to e-resources.
There are more users: distance and distributed-education students, extended- campus users, and remote researchers. Virginia Tech has 12 agricultural extension stations spread all over the state, from the mountains of the west to the Eastern Shore. Many libraries-public, private, academic, special-recognize that remote access is a user expectation and are making room for it in their policies and their budgets.
There is more paper involved. Whatever happened to the paperless office? Ironically, the product is electronic, but the associated documents are not. E-resources, especially those that involve a license agreement, tend to generate a disproportionately larger amount of paperwork than their print counterparts.
With all these "mores" and extra players in the mix, the stakes are higher, and e-resource managers are in the spotlight. Therefore, communication is imperative. The earliest draft of the e-resource cataloging policy at Virginia Tech contained this language:
Effective communication among all involved parties about the acquisition, cataloging, and other processing of electronic resources is essential.
The general counsel may not be familiar with databases; technical support personnel do not necessarily know about the pricing options of the products they create and maintain. The channels must be open and the communicators must be aware that oftentimes their communication is closer to three- or four-way, rather than merely two-way.
Juggling, Not Balancing: Skills for the New Millennium
Technical service staff members are most likely to function in some sort of middle-manager role: They have to listen; they have to talk. They have to relay information, assess situations, and be conduits, facilitators, mediators, and sometimes totally disinterested third parties, sometimes-major decision makers. When e-resources are pursued, expectations are born. At one end, the requestor is interested in access at his/her fingertips. At the other end, a very busy legal counsel is taking her valuable time to see if the license agreement is acceptable. Along the way, other interested parties may express concern or simply be curious about the status of a particular resource. Clear, concise, and informed communication is, to quote the policy above, "essential" when dealing with all stakeholders.
Electronic resources are an integral part of almost every library collection. Several characteristics set them apart from their print counterparts: their price tag is high, they are in high demand, and they enjoy a rather high reputation or status in the library world. Wrapped in this "glamour" is the reality that e-resources are also high-maintenance, whether it is the lengthy acquisitions process or insuring continuous access. Techniical services staff that does not treat them as "just another acquisition" in the workflow and do not underestimate their far-reaching and long-term impact will "Be Prepared" to manage these resources effectively.
Electronic Resource Diary Date Initiated: License Chronology [see over] Title: License Contact: URL: Archives? Catalog: OCLC: ISSN: ILL? IPs Registered: Usage Statistics? Users: Deal-stopper? Platform: Milleniac 2000 Record: Publisher/Vendor/Consortium: Order Info: Customer Service: Fund Code: Technical Support: Payment Info: Requestor/"Designated Expert": Sub Period: Newman Tech Support: Related Print/Other Title(s): Trial Notes: Action Taken: License Chronology: Problem Reporting/Status/Oddities:
1 "Faxon and IUPUI Sign Industry's First Licensing Service Agreement," Faxon/RoweCom News May 30, 1999. [electronic mail]
2 Montgomery, Carol Hansen and JoAnne L. Sparks, "The Transition to an Electronic Journal Collection: Managing the Organizational Changes," Serials Review 26(3) (2000).
Head of Acquisitions
Newman Library [Mail Code 0434]
Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University
PO Box 90001
Blacksburg, Virginia 24062-9001
Voice: (540) 231-6736
Fax: (540) 231-3694
Molly Brennan Cox
Newman Library [Mail Code 0434]
Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University
PO Box 90001
Blacksburg, Virginia 24062-9001
Voice: (540) 231-9254
Fax: (540) 231-3694