Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Workshop report from colleagues in the US

Exclusively electronic: redeploying staff to manage electronic journals
Cindy Hepfer and Susan Davis, University at Buffalo, State University of New York

The presenters of this workshop were invited to discuss how Central Technical Services (CTS) and the Health Sciences Library’s (HSL) Collection Management Services at the University at Buffalo (UB) -- a mid-ranked Association of Research Libraries (ARL) institution in the United States. -- were reorganized in late 2004 to promote improved electronic resource management. In January 2005, UB inaugurated a department comprised of 6.25 staff to work exclusively with electronic periodicals and databases. In order to create the new department, all technical services functions at the Health Sciences Library were centralized with those in Central Technical Services except for check-in of the library’s remaining print periodicals and associated binding tasks. In addition, the number of staff in CTS doing monograph acquisitions and copy cataloging was reduced, since the monograph budget had decreased to help maintain existing serials and database subscriptions. Staff from monograph acquisitions, periodicals and standing order management were combined to form a print periodicals and serials unit within the acquisitions department.

The need for a department that focuses exclusively on electronic resource management was explained. The Libraries had made a large investment in electronic resources and users were increasingly dependent on electronic access. At the time of the UKSG presentation (April 2006), UB’s Serials Solutions statistics showed:

  • total holdings: 57,494
  • total unique titles: 36,361
  • 71 databases and packages

Nearly 9,000 of the titles are individually selected or subscribed journals (as opposed to titles received in packages/databases). The 2005/2006 acquisitions budget is over $7,000,000 of which $2,580,000 is spent on centrally funded electronic resources (databases and e-journal packages). In addition, many hundreds of print subscriptions include some level of electronic access. User surveys had repeatedly indicated that faculty, staff and students want the convenience of 24/7 remote online access to journals and databases. Like others in the audience, UB had tried to incorporate electronic management tasks into existing positions. Unfortunately, the complexity and time-consuming nature of managing electronic resources as well as significant demands of the print collection led to an untenable situation. The creation of a new electronic periodicals management department and the redeployment of staff seemed like the most viable option to deal with the crisis.

The presenters emphasized that any library considering or undertaking a reorganization to allow for improved electronic resource management should first review its 'big picture.' Suggested steps included assessing workloads across the library to identify tasks that no longer require the same level of staffing or which can be eliminated altogether, and understanding where user and institutional emphases lie. The kinds of tasks involved in the electronic resource management were laid out: pre-order research, trial management, license negotiation, ordering/renewal, registration, bibliographic and password control, holdings and A-Z list management, problem resolution, vendor/publisher communication, archiving tasks, link resolver management, proxy support and user authentication services, electronic resource management system record creation and maintenance, usage data tracking and analysis, and union listing. At UB some of these tasks are handled by staff in Systems or the Libraries’ Web Office, but the majority are handled by the newly formed Electronic Periodicals Management Department (EPMD). The skills and abilities that staff require in order to capably manage electronic resources were also outlined.

The goals for UB’s reorganization were articulated:

  • involve a larger number of staff in e-resource management to develop and expand expertise and skills
  • create efficient and effective workflows
  • eliminate redundant efforts across campus libraries
  • concentrate attention on electronic resources (no distractions from physical objects)

UB’s EPMD implementation -- and how workflow, training, and communication were handled -- was addressed. The presenters felt the reorganization has been quite successful. In addition to improving control of a huge number of electronic resources and to populating an ERM with data, the creation of EPMD has allowed three paraprofessional support staff, as well as 3.25 librarians, to immerse themselves in electronic resource management. Subscription agents were also praised as a resource that the EPMD team cannot function without. The presenters concluded by noting that it was likely that EPMD would be a short-term solution and that further reorganizations were likely, especially as electronic resource management became more of a maintenance issue. Flexibility is one of the main factors in any successful reorganization.

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