An Opportunity to Earn Our Keep

Corrall, Kennan and Afzal discuss bibliometrics and research data management services in their 2013 article from Library Trends. Because of internet research and e-resources, university library services have changed though their mission remains the same–supporting learning and research activities. The authors paraphrase Ball and Tunger’s (2006, p.563) argument that “libraries need to cease resembling museums and become efficient ‘business enterprises.’” Typically, I resent notions of commercialized learning, but this smacks of Library 2.0 and “3.0,” and I do think that’s something that we need to keep working toward.

There is a gap and therefore, an opportunity, for academic libraries to offer services using bibliometrics and data management for trend analysis, publication strategies, faculty reviews, grant writing and job applications. As it turns out, bibliometrics is a home-grown research area and specialization, not something LIS has imported or borrowed from other fields, but even this study gives evidence that libraries need to get going on putting it into practice.

The survey used by the authors targeted academic libraries in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the UK. While many of these libraries had bibliometrics and RDM programs in place and/or plans for more, many of the librarians stated that they didn’t feel prepared with the knowledge, skills or confidence they need to implement them. There is a call for LIS curriculum for RDM, even in the form of electives and short courses on data curation, technical skills and ICT skills (information and communication technology? …British vocab, I guess). 

The authors point out that most MLS programs prepare their graduates with a “general education for all library sectors” (p. 664) and that such specialties may not be applicable to all. I can say that even after working in my field for six years, there are parts of my job that my first Master’s did a lousy job of preparing me for and I have had to do-it-myself–we can say that professional schools need to add X or Y to their curriculum, but there will always be something lacking. I’m glad that someone is paying attention to what academic libraries could do and prepare themselves for so that they stay viable. Actually, we all need to do that!

Breaking Up and Moving On: Emery/Stone Chapter 7 & 8

On Breaking Up:

As a follow-up to their chapter on annual reviews, Jill Emery and Graham Stone offer advice to librarians who have decided that they need to cancel some of their electronic resources. Cancellation cannot be a decision that you make on your own (nor can you keep it to yourself). It is important to communicate with stakeholders and help them understand the repercussions of the change. For example, I would imagine that sometimes when budgets are cut, the budget “cutters” may not always realize what is being lost. Meeting with the faculty to help them understand what needs to be done may help them prioritize and puts the onus of a difficult decision on them. Stakeholders may also shed some light on reasons for underperformance of a resource.

Even if you are ending a relationship with a vendor, you shouldn’t burn any bridges. After all, you never know if that representative you just yelled at for raising your subscription rates will decide to move and become your new representative with a different vendor. Or, your funding may return in a couple of years, and you might want to take them back–who wants to go back with their tail between their legs. Instead, it’s best to approach cancellation with the attitude that feedback helps the market. Regardless of your reason for leaving, letting the vendor know why might help them improve their service or someday help you again.

Of course, your patrons will also need to be notified–the more notice, the better. Change is hard for folks and the transition will be smoother if they know it’s coming or if you can give them some time to get used to the replacement. It’s a good too to keep notes on your reasons and plans for canceling for your staff. You wouldn’t want someone to accidentally re-order something that you just tried to cancel. Also, down the road, that stinker of a cancelled database might be on the table to be purchased again and we wouldn’t want to repeat a mistake just because you didn’t communicate the problem with them.

Moving On:

Emery and Stone suggest that the state of e-books is in the same mess that e-journals were in about 10 years ago. Here’s hoping that vendors, librarians and researchers figure out what they want and how to use them soon. There’s some disagreement on the best format for e-books in libraries, so like a lot of things, they feel like a risky place in which to sink a lot of money. Traditional publishing may look different in the future and scholarly content delivery may come from sources we wouldn’t expect. The trick is to be on the cutting edge, but not the bleeding edge.

In my opinion, the most exciting prospect for electronic resource management is the refinement of the workflows in ILS and ERM Systems. Like Ken Chad says, ILSs are “ripe for disruption.” As electronic resources have taken their place in libraries and we’ve need ERMS to keep track of them, it only makes sense that the ERMS and the ILS start working together. Why not look for a consolidation that saves time and keeps us from duplicating information? New systems will help us work smarter, not harder. To get better, we’ll need to keep looking at TERMS and understand the frustrations, needs and wants of the information professionals on the front lines.

