Hello and welcome to Stacking Up, a blog for the "modern" librarian! The great thing about today's librarians is that we are so diverse: different ages, backgrounds, personalities, looks... this blog is here to share this diversity with ideas, insights, stories, experiences and opinions for anything and everything having to do with being a librarian!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Librarian Lessons: Electronic Resource Management

So every now and then, I take it upon myself to read an article about something I know next to nothing about, in the hopes that I will learn something new. Now, I am far from being a technology-guru (I may have mentioned this before but me and phrases like "structural metadata" and "syntactic interoperability" don't mix). I remember taking a class in digital libraries when I was in library school, and anything that went beyond the bare basics left me with a headache. So with that being said, I stumbled upon a fun-looking article (and I mean that in the broadest sense) in last month's Library Journal called "Building A Better ERMS," written by Maria Collins and Jill E. Grogg.

Electronic Resource Management. Huh. Now here was something that would take me some time to mentally digest. It did turn out to be somewhat thought-provoking for me and I felt even a little smart just sitting there reading it, so that was a plus. Here is a summary of this article and what I managed to carry away from it:

Topic: ERMS, also known as "Electronic Resource Management Systems"

Intro: Librarians have been struggling over the past decade or so, trying to figure out what the best way is to handle the influx of new electronic resources. Learning to manage these resources is no simple matter. According to Collins & Grogg, "the problem is that managing e-resources is a distinctly nonlinear and nonstandardized process." And while the ERM systems that have developed recently address some issues (like license management and storing administrative info) they are still far from being the answer to other librarian needs, such as being interoperable with other systems. In a nutshell, ERM systems are mighty complicated, and the purpose of this article was to take a look at what we currently have, and see how it can be made better based on the needs/wants of today's librarians.

So what are librarians asking for from their typical ERM systems? What are the most important aspects of these tools that make them so valuable to what we do on a daily basis? Here are the 6 top priorities that librarians see for building a good ERMS:

PRIORITY #1: They have to be able to manage workflow and help make it more (not less) efficient

A large chunk of the librarians surveyed for this study said that one of the biggest problems they have with current ERMS is that they aren't efficient and they have poor functionality. ERMS right now make it pretty difficult to move from Task A to Task B because there are so many different systems being used to get library work done, and they're all owned/run by different vendors- none of them work together very well so getting things done takes forever. Besides this, nothing is standardized or centralized in one overall system, so trying to manage e-resources can be a real nightmare. Instead of having a bunch of clunky systems that can't "bend" to the needs of individual branches, digital collections librarians have said that a good ERMS will be flexible enough to adapt to local needs, which are unique to each library. I know all too well how the details of processing collections can differ between various branches! A good ERMS needs to be specific enough that it can support the details of local workflows (AKA how things are done at one branch) but general enough that it's adaptable/customizable across many branches.

PRIORITY #2: They have to be capable of license management

Now, I'm only a part-time librarian at the moment, but I do know that librarians have to deal with licenses and licensing terms A LOT. So far, it seems that ERMS have done a pretty good job in this area. Managing licenses and contracts, being able to categorize them, link them, and make them easily searchable has been one achievement in the development of ERMS. Being able to find specific terms of use, rules and policies, etc. makes it easier for librarians in every department of the library to make informed decisions. The only major issue right now is that a lot of library license terms need to be input manually into the system, which can be a drag and take a lot of time. Things get even trickier when you're using services from a bunch of different vendors, since now you have multiple licensing terms to keep tract of.

