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Electronic Resources

After completing this session, you'll be able to:

Begin by viewing the class presentation in Vimeo. Then, read each of the sections of this page for more detail.

Explore each of the following topics on this page:


The Digital World

Downloadable audio books and music, e-books, and apps are just a few of the new digital formats available in libraries. These formats provide new challenges for librarians.

electronic materials

In the ever expanding digital universe, electronic resources have come to mean different things to different people. The 2005 update of AACR2 defined them to be, "material (data and/or program(s)) encoded for manipulation by a computerized device."

The Glossary of Library Terms tagged it as, "databases, Internet pages or other information delivered through a computer."

If a "computerized device" or "computer" is defined as having a chip, then that would fit today's smart phone, Kindle, and other device applications.

ODLIS defines digital as

"data recorded or transmitted as discrete, discontinuous voltage pulses represented by the binary digits 0 and 1, called bits. In digitized text, each alphanumeric character is represented by a specific 8-bit sequence called a byte. The computers used in libraries transmit data in digital format. Compare with analog. "

ODLIS defines virtual as

"an adjective referring to activities, objects, beings, and places that have no actual physical reality because they exist only in digital form."

In libraries, the electronic resources are currently considered to be E-journals, E-books, full text databases for access to scholarly information, and digital documents. However, digital materials would also be included such as MP3 audio downloads and streaming video downloads.

For the purposes of this course, we'll talk about physical versus digital materials.

Physical materials include the print, audio, video, and other tangible collections already discussed.

Digital materials include electronic materials stored in a digital form on a local or remote server and delivered on a device such as a computer or hand-held device.

Because of the growing popularity of electronic resources, many of the standard journals like Library Journal and Booklist include specific review sections for this format. Other outlets for selection include databases, catalogs, and publishers' websites.

Most e-books and e-journals currently mimic their print counterparts in appearance. If you found a recent full-text School Library Journal article, it would likely be offered as a PDF that looks very much like a photocopy of a page right out of the journal. Furthermore, you can find novels, popular nonfiction, reference works, and scholarly and popular journals in digital formats.

In addition to looking like the print, electronic resources have shared tough business times of late. Competition is tough as Borders and Blockbuster go out of business and Amazon diversifies to include clothing, household items, etc. While gaining ground now, e-books were not an overnight success.

While many electronic materials have a counterpart in the physical world, this is rapidly changing as new ways of thinking about how physical and virtual worlds converge. For instance, some e-books now incorporate social media elements. Chopsticks for the iPad contains text along with interactive image, video, and audio elements.


In addition, some physical books like pop-up books and books with artifacts are evolving too. Building Stories by Chris Ware is a book in a box.

try itRead E-Content in Libraries: A Year in Review (December 17, 2012).
Think about how quickly the electronic reading area is changing.


Electronic Books

pedlarWhat's involved with the activity of reading? Does it need to be text or can it include graphics, sounds, motion, and other kinds of symbols? Does reading need to have a traditional start and finish or could it be created as the reader moves through the experience? 

Enhanced electronic books challenge out thinking about the definition of "book".

Watch The Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross from Moving Tales. How is reading this book like and unlike reading a paper book? Does the book trailer "over sell" the interactive reading experience? What are the benefits of an enhanced e-book?

try itRead or Listen!
Neary, L. (2010, December 15). Kids' books make the leap off the page and online. Morning Edition.

The e-book industry is rapidly changing. With exorbitant pricing models for libraries, cost is only one of the areas to consider.

Regardless of the e-books you choose, it's important consider whether devices can talk to each other (e.g., Kindle, Nook, iPad)? What is the licensing arrangement for access to the books (e.g., who "owns" the books)? Do your patrons have access to one or multiple copies? Do the resources have unique Electronic Standard Book Numbers (ESBN) to help identify them?

The absoutely true diary of a part time indianNote that the technology model for e-book access requires a "digital distributer" like OverDrive, a host of sorts for the electronic content. How do you decide which vendor provides the best E-book service?

Some authors, like Sherman Alexie refuse to sign for the digital rights to their work. Alexie's argument is that it would further limit access by those left behind in the digital divide. On the flip side, a publisher recently announced that print copies of early volumes of a moderately popular young adult series would no longer be warehoused in favor of only providing access in them in digital format even though the final book in the series has not yet been published.

Not all library use is the same. Leisure reading is different from scholarly reading. How will users be using electronic books?

