1 Are Library Consortia Your New Serials Manager Rick Burke by tyndale


									                                                                 Date submitted: 03/06/2009

                                  Are Library Consortia Your New Serials Manager?

                                  Rick Burke
                                  Executive Director
                                  Statewide California Electronic Library Consortium
                                  Los Angeles, CA, USA

Meeting:                          179. Serials and Other Continuing Resources

                                      23-27 August 2009, Milan, Italy


In the 21st century a new paradigm has emerged for libraries. Whereas serials used to be
handled mainly by subscription agents for libraries, now, in many instances, library
consortia have taken on that role. Particularly with the advent of the e-journal “big deal,”
negotiating access for large e-book and database aggregations, and the need to have a
strong negotiator working for libraries, libraries have come to trust their consortium to
work on their behalf.

Consortia and umbrella groups of consortia, such as ICOLC, have gained
tremendous influence in the marketplace. They can influence pricing, as
evidenced by the 2009 ICOLC Statement on the Global Economic Crisis and Its Impact
on Consortial Licenses. ICOLC set the standard early on with their series of
statements on the licensing of electronic resources, going back to the late 1990s.
This provided the underpinnings of how most libraries acquire their electronic
resources, many of which are serial in nature. As consortia have evolved, they
have had to develop business services, including the management of serial
electronic publications that meet the needs of their members. Subscription agents
have indicated a serious interest in providing such services to libraries, in spite of
the effectiveness of library consortia in this arena, and, in some instances, have
provided business support services for consortia that are unable to provide such
services on their own.

Thus, what is the role of the subscription agent in this new era of electronic
resources? What services represent a worthwhile investment of shrinking library
budgets? Can a consortium provide those services, or are there valuable services
that subscription agents can best perform?

Recent events in 2009 have accelerated the speed of change in this area. As the
global economy has shrunk, so have the resources on which libraries depend in
order to acquire and develop new collections. This contraction has provided an
opportunity to focus on the processes and procedures that are most essential to a
library’s acquisitions operation. As difficult as the current economic situation
may be, it is also a chance to carefully examine all options, and choose those that
are truly essential and economical. It has also been an opportunity to explore
new ways of collaborating, and consortia have been a catalyst for promoting

Most libraries (especially academic libraries) belong to one or more consortia.
The consortia negotiate for and offer packages that are serial in nature: database
subscriptions, e-journal packages, renewable e-book packages, and library
services for monitoring the electronic content of packages and providing links to
full text. In the old library paradigm, tremendous effort went into the processing
of print acquisitions, but a greater percentage of budgets are now allocated to
these electronic resources, often obtained via library consortial deals. The role of
the subscription agent was essential in the management of serial print resources,
as was the role of the integrated library system (ILS) in the inventory and access
control of the entire print collection. As electronic resources have emerged in
greater force, the role of subscription agents and the ILS have been challenged.
The issue of the future of the ILS in an internet-dominant age is one for another
paper. In this new e-resource era, the relationship between the services now
provided by consortia versus those of subscription agents is an interesting one to

Not all library consortia are alike – in fact, they are quite diverse. While one
cannot generalize an across-the-board statement regarding the role of these
diverse consortia, it is safe to observe that for many libraries, especially academic
libraries, the consortium has emerged as a principal tool for obtaining electronic
content in subscription (and purchase) form.

For some consortia, such as SCELC (the Statewide California Electronic Library
Consortium), the consortium developed internal business management tools that
in some ways mimicked the services provided by subscription agents to
individual libraries, but with a new focus on providing them to groups of
libraries. Not just a billing system, a system such as SCELC’s WISDOM system
tracks essential member library and vendor data, contact management, and, most
importantly, the price models, actual pricing, and ordering and invoicing of
specific resources for each member library. WISDOM is distinguished by its
ability to manage a variety of price models, and it dynamically links those
models to member library data to simplify cost calculation. The system is able to
produce “savings reports” that document the amount of money a library saves
from having obtained its subscriptions at a discount through the consortium. Not
only can data be tracked for the individual library, but for the group as a whole,
providing new insights into libraries across a region, state, or country, and, most
significantly, creating opportunities for new collaborations in a variety of areas.

