Nailing a Giant Jello® to a Wall: Issues in Electronic Serials Management

Tech Tools

by Tech Talk Editor Ellie Dworak

EllieSadly, this being the last issue of  the Idaho Librarian, this will be my last “Tech Tools” column. I’ve enjoyed exploring ideas in my quest to bring you a column that is both useful and interesting. Perhaps I will write this column or something like it elsewhere. Until then, salut!


Ellie Dworak
Tech Talk Editor

Last month, I spent some time with Nancy Donahoo the Library Section Manager for Serials Albertsons Library, Boise State University; and Nancy Rosenheim, the Library Head of Acquisitions & Collections, also here at Albertsons Library. Trust me when I say that these two know their stuff.

Thank goodness that I had only booked an hour for our talk – not because I was bored, mind you, but because the transcription software (to remain unnamed) produced a 35 page document of some pretty hilarious text.

For example, take this snippet from a section that didn’t make it into the article. Apparently that’s a good thing, because I made no sense:

Typically a stalker is proprietary of the content to do the copyright of them by the provider for these small but culture. Right now you would not disclose terms of the agreement right typically hum.

Am I right!? That said – the transcription hilarity was totally worth it. The conversation was both informational and fun, and I hope to have more in the future.

The following is a curated version of our conversation. The written word requires a narrative, while the verbal can traverse several at a sitting. I have done my best to use my editorial skills for good, and not evil, which is to say that my goal was to represent the truth within the narrative thread that I chose to weave into the account below.

Aside from interpreting the transcription software’s creativity and editing to create a readable text, I have used the language as spoken during the interview. I use the convention of square brackets to indicate blocks of texts wherein I paraphrased, summarized, or created context in my own words. I did not, however, use ellipses to indicate removed portions of verbiage. This was written not as a means of archiving history, after all, but as a column that I hope you enjoy, whether it’s all news to you, or you are nodding along as you read.

Nailing a Giant Jello® to a Wall:
Issues in Electronic Serials Management

 Ellie Dworak So tell me about issues in managing electronic resources.
 Nancy Rosenheim One of the biggest issues in electronic resource management are transfer titles. The transfer of titles from one publisher a platform to another and the transfer of the content and your rights and having to track that. So instead of just having to deal with title changes, which used to be one of the biggest problems of a serials librarian or [professional], there is the issue of title changes and title movement. (Looks to Nancy Donahoo) Do you have an opinion?
 c I agree wholeheartedly, that’s been particularly the case in the last 2 years as the small publisher has been eaten up by the big 6.
 Ellie Dworak Ah, so a lot of things transferred.
 Nancy Donahoo Yes, and it’s not just titles moving back and forth but the post-cancellation perpetual access which is supposed to be mounted wherever UKSG says it is. [UKSG,] the United Kingdom Serials Group started ETAS – Enhanced Transfer Alerting Service. The whole purpose of it was to identify when a title was going from one provider to the next and where the historical online access was going to be mounted, whether it would remain with the old or go to the new. And that’s important so that we know where to document that we are entitled to an early earlier content than the provider may think we do, and in some cases the buyout creates a problem.

My favorite one is Portland Press. They had a publication that ranged from 1947 to the present. We began getting it in 2010, so that means we were entitled to content from 2010 forward but out of the generosity of this publisher’s heart they gave us access to the historical content back to 1947 . . . Portland Press sold its holdings to a large vendor and when it went over, you only had access from 2015 to the present. You had to buy the historical content. So all of a sudden we lost this content.

And here’s the irony – we had subscribed in print up until the end of 2007 and then we stopped getting the subscription and we quit binding it. So we were able to prove to them that we had back to 2010 electronically, and we had in print to 2007. So that means now we do note have the whole run. The only way you can get that content is to buy the entire historical archives because they will not sell you year by year. That’s an example of the chaos that’s created.

