Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Consortium and Site Licensing

Jim Huntingford reports from the Consortium and Site Licensing Seminar organised by the United Kingdom Serials Group.

Billed as an opportunity to explore the complex issues involved in forming consortia and negotiating site licences, the subtitle of this one-day seminar was What do we really want?

The short answer from the delegates may have been we don’t really know. This was reason enough for over 150 of us to attend and grapple with some new concepts and terminology.

The increasing impact of consortia and site licensing upon all those involved in scholarly communication was reflected by the varied background of the delegates, with representatives from a wide range of publishers, information intermediaries and information providers. International interest in developments in the UK was made apparent by the large number of European and North American delegates.

Martin White, Managing Consultant with TFPL [1], opened the day’s proceedings with a scene-setting survey of the history and development of library site licences, from CD-ROM to the UK Pilot Site Licence Initiative (PSLI).

Most Higher Education institutions have adopted the PSLI, the first national licence of its kind in the world, with average savings on journal subscriptions of around £11,000. Some Universities have been making extensive electronic use and have actively promoted the service, but a clear pattern of usage has yet to emerge. Full advantage of electronic delivery cannot be taken because of IT obstacles, not least the resources needed to install the required software on all networked PCs.

Martin drew the delegates’ attention to the evaluation report [2] of April 1997 which recommended that a Mark II site licence should be in place for 199899. This will be funded by means other than top-slicing, with the management put out to tender.

As little statistical information was available at the time of the first report, more evaluation is required and many issues need to be resolved, including the “apparent lack of direction of PSLI Mark II”. A further report is imminent and perhaps this will shed some light on how meaningful data on use and benefits can be obtained. The success of the pilot has been difficult to evaluate as the amount top-sliced from the HE budget to pay for the scheme has never been divulged, a fact commented on by the Chair, Richard Heseltine.

On the day, some news just in was that responsibility for PSLI Mark II had been transferred from the HEFCs to JISC, with a new steering group and a new consultant appointed to advise JISC on contract parameters.

The next paper, What makes a negotiating unit?, was presented by Jill Taylor-Roe, Sub-Librarian, Liaison & Academic Services, at the University of Newcastle. Jill argued that the development of consortia in the UK and the USA has illustrated some tensions between the centralised and bureaucratic direction of purchasing and traditional library freedoms and discretion. For example, long-term consortium commitment to purchasing journal titles can prove restrictive and inflexible to member institutions.

Nevertheless, Jill’s own institution is already a member of a large number of consortia, including NEYAL (North East and Yorkshire Academic Libraries Consortium). Drawing upon lessons learnt from her own experiences Jill suggested that the benefits gained from consortium participation outweigh any drawbacks. The provision of a negotiating framework and combined purchasing power have enabled libraries to obtain advantageous terms for the supply of journals and a reduction in the unit cost of information.

She argued that successful consortia are those which are adequately funded, have a clear purpose, shared vision and effective management structure. Good communications between member institutions, a certain amount of flexibility and “commitment and team spirit” are vital characteristics of a successful consortium.

Robert Campbell, Managing Director of Blackwell Science, gave a publisher’s perspective on the impact of consortium purchasing and site licensing. Of most interest to librarians were his views on the feasibility of publishers collaborating to create multi-publisher licences which offer subject-based electronic access to journal literature.

Robert admitted that such collaboration can be problematic for publishers, with compromises required on format, delivery, pricing and licensing. For libraries, however, subject-based licenses would provide one-stop shopping for users. This facility is already in demand in the USA where there is currently a large and confusing number of systems available from publishers and intermediaries.

The ADONIS project has shown that publishers will work together “if supported by the market” and it could be a forerunner of what we might see in the next 5 years. But libraries, working in consortia, will “need to push for multi-publisher licences and help to hold publishers together” if this is to be realised.

Sally Morris, Director of Copyright & Licensing at John Wiley, and Elizabeth Heaps, Acting Librarian at the University of York, gave an overall view of licensing issues. Surprisingly, given the anguish that licensing causes for both publishers and librarians, there were some areas of agreement. The requirement of libraries for consistent terminology and simplicity in licensing documentation was recognised, as was the need for publishers to work together in order to achieve this. The proposed model licence between publishers and UK universities [3], drawn up by a Publishers Association/ JISC working party, was identified as a good starting point by both speakers.

