Book Review: Building an Electronic Resource Collection
Building an Electronic Resource Collection: A Practical Guide by Stuart D. Lee & Frances Boyle, 2nd Edition, Facet Publishing, 2004, 174 pages, paperback ISBN 1-85604-531-5
The 2nd edition of this practical guide to building and delivering electronic resource collections is, like the 1st edition, a compact guide (5 chapters with145 pages excluding bibliography and glossary), with an intended audience of students, new professionals, experienced practitioners and publishers. To address a subject of this scale and complexity with such a wide audience is, to say the least, a challenge. However, I found on reading this work that the authors have succeeded in this entirely. This guide should be essential reading for anyone working in electronic resource management. What's more, the book is very well structured and laid out. Each chapter has an introduction, a conclusion and a summary; which serves as a quick reference guide if needed. The structure and clear use of language makes a technically difficult and jargon strewn area of information work, much easier to navigate.
The book divides into two parts. The first part (chapters 1-3) is an introduction to e-resources and electronic collection development. Chapter 1 asks (and answers) the questions; 'what is an electronic resource?' and 'why buy electronic resources?' giving the main advantages of electronic over print. It emphasises the importance of integrating e-resources within a wider collection development policy and this is built on throughout the book.
Chapter 2 discusses the electronic resource landscape, identifying the types of product that fall under the umbrella of e-resources, and some of the technical issues and problems inherent in their delivery. It also touches on areas such as archiving and institutional repositories which are topical areas at present.
Chapter 3 provides a more detailed look at two main types of electronic products - e-books and e-journals. The authors discuss how e-books and e-journals are delivered, what technological factors must be taken into consideration and how the products are used. They also give a very topical and frank account of the widely documented concerns over the commercial publishing model, in which authors are, in effect, having to buy back their own work via their institution's subscription.
Chapters 4 and 5 discuss the practicalities of how electronic resources are assessed, acquired and delivered. The inclusion of flow diagrams detailing the workflow of electronic resource acquisition is particularly useful. There is a comprehensive evaluation checklist, a good overview of licence issues and pricing models and a very useful section on electronic resource cataloguing. The final section of the book entitled 'electronic collection development by numbers' was great. It summarised the electronic resource lifecycle and is very handy as a checklist for collection developers, be they starting an electronic resource collection from scratch or working within an established environment.
The Glossary section of the book is termed as a 'Select Glossary' so while the definitions are very clear, there are some terms which I would like to have seen included, such as open access; open archives, institutional repository, gateway, portal, virtual private network, proxy server. Some of these terms are described in the book but it would be useful to see them defined in this section.
The bibliography is immensely useful and I have bookmarked many of the Web sites for future reference! The book is rich in examples which serve to make the discussion clearer and, where the area requires more depth, refer the reader to other texts or Web sites. It must be emphasised that this is a guide and cannot cover every area in minute detail, though this can at times be frustrating.
The need to publish a 2nd edition so quickly after the 1st edition soon became apparent. This is a rapidly changing and advancing subject. The addition of sections on VLEs (Virtual Learning Environments) and reading and resource list software is very useful. Academic libraries are currently faced with the challenge of integrating their collections with VLEs and reading list software as well as institutional portals and ERM (Electronic Resource Management) systems. Joining up delivery of resources regardless of point of access is a relatively new area which requires documenting and this addition is well received. However, in the time since this edition was published, there have been continued changes which have made some parts of the book out of date. An example of this is in the references to the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee hearing on scientific publishing. There is also not enough discussion for me on the open access model, IRs (institutional repositories) and the Open Archives Initiative. This may be because the scope of this book excludes freely available electronic resources, concentrating on those which are paid for by the institution either by subscription or as a one-off purchase. However, IRs are playing and will continue to play a much more important role alongside paid-for resources. Information professionals working in electronic collection development will increasingly become involved in setting up and promoting institutional repositories. The authors acknowledge that at the time of writing, it was too early to report findings from projects such as the JISC FAIR (Focus on Access to Institutional Resources) Programme , but a more general discussion on the potential impact on electronic collections I think would have added value.
The issue of archiving and long-term access to electronic resources is a problem facing many institutions which have established electronic resource collections. As more institutions move towards a predominantly e-access or e-only policy with regards to subscriptions, electronic perpetual access and archiving is of greater importance. We have been operating in a hybrid environment for some years now, where access to the print resource is maintained alongside the e-resource. One of the key benefits of electronic resources is the potential for saving space in the physical library. However, libraries are often loath to go down the road of disposing of print holdings going back many years, 'just in case' electronic access to back files is ever removed. We need to be confident that electronic access can be guaranteed in perpetuity, regardless of whether we hold a current subscription to the work. This is difficult when the responsibility for providing perpetual access lies outside the institution, which is often the case with e-journal products. This work does cover the main concerns in this area, such as inclusion of perpetual access commitments in licences and pricing models which include back file access. It also highlights the essential difference between print and electronic products, in that we own print but merely lease electronic copies. However, I would have liked to have seen more practical advice and recommendations to readers involved with establishing and maintaining e-resource collections. Perhaps a checklist of things to consider in terms of back issues and archiving would have been useful.
The book gave some very useful illustrations of the workflow for electronic resource acquisition and delivery. Another useful illustration could have been the relationship between the different players in the e-resource market. I have often struggled with the differences between hosts, aggregators, gateway services, subscription agents and publishers when working in this area. There is so much overlap in the roles of each of these players that I think an illustration of this marketplace would have been a very welcome addition.
Finally, when faced with managing the selection, acquisition, delivery and ongoing maintenance of a large volume of electronic resources, it is often no longer possible to carry out this role without the aid of a system to manage the lifecycle. Traditional library management systems have been ill-suited to managing the particular problems we face with areas such as URL maintenance, access rights, licences and perpetual access arrangements. The DLF ERMI (Digital Library Federation Electronic Resource Management Initiative)  and NISO / Editeur Joint Working Party  have focussed on ERM system requirements and serials and e-resources information exchange respectively. They have been important in developing this area and as a result, we are seeing an increasing number of commercial and institutional ERM systems which are taking account of the research carried out by these initiatives. The book does mention e-journal interfaces such as Serials Solution and TDNET. However, these products are more focussed on access management. It would have been useful to hear more about products coming along which can help us manage the 'back-room' processes more effectively.
In conclusion then, I would not hesitate to recommend this book as an excellent introduction to e-resource management and collection development for students and new professionals. I also believe it is of great use to more experienced professionals working in this area as a reference tool. Its layout, style and use of language, its examples and illustrations all enable one to dip into this work when information is needed as much as reading it cover to cover. Because of the nature of the publication and the highly dynamic area of e-resources, it does suffer slightly in its currency but I don't think this is of much concern to the reader. I therefore believe this book succeeds both in terms of its scope and its intended wide audience.
- JISC FAIR Programme (Focus on Access to Institutional Resources) http://www.jisc.ac.uk/index.cfm?name=programme_fair
- DLF ERMI (Digital Library Federation Electronic Resource Management Initiative) http://www.diglib.org/standards/dlf-erm02.htm
- NISO/EDItEUR Joint Working party for the Exchange of Serials Subscription Information http://www.fcla.edu/~pcaplan/jwp/