Preview of the “Annual Review”

Jill Emery and Graham Stone described the reviewing process in chapter 6, “Annual Review,” of Techniques for Electronic Resource Management (2013). The process itself is pretty straightforward and the authors offer several valuable tips. For example, it is a good idea to divide your resources into batches and schedule yourself to review each quarter, making sure that you are allowing time to meet cancellation notices if you need to. Another wise piece of advice is to compare new licenses to the existing contract to be sure that unwanted changes haven’t snuck into the deal.

Since we often have access to usage statistics, this data should also play a big role in the decision-making process for continuation or cancellation. COUNTER-compliant usage data makes it easier to compare usage across vendors, with indicators like cost-per-use or percentage of total e-resources budget. Like they say, you can prove anything with statistics, and it’s nice to see how a vendor fits in among its peers—where it’s apples-to-apples, not apples-to-Volkswagens.

You can check up on vendors to see if they are actually providing compliant data by finding their listing (or lack thereof) on the COUNTER website. Even if they aren’t COUNTER-compliant and you still value their service, you should ensure that they minimally are sending you some kind of usage data in some form. However, besides usage data that comes directly from the vendor, it’s also smart to keep track of trouble, outages and downtime on your own. This could be useful in your decision-making process when searching for loser products, or even getting a refund or lower price on renewal.

Emery and Stone suggest that many vendors are open to re-negotiation once they realize they might be on the chopping block. This came as a surprise to me, especially after learning about the Big Deal packages of databases. If your library subscribes to a Big Deal plan, prices and amounts of content seem to be fixed. I would be surprised if vendors would be willing to allow you to negotiate a smaller package or drop your number of simultaneous users in that context. With Big Deals dominating large percentages of material budgets, the ability to have a bargaining chip on the vendor is definitely appealing—however, wouldn’t it mean that re-negotiation would actually change the deal into a “medium deal”?

Patron-Driven Acquisition: What happens when everyone relinquishes control (at least, for a few areas)

For a library to pilot a patron-driven acquisition program, it has to be willing to trust that the materials its patrons select are worth the money. The safeguards often put in place by librarians before triggering an auto-purchase (such as paying 10% for several short-term loans before purchasing) crank up the price, but also demonstrate that the title is in demand and has proven its usefulness. The librarian has to give up control of the selection process and trust that the money won’t be wasted. I like that the patron is given the power to show through their actual research process what they are looking for.

Is it strange that I no longer expect that industry to work to provide products based on the wants and needs of its clients? It’s just good business to do this, yet we’ve gotten so used to just accepting whatever is put in front of us, like it’s our parents telling us to “Eat your vegetables; they’re good for you.” The one-size-fits-all business model has become the norm.

Yet, here in two of our readings for this unit (Herrera, 2012, and Hamel et al., 2012), we see examples of academic libraries (University of Mississippi Libraries and University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries) who were able to successfully collaborate with e-book aggregators to create PDA programs aligned with their institutions values, missions and budgets! Both reports expressed concerns that they were still working to resolve, but also that the projects had been worth pursuing. Barb Hamel of UW-Madison Libraries came to speak to our class live and echoed Herrera’s conclusion: PDA e-books have a place as a PIECE of a collection policy. There also has to be room, especially in the budget, for a regular [print and database] collection too.

Polanka & Delquie, in their chapter of the 2011 book, Patron-Driven Acquisitions: History and Best Practices, provided a useful analysis of the aggregators providing PDA e-books, all of which seemed to offer fair and logical options for their clients. I think the authors were right to conclude that the evolution of such programs will depend on the market, the roles of librarians and the adoption of e-books. If libraries are able to create successful PDA systems, their patrons get what they are interested in AND their vendors earn a steady stream of e-book sales from the libraries, without the cost of shipping and binding and processing. Win-Win-Win.

