Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Managing Resources Comprehensively

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Managing Resources Comprehensively

Article excerpt

Last month's issue of Computers in Libraries carried my "Helping You Buy" feature on electronic resource management (ERM) systems. We looked at some of the main points of what this genre of software aims to accomplish, the workflows involved in electronic resource management, and some of the products currently available. I hope that it provided some practical information on this important genre of software for libraries.

Along that same vein, this month's column considers some of the broader issues at play in the way that libraries manage and provide access to electronic resources versus how they manage their print collections. One of my main concerns as I think about library automation involves how everything fits together into a comprehensive environment. Given the sparse resources typically available in libraries, we need all the efficiencies we can find.

Multiple Formats--Multiple Systems?

As I look at the current state of the art in products available for managing electronic resources, it seems like there's still lots of room for improvement, especially in the areas of integration and interoperability. The products available for managing electronic resources now include a strong set of features to coordinate the information and automate the work related to this type of content. The main problem that I see lies in how to tie in electronic content with the library's broader environment, both in terms of the work performed by staff members behind the scenes and in the way that it is presented to users.

An obvious issue involves the deployment of separate systems to manage electronic and print collections. In academic libraries especially, the typical arrangement involves using the ILS to manage the print collection with electronic content handled by electronic resource management systems and OpenURL link servers. As public libraries become more heavily involved with electronic content, they will soon face similar needs. Is this really the most efficient arrangement? How did we end up with such a bifurcated approach?

I think this problem goes back to the way integrated library systems were originally designed and how they have evolved over time. The ILS emerged during the time when library collections exclusively resided on print or other physical formats. As library collections evolved to include electronic content, the core ILS continued its specialization in print. Some accommodations were made for electronic content, but not to the extent that libraries could rely on them as a comprehensive tool.

The late 1990s saw the beginning of a proliferation of products that specialize in some aspect of managing or providing access to electronic resources. These products were designed to be operated separately from the ILS and could be implemented in libraries regardless of which one they used. This approach led to discrete products for OpenURL linking, federated search, electronic resource management, and new-generation catalogs.

I see this trend toward separate products for these new areas of functionality to be driven by both technical and business concerns. On the technical side, much of what these new applications needed to accomplish did not fit within the existing ILS architecture and data structures. The infrastructure necessary to support these functions was not already in place inside the ILS, and it would be more expedient to create separate products than to extend the existing ILS internal architecture.

In addition to these technical issues, business factors contributed to the provision of tools oriented to electronic content as separate products. The development of software to deliver this functionality involves considerable cost. There's a lot more incentive to package this functionality as a new product that can be licensed separately than to integrate it into existing products. Creating products that operate separately and can be sold to libraries that run any ILS presents a great opportunity to market to libraries running the ILS of competing companies. …

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