Rojeski (2012) conduct a study of how college students used paper versus ebook reserves for a class. The study found a much higher use of ebooks over print reserves. Despite some technical problems, there was high student satisfaction with ebook use.

try itRead!
Blummer, Barbara, Kenton, Jeffrey (2012). Best practices for integrating e-books in academic libraries: a literature review from 2005 to present. Collection Management, 37, 65-97.

try itRead!
McElfresh, Laura Kane (March/April 2012). Good things come in small libraries. Technicalities, 32(2), 4.

Electronic Periodicals

Subscriptions to periodicals can be expensive, particularly scholarly journals. Scholars, librarians, and publishers have been looking for ways to deal with these skyrocketing costs.

According to ODLIS,

"January 31, 2012, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported a protest against high journal subscription prices by more than 2,400 scholars who signed an online Cost of Knowledge pledge not to publish in or contribute editorial services to journals published by Elsevier, a leading publisher of scientific journals worldwide. The protest began with a blog post on January 21, 2012 in which award-winning mathematician Timothy Gowers of the University of Cambridge suggested boycotting Elsevier for restricting access to scholarly information by charging exorbitant subscription prices. Libraries have long complained about prohibitively high journal prices. This is the first sign of rebellion among researchers who produce the information. "

To learn more about the controversy over the cost of journals, read As Journal Boycott Grows, Elsevier Defends Its Practices in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Some scholars are encouraging the use of open access journals for publishing peer-reviewed research.

ODLIS defines open access journal as

"A scholarly periodical that makes the full text of the articles it publishes universally and freely available via the Internet in easily read format, in some cases by depositing them immediately upon publication without embargo in at least one widely recognized open access repository. In this new model of scholarly communication, the costs of publication are recovered not from subscription fees, but from publication fees paid by authors out of their grant funds or from other sources. The first open access peer-reviewed journal, the monthly PLoS Biology, was first issued online in October 2003 by the Public Library of Science (PLoS), a nonprofit organization of scientists and physicians."

cell journalPricing for e-journals is evolving. Some publisher subscriptions offer a free e-Journal with a paid print subscription. However this is becoming less of the norm. More often it is free print with electronic access. Others require that you pay for the print and e-journal formats to get the journal in electronic format. Others only provide the journal if libraries pay for access electronic format.

Cell is an example of a frequently read science journal.

In many states, databases subscriptions have been purchases to help defray the costs for libraries. In Indiana, residents have access to INSPIRE.

While the e-journal field appears to be evolving to include hybrids of open access subscriptions and publisher output as one database, the model is still largely subscriptions. It will be interesting to watch the impact of consortia.

Digital Media

Increasingly, streaming and downloadable digital media has become the norm.

Many schools have access to a digital media service such as Discovery Education and Safari Montage Media Management and Distribution.

Go to the Streaming Video Vendor Grid for a master list.

try itRead!
Schroeder, Rebecca & Williamsen, Julie (2011). Streaming video: the collaborative convergence of technical services, collection development, and information technology in the academic library. Collection Management, 36(2), 89-106.

Mobile Technology & Apps

A growing emphasis on apps for digital devices has placed the library in a difficult position. Both legal and technology issues can impede digital content sharing. How can these resources be provided to patrons?

AndroidOption 1: Checkout iPads, iPod touch, and other hardware. In some cases, the library may be able to circulate inexpensive versions of some devices. By keeping the special features and storage capacity low, these devices become more affordable.

Option 2: Provide pathfinders and links to these resources. Rather than purchasing devices and apps, consider create online resources to help library users download materials themselves.

Create a pathfinder that includes print and electronic resources related to meal planning. The list might include free apps like Grocery List Free and Meal Planning. Rather than purchasing iPad/iPhone apps for a creative writing seminar provide links to Flash Fiction Prompter, Name Dice, and A Novel Idea.

In some academic situations, departments are asking students to purchase particular devices for use in the program such as an Android tablet. These might include Calculate by QxMD,NCLEX Prep, Quick LabRef, Skyscape Medical Resources, and Visual Anatomy.

Vollmer, Timothy (June 2010). There's an App for That! Libraries and Mobile Technology. ALA Office for Information Technology Policy. This introduction to public policy considerations is something to consider regardless of library type.

Collection Policies for Electronic Resources

group with ipadThere are many considerations in selecting electronic materials for libraries.

Community. First and foremost, you need to consider the needs and interest of your community. If there currently is limited Internet access, electronic resources may not be the right move; however, the wave toward web-based learning in K-12 and higher education is pushing the boundaries of access to electronic information access – and not just Google. Indianapolis Public Library has not moved into the e-journal arena yet, but the Medical School library at IUPUI buys exclusively electronic journals.

