Findability Enabled

The rise of the knowledgebase puts the ERMS on a new stage At the La Crosse Public Library, WI, a search for 'library journal' in the catalog yields print holdings, and a local browsable serials list shows another view. On the web site, a consortial electronic serials list links to all of the access points to the journal. In a slightly different version of this all-too-common runaround, a catalog search at the Oak Park Public Library, IL, returns print holdings, but the electronic version isn't visible on the list of databases though it is available through aggregators. As public and academic librarians rely more heavily on electronic resources to satisfy patrons' information needs, seamless searching across print and electronic holdings gets more and more essential. Enter the ILS (integrated library system) - independent electronic resource management system (ERMS), which promises to integrate, search, and expose the entire library collection. This innovation will also greatly streamline the cumbersome process librarians go through when they consider buying a new journal, and it will simplify licensing queries. Right now, when librarians ruminate on a new journal, they set off a series of impromptu procedures. The librarian in charge of acquisitions talks to the director to make sure the new journal title or package fits into the budget and planning cycle. The catalogers and serials librarians make sure that, once acquired, the journal gets into the catalog, journal list, and updated local holdings in databases. Library staff check in the paper copy and file the print invoices. Finally, the new titles are made available to the public. With this many steps, the ability to get a quick answer to a title change or a licensing question is often like running a maze. Processing and managing print and electronic serials have changed dramatically in the last ten years, but existing serials modules in library management systems have not kept up. With this potential for confusion, it's time to improve 'findability' and reduce redundant staff procedures.

Catalog/web site unity

Since the advent of electronic content, many sources of information have been used to indicate availability: MARC catalog records, A - Z aggregator lists, local spreadsheet and Word files, and locally developed databases. Showing all the ways a journal may be accessed in every possible interface - print and electronic - library catalog, and web site requires a knowledgebase. Librarians have asked for, and gotten, improvements to handling multiformat, multiprovider content. In the past two years, there has been tremendous growth in the ERMS arena. Now companies including Serials Solutions are bringing together separate databases of MARC records and electronic holdings by collating them into the knowledgebase. The advent of ILS-independent ERMS and the recent partnership between Serials Solutions and Sirsi/Dynix to incorporate the Serials Solutions knowledgebase has the potential to revamp radically serials policies, procedures, and usability for all libraries.

The planning process

According to conventional wisdom, e-resources often represent 35 - 50 percent of the total collections budget. An ERMS can make the budget go further by reducing redundant processes, centralizing license agreements, and aggregating usage statistics (see LJ netConnect, Summer 2004, 'Clarity in the Mist'.) Stephen Meyer, North Carolina State University (NCSU) - Greensboro Fellow on the E-Matrix project, recently compared ERMS from CARL, Endeavor, Ex Libris, Innovative, Serials Solutions, SirsiDynix, TDNet, and VTLS (Computers in Libraries, Nov./Dec. 2005). While pricing varies widely, he found the fairly consistent core offerings to have some variance in what is included with an ERMS purchase. For example, some do not come with a knowledgebase, which must be acquired or integrated separately. Knowing the full range of product, service, and support offerings is key when moving into the decision-making ­process. For many public libraries, an ERMS integrated with a knowledgebase promises to offer a clear view of all electronic content for the first time, both owned and licensed. Conducting an internal and external needs assessment is one of the best things librarians can do when considering an ERMS purchase. What efficiencies would the library like to achieve? Will it be necessary to reassign or cross-train staff? What challenges do patrons face in the discovery process? How will the knowledgebase affect day-to-day operations at the library? Organizing print and electronic serials runs may be the first priority, while others, like implementing a federated search engine, may be secondary. Talk to peers who have already made the ERMS work, and stay up on the literature. Also, ERMS products are relatively new, so it's a good time to seek improvements and customizations from vendors. Several sessions at the recent American Library Association (ALA) annual conference focused on ERMS, including a preconference on 'Taming the Electronic Tiger,' presented by early implementers, including Yale, Princeton, Ohio State, University of Montevallo, AL, and Swarthmore College, PA. Jennifer Weintraub, digital collections specialist at Yale, said the university is first loading the ERMS with existing serials information, then ebooks and other content, and, finally, license information.

Buy or build

While many librarians have opted for vendor-developed solutions, others have chosen to design and host their own ERMS. For larger public libraries, these homegrown systems may be worth a good look: the E-Matrix project at NCSU - Greensboro; University of Texas San Antonio's TRASY; and an Access-based ERMS at Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro. Some contain commercial components, such as link resolvers, but depend on local expertise and application software support and maintenance. For libraries with generous IT budgets, this may be a viable option, though aggregated data about use and analysis of the collection may be missing. A homegrown ERMS may be desirable because it is formed with the goals and mission of the sponsoring library in mind and can include local holdings and access information down to the building and shelf detail. Some librarians, sensing that the ERMS market is still developing, are using a locally created solution for the short term while commercial developers, many of them ILS vendors new to the scene, put together their offerings. Among the ILS vendors, Innovative's ERMS has been making news, most recently landing contracts with Cornell University, Binghamton University, NY, and University of Nebraska, Omaha. Verde, introduced by Ex Libris in January 2006, has a high-profile implementation at Yale well underway. As Peter Webster pointed out in 'Bit by Bit', more development is needed, and there is plenty of room for growth in the ERM marketplace, especially for public libraries.