In the early part of this decade many consortia began to manage this electronic
resource subscription data for their libraries. Subscription agents were a bit slow
to adapt, continuing to manage serials in print, while perhaps watching what
consortia were doing, without reacting to them as a threat to their time-tested
business models. In the past few years, as print sales declined more rapidly,
subscription agents began to look again at consortia and develop services to
either replicate or replace, or perhaps supplement, what a consortium may have
already been providing to their libraries. Some agents have even come to view
consortia as competition in their marketplace.

Most consortia are generally nonprofit operations. Beholden to their members,
they must by necessity provide transparency in their business operations, which,
from a customer perspective, is different from the perception of a for-profit
business. (For example, from the customer perspective, many for-profit vendors’
pricing models are a mystery.) Consortia can provide a level of transparency and
neutrality in negotiation that a for-profit entity, such as some subscription
agents, cannot. For example, if a consortium charges its members a service
charge for managing their electronic serials acquisitions, then that money has to
be documented in a budget reviewed by the consortium’s board. Expenditures
are monitored and member benefits are often accrued through the subsequent
expenditure of accrued fees on other beneficial member services, such as
supporting collaborative digitization projects or discovery tools for cooperative
print repositories.

In comparison, in the instance of a subscription agent, a library pays its service
charges and that is the end of the matter. The subscription agent may not only
collect a service charge from the library, but a commission from the publisher as
well, providing a healthy profit margin on both sides of the equation. What
profit margin the agent gains is usually unknown, and how they spend their
profit is generally their business, not the libraries’.

In addition, consortia save the libraries money through their low overhead.
Many consortia have minimal staff, little or no real estate overhead, and are
surprisingly productive without the traditional trappings of a for-profit business.
In some ways, these “lean” consortia can be compared to the internet start-up
model, where old business models were tossed aside in the interest of practices
that encourage productivity, creativity, and a lack of bureaucracy (and,
unfortunately, sometimes a lack of discipline). If a consortium is effective at
managing their libraries’ subscriptions and other electronic purchases, the larger,
well-established subscription agents have to re-tool their operations to provide
the same level of service at a low cost. Because some subscription agents have
come late to the game of managing consortial offers, unless they create value-
added services that the libraries truly need, and that the consortia have not
provided, and do so at a cost that is competitive with that of the consortia, then it
is likely libraries will continue to depend primarily on their consortium for their
electronic resource management.

This is not to say that the role of the subscription agent is entirely diminished.
They still have a role to play in serials management in the new “e” environment.
Some consortia have not developed adequate internal business systems to
manage the myriad of serial subscriptions they might have suddenly found
themselves managing. As noted earlier, the diversity of consortia means that for
some, all staffing is volunteer, or there may be minimal paid staff. They might
depend on one of their larger library member’s financial department to handle
the business side for them. Other consortia may turn to a subscription agent,
whose long experience in serials management positions them to develop similar
tools for managing consortial offers. In such instances the agent can step in and
provide business support for a consortium, while the consortium retains control
over the negotiation of its various electronic resource offers.

For example, agents can provide more intensive title-by-title management of e-
journal packages than a consortium might be able to provide. However, for
many libraries such a service is no longer required in the new electronic
environment. In the instance of e-journal packages, consortia have focused on
negotiating perpetual access to the data in an e-journal package in the event of
cancellation of that package sometime in the future. What purpose is there to
title-by-title management when access is guaranteed to each title while the
package is subscribed to, or even if it is cancelled? One could argue that a
subscription agent can do a better job of tracking withdrawn or ceased content
(i.e. titles), or the addition to an e-journal package of new titles or the so-called
transfer titles. In SCELC’s experience, and, anecdotally in conversation with
other consortia, most libraries have not found this service essential, and have
found that they can convey this information effectively to their libraries without
the intervention (and potential cost) of an agent’s services. While undoubtedly
helpful, the issue of servicing such packages at the title level hearkens back to the
initial question of what is essential in this time of economic contraction and
paradigm restructuring. If a consortium manages this well enough for a library,
should that library expend its precious funds on ancillary services that are no
longer deemed essential in the electronic resource context?

