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…


Gather ye data while ye may

Many of the tasks librarians do are now becoming better-known outside the profession:  reader services (managing lending and dealing with enquiries), technical services (cataloguing), making decisions about purchases and deselection, teaching information literacy, administering budgets, working on policies, marketing the library and its collections and services…

However, gathering data is a really important part of running a library, and I would like to give it some attention today.

Collecting information about how a library service works is important in order to evaluate its effectiveness and inform its future direction.  Much of this information is captured in numerical form.

At the moment, I am creating data snapshots of the following:

  1. How fast returned books are re-shelved.  Measuring how many books library staff can re-shelve in an hour allows me to plan my team’s time and adapt to busy periods by increasing shelving hours when I know that rates of return will be high (at the end of the academic year, in particular).
  2. Usage of print periodicals: in my library, we take around 40 academic journal titles in print form (as well as online).  By asking library users to return a paper slip each time they use an issue of a print periodical, informed decisions can be made in the next budget year about the cost/benefit of maintaining each print subscription.
  3. Demands of enquiry work on library staff.  In my library, we do not have a reference/enquiry desk, but the library office door is always open and students are encouraged to come and ask us for help.  We also respond to queries via email and phone calls.  The absence of an enquiry desk can give the impression that the library does not handle enquiry work, so keeping a record of the types of enquiries and time spent answering them is useful when compiling a summary of the work done by library staff each year.

Gathering data is a time-consuming activity, so I aim to create data snapshots by measuring certain factors during particular intervals, for example 2 weeks out of a given term.  Although it is difficult to choose typical periods to monitor, and there will always be some confounding factors, I find that it helps the team to focus on the data-gathering projects for short periods rather than having to record data on everything we might measure every day.

For data which can be extracted from the library management system, I do record a variety of statistics throughout the year, for example:

  1. Checkout and checkin stats by membership group and material type – these numbers show how many items of different types (e.g. books; DVDs) are borrowed and returned by different segments of the library user community (e.g. undergraduate students; academics)
  2. My budget! I keep a master spreadsheet of all expenses and a very few incomes relating to the library budget.  Each amount is given a cost code which indicates its sub-budget e.g. Books, Periodicals, Library Materials.  Within the Book cost code, each amount is further broken down by subject area.  All of this information is then included in a pivot table in Microsoft Excel, which I use to see the balance remaining in each cost centre.

One of the things I enjoy most about my work is tidying up a messy collection of information in Excel and producing a clear summary of what it means.

Ned, I take your point that by only measuring what is happening in our physical library spaces, we are not taking account of changing behaviour and increasing use of libraries’ online facilities.   However, the role of my library as a physical space is still its most important aspect, so I’m starting with that for now.

New collections

The library lobby has been refurbished over the summer, and it looks really good now!

New lobby seating area

The friendly, informal space which has been created will now host our collection of print journals, general reference works and a few new collections:

  • New items – showing items recently purchased by the library.  A good place to stop and see what’s new
  • Written by Fellows of St Hugh’s College – home-grown works of scholarship which I hope will increase students’ awareness of what academics do when they are not teaching, and help promote their research interests in the college community
  • Broader Reading – a collection of books on a variety of subjects to give students a place to start when they want to learn about something outside their subject specialism.  This section includes many of OUP’s Very Short Introductions series
  • Learning & Study Skills – books about how to learn and study more effectively; covering areas such as referencing, revising and note-taking
  • Fiction – for students who want a break from their academic reading, this collection of prize-shortlisted books will offer them some light relief!