 Nancy Rosenheim Nancy referenced the United Kingdom Serials Group, which has provided leadership in establishing the NISO [National Information Standards Organization] Code of Transfer Practice, which is great because there is now a standard which all publishers who transfer titles comply with the ETAS that [Nancy] referred to is the Enhanced Transfers Alerting Service, so we each get different emails that tell us when titles are transferring from one publisher or platform to another. Often the publisher will inform us, it is usually is at this time of year however sometimes they don’t tell you, and you find out some other way.

And there are some serious implications for the transfer in addition to tracking our holdings and making things available because there are budgetary implications. Right now we’re looking at different packages that we have and we have a title that used to be included in [one package] and it’s moving to another. It’s not huge but that happens all the time.

 Ellie Dworak And it’s something where you don’t want to have a hole in the subscription?
 Nancy Rosenheim Right, or you have to make a decision. Do we subscribe to something we haven’t had a discreet subscription to before or do we . . .
 Nancy Donahoo And some don’t give you choices . . . If you have an existing contract and journal titles move into these packages then you either pay an up-charge on the cost of your package – so you have your base and then you have an up charge because they know you had it before and for the life of your contract they’re going to continue to get money from you.
 Ellie Dworak Even though it may be a different price?
 Nancy Rosenheim It’s part of the contract.
 Nancy Donahoo Which makes it not very useful to have multiple year contracts because even though you might pay 6 percent instead of 5 percent, you pay through the nose for these individual titles that have moved into the database because you have to maintain them . . . some of them are less than $1000 and others are . . . $5000. We saw one that was $16,000 . . .  just the single title. So I mean we have no control over those prices.
 Ellie Dworak You can just wake up and the budget expense chart is totally changed?
 Nancy Rosenheim Different publishers, or different providers have different license terms . . .  it was a really hard concept that you have to retain a subscription and pay additional costs, because the whole point of [of these serials packages] was that you pay a flat rate and you get everything.
Nancy Donahoo Well, and we do for some. Project Muse is one of those that we pay a flat fee, and you see an inflationary costs, but you pay a flat fee and anything goes that goes into Project Muse you’re entitled to. The University of Chicago Press package is the same way. So there are still some of those out there.

The latest twist is that in the past we have had all the way back to some historical starting point and that’s been consistent.

Now [some publishers will] only provide a 20 year historical rolling wall. So that means that even though you’ve paid for all this content, and access to it, all these years . . . the very fact that we didn’t buy the archives means that they will start giving us 20 years rolling back. So if you start in 1997 now in 2018 year old I have as far back as ‘98 and the next year you only have back to ‘99.

 Ellie Dworak So it’s like a reverse furlough?
 Nancy Donahoo It is. It forces you, then, to go buy the historical archives.
 Ellie Dworak Were they always available at the time you started [subscribing]?
 Nancy Donahoo Most of our subscriptions began between 2006 and 2008 and most of them have been static with a historical starting point. They had the archives prior to that point but they never had a rolling wall on the back end. But now not as many people have money to buy it, or have already bought it if they want it, which means in order for them to make more money they are going to this roll, so that it forces you to buy it if you want that content.
 Ellie Dworak Tell me about leased collections. What are those?
 Nancy Donahoo Meaning that for your willingness to not cancel your existing titles and to continue buying them every year, or buying access to them, within 10 percent, meaning you might want to cancel one but to pick up another so there’s a little fluctuation, they give you the choice of buying what’s called their leased collection that has an untold number of titles in it. You don’t have post cancellation perpetual access but you’re not having to track those titles separately, you don’t have to worry about ownership of them. Students and faculty have access to them.
 Ellie Dworak I see, so for agreeing to maintain your core subscriptions, they throw in a bunch of other stuff for cheap.
 Nancy Donahoo One reason we make that distinction is because it has an impact on how we maintain our records and the level of documentation that we have to record.

When I took over in serials when Rose Marie left in 2014, the biggest thing she did for me before she left was basically tried to come up with a description of the types of purchases, leases, types of subscriptions that we have. She did a really good job, even s those, since she left they’ve changed and it’s – you know I think sometimes people think that this is very straightforward and there’s nothing straightforward to it, because as soon as you’ve got it figured out there’s a new spin on it . . . and then they make platform changes. Which makes it even more interesting.