On the other hand, in this time of economic contraction, the move to big e-
journal packages may falter, and some libraries or consortia will need to support
the building of custom collections, title by title. Usage statistics could be used to
help determine the titles that constitute these custom collections. Subscription
agents could provide fundamental support for the management of title-by-title
collections. By actively supporting SUSHI, for example, and providing support to
publishers to provide usage statistics via SUSHI, subscription agents could play
an important role in the development of custom or core collections of e-journal

E-journal packages are undoubtedly the greatest management challenge to
consortia, as noted in the example above. There is no greater problem than that
of title reconciliation, where a library needs to reconcile the titles to which they
think they subscribe, versus what the provider of the e-journal package says they
subscribe to. The net result of this reconciliation typically determines the final
cost of the package to the library, and provides the basis of their cost into the
future, typically based on ongoing price caps negotiated with the content
provider. Theoretically, agents can assist with this cumbersome title
reconciliation process that so often occurs when libraries subscribe to a new e-
journal package. Perhaps it is too early to determine whether the agents can be
effective in assisting with title reconciliation, as consortia have found the
engagement of a third party is not necessarily the means to a swift and successful
end to this difficult process.

Looking beyond e-journal packages and their many management issues, there
are broader issues related to the management of e-resource acquisition. Unlike
print, in the electronic environment licensing is a time-consuming task. The
license determines the parameters of use of most serially licensed materials.
Librarians have worked together to develop guidelines and tools to better
manage this process. For several years the ARL libraries in the United States
provided a workshop for training in the legal and terminology issues related to
licensing. The Digital Library Federation developed fields to standardize the
description of licensing terms with their Electronic Resource Management
Initiative. Most recently, EDItEUR has developed a new de facto standard,
ONIX-PL, to help with the standardization of license terminology, and, most
importantly, to provide a means for the electronic transmission of licenses via
XML. They have developed an open source editor, OPLE (ONIX PL Editor), to
help provide a tool for the encoding of licenses into XML. The intention is for
publishers to encode their licenses into XML so that they can be easily
transmitted into electronic resource management systems at the consortial or
library level. Licenses are not standard in their presentation of terms or the
descriptors assigned to describe the various sections of a license. With ONIX-PL
encoding, these differences can be normalized, which assists in interpreting a
license, and subsequently negotiating terms for that license.

This is where subscription agents might again play a role. To their credit, some
agents have taken the lead in supporting and promoting new standards such as
ONIX-PL, and have already archived hundreds of vendor licenses in electronic
form. For those publishers who are unable to encode their license into ONIX-PL,
the agents can provide that service for them. Likewise, should a library or a
consortium wish to encode a license, the agent could assist. As a license is
negotiated and terms modified, the agent can update the license and provide a
final authoritative copy to both parties (e.g. a consortium and a vendor, or a
library and a particular publisher).

A related development to ONIX-PL is the gradual proliferation of Electronic
Resource Management systems, or ERMs. The ERM concept has yet to fully
crystallize into the “killer application” that might replace the integrated library
system (ILS) as the core information management system in a library. Some
consortia, such as SCELC, the Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries, and
Portugal’s Library of Knowledge Online (“B-on”) have provided various ERM-
like services to their members. SCELC has provided Serials Solutions’ 360
Resource Manager to its members for tracking the products licensed by SCELC.
Colorado Alliance’s Gold Rush provides a knowledge base for tracking content
and linking full text. B-on has developed various open source tools for
supporting standards such as SUSHI (Standardized Usage Statistics Harvesting
Initiative). SCELC is also using their WISDOM system in conjunction with PHP
to provide contact and subscription information via its web site to help create
collaborative tools for coordinated collection development.

