1. Investigating New Content for Purchase/Addition

A basic framework should be considered with every new purchase or addition to content that is selected for inclusion into the 21st century library. Collection management and development policies do help outline the general aspects for collection purchase. In today’s libraries, many of the standard rules applied to print acquisition are no longer sufficient. This is especially true with the advent of patron driven purchasing models for ebooks. The selection of purchasing models in themselves now play a role in how and why specific content is selected for inclusion with any given collection of library material. Before any e-resources are purchased or selected for addition, here are some basic guidelines to consider when making selections decisions for content.

It should be noted that ‘content is king’ and will always play a major part in the final decision as to whether to purchase a new resource. Although usability and intuitive design will help with user satisfaction, vendors with exclusive or unique content often have extremely clunky interfaces, restricted use, e.g. on campus or even building by building, little or no report functionality and usage statistics and often insist on individual usernames and passwords, which all make the e-resources librarians life much harder. However, we cannot restrict what we buy by the interfaces we prefer as librarians. That said we can still put pressure on these vendors as a community to adopt some of the best practice outlined below. This is where the role of official or unofficial user groups can come in to coordinate recommendations for improvements.

The following checklist can be used with the information below when evaluating electronic resources: TERMs Checklist for Investigating New Content for Purchase/Addition


  1. Know what you want to achieve
  2. Write your specification document
  3. Get the right team
  4. Desk top review of market/literature and trial set up
  5. Talk to suppliers/vendors
  6. Making your choice

1. Know what you want to achieve

Sometimes identifying what content is to be purchased is easy, e.g.

  • New or updated course reading lists
  • Requests as a result of specific research funding
  • Requests from patron driven acquisitions, e.g. ‘order a copy’

However, other requests are more complicated, especially when it is discovered that there is an electronic equivalent to a print version. This is especially true if your collection policy is to purchase an e-format in preference to print when it is available (1). You may also want to investigate the history of Inter-Library Loan (ILL) requests and associated costs.

In the case of abstracts and indexes, full text databases, or other non-textual resources, you may need to determine what platforms host the given resource and which works best in your local environment – you may already use and prefer a particular platform, e.g. EBCSOhost, ProQuest, Ovid etc.

It is important to set out the criteria you wish to fulfill and map this to your collection management and development policy. Is the primary use for undergraduate teaching or postgraduate research? Are you purchasing within the existing budget or are additional funds available? How sustainable is this budget? Are multiyear deals a possibility? Remember that e-resources may need up to two years to become embedded in the curriculum. Very often, the first year of usage for a resource can be fairly meaningless as the resource is relatively unknown. Resources usually need a full academic year to do this, e.g. appear on reading lists, research guides, etc, and only then will your usage statistics start to make sense.

2. Write your specification document

For a single order, these criteria are usually short and based on local needs such as your collection management and development policy regarding format choice, what platforms are preferred by users and which ones work best in the local environment, e.g.

  • Undergraduate/postgraduate bias: some resources cross over, but others are not always appropriate to certain levels
  • Intuitive interface: is the resource as easy to use as Google? If not, users might go elsewhere
  • Hosting: Many e-resources are available on more than one platform. The subject coverage of other resources on a given platform will influence any new subscriptions. Subject librarians or faculty will have ‘favourite’ platforms
  • Will Discovery systems or federated search engines work with the new product?
  • Shibboleth authentication, EZProxy access as standard: any Abstracting & Indexing (A&I) database that relies on individual usernames and passwords for access is creating a barrier to use
  • Unrestricted access: resources that restrict access by number of simultaneous users often leads to dramatic drop in usage over a period of time as users become frustrated by turnaway messages. In addition, restrictions by location, e.g. campus use/overseas, also result in potential low usage. Unrestricted access rules!
  • COUNTER compliant usage data: you need accurate usage data to show value for money – COUNTER sets the standard
  • Ability to use within in a federated or harvested search system: resources that cannot be added to the federated or harvested search are effectively making their resources invisible to today’s user, who expects a ‘just in time’ approach to resource discovery.

Following on from the last point, if the resource is not making the full text of its offering available to the various resource discovery systems out there – then why? And do they have a plan to do this in the future?

For larger projects, the criteria become more involved. An example here would be choosing an e-book platform or e-book provider; this will require a bit more outline as to what is desired and what will be provided via the program selected.

Understanding your institutional needs are essential before you look at the market and talk to suppliers. What do you require the resource to achieve? What are the essential criteria? This can cover interface content and administration requirements.

The KnowledgeBase+ (KB+) project (2) in the UK is developing a community based shared service for ERM. As part of the preparation for this, a small group looked at essentials to check on a license, the crowd sourced results show some essential criteria to check with any new resource:

  • Concurrent Users
  • Remote access
  • Walk-in Access
  • Multi-Site Access
  • Partner Organisation access
  • Alumni Access
  • Inter-Library Loan
  • Course packs
  • VLEs
  • Post Cancellation Access
  • Notice Period

KB+ plans to show ‘Yes’, ‘No’, ‘Conditional’ information for this range of key definitions and clauses as a traffic light system for ease of use (3).

If you are considering the purchase of a full text or A&I database, use the list below in addition to the points above to help set out your specification (4):

  • Full text coverage/Full-text linking: is the full text cover to cover and if not does the A&I database link or provide the means through OpenURL linking to access external full text?
  • Sustainability: if there is full text, is it sustainable and can savings be made to journal subscriptions. Imperial College London developed a toolkit back in the 1990’s to do just such a thing (5) – for more information on sustainability see below
  • Cover to cover indexing: many A&I databases list a large number of journal titles in their coverage, further inspection often reveals that this is split between core content (cover to cover indexing); secondary content (where more than 50% of the material is indexed); and tertiary content (where less than 50% of the material is indexed)
  • Date coverage: unless specifically covering an archive period, check the ratio of current to ceased titles – you may be surprised
  • Geographical Coverage: is it important where the data comes from? Is U.S., European, Far Eastern or other coverage needed?
  • Publisher coverage: if an aggregated platform does not have a good spread of publishers, then the resource is little better than searching a publisher’s platform, where the functionality could be better.

It is important to expand upon the point about sustainability made above. Sustainability is increasingly important for the collection management and development of e-journals in particular. In the good old days of print we knew what we subscribed to and as long as we kept a print copy, we knew we had access to it! Those days are gone for many libraries, now we essentially rent access to content, so what happens when we stop the subscription? What if we want to ditch the print? What does post cancellation access really mean? All these questions need to be asked at the time of selection, not at the time of cancellation.

Using the Imperial College model for sustainability, there are three rules against which all e-journals can be assessed.

E-journals are classed as sustainable when at least one of the following applies:

  • There are perpetual access rights to the content, via the web. Perpetual access rights include access via the publisher’s website or via services such as Portico (6), LOCKSS (Lots of Copies Keep Stuff Safe) (7) and CLOCKSS (Controlled LOCKSS) (8)
  • The journal is permanently open access for all years or certain years (