The University of Lincoln Library provides access to lots and lots of electronic journals. 72,000-odd unique e-journal titles, at last count.
Some of these 72,000 titles are individual subscriptions – that is, journals that we pick off the shelf and pay for one-by-one – because they’re particularly appropriate to the teaching/research of the University. Many, many more of them are journals that come to us as part of a one-size-fits-all “Big Deal” database package, where we have little or no control over the titles on offer, but where there’s a critical mass of valuable content with makes it worth our while to subscribe to the whole thing. Yet more are freebie and/or Open Access titles available on the Internet which we list to make it easy for our users to find them.
In all, we maintain access to 73 separate e-journal packages (plus a handful of individual oddities that don’t form part of a package), and nearly 110,600 e-journal links (a fair number of titles are duplicated across packages).
To help us keep tabs on all this content, and to make sense of the many different e-journal access points on behalf of Library users, we make use of a nifty tool called the Electronic Journals A-to-Z, which is provided and maintained by a company called EBSCO Information Services. The A-to-Z consists of:
- A hosted e-journal ‘knowledgebase’: a directory of all the possible e-journals available, from which we can select those titles to which we have access;
- A public, searchable journal listings site, with tools for customising the display of particular e-journals (or entire packages), including the holdings data (i.e. the start- and end-dates of full-text holdings) for each title;
- An OpenURL link resolver, which we brand as –
- Various admin services including usage reports.
Even with the tools that the A-to-Z provides, it’s still a lot of work to keep on top of so many e-journals from so many different sources. To help us (“us” being me and two colleagues from the E-resources and Acquisitions teams), we maintain an ERM spreadsheet in Google Docs: this contains details of all the acquisitions & technical information we need to manage each package in the list.
The packages fall into four distinct categories [below]; each category has to be maintained in a different way.
- “Big Deal“-style databases, to which we subscribe in toto. These cause little or no bother. EBSCO do most of the work for us. Their A-to-Z knowledgebase contains details of all the titles in the database; EBSCO add new titles and remove old ones for us; we can be reasonably confident that their holdings data accurately reflect the database. The only real problems we have with these (and all) packages are around authentication – but that’s another story. This class of packages includes all the EBSCOhost databases (such as Academic Search Elite), most business databases, quite a few packages from JISC Collections, and all Open-Access platforms.
- “Vendor packages”, made up of a selection of individual titles from a single publisher or journal aggregator. Although all the titles exist within the knowledgebase, ready to be selected, EBSCO have no way of knowing in advance which titles we hold (save for a few titles for which EBSCO Information Services act as our ‘subscription agent’ – keeping up with all this?), nor the details of our full-text holdings. These packages (which include most of the high-impact scholarly journals from recognised academic publishers; those which—by definition—the Academic Subject Librarians have chosen on their constituencies’ behalf) are hard work to maintain, as well as being very prone to error. For any more than a small handful of titles, we can’t possibly keep on top of them ‘manually’, and must rely on downloaded publishers’ holdings reports, which we then have to process into an EBSCO-friendly, tab-delimited format before uploading them to the A-to-Z. Publishers rarely make their holdings reports available in an immediately usable format, and subscription holdings tend to be irritatingly regularly subject to change, making this the Forth Bridge (Sisyphean task for non UK-ers!) of e-resources admin. We’re starting to try and reduce the size of the job by looking to see if all of these packages are absolutely necessary: I’ve a suspicion that some of the smaller publishers could be rolled up into the larger ‘aggregator’ packages with no loss of access.
- “Other” titles that don’t belong to any package. These represent a tiny proportion of our e-journals (we currently list 45 “Other” titles out of 72,000 = 0.06%) and an even more minuscule proportion of our overall usage… BUT are responsible for a disproportionately large amount of work: especially around authentication. For that reason, I try and keep the number of “Other” titles to the absolute minimum possible. I’ll use any excuse to drop one
- Finally, what EBSCO refers to as “Custom” collections (we have 13 in total): ‘local’ packages (for local people?): stuff that doesn’t appear in EBSCO’s knowledgebase at all. This is a grab-bag of oddities, experiments, print holdings (surprisingly popular), RSS feeds, and packages with really, really funky authentication requirements. Same as for the Vendor packages in 2, we have to add these to the A-to-Z by constructing and uploading a tab-delimited file. Again, I battle to keep these “Custom” packages to a minimum: but in actual fact they’re less trouble than they might be. We have complete control over the data, so they’re relatively easy to update, and they tend to be fairly low-maintenance once they’re up and running.
You can browse a list of our current e-journal packages at: http://lncn.eu/h59
I’d really, really like to simplify things, especially for classes 3 and 4. Question for fellow e-resources librarians: what tricks do you have for managing your e-journal packages and holdings information?