For those ERM systems used to track licenses and license terms, and make those
terms of use available to their end users, manual entry of an entire license is
extremely laborious. ONIX-PL provides the possibility of streamlining this
process and presenting license data in a simple yet meaningful way that moves
beyond the often baffling legal language embedded in a license. Thus, should a
subscription agent be able to assist with the aforementioned XML encoding, the
agent then becomes a partner in building a successful ERM implementation.

Some agents have very recently released their own ERM implementations, or
services similar to an ERM. It is too early to know how successful these efforts
will be, but many libraries have loyalty to their agents due to their long-term
business relationships, so subscription agents may play a critical role in this
arena, providing ILS vendors and other library service vendors stiff competition
in the ERM marketplace. To date nobody has developed an ERM that truly meets

all the needs of a consortium, but efforts from Serials Solutions and others are
underway, so this too may be a market in which agents will play a role if they
can reconfigure their data management models to accommodate the needs of
consortia, and not just those of an individual library.


The new era of serial electronic resource management has spawned new
organizational models. As electronic resources supplant print materials, old
consortia have assumed new roles, and new consortia have emerged to meet a
need. Libraries, more than ever before, need to work collaboratively toward
common purposes, in ways that strengthen their position both locally and

Generally speaking, subscription agents have not engaged in the management of
consortial offers on a large scale. They have a proven track record in managing
print serials, but the nature of serials management fundamentally changes in the
electronic resource environment, where consortia have been active and dominant
for more than a decade. Can agents create demand for what they perceive to be
value-added services that they think the libraries need? Are there critical services
that the consortia have failed to provide, and can the subscription agents provide
those services at a cost that is competitive with that of the consortia, who are
often nonprofit, lean operations? Is the consortial market large enough to
warrant substantial investment in services on the part of subscription agents,
when their finances are stretched thin as the print subscription business declines?
Finally, are subscription agents prepared to accept new business realities that no
longer fit the old print subscription business model from which they have
benefitted for so many years?

These are all questions without conclusive answers, but in this era of economic
retrenchment, it is difficult to imagine libraries expending additional funds on
such services that some may find superfluous. Libraries should be working with
their respective consortia to insure that the electronic serials management
services that they need can be provided cost-effectively, by a lean organization
whose operations are transparent, and are dedicated to the needs of their
members. Subscription agents can provide ancillary support services for complex
collections of electronic serials, but libraries must make careful decisions as to
which new services that might be offered are truly essential to their operation.

As the economic crisis of 2009 has illustrated, being grounded in old paradigms
and old ways of operating no longer work. Agile organizations are needed to
help libraries collaborate and advance. Consortia have been effective agents for
change, promoting library collaborations and standards in ways that extend
beyond the original emphasis on the discounting of electronic resources. Over
time, for those consortia that have developed new tools to support electronic
resource management, their member libraries may increasingly find that they can
make cost-saving changes to their internal serials management procedures at the
local library level.

Many other well-established businesses have found themselves challenged in the
internet-centric (and currently constrained) economy, and have had to retool to
adapt to new circumstances. Like those businesses, subscription agents may not
always realize profit in the same ways as they did in the old print business
model, but they may discover new services that they can provide to libraries, in
conjunction with those provided by library consortia. Subscription agents have
the opportunity to innovate and provide new value to libraries, perhaps in ways
where consortia choose not to “compete.” Rather than viewing themselves in
competition with library consortia, subscription agents should reach out to
consortia to explore where electronic serials management efficiencies might be

achieved, and how they might work together to offer such services in a cost-
effective way to their libraries.


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