Looking ahead

Neither libraries nor providers will be able to hide behind a lack of knowledge on usage anymore - in November 2005, a cross-industry group introduced the NISO Standardized Usage Statistics Harvesting Initiative (SUSHI) to work with the COUNTER Code of Practice for Journals and Databases, which sets e-content standards. EBSCO has already integrated SUSHI into its own Electronic Journals Services, and libraries can automate it for use with their own ERMS. The stormy and contentious relationships that ERMS vendors once had with content providers and aggregators have blossomed into working partnerships over the past five years, just as the connections among usage, cost substantiation, and license renewal have grown more evident. Now is the perfect time to examine how an ERMS can enable findability while streamlining staff time, serials holdings, and licensing information.

Knowledgebase Advantages

Not a static collection of information, a knowledgebase is a dynamic resource that reflects shifts in the interests and needs of its institution, as well as changes in the identity and frequency of and access to its print and electronic resources. Clearly, it is more than a file of metadata about content. It must be able to handle multiple title-appropriate MARC records, allow for easy correction of vendor data, and support different manifestations of a single title. A clean knowledgebase means more accurate results from the institution's chosen link resolver, ensuring that patrons are able to find the resources they need. A rules-based knowledgebase relieves library staff from having to perform repetitive maintenance on the local database. The raison d'être of the knowledgebase is to access easily the library's collection with accurate and complete results. Through greater visibility of the library's resources, the institution can maximize its return on investment. In academic libraries, an institutional knowledgebase can provide a multidisciplinary setting for storing and accessing the institution's intellectual content. When constructed and planned correctly, that knowledgebase becomes the nerve center for all of the library's 'intelligence,' creating a single, detailed, integrated view. A well-organized knowledgebase can increase staff and patron productivity and efficiency, and the resulting greater visibility of the library's resources can help the institution maximize its return on investment. The caretakers of the knowledgebase, the knowledge managers, consciously and comprehensively gather, organize, share, and analyze a library's intellectual holdings.

A Solution for Serials

Five years ago, Peter McCracken, a reference librarian at University of Washington, saw the need and the opportunity to create a tool to help manage electronic resources, maintain links to content, and improve patron access. With this mission, Serials Solutions was born. 'The position of the librarian-as-entrepreneur is an important one because librarians know best what librarians need. The great thing about our product is it takes two to three minutes to explain to people what we do, and they say, 'Absolutely, we need that,'' McCracken said in 'Librarian as Entrepreneur' (LJ 8/01). And librarians continued to tell McCracken and his staff what they needed - proxy management, subscription metadata, stats benchmarking, acquisition workflow tracking, overlap analysis - tools and resources that would ultimately lead Serials Solutions to create its ERMS with its knowledgbase as the foundation.

Going Public

Since 2001, Serials Solutions has grown its customer base to over 1600 libraries, moved its offices twice, increased its staff tenfold, been acquired by ProQuest, and added products and services to its line of resource management tools and resources, including ERMS. While much of the company's early growth was based on its initial offering, AMS (Access & Management Suite), which included the original A - Z List, it has also garnered a loyal following for Article Linker, one of the earliest commercially available OpenURL link resolvers, and Central Search, its federated search engine. Focused initially on the academic library market, the company recently announced a partnership with SirsiDynix that will introduce thousands of public libraries to Serials Solutions' tools and resources for bridging physical and electronic content.

The 24/7 Advantage

While all homegrown systems are hosted locally, many ERMS vendors include hosting services as part of their implementations. McCracken sees that as an easy decision after first asking, 'What are your library's core services?' If server support and management are not among them, and they rarely are, McCracken believes it is best to take advantage of the 24/7 attention that ERMS providers like Serials Solutions can give to server operations. Hosted applications eliminate the ongoing expenditures of time and money on hardware installation and maintenance and ensure that the most accurate, up-to-date data is delivered in the most responsive manner. Both Serials Solutions' ERMS and other vendors also offer a set of aggregated data and evaluation tools that allow for quality benchmarking, again offloading the need for creation, maintenance, and operation of another set of software applications from library staff. When McCracken contemplates all of the changes and advancements in the handling of electronic resources that have taken place in the last five years, it seems incredible. 'From a time when just OpenURL was amazing in and of itself, we're now at a juncture that allows libraries to take full advantage of everything that technology has to offer in the web-based library environment,' he says. 'The ERMS is the next frontier for libraries of all types. Those that institute a knowledgebase will be giving their patrons and staff a distinct competitive advantage in terms of time, costs, and discovery. Isn't that what this business is all about?'

Link List
Ambient Findability Bit by Bit: Improving Electronic Resource Management Clarity in the Mist
eMatrix at NCSU Managing Electronic Resources Metadata and Its Impact on Libraries

Dodie Ownes is prinicipal, Information Services Consulting, with clients including Serials Solutions, EBSCO, Blackwell's Book Services, and others, and she writes for a variety of library publications. She started her library journey at the University of Chicago working on a Library of Congress Recon project while pursuing an MLS (1986) and now lives and works in Golden, CO
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