Taming the Electronic Tiger: Effective Management of Electronic Resources

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Susan Davis, SUNY Buffalo

This one-day symposium held January 9, 2004 was planned by Pamela Bluh (University of Maryland Law Library) and Cindy Hepfer (University at Buffalo Health Sciences Library) and sponsored by the Serials Section of ALCTS. This event was a follow-up to last year's successful and sold out "Managing Electronic Resources: Meeting the Challenge" also planned by Pamela and Cindy. The bad news for those of you who did not attend this symposium is that you missed a great session and some wonderful warm and sunny weather. The good news is that Pamela and Cindy are editing papers from both symposiums to be published at some future date by ALA Editions.

The day began with Richard Boss (Information Systems Consultants) talking about the "Role of Automated Library Systems in Electronic Resources Management (ERM)." In setting the context for his remarks he noted that the challenge of effective management of electronic resources is not just an academic library issue, as some have believed. Libraries average 45 database subscriptions. He continued by identifying the critical pieces of information needed in an effective ERM system. Boss has done some cost per use analysis for databases (as opposed to e-journals), with costs ranging from $.19 to $6.30 per use. He believes it is very important to know what the cost per use of any database is in one's library.

Boss spent some time learning what each of the major ILS vendors offers in an ERM system. Each vendor he contacted noted the importance of such a system, but there was great variation in terms of development. Innovative Interfaces has a stand-alone product in general release (at CISTI, Ohio State University and just purchased by the University of Washington). Dynix, Endeavor, and ExLibris are all working with customers on a product that they hope to release later in 2004. Gaylord/GIS and SIRSI are still looking at possible development. VTLS has completed their product and hope to release it to the public at the Public Library Association conference later this spring.

Boss's final advice was to monitor the work of the Digital Library Federation Electronic Resource Management Initiative, in particular a list of functional requirements at www.library.cornell.edu/cts/elicensestudy/dlfdeliverables/home.htm" (viewed 26 January 2004).

Sandy Hurd (Innovative Interfaces) kept very much to the "tiger" theme with her presentation, "Positive Reinforcement, or, A Primer in Tiger Taming." She included some humorous strategies librarians could follow to deal with the proliferation of electronic resources. My favorite was "run away as fast as you can." Sandy provided basic information about the "pieces" of an ERM organized by function, such as user-facing, back office, and management. She also described additional complexities created by metasearching, openURL linking, and today's information environment.

Two breakout sessions were offered before and after lunch, so everyone was able to hear Tim Bucknall (University of North Carolina-Greensboro) and Norm Medeiros (Swarthmore College).

Tim focused on "Keeping Electronic Resource Management User-Centered." His opening remark to the audience was, "Why aren't librarians more KISSable?" (Keep It Simple Stupid) Librarians are so interested in training users to be lifelong learners that we sometimes try to make things more complicated than they need be. Tim offered some advice on some user-centered features libraries should implement. These generally flow from learning how patrons actually use the ILS and making the system match user behavior. He admonished the group to do usability testing. Reliance on anecdotal evidence can be misleading. Examining web log files and other statistics can provide good objective information to improve library systems.

Norm Medeiros equated managing electronic resources with a House of Horrors. The Tri-College (Swarthmore, Bryn Mawr and Haverford) developed their own management system, ERTS. (See http://www.haverford.edu/library/erts.) ERTS was intended to be a temporary solution until an acceptable product was available from their ILS vendor.

Six vendors were given fifteen minutes to showcase their products. Represented were EBSCO Subscription Services, Harrassowitz, Innovative Interfaces, Serials Solutions, Swets Information Services and TDNet.

Friedemann Weigel from Harrassowitz spoke about the various standards that might be involved in electronic resource management. He gave an interesting equation that generated some good chuckles near the end of the day.

Standard = Meta Lingo + Business Model

Unlike the big deal, Weigel noted that there is no 500 lb. gorilla to "force" compliance with any standard or best practice. He recommended that librarians strongly and vocally support adoption of best practices, a code of conduct, and wise shopping practices.

Bob Molyneux (U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science) was the last speaker of the day trying to "Make Sense of User Statistics." He raised an interesting point by commenting that people generally think that everyone else's data is great, but their own is not. NCLIS does not have good data on consortia activity. Another interesting tidbit is that the volume count in libraries is one of the oldest measures that mankind has collected. And finally he noted that libraries have always had to compare apples and oranges.

ALCTS gratefully acknowledges the sponsorship of Swets, Springer, ExLibris, and EBSCO for this symposium.

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