Preference. One also needs to think about format preference when considering the needs of your community. Some people prefer the look and feel of print materials; however, digital reference materials are updated much more readily than print resources to provide the most current information. They also don’t require staff time for reshelving, recalls, renewals, and other circulation functions that require financial resources. It is difficult to rip out pages of digital journals, so they are more likely to be complete. But the question remains whether to duplicate the item in print and electronic format. This latter area for concern will be addressed when we discuss consortium agreements.

Infrastructure. Your community is ready for electronic resources, but do you have the technical infrastructure in place to support it? Some electronic resources can be purchased for in-house access at a lower rate than those with remote 24/7 access. Which would your patrons prefer? How complicated is the authentication process as it relates to library filters and/or a login process? If you go with one vendor, are the current hardware and software configurations compatible and capable? Do you go with a system of remote hosting or do you maintain local control? Will the electronic resources be accessible on a number of platforms?

girl with ipadTechnical Issues. Consider functionality and reliability issues. Does it have all of the search and retrieval functions that you want, including truncation, browsing, and search history? Will the purchase allow exporting and downloads so the product can be printed, e-mailed to another person, or downloaded to an electronic device? Are there sorting and ranking abilities by date, author, relevancy, etc.? Is the system intuitive and easily navigated and/or are help and tutorials offered?  Does the system integrate well with the existing library systems? Can you rely on the system to be available 24/7 with fast response times?

Support. Think about staff and user training and support. Are trials and product demonstrations available? Is technical support readily available for staff and patrons? Can you get statistical reports? Can the system be customized to show that it is actually a service of the [fill in the blank] Library and not some other entity like the university’s information technology department? If you are addressing specific resources, can you get bibliographic records such as MARC records? What type of data security and archiving policies are available?

Availability. On the supply side, what are the models available to you? Do you purchase, subscribe, pay-per-view, or rent the materials? This one is important if you want to be sure you have access to the item if you cancel. Can you get a deal on selected items or only on the big packages? This is kind of like buying the stripped down or luxury model of a car? Yes, you might like side airbags, but do you have to buy the fancy rims, too in order to get that? What are the archiving rights if you terminate the agreement? Are there hidden maintenance fees? What does the small print say about cancellation rights?

girl in labLicensing. Many publishers of electronic resources use a standard license model. Libraries are concerned with several parts of the license to include the following critical issues that libraries want to preserve:

There are also legal issues:

Other items that are of interest that should be included in the license

Licensing resources to link to:

try itRead!
Mangrum, S., & Pozzebon, M. E., eds. (2012). Use of collection development policies in electronic resource management. Collection Building, 31(3), 108-114.


Although your general selection policy should be used to select all materials for your collection, you may wish to include additional questions when evaluating electronic materials. Gregory (2011) suggests the following questions (p. 62-64):

Internet resources are a special case of electronic resources. Gregory (2011) described how Internet resource selection is different from other materials in a number of ways. These have been listed below:

Negotiating a License

documentThere are a number of considerations as you begin to negotiate a license.  First, you should be aware of the origins of licensing in this area.  There are motivators on both sides that need to be considered.  Different types of licenses and terms are also available for you to know about.

The library's role in licensing took off with the Internet; however, much pre-dated this period with products such as CDs and software. Subscription agencies hoped to maintain the intermediary role and add value by managing licensing for libraries. They sought to use generic licenses and capture all license information in aggregated form for libraries. However, publishers have evolved programs to manage their own licensing, in some cases seeking the edge over the intermediaries. Needless to say, this causes a lot of friction.


It is important to keep the motivations of each party in mind in the decision process. The licensor or commercial publisher is first and foremost trying to make money. Secondary considerations are the migration of the business from print to online products, the dissemination of information, providing a value-added service to authors, and establishing a reputation for quality and service to the libraries.

The library wants to get the high quality information resources while controlling costs. The rub is coming to a middle ground between the two.

Types of Licenses

When contemplating the license, there are various types to consider as well. A site license may be the least expensive, but it often means that the user must come to the library and use a specific machine to access the product. A multi-site license provides remote or onsite access to a limited or unlimited number of simultaneous users, depending on the license.

A consortia license provided shared access to pooled holdings. With these agreements, credit could be granted for overlap of holdings between members. Generally, vendors are seeking full access to their output with these agreements.


