Over the last decade, libraries of all kinds have been spending larger and larger shares of their budgets to acquire or gain access to electronic resources from publishers and vendors. Ten years ago, the user of a typical Association of Research Libraries (ARL) library would have found little more than a handful of the more prominent periodical indexes and abstracts-possibly in CD-ROM format. Today, that user would find a daunting array of resources that might include hundreds of databases and thousands of electronic journals.
Electronic resources have enabled libraries to improve services in a variety of ways. First, most electronic resources come equipped with powerful search-and-retrieval tools that allow users to perform literature searches more efficiently and effectively than was previously possible. In addition, because most relevant electronic resources are now available through the Web, users can have desktop access to them 24 hours a day. In many cases, users also can now navigate directly from indexing databases to the full text of an article and can even follow further links from there.
Most users have welcomed these developments. Nevertheless, libraries face a number of technical, financial, and organizational challenges as they seek to continue offering the high level of services that users have come to expect. The purpose of this report is to review some of the key issues facing libraries and to describe some of the more promising practices that libraries have devised-individually and collectively-to deal with them.
1.1. Scope and Perspectives
This report focuses on practices related to the selection and presentation of commercially available electronic resources. As part of the Digital Library Federation’s Collection Practices Initiative, the report also shares the goal of identifying and propagating practices that support the growth of sustainable and scalable collections. To give readers a common reference, this section begins with a brief discussion of key terminology.
In an attempt to be as inclusive as possible, the term “commercially available resources” is defined as virtually any electronic product or service for which libraries spend funds. The breadth of this definition is suggested by some of the types of electronic reference resources enumerated by Demas, McDonald, and Lawrence (1995) and Kovacs (2000a; 2000b), directories, dictionaries, abstracts, services providing indexes and tables of contents, encyclopedias and almanacs, e-serials, bibliographies and bibliographic databases, and “key primary documents.” The topic of electronic serials is itself quite complex, as indicated by some recent overviews (Barber 2000; Curtis, Scheschy, and Tarango 2000). To this basic inventory of types must now be added a few new genres, such as historical full-text collections and electronic books.
It is also necessary to briefly consider the conditions that might enable commercially available collections or resources to be “sustainable.” Librarians today tend to characterize pricing models, or the information marketplace in general, as sustainable or not, and this is the sense in which the word has been used recently in some influential documents. For example, a document issued in 1998 by the International Coalition of Library Consortia (ICOLC) states that “current pricing models for e-information, which are developing during a period of experimentation, are not sustainable” (ICOLC 1998a). Another document, “Principles for Emerging Systems of Scholarly Publishing,” employs the word somewhat similarly, but it also declares that the current system of scholarly publishing and communication “has become too costly for the academic community to sustain” (Principles 2000). Vendors and providers of electronic resources also need to be concerned about the economic sustainability or viability of their products, and their views of what may be required for sustainability may conflict with what libraries view as the realities of their funding situations.
Because pricing issues are fundamental to sustainability, this report examines some emerging strategies for exerting economic pressure within the marketplace for electronic resources. However, because substantial staff time may be necessary to acquire and provide access to databases and e-journals, sustainability is also an operational question. With that in mind, this report also focuses on operational and organizational issues and practices. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize the influence that vendor design and presentation choices have on the amount and kind of time and effort required of libraries. Libraries and vendors alike have important roles to play in fostering an environment in which resources and services are sustainable for both communities.
These broad definitions of commercially available resources and of sustainability affected the scope of this study. Most important, they limited the number of libraries whose internal policies and practices could be surveyed and the way in which the survey could be done. Because problems of scale, or size of collection, are among the central concerns of this report series, it made sense to focus on libraries that have relatively large collections of commercially available electronic resources. The member libraries of the Digital Library Federation (DLF) generally fit that description, and they number fewer than 30. Because it was possible to communicate with them relatively easily, they also provided a convenient sample on which to focus. Attempts were made to look beyond the DLF libraries when trying to identify useful practices.
1.2. Methodology, Aims, and Organization
The foregoing considerations formed the starting point for an extensive review of internal documents and local practices that started with the two recent and useful ARL SPEC Kits on managing the licensing of electronic products (Soete and Davis 1999) and on networked information resources (Bleiler and Plum 1999). The documents reproduced in these publications often pointed the way to additional documents and discoveries or led to telephone conversations and e-mail messages with librarians involved in the practices discussed or depicted. The public Web sites of DLF member libraries and several other ARL libraries with large collections of electronic resources were also reviewed. This led to further contacts and conversations, to discovery of additional internal documents, and to the generation of still more ideas.
The main body of this report discusses 10 issues and practices related to selection and presentation. The first issue is the economic context of electronic resource selection. The discussion of this topic describes the two most visible means libraries have developed for dealing with the pricing of electronic resources: consortial purchasing and alternative scholarly communication initiatives. The next two sections cover selection policies and strategic plans, and organizational matters. The remaining sections deal more directly with operational questions and are organized roughly in a “resource life cycle” sequence. The discussion starts with initial selection issues and proceeds through ordering and purchasing, establishing and organizing access, providing support, and evaluating and assessing how information is used. The report concludes with a discussion of some local databases and systems devised to support or help rationalize the treatment of electronic resources. It is hoped that this information will help DLF libraries and others define standard functions and data elements, and otherwise collaborate in developing improved systems for supporting the acquisition and maintenance of licensed electronic resources.
The most promising selection and presentation practices are assembled and briefly discussed in the concluding section. Given the dynamic nature of electronic resources, many of these practices may soon be outdated. Accordingly, the goal is to assist in local decision making, rather than to establish a set of formal standards. Many local practice documents and related Web links are cited throughout the report; these references, as well as additional relevant documents and Web links, have also been organized into a table in Appendix A.