Nevertheless, it was clear that licensing will remain a contentious issue for the foreseeable future, especially as the new delivery technologies raise yet more questions. Of particular concern is the apparent failure of many publishers to address the need for perpetual access to electronic journal articles. It would seem that publishers are not yet committed to providing continuing rights to electronic material and are uncertain how and at what cost this facility should be provided. This does not bode well for a library community who see no reason why they should pay more than once for access to an electronic journal, when a single payment suffices for a printed title.

Publishers, meanwhile, are concerned that inter library loan of electronic full-text articles represents a bigger threat to their interests than photocopying ever was . This issue was addressed by Fred Friend, Librarian at University College London, who gave a robust view of what licensing rights libraries need in order to provide a full service to faculty and students. He also emphasised the importance of fair dealing and inter-library loan in the electronic environment.

Fred reminded publishers that libraries will attempt to continue to pay for heavily-used journals by subscription, relying on document delivery for second level material only. After all, money spent on inter-library loans tends to benefit individuals, rather than institutions, as items are often obtained for personal use rather than added to stock.

He argued that consortia could provide a framework for secure electronic document delivery and provide a “vital element of control”. If a consortium has sufficient internal strength, with members expelled if they breach fair dealing provisions, then publishers could be reassured. In this way fair dealing should “protect both publisher profitability and the free flow of information for the public good”.

Fred concluded with the prediction that publishers will not make large profits from document delivery to academic libraries, but that they could achieve a stable income. This will be based upon consortium deals for subscriptions combined with fair dealing for inter library loan.

Albert Prior, Publisher Relations Manager for electronic services at Swets & Zeitlinger surveyed the role of intermediaries or content aggregators in facilitating access to electronic journals. Provision of a number of value-added features were identified by Albert as the main advantages of electronic delivery through content aggregators, be they subscription agents like Swets, bibliographic database/secondary publishers like UMI and SilverPlatter or publishers themselves. As intermediaries are “increasingly co-operating”, these features could include simplification of authentication procedures, provision of a common interface, one-stop shopping for e-journals and enhanced alerting and linking functionality.

But many librarians are often cautious and even suspicious when the talk turns to matters ‘value added’. You don’t get something for nothing and the price-tag for any ‘added-value’ service reflects an attempt to recover extra costs incurred in adding the said value. Libraries and consortia will only pay for such features if there is a clear and identifiable demand from their users.

The seminar was concluded by the Chair, Richard Heseltine, Director of Academic Services, University of Hull, who summarised the major issues and gave his thoughts on where the future lies. Richard suggested that site licensing could prove to be a short-term and conservative solution” dead before it has begun”. Channels of scholarly communications will continue to be revolutionised by further advances in IT and telecommunications. The landscape of the Higher Education sector will continue to be transformed by developments in open and distance learning, the integration of work and study, and multiple membership of institutions. All of this will undermine the concept of the physical campus and as this crumbles the site licence could prove either unworkable or unnecessary.

A longer term future was predicted, however, for consortia. The present situation is already more complex and crowded than that of 12 months ago and the number of consortia will continue to grow. Activity will undoubtedly be targeted on facilitating and improving electronic delivery with the Metropolitan Area Networks playing a vital role. Archiving, authentication, and standardisation of formats and interfaces will be some of the major issues.

In this changing environment the experience of libraries participating and co-operating in the new paradigms might be to “fail frequently and then to learn”.


United Kingdom Serials Group

[1] TFLP

[2] UK Pilot Site Licence Initiative: Report on Phase I of the Evaluation of the UK Pilot Site Licence Initiative, April 1997, HEFCE Ref M 397

[3] Joint Information Systems Committee & Publishers Association Working Party Proposed ‘Model Licence’ Between UK Universities and Publishers
Available at http://uksg.lboro.ac.uk/hi/pajisc.htm in HTML and PDF
and at http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/services/elib/papers/pa/ in HTML and Word 7

Author Details

Jim Huntingford
Academic Librarian (Accountancy, Management and Law)
University of Abertay Dundee