 Ellie Dworak What does that mean?
 Nancy Rosenheim We talked about titles that transfer from across publishers or platforms, and now Nancy’s referring to the fact that we also have to track what platform they’re on. Sometimes the publisher is the platform like Elsevier, and sometimes the platform is the publisher, and that would be like Metapress. They published content from other journals on their platform, but they also published their own journals that were there too.

It’s an issue related to licensing because you need to be sure that you can have IP authentication when you’re reviewing the license for the resource and you might have to read a license for the platform. When we’re tracking usage statistics we have to track the usage statistics from the publisher as well as sometimes from the platform.

 Nancy Donahoo Every time [platforms changes happen], you have to change links; reestablish IP authentication; reestablish where you’re going to get usage statistics and if it complies with COUNTER 4; how they’re going to send it to you; if they’re gonna send it to you. So it’s like starting all over. There is no one point where you get everything done and it’s static. It’s very fluid and it’s like nailing Jell-O to a wall.
 Nancy Rosenheim While it is those would be among the bigger challenge is also part of what makes it fun.
 Nancy Donahoo Certainly interesting.


 Nancy Rosenheim It really interesting and keeps it from being just checking in issues of Time.  It really does require a lot of thought and a lot of tracking trends through literature and keeping up on where content is going.
 Nancy Donahoo So then you have people talk about open access. You can’t count on historical open access content to remain static and always be available. So, people are processing interlibrary loan requests and send links to the journal A-Z list with content identified by Serials Solutions as open access will get an email [from the patron] saying “I can’t access that.” And what it is, is that [the journal] went from Gold open access, which means that it was full-blown, to article level open access, which means you’ve got some paid content.

It would take an untold number of man hours and people constantly checking things to actually determine is it still the way it needs to be.

 Ellie Dworak Wow, I’m surprised everything works as smoothly as it does.
 Nancy Donahoo Be amazed, be very amazed.
 Nancy Rosenheim You know, I’m not surprised because we have really amazing people who are experienced and knowledgeable. But there are a lot of challenges.
 Ellie Dworak It must be a lot of work bringing somebody up to speed.
 Nancy Donahoo It takes a year. You have to go for the entire cycle to really understand the issue.
 Nancy Rosenheim Well, you know, there are a lot of published lists of competencies that are needed to be able to work with electronic resources. But it’s there’s always something to learn in a fun.

We talked a little bit of we talk about the transfer titles which is a huge thing and actually documenting perpetual access is the challenge that we’re coming to you now because we had a big package, which we don’t have any more. So our serials unit will go back, because we actually own access from 2008 to 2013 for a select group of titles. We need to be able to document those because it’s almost the same as having print.

 Ellie Dworak So you just have to dig through things like the old invoices and licenses?
 Nancy Donahoo You know when we first started getting into electronic content, I don’t think anybody could have ever imagined how very different it was from documenting paper subscriptions. I mean, you know, it’s on the shelf or it’s not on the shelf. You checked it in or you didn’t check it in.

You know, we thought “oh this is going to be so much easier.” Well it is easier in the sense that you don’t have to worry about it getting mailed to you and checked in and down on the shelf and somebody can walk out the front door with it. But it brings its own set of problems and part of that is the historical documentation. What license entitled you to what, and at what point did the license change. We find ourselves constantly going back and reading those things.

Even a new subscription you have to look at indemnification and where the government jurisdiction is because of the implications for Idaho law. We’re not attorneys but there are key things we have to look at. We can’t automatically renewed something. We can’t be in a position to not be able to cancel, so we have to have an out clause. If we lost our funding we have to have the ability to get out of the contract without going the court.

 Nancy Rosenheim When we are licensing things, there are issues that have to be resolved, and it really is a two woman job. We’re not attorneys, but the responsibility to review the licenses and be sure that we’re in compliance is ours. It’s something that we take really seriously, and we worry, but then again, we try to be decisive and move on.