Adding New Electronic Resources to the Library’s Collections
Boston College Libraries currently have access to over 300 online databases and more than 20,000 electronic journals. The range of online resources available on the academic market is growing very rapidly as more and more publishers move exclusively towards electronic format. Moreover, in addition to primary publishers, there are numerous secondary service providers that aggregate original content and/or simply provide access via constantly improving interfaces and search engines. As a result of this evolving electronic landscape, the acquisition of electronic resources is becoming increasingly complex and the list of selection criteria and other parameters to be taken into consideration grows as well.
In this quick overview we will attempt to describe how Boston College Libraries approach the task of acquiring new electronic materials as well as ensuring that the Libraries’ digital collections adequately respond to the needs of our research and teaching community. The acquisition process normally includes multiple library departments such as Collection Development, Cataloging, Acquisitions, Systems, and Reference & Instruction. Each department approaches the evaluation and acquisition of new materials from a different angle but the end goal is ultimately to make the acquisition and usage of new resources as seamless and user-friendly as possible to the BC community.
What do subject specialists take into account when recommending certain electronic products for purchase or subscription? The list is long and constantly evolving but generally includes the following:
- How well does it satisfy the teaching and research needs of the Boston College community?
- Do we have other products that serve similar needs and how do these products compare?
- Content-related issues that are routinely considered are:
- Quality of publications included in each source, e.g., are they scholarly peer-reviewed publications or are they more geared towards a popular audience?
- Are the publications included indexed cover to cover, i.e. is every article indexed, or is indexing selective?
- Is full text available?
- Are there content gaps in indexing and full text?
- Are there publisher-imposed embargoes?
- How far back does the product go? Is a backfile available?
- Do we retain rights to the backfile if we stop subscribing to the product?
- How effective and how responsive is the search engine?
- How user friendly, intuitive, and easy to use is the product?
- How compatible and interoperable are the products under consideration with other information management tools available on the market or already at BC, e.g. linking servers, cross-search tools, interlibrary loan/document delivery services software, citation management tools, and electronic resource management software?
- Are the vendor’s tech support/service personnel technically competent?
- Are they responsive to library-raised issues?
Vendor’s general reputation
- Is the vendor ready to improve and to adapt to newly emerging trends and developments?
- Is the vendor known for stable and consistent performance – both technically and business-wise?
Feedback from other institutions and from trade publications
- Is this resource used by similar institutions?
- What do other librarians/users have to say about this resource?
- What is the perception of this product in professional/trade publications?
- How much does it cost?
- Can the cost be shared/reduced via consortium deals with other university libraries?
Once a subject specialist decides to recommend an electronic product for consideration, he/she will arrange a trial access to the product. The Systems Department will then post it to the library page under Electronic Resource Trials and it will become available to every member of the Boston College community. Trials typically last one month. To ensure that trials are actually utilized and do not go unnoticed, subject specialists notify their library colleagues as well as other members of the BC community, especially faculty, and request feedback. New trials are advertised on library pages, as well as through other electronic and print media.
If, after appropriate testing, research, and feedback, a subject specialist considers that the database is indeed worth purchasing, he/she will submit a “New Request Form.” Since budget funds for electronic products are limited, the subject specialist must locate the funds for new subscriptions with cancellations of existing products. It is a zero-sum situation. The subject specialist is also responsible for negotiating any price and license issues. The request is initiated in the Library’s Electronic Resource Management (ERM) system, a locally created system designed to manage the review, acquisition, licensing, invoicing, and evaluation process for the many electronic products.
The request for the new title is submitted to the Electronic Resources Review Board – a group that includes representatives from several library departments. This group reviews each request and either approves or declines it based on how it fits the library’s financial and strategic situation. The group also relies heavily on the recommendation of the subject specialist. If approved, multiple Library departments become involved. We then convert the trial to permanent access, process a payment, add the new product to local library services, such as the Quest catalog, the Online Databases page, CrossSearch, a tool that allows simultaneous searching of multiple databases, and FindIt, BC Library’s linking server that allows linking from citations to full text and other relevant services such as ILL, RefWorks, etc.
Reference and Collection Development staff create tutorials/explanatory materials for the new product and add them to relevant research guides, quick-start pages, subject guides, and the Online Databases page. Staff promote the newly acquired electronic product through the library homepage, news items, newsletters, library instruction classes and other publicizing media. The work does not stop after a new product has been acquired. Librarians maintain close contact with vendors regarding new features to make sure that the latest interface and functional enhancements and “debugs” are properly reflected in our local implementation.
Librarians monitor very closely how library products are being used and if negotiated access rights satisfy our library requirements. An important strategy utilized is the gathering of monthly statistics that are analyzed at the end of each subscription year. Usage reports constitute a significant criterion regarding the decision to extend or terminate subscription to electronic products. Ultimately librarians want to buy and renew products that are useful to library patrons, so patrons’ usage of, in addition to feedback about, the resource are key in shaping our electronic collections and making them adequate to the needs of our library community.
Digital Resources Reference Librarian