May 24, 2018

Collaboration, Growth, and Discovery | ER&L 2015

ER&L Conference tenth anniversaryDuring a visit to Ted’s Montana Grill, an upscale bison steakhouse chain based out of Atlanta, Amy Bruckman’s young son asked a simple question. “What sound does a bison make?”

To answer his question, Bruckman, professor and associate chair of the School of Interactive Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), simply went to YouTube and searched “sound of a bison,” pulling up several videos of bison in the wild.

During her keynote address at the 10th annual Electronic Resources & Libraries (ER&L) conference, held February 22-26 at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center at the University of Texas at Austin, Bruckman told this story and played one of the videos, with footage of the beast’s guttural roar drawing laughs from the audience of hundreds.

“Stop for a second, and think about how remarkable that is,” Bruckman said. Even a decade ago, digging up specific audio information like this would have required knowledge and work. Now, it’s available in an instant to anyone with an Internet connection.

YouTube, Wikipedia, and open source software are just a few examples of the success and scale of works produced by online collaboration, and we are still in the early days of understanding the potential of collaborative projects enabled by the Internet, Bruckman explained.

“If collaboration can create all of these remarkable things, the question I ask in my research is ‘what is next, and what can we as researchers do to facilitate what is next and to make it possible?’”

Bruckman went on to explain her ongoing work as the co-lead of Georgia Tech’s open-source Pipeline platform, which facilitates collaborative projects on the web by helping people build teams, delegate responsibilities, receive notifications on the status of project components, and eliminate common bottlenecks.

“I believe people will do amazing things if you give them good tools and social support,” Bruckman said.

Over 650 attendees from 42 states and five countries gathered for this year’s ER&L conference, with hundreds more viewing more than 60 hours of livestreamed and archived sessions online. This year’s conference also included a new, two-day “Designing for Digital” user experience (UX) event, which ER&L plans to make a regular component of the conference going forward. As usual, the days were packed with panels and presentations on e-resources, with topics ranging from organizational strategies and working with vendors to sessions on troubleshooting and technical maintenance. Below are highlights from some of the sessions that LJ was able to attend.

Open Access

Kim Armstrong, Deputy Director, Center for Library InitiativesCommittee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), and Jay Starratt, Dean of Libraries for Washington State University, presented “Is Open Access the Golden Ticket? The Real Cost of OA for the Library” a session that examined trends in OA publishing, and noted that some of the early ambitions of the OA movement are not being realized.

Citing a September 2014 report from sell-side research and brokerage firm Bernstein Research, Armstrong noted that 11 years after the Berlin Declaration on Open Access, OA content hasn’t made much of a dent in the profits of major journal publishers, and OA funding may, in fact, be contributing to those profits via the gold OA model.

Separately, Armstrong noted that some major OA journals have increased article processing charges (APC) sharply since launch. For example, the Public Library of Science’s PLoS Biology and PLoS Medicine launched nine years ago with publication fees of $1,500 per article. Those fees have since almost doubled to $2,900.

CIC recently worked with the Boston Library Consortium and the Orbis Cascade Alliance to survey member libraries to determine the impact of open access costs on their budgets. Of the 69 libraries in the three consortia, 31 responded. Twelve reported that their campus has a fund to support OA APCs, with four libraries responsible for full funding, and five responsible for partial funding. Three did not respond to the question. In addition, 12 libraries reported that OA content has had no impact on collections budgets, 13 described a minor or minimal impact, and three said that OA has increased expenses. Survey responses indicated that 27 respondents had institutional repositories, but only three reported that content in those repositories has resulted in savings on journal subscriptions. The study concluded that while OA does have benefits, significant savings for academic libraries do not appear to be on the horizon.

Future discovery

Marshall Breeding, library technology consultant, speaker, and creator of Library Technology Guides, held a standing-room only session that offered an overview of his recent trends and strategy white paper “The Future of Library Resource Discovery” commissioned by the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) Discovery to Delivery (D2D) Topic Committee.

The paper explains that discovery solutions, including AquaBrowser from ProQuest, BiblioCore from BiblioCommons, Encore by Innovative Interfaces, Enterprise from SirsiDynix, and the open-source Blacklight and VuFind solutions, offer an enhanced user interface that make it easy for students and researchers to submit queries and receive relevance-ranked results, including links to full-text resources, enabled by a link resolver.

Index-based discovery services offer the benefits of discovery solutions in addition to enriching search results via massive central indices that include: “metadata and full text from commercial publishers; content from A&I (abstracting and indexing database) resources; metadata and full text from open access repositories; metadata or full text from relevant institutional repositories; and bibliographic and holdings information from a library’s resource management system.”

These index-based or “web-scale” discovery services include EBSCO Discovery Service (EDS), Primo and the Primo Central index by Ex Libris, ProQuest’s Summon, and the WorldCat Discovery Service from OCLC, all of which “continue to evolve in a highly competitive commercial arena. Each of the products have seen a continual advancement through their product cycles to expand the content represented in their indexes, to add new features to their end-user interfaces, and to improve the performance of their relevancy or other search and retrieval capabilities.”

To date, there are no open source web-scale discovery solutions based on a community created central index, the paper explains.