PRIORITY #3: They have to be able to manage statistics

Ahh yes, statistics. A part of every librarian job-- love 'em or hate 'em, you need to use them and appreciate how they help increase the value of library resources and services. In general, usage reports are needed to:

                                         *Build monthly and annual overviews of usage at your library
                                         *Measure usage of new publications
                                         *Make informed purchasing decisions
                                         *Understand and predict user patterns

Now, when dealing with statistics it's always helpful to have some sort of standardization so that you can relate the stats to each other, make sense of them and how they connect, and get an overall picture of how your library is doing. With this being said, did you know that librarian-lingo includes an acronym called "SUSHI?" OK, I didn't either, but it does. It stands for "Standardized Usage Statistics Harvesting Initiative," and it's a standard with open source codes (ie. it's free to access and can be re-programmed to suite your needs) to measure how e-resources are being used. Using this code, libraries can retrieve and enter usage statistics (in the form of "COUNTER reports") in a standardized/consistent way, and librarians are saved the laborious process of generating spreadsheet reports themselves (which doesn't sound like much fun).
Basically, as it stands right now, statistics management is difficult with ERMS because they don't support the SUSHI standard, so librarians are still entering stats and generating reports manually. This is another thing they would like fixed with current ERMS.

PRIORITY #4: They'll be able to efficiently store administrative information

ERMS need to be able to store and make accessible info like staff usernames and passwords, vendor contacts, orders, and notes on past problems. So far, they have done a pretty good job of sticking all this metadata into one centralized place, but it still has to be entered manually, which is a pain.

PRIORITY #5: They'll support acquisitions functionality

Librarians really want a centralized, stream-lined system that can support all acquisition functions- managing funds, projecting budgets, generating expenditure reports (by category)- and be able to track all of this data over time. Right now ERMS aren't very good at this, and librarians are still entering things like cost data manually.

PRIORITY #6: They should be interoperable

Interoperability is a big one. Pretty much all librarians have identified the need for systems that can work together, but it's still something that's largely absent in current ERMS. For the most part they work just swell by themselves, but try to get them to work together and talk to one another, and they freak out. This makes data transfer nearly impossible. There needs to be a greater level of integration between library systems: the ILS (Integrated Library System) should work with various knowledgebases and vendor systems. Right now, the lack of interoperability is due to a lack of standards between vendors, libraries, and publishers. Luckily, all of these entities are working together with standards organizations (like NISO) to develop said standards and make systems more integrated. This, in theory, will make them able to function between each other and not just as a stand-alone system.

Up until now, the implementation of data standards and best practices has been minimal, so interoperability between ERMS is still a big issue. A lack of system interoperability has led to a bunch of other frustrating problems for librarians-- poor reporting of statistics, no data maintenance (so it just sits there, static and not updated), and inconsistent info being given to the public are just a few.

[NOTE: NISO stands for the National Information Standards Organization- I know we all learned about this in library school, but I always need reminders for all these acronyms. NISO sets technical standards for publishing, bibliographic and library applications.]


So... what exactly does all this add up to and why the heck is it so important to me? Well, the whole reason I wanted to look at ERM systems and what they're meant to accomplish is because we are heading into an ever-evolving digital world, and it's essential for today's librarian to at least be aware of new resource types, access methods and purchasing models if they want to stay on top of their game. There are many challenges that go along with electronic resource management: how do we buy/acquire these resources? How do we keep and maintain them? How do we provide access to them? Right now, there is no one, single system that can do all of this.

A final note

The article ends with this: "Building a better and more responsive ERMS is an iterative process, and no emerging system is a silver bullet. Nonetheless, it is possible to work together toward a more integrated e-resource solution." I think that what they're getting at is taking a more holistic approach to managing e-resources, instead of concentrating on the smaller aspects of management that have gotten to be so disconnected.

[Article: Collins, M. & J. E. Grogg. (2011, March 1). Building a better ERMS. Library Journal.]

I know that, for me anyways, a lot of this stuff can seem pretty dry, but hey, it's definitely good to be aware of! Have you had any experience with electronic resource management in your libraries, or have you had the chance to wrap your head around the kinds of issues presented in this article? Just wondering-- I don't think that we necessarily have to be computer geniuses, but getting a handle on what's up will help make us that much more valuable in our own jobs :)

And on that note, it is almost Friday and time to enjoy one (or two!) of these...


To all my librarians out there, have a great weekend!!

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