E-Resources FAQ

This is a collection of things I wish everyone knew about e-resources.  Whether this area is new to you or not, I hope you find something useful here; and do let me know about any points I’ve missed in the comments.

What are e-resources?

E-resources are also known as electronic resources and there are two main types: e-journals (or electronic journals) and databases.

Many e-journals are digital copies of print journal articles, but increasingly e-journal articles are published without a print analogue.

There are several kinds of databases

  • Bibliographic – this type of database is a collection of references to published literature.  It functions in a similar way to a library catalogue, but indexes details of articles rather than books
  • A&I (abstracting and indexing) – in addition to bibliographic details, this type of database also contains abstracts of the individual articles
  • Full text – a database which includes the full text of all the articles it has indexed
  • Data/statistics – a collection of numbers and facts which you can query in order to extract a particular dataset.  A database in the purest sense of the word.
  • Images – a database containing a searchable index of images and the images themselves

What does full text mean?  Full text refers to an e-resources that makes available online the whole contents of journal articles, not just the abstract or citation.  Full text articles are often subscription resources, requiring an individual or institutional account for access.

What is an abstract?  An abstract is a summary of a journal article, often published at the beginning of the article.

What is a platform? A platform is a website which hosts content or programs.  Examples include JSTOR and ISI Web of Knowledge (which hosts a number of databases including, confusingly, Web of Science).

What is SFX?  SFX is an OpenURL link resolver, which works by compiling a list of all the journals to which an institution (such as a university) is subscribed and linking to that content.  Primarily, it functions to allow you to search an institution’s subscriptions to see if you can access a particular e-journal, and which years are included in the subscription.  At Oxford University, SFX is locally branded as OU eJournals and is one of a number of resources whose contents are searchable via SOLO.

What is MetaLib?  MetaLib is a search system which allows you to search for resources, link to them, and (in some cases) search within them.  This is not possible for all resources, as they need to be compliant with a protocol called Z39.50 in order to be searchable.  At Oxford University, MetaLib is locally branded as OxLIP+ and is one of a number of resources whose contents are searchable via SOLO.

What is a paywall?  A paywall is a barrier to a website which requires you to authenticate to view the content.  Usually, this requires a paid subscription.  An important implication of this is that any content behind a paywall is not indexable by search engines and therefore will not appear in the search results.  Not everything on the Internet is known to Google.

There are several methods of authentication

Internet Protocol (IP) – the IP address of your computer identifies where you are in the world, and is also used by sites like BBC iPlayer which use your IP address to check which country you are in.  If you are using the university’s computing facilities on campus, the computer you’re using will have an IP address within the university’s main range, which is detected by the e-resource you are trying to reach and access will be granted.  Working “off-campus” means that you are off the university network, perhaps using your own laptop in a university library or working from your own home.  This means that your computer’s IP address is not within the institution’s IP range and you will need a different method of access.  VPN software is commonly used to solve this issue and it works by extending the institution’s network to your computer, thereby bringing it into its IP range.

Want to find out your IP address?  Just go to whatismyipaddress.com

Single sign-on (SSO) – logging in via SSO identifies you as a member of an institution (such as a university) and therefore allows you access.  A great advantage of SSO login is that your authentication can be pushed from one site to another via your browser, so you don’t have to keep logging in when you go to a different subscription site that accepts SSO authentication.

Username and password – the old school method.  Nowadays, this only really applies to a small number of really expensive resources, where tight budgets or low demand mean that a several-user subscription than whole-campus access has been purchased.  There may only be (for example) 5 usernames and passwords for the resource, and if all 5 are in use, you will need to wait until someone has logged out so that you can use that ID to log in afresh.

Also good to know

What is a session identifier?  Session IDs or tokens are commonly used in online shopping sites and data/statistics databases.  These types of sites combine a variety of information to produce the page you are viewing, rather than retrieving a pre-prepared HTML page.  The session ID is used to track the individual user’s actions during the course of their session on the site.  Your shopping cart contents or dataset only exists because you have selected and combined certain elements during the session, which will time out after an order is finalised, or the user logs out, or after a period of inactivity.

URLs which contain “session” or “sid” indicate a session ID, and are not persistent.  If you are attempting to link to a resource, check the URL: if it contains a session ID, the URL will not work when someone tries to follow it later on because the session will have timed out.

Some e-resources have embargoes which are periods during which access is not allowed (usually to protect the publishers’ interests, or in JSTOR’s words “protect the economic sustainability of our content providers”).  There are several types of embargo:

  • A rolling or moving wall – a fixed period of months or years.   For example, most journals in JSTOR have an embargo of 3 or 5 years, and as a new issue is published, its equivalent from 3 or 5 years before will become available on JSTOR.
  • An annual cycle – for example, all content before 1st January of this year is available.  This will add another year to the archive on 1st January of each year
  • A fixed date – for example, only content before 2005 is available

If you’re carrying out research in your subject area, make sure you don’t rely exclusively on resources with embargoes, as you will be missing current and recent material.

E-resources and copyright – keep your use legal!

Most e-resources publishers have a ‘fair dealing’ arrangement which allows you to print or save one article per journal issue.  Downloading an article happens when you view the article on screen, not just if you save it.  Please be aware that systematic downloading is not permitted under fair dealing arrangements and may compromise your institution’s access to the resource.  Also, remember that your access to e-resources is for your own research and learning only, and you may not email pdfs or other downloaded documents to anyone outside your institution.

See also: E-Resources – less frequently asked questions for the next part of the story…



  1. Pingback: E-Resources – less frequently asked questions « Laura's Dark Archive

  2. Pingback: My first month: Simon Barron, E-resources Co-ordinator at Durham University Library « LIS New Professional's Toolkit

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