“The development and deployment of these services requires extensive resources, including a highly scalable technology platform; a broad program of publisher relations that negotiate and execute agreements relative to the provision of content to populate central indexes; and the development of software for interfaces, indexing, relevancy, and many other technical components that comprise these services.”

So far, this has been “beyond the resources of non-commercial entities to produce.”

Breeding detailed these challenges, discussed the NISO Open Discovery Initiative, and examined the long-term potential of open linked data for the discovery of library resources.

Keeping it short

ER&L 2015 also introduced a new “Short Talks” presentation format, which involved groups of three speakers each giving separate 10 minute presentations on related topics, such as “staffing and organizations” or patron driven acquisitions (PDA). For example, on February 24, Amy Dumouchel, electronic resources librarian for Boston College; Alejandra Nann, electronic resources and serials librarian for the University of San Diego; and Maria Hugger, former assistant professor of library services for Colorado State University (CSU), Pueblo, now a product manager for EBSCO Information Services, led the “Budgets and Collections” short talk track.

Dumouchel discussed a common challenge—limited space—that is particularly acute at Boston College’s Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. Library. Boston College does not have any near-term plans to replace the building, librarians have a mandate to limit the weeding of books, and yet collections continue to grow. Moving collections of print journals offsite, and determining where print and electronic subscriptions overlap, have shown promise as potential ways to make space.

After discovering that there was no efficient way to extract information about this type of overlap from the library’s integrated library system (ILS), Dumouchel took what she described as a “brute force” approach, going vendor by vendor to extract a list of the library’s holdings, and merging all of this information into one giant spreadsheet. Ultimately, the library found 283 titles where the library’s print holdings completely overlapped with an electronic subscription, and another 214 titles where there was some overlap.

Nann discussed how ebook licensing terms can limit a title’s availability via interlibrary loan (ILL), posing challenges for consortia with reciprocal borrowing arrangements. Discussions with subject librarians and other staff at the University of San Diego revealed that searching the San Diego Circuit consortium catalog for specific titles often surfaced ebooks that were not available via ILL. Nann recently launched a survey, sent to California consortia including Circuit, Link+, the Statewide California Electronic Library Consortium (SCELC) Camino, and others, to study these and other issues that ebooks and demand driven acquisition (DDA) programs pose with resource sharing arrangements.

Hugger discussed how CSU Pueblo Libraries had dealt with a flat budget and rising subscription costs in recent years. Weeding subscriptions is always difficult, since university departments tend to object to cuts involving the department’s discipline, some cases, specific subscriptions can factor into a department’s standing with an accrediting body.

“You need to get buy-in from your colleagues in the library, as well as the faculty on campus,” Hugger said. Making information about subscription costs easy to communicate is an important part of this process. Hugger suggested taking usage reports and turning them into a cost-per-search spreadsheet to highlight high-cost, low-use subscriptions—particularly subscriptions for which the cost per use exceeds typical costs for alternate means of accessing that content.

Patron preferences

While the growing cost of electronic journal subscriptions and ebooks now tends to be a point of concern for academic libraries, many students still prefer to read print, according to Diane Mizrachi, social sciences librarian and information literacy instruction coordinator for the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

“In the academic world, we expect our students to read for understanding. That’s how they learn. That’s how they absorb information,” Mizrachi said during her “Undergraduates, Academic Reading Format Preferences: Electronic or Print?” session on February 24. “More and more studies are finding that for deep reading, when we have to absorb the information and internalize what we’re learning or trying to learn, that print formats actually work best.”

In a survey emailed to 5,000 UCLA undergrads with 390 respondents, Mizrachi found that a majority of students like the convenience of electronic resources, but still prefer print when they need to focus.

This sentiment was, perhaps, partly due to how students tend to access course readings. Asked to select all types of reading devices on which they read course-related electronic content, almost 90 percent of respondents said that they used laptops—presumably with WiFi and Internet access enabling easy distractions—while 27.9 percent said they used smartphones, and 26.4 percent used tablets. About 15 percent of respondents used desktop computers, and a little less than six percent used dedicated e-readers, while fewer than four percent said that they never used electronic course materials.

Written responses included comments such as “if the reading is complex, I prefer to read it in print,” and “I always prefer to read print, but when the cost of downloading articles or entire textbook pdfs is free or almost free, the benefit outweighs the former.” One respondent noted that “books are significantly less distracting than a computer and offer less opportunity to goof off.”

Almost 70 percent of respondents disagreed, or strongly disagreed, when asked whether they preferred e-textbooks over print.

Overall, the survey indicated that many students viewed the lower cost, lighter weight, ease of accessibility, and even environmental considerations as benefits of electronic resources compared with print. “But the benefits of print, well, they learn better,” Mizrachi said.

Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (, @matthewenis on Twitter, is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

Maker Workshop
In this two-week online course, you’ll create a maker program that aligns with your budget and community needs, with personal coaching from maker experts—from libraries and beyond—May 23 & June 6, 2018.
Fund Your Library: Tools and Tactics for Getting to Yes!
Whether you’re going to voters, city councils, school boards, college board of directors, or any other funder, the fundamental issues are the same: how do you convince the stewards of a limited budget that the library is their best investment?