License Terms

The length of the license needs to also be a consideration.  Licenses can be set up to be renewed each year, with a specific term of say two or more years, or longer term.  Longer terms lock you in to the service with difficulty backing out without a penalty, but they also often come with fixed guaranteed prices.

Consortia Involvement and Considerations

Rather than each library working independent of each other, many have seen the wisdom of collaboration. This has resulted in the growth of consortia in a wide range of library types with set policies that they agree to follow. Initially, this was for development of collections in specific areas to support cooperation for interlibrary loan.  Indiana University has a strong Chinese collection, for example, while another member of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC; Big 10 universities plus the University of Chicago) could have a strong Russian literature collection. It took little time for these consortia to realize the cost efficiencies that could jointly be negotiated.

When considering participation in consortia purchasing, there are a few things that need to be considered.  First and foremost is the cost/benefit to your institution.  If every institution pays an equal share whether they are large or small, is the cost worth the benefit to the smaller institutions?  Does the smaller institution have equal say or do the larger institutions dictate the direction of the consortium?  And vice versa, does the smaller institution restrict the larger institution from taking full benefit of the joint purchasing power?

Many of the agreements and purchasing decisions take time to set up. Is the personnel available to sit in these meetings to ensure involvement in the decision making?

And what happens when complications set in? The Big 10 recently added Nebraska to the fold which meant that all CIC subscriptions had to be renegotiated to include Nebraska and all Big 12 library contracts had to be renegotiated to remove Nebraska. Yes, decisions like that didn’t just impact the athletic department.

try itRead!
Fowler, D. (2005). Licensing: An historical perspective. Journal of Library Administration, 42(3/4), 177–197.

try itRead!
Turner, Rollo (2001). Criteria for selecting a subscription agent. Serials, 14(1), 63-67.

The Real World

A number of publishing trends are beginning to impact libraries – some positive and others not so much. With the skyrocketing cost of journals, particularly in the sciences, some have begun to explore open access journals. Several models are out there, but two in particularly focus on the author paying for publication while another that may or may not overlap continues to foster the peer review process.

As mentioned earlier, some publications are coming out or are being warehoused only in electronic format. Publisher mergers keep being announced, including the recent acquisition of Indiana-based AuthorHouse, a self-publishing company, by the parent company of Penguin. Libraries need to be aware of these changes in the industry to stay on top of their purchasing capacity.

Gregory (2011) suggests that a library's collection development policy should address issues in handling electronic resources (34-35):


Blummer, Barbara, Kenton, Jeffrey (2012). Best practices for integrating e-books in academic libraries: a literature review from 2005 to present. Collection Management, 37, 65-97.

Fowler, D. (2005). Licensing: An historical perspective. Journal of Library Administration, 42(3/4), 177–197.

Gregory, Vicki L. (2011). Collection Development and Management for 21st Century Collections. Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.

Mangrum, S., & Pozzebon, M. E., eds. (2012). Use of collection development policies in electronic resource management. Collection Building, 31(3), 108-114.

McElfresh, Laura Kane (March/April 2012). Good things come in small libraries. Technicalities, 32(2), 4.

McNair, E. (2012). Print to digital: opportunities for choice. Library Media Connection, 30(6), 28-30.

Neary, L. (2010, December 15). Kids' books make the leap off the page and online. Morning Edition.

Parker, K., & Dollar, D. (2005). E-terminology: Why do I need to know what you mean? portal: Libraries and the Academy, 5(3), 421–426.

Rojeski, Mara (2012). User perception of ebook versus print books for class reserves in an academic library. Reference Services Review, 40(2), 228-241.

Schroeder, Rebecca & Williamsen, Julie (2011). Streaming video: the collaborative convergence of technical services, collection development, and information technology in the academic library. Collection Management, 36(2), 89-106.

Sowell, Steven L., Boock, Michael H., Landis, Lawrence A., and Nutefall, Jennifer E. (2012). Between a rock and a hard place: management government document collections in a digital world. Collection Management, 37, 98-109.

Turner, Rollo (2001). Criteria for selecting a subscription agent. Serials, 14(1), 63-67.

Vollmer, Timothy (June 2010). There's an App for That! Libraries and Mobile Technology. ALA Office for Information Technology Policy.

Wittenbach, S., & Hughes, J. (2003). Everything you always wanted to know about electronic journals but were afraid to ask. Serials Librarian, 44(1-2), 11–24.

Portions of this page were adapted from Collection Development & Management by Irwin and Albee (2012).

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