Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Site License Initiatives in the United Kingdom: The PSLI and NESLI Experience

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Site License Initiatives in the United Kingdom: The PSLI and NESLI Experience

Article excerpt

This article examines the development of site licensing within the United Kingdom higher education community. In particular, it looks at how the pressure to make better use of dwindling fiscal resources led to the conclusion that information technology and its exploitation was necessary in order to create an effective library service. These conclusions, reached in the Follett Report of 1993, led to the establishment of a Pilot Site License Initiative and then a National Electronic Site License Initiative. The focus of this article is these initiatives and the issues they faced, which included off-site access, definition of a site and perhaps most importantly, the unbundling of print and electronic journals.

Increased competition for institution funding around the world has resulted in an erosion of library funding. In the United States state universities are receiving a decreasing portion of their funds from the state while private universities are forced to limit tuition increases due to outside market forces. In the United Kingdom the entitlement to free higher education is currently under attack and losing ground. Today's economic pressures are requiring individual libraries to make better use of their fiscal resources while the emphasis moves from being a repository for information to providing access to information.

As in the United States, the use of consortia for cost sharing in the United Kingdom is becoming imperative as producers produce more electronic materials and make them available in full-text formats. Consortia, while originally formed to cooperate on interlibrary loans and union catalogs, have recently taken on a new role, driven by financial expediency, in negotiating electronic licenses for their members, and the percentage of vendor contracts with consortia are rising. Academic libraries cannot afford the prevalent pricing model that asks for the current print price plus an electronic surcharge plus projected inflation surcharges, therefore group purchasing power allows higher education institutions to leverage the money they have and to provide resources that would otherwise be unavailable. Advantages for the vendor include one negotiator and one technical person for the consortia as a whole. In addition, the use of consortia provide greater leverage in pushing for the need for stable archiving and for retaining the principles of fair use within the electronic environment as well as reminding publishers of the need for flexible and multiple economic models to deal with the diverse needs and funding structures of consortia.(1)

During the spring of 1998, while visiting academic libraries in the United Kingdom, I looked at an existing initiative within the UK higher education community--the Pilot Site License Initiative (PSLI), which had begun as a response to the Follett Report and to rising journal prices. At the time the three-year initiative was nearing its end and its successor, the National Electronic Site License Initiative (NESLI), was already the topic of much discussion.


The concept of site licensing in the United Kingdom higher education community had already been established, since 1988, by the Combined Higher Education Software Team (CHEST), based at the University of Bath. CHEST has negotiated site licenses with software suppliers and some large database producers through two different methods. Either the supplier sells a national license to CHEST, which passes it on to the individual institution or CHEST sells licenses to the institution on the suppliers behalf and passes the fees on to them (see figure 1).

[Figure 1 OMITTED]

CHEST works closely with National Information Services and Systems (NISS). NISS provides a focal point for the UK education and research communities to access information resources. NISS's Web service, the NISS Information gateway, provides a host for CHEST information such as Ebsco Masterfile and OCLC NetFirst. …

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