In five to ten years, however, I wonder if these vendors of PDA systems will still be as “nice” and responsive to the libraries they serve—or if we will be back to the big guy telling the little guys “how it’s going to be”…

Silencing the Cynic

Traditionally, I am distrustful of business-types who primarily appear to be only interested in profit to the detriment of their customer and competition. Survival of the fittest may be reasonable to expect, but so is ethical behavior. I want to believe that there is more good in these deals than I think.

It doesn’t seem right to me to encourage publishers to prey on the scholarly clientele, many of whom are partially funded by public tax dollars (as with public schools or universities). Good business practices thrive from win-win situations, so the optimist in me hopes that there is more to the “Big Deal” business model for delivering digital academic content to libraries. What truly goes on behind the scenes?

Zac Rolnik’s article in the Serial Librarian in 2009 suggests that content selection has been taken away from the library (i.e. the bibliographer) and given to the Big Deal publisher, who has the power to pad the subscription with unsolicited content. These freebies are potentially wasteful, so it would seem better for libraries to choose what they want–if they could actually afford to do it this way. If I shush the cynic in me for a moment, I then consider that, since they have taken on the role of the bibliographer, it is in the publisher’s best interest to do a good job of matching content to the needs of the library because if not, at some point they risk losing the client. I would be interested in knowing HOW they approach this–what content gets selected for inclusion in a bundle and how does it vary from institution to institution?

Hopefully content does vary from institution to institution based on needs/focus, but we know that pricing definitely does. This is where I put my cynic cap back on. In 2012, Strieb and Blixrud discussed the rates of nondisclosure clauses in contracts between libraries and publishers. Knowing that libraries tend to believe in the idea that “information wants to be free” and are often subject to open records laws, it is curious to me that a publisher would ask them not to share the pricing they have agreed to, unless they are concerned with protecting a profit margin. It is a lot harder for a vendor to extract extra money out of a rookie negotiator if it is common knowledge what everyone else is paying.

To me, the refusal of three of the Big Seven publishers to sell e-books to libraries also points to greed. Why should they let libraries lend their e-books out if they can force more readers to purchase (instead of borrow) the books they want? Perhaps libraries aren’t going to get 5s across the board on their ALA Ebook Business Model Scorecards, but it would be nice if publishers would start negotiating in good faith with libraries soon.

Overview of ERM: How do these librarians do it?!

Even though I was quite aware of the necessity for librarians to be charged with electronic resource management responsibilities, the lit review by Emery and Stone and the white paper from the Association of College and Research Libraries made me feel like I was entering into a very abstract field of study. I can’t say I really understood what these kinds of librarians actually do, especially as I tried to learn the jargon and acronyms. Weir’s descriptions of the processes and Galadriel Chilton’s behind-the-scenes explanations (via our webchat) brought the “Overview” of ERM to a level where I felt like I finally understood. (I must have saved the best for last, right? Perhaps the Emery/Stone and ACRL articles would be more meaningful to me now and merit a second look!)

The e-resource life cycle seemed pretty transparent, probably because there are a lot of parallels to the selection/evaluation/curation life cycle of print resources. There are differences of course, especially in regards to negotiation and vendor interactions, but even the renewal process of an e-resource could be analogous to the weeding decision-making process of a book (keep it/sell it/toss it/replace it). Adding the technological layer in ERM is definitely unique though: we don’t troubleshoot or teach patrons how to use books. Because they have to work with tech and customer service, this is why the job description of an ERM librarian has become hybridized.

Some advice in regards to ERM from Galadriel Chilton of UConn Libraries:

  • Learn what you can about this growing field and position yourself. Start by monitoring ALA joblist for these kinds of jobs and try to develop the the skills they require. It’s okay if you don’t have them all, of course, but it’s a good start.
  • It is important for ERM librarians to interact with their users so that you know what they actually need and want from your resources.
  • ERM librarians need to have good relationships with publishers, vendors, etc. We depend on them–but they also depend on us to create a good product. We need to be vocal and tell them what we’d actually like to see from them.
  • Librarians often hesitate to negotiate. When making a licensing deal, a librarian should never sign without asking, “How much lower could it [the price] be?” She recommended this book on negotiation by Ashmore, Grogg and Weddle.