Thursday, September 23, 2010

Evaluating Electronic Resources

I recently received a question about my experience with managing electronic resources. After writing it, it occurred to me that other people may have the same question, so I am posting my reply here as well. I have not managed electronic resources in about three years. The technology has changed quite a bit, but my primary concerns have not changed. For that reason, I still have some strong opinions on the subject. Here are the first four things I consider when evaluating a service.

1) Useful reports. This is not a big headliner, but most companies give obfuscated information about how people actually use what you pay for. ePeriodicals prefer to tout the number of searches and omit the number of full-text articles actually retrieved. The book analog is counting the number of times people search the catalog while ignoring the number of books actually checked out. Are they really giving you information that lets you form a valid decision to continue the contract?

2) Useful usage. This is actually a continuation of useful reports, but directed at statistics that appear useful but are actually deceptive. eBooks are particularly bad about this. An eBook may circulate 500% more often than its print counterpart, but only have a 2-day checkout compared to the print book's 21-day checkout. Should the eBook's circulation be discounted by 1050% to make the comparison a direct measure of time spent in the patron's hands? Should "views" be compared to in-house use instead of getting bundled with circulation? Or is the number so vague that it should be ignored the way we ignore title reading in the stacks? Every vendor is different. Knowing how the numbers are derived is important to creating honest comparisons.

3) Broad access. An eAudiobook that can only be listened to with the vendor's player is worth less than an eAudiobook that can be played with any device. If they demand the same price, resist buying and try to get a price that reflects the limitation. This is especially true when the limit creates ADA liability for the library.

4) Concurrent access. Multi-user (aka., Library) editions cost more than single-user (Retail) editions, but also address the liability of patrons copying the content to their player and then using it after returning it. Retail editions usually prohibit sharing the same way software licenses usually prohibit sharing, and the courts have been upholding those prohibitions. Libraries need to do their part in discouraging piracy. Concurrent access lets you convert potential illicit access into a chance for several patrons to concurrently check out a single item for group study, a book club, etc. It's more flexible and less expensive than trying to quickly buy a bunch of copies that will soon be discarded. Just remind them to delete their copies when they finish.

That would be my top four thoughts. I hope this helps. -Paul