What is one important decision that e-resources librarians need to make? My response

I was recently asked to respond to the following question, and I thought it might be worthwhile to share both the question and my response here.

What is one important decision that e-resources librarians need to make? What does the optimal solution/answer look like? How can we create that solution/answer?

There are so many ways to approach an answer and the following response doesn’t come close to providing a complete response at all. It was written sort of on-the-fly and it probably needs fleshing out and greater thought on my part.

Anyway, here’s what I wrote:

I’ll answer this in a little bit of a twist on the question you have posed. I believe that THE most important question that e-resources librarians need to continually ask themselves is, how does this affect library users? By that I mean, what aspects of e-resources management will help users get more access, better access, faster access to the information they need? In my view, everything else that e-resources librarians do falls into place after that.

So, how does this play out in practice? I think there are any number of ways:

  • E-resources librarians should ensure that users have ready access to e-resources across ALL potential access paths. Long gone are the days when libraries myopically thought the OPAC was the access path and that our users needed to be forced to go through that box. Most libraries, whatever their size, have users who access online information in many different ways including the OPAC but also including a discovery layer, search engines such as Google, a website A-Z list, a link resolver, via aggregators, and even via vendor-specific platforms. E-resource librarians need to strive to ensure that access via all these paths is consistent and clear for users, and that access is well-maintained over time. One of the biggest user frustrations comes from when we provide them with uneven access and they have to figure out which access path to use. This is dumb on our part.
  • Of course, e-resources librarians don’t always have full control over interfaces that users might use so as to make access easier and clearer. But in cases where they do, e-resources librarians need to work hard to make all user interfaces for e-resources easier and simpler, and more consistent with each other. A case in point is link resolvers such as SFX, where the user interface is highly customizable but many libraries are still using largely out-of-the-box UI elements that frankly stink and are user hostile. I argue also that users don’t necessarily want or need lots of upfront information about all possible services relating to an e-resource but would much prefer simply getting directly to it as quickly as possible, with as few clicks as possible. In the case of SFX, for example, it provides a built-in method for creating links that bypass an interim services webpage to go directly to the desired resource. To my knowledge, very few libraries utilize this feature for direct linking to the resource, preferring instead to force the user to navigate through and correctly interpret an interim screen full of various options. This is user hostile in my view.
  • E-resources librarians should constantly strive to expand the universe of available e-resources for users. Although this seems common sense, in practice I have found that we don’t always think of this as we ought. A case in point is in my local institution where we knew we couldn’t keep up with the so-called Big Deals for e-journals that were taking one out of every four dollars of our entire acquisitions budget. We basically said Thanks but no thanks to Big Deals, scrapped everything, and started over from scratch with a focus on very limited subscriptions combined with pay-per-view options for three major e-journal publishers that dramatically increased access to e-journal literature on a very big scale. This is an example of thinking creatively to limit budget liability while at the same time giving users a broad universe of options from which they could then pick what they wanted. It’s demand driven acquisitions but on a much bigger and more impactful scale than e-books. As a result, usage has skyrocketed and costs have been kept much lower than they otherwise would have been in a scenario where available e-resources content would continue to be severely limited. Another example of expanding the universe of what’s available is to work on providing direct access to content within online databases rather than assume users will know what they contain. (In the old days we used to call this analytics.) When an online database containing lots of full text offers the option to deep link to individual resources, e-resources librarians should work to take advantage of it. One example that comes to mind is Literature Online (LION) from ProQuest in which over 370 journals in full text are included. We should catalog all of those and the vendor provides MARC records to facilitate it. Few libraries take advantage of this.
  • When users encounter a problem with access to an e-resource, we should make it drop dead easy for them to let us know about it so that we can fix it. Feedback loops are incredibly important. E-resources librarians should put mechanisms in place to allow users to easily alert us to problems, e.g. by automatically directing user input into a help desk ticketing system for us to keep track of what’s being reported, resolve the issue, and then report back to users about a fix. Of course it’s likely that the majority of time user problems don’t get reported. E-resources librarians should be on top of usage statistics such as turnaways to identify and proactively resolve user problems.
  • E-resources librarians must advocate for open access to information on behalf of users. This point aligns with others previously mentioned but focuses on the advocacy needed to ensure that access to information is open to as many users as possible. We should strive to educate our users on open access and make open access content prominently available. E-resources librarians should be fully aware of and on top of what’s going on in the open access movement, and be able to clearly articulate its value to their administration, faculty, and other users.

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