Some excellent presentations in the first session, from which the recurring issues seemed to be:

  • libraries need to adapt their roles in a digital era
  • agents need to adapt with them to protect and justify their place in the chain
  • a lot of eggs are being placed in the basket that is ERM software
    • e.g. overlap analysis
  • libraries need to operate as businesses, for many diverse reasons, e.g.
    • to provide compelling value propositions to funding bodies in order to protect and increase their share of institutional budgets
    • to reclaim VAT paid on e-journal licences
    • to ensure that the available resources are being used efficiently
  • libraries will need to take increasing responsibility for success of e-journal access
    • e.g. maintaining clean, current directory services for Shibboleth
  • archiving is climbing the agenda, but libraries don't have the funds
  • Session-by-session overview
    The perennially excellent Rick Anderson (Director of Resource Acquisition at the University of Nevada, Reno) opened the event with a presentation (view slides – .pps) which touted materials budget, staff time and (I liked this) staff morale as key library resources, and went on to outline the ways in which agents/intermediaries help to conserve those resources – for example, by consolidating invoicing (saves time) and troubleshooting e.g. access problems (saves "weight", i.e. the impact on staff of dealing with such irritations, both in terms of time and stress). However, Rick stressed that whilst libraries will be prepared to pay some premium for these services, no good librarian will divert much of the budget to these ends, and that there are other ways to make the most of the materials budget – for example:
    • consortial purchasing offers discounts as a result of consolidation (although are these discounts enough to balance the "weight" of dealing with "mind-boggling" consortial business models?)
    • big deals use up a lot of the budget, but offer overall savings – or do they? It's important to assess the real value of the additional titles
    • document delivery a.k.a. "by-the-drink" purchasing. Rick does not count this as a threat to subs agents in the short term, but suggests that in the long term it may be easier to justify "just in time" purchasing than the "just in case" (traditional subscription) model, which arguably results in much wasted material
    Rick points to his own library's decline in circulation figures (from 20.1 items per patron in 1994 to 9.7 in 2005) as evidence of a sea change in use of libraries, which will "have to" have an effect on management of serials budgets – at what figure will this decline stop, and what will continue to be circulated at that point? How can agents protect their role in this market? To the latter question, Rick offers some suggested answers:
    • to protect the value of invoice consolidation, agents should improve the renewals process (and minimise errors within it), and could perhaps begin brokering database licences as well as journal subscriptions
    • to protect the value of claiming, agents could do better at keeping libraries in the loop
    • to protect the value of troubleshooting, agents should be finding and fixing problems before libraries (and their patrons!) do; *this* really is worth money
    ASA Chairman Peter Lawson revisited Rick's mention of the "white elephant" of residual holdings (the result of the "just in case" purchasing") and suggested these holdings haven't changed in 20 years; so much for collection development? Rick conceded that librarians are not adjusting well to the concept of limited resources, and need to re-assess the basic function of the academic librarian – are the available resources being used efficiently?

    In response to Elsevier's Tony McSeán, Rick agreed that the afore-mentioned elephant is still worshipped by academics, who will require "something cataclysmic" to change their view – but what, argued Peter Lawson, represents a cataclysm if not these last two decades of the serials inflation crisis? Rick suggests the effect on *academics* may not yet be felt, but will be over the next few years.

    Ian Johnson of Robert Gordon University wondered what libraries could do to get more of their university's budget, given that research content is still valuable and academics are still being encouraged to produce it. We need to demonstrate increasing value to our institutions, responded Rick; we need to present our role NOT as collection building/management, but as ensuring people get the information they need. And it's easier to meet research needs by providing online access. Don't expect funding bodies to be philosophical and altruistic about the role of the library – prove your value.

    Paul Harwood of Content Complete had the unenviable task of following Rick on the podium, with a fact-packed presentation (view slides – .pps) of results from a recent survey of NESLi 2 reps in UK HE institutions. Paul indicated that the UK's slow migration to online holdings (31% of respondents' budgets was still print-only) is predominantly due (47%) to VAT charges on e-journals, with only 22% of respondents citing archival concerns, and 19% indicating academic preference (the latter is increasingly less of an issues, but departments do like to retain a physical presence in the library). The government's recent Select Committee Report (concluding that VAT would continue to be charged on e-journals) means that libraries will be forced to accept this issue (as, indeed, Bangor University and likely others have done). 80% of libraries say they cannot currently reclaim VAT, but Paul noted that it is possible for a library to set itself up as a company in order to do so.

    Archiving is an increasingly hot topic for librarians, with considerable support for the Dutch National Archive, C/LOCKSS, Portico and the British Library's National Research Reserve (which has even gained coverage in the national press – which I cannot resist mentioning since my own letter on the subject was published by The Times (of London) last month :-) [Sally Rumsey, below, warns that despite the enthusiasm for archiving, very few libraries have a budget for digital preservation].

    Big deals remain popular with UK libraries, despite the main downsides (no cancellations, irrelevant content, movement of titles, inability to tailor list, high administration costs, etc.) Paul raised an interesting new (to me) issue: the lack of ownership where big deals are concerned, the variety of the content meaning that no one area owns the deal or takes responsi
    bility for evaluating its usage.

    Although 82% of libraries currently buy more than 75% of their subscriptions through an agent, this percentage is decreasing as publishers make it easier for libraries to deal direct, and as the agent's role is (perceived to be) devalued in the electronic environment. Paul suggests it may be time to change the pricing model, but warns that the rigidity of university finance systems will delay any potential changes to the granularity of purchasing models.

    Sally Rumsey (LSE Library) set out to consider the overall costs of e-resources, above and beyond licensing/subscription fees (view slides – .pps). Sally suggested that despite increasing standardisation (e.g. COUNTER) and federation (e.g. Athens), e-journal administration is costing more than print journals, and more interoperability is needed. In addition to staff costs and overheads, Sally flagged up the oft-forgotten end-user costs of e.g. printing articles. She also noted that the costs of open access are not yet known; who really pays under author-pays models, or, are we really making savings when effective self-publishing requires an institutional repository to publish in?

    JISC consultant Terry Morrow then addressed us on the subject of Shibboleth, a standard which passes authentication responsibility from the resource provider to the current user's home institution, thus enabling providers to authorise access without knowing specifically who the user is (view slides – .pps). Terry highlighted that federated access control requires trust between the various links in the chain, hence current Shibboleth federations tend to be country- and/or sector-based. For the moment, the UK's federation is managed by JISC, and funding from JISC will continue until 2008. (Shibboleth differs from AthensDA in that it is open source; AthensDA uses a proprietary protocol, and must be licensed). Shibboleth's success depends on clean, up-to-date, compatible directory services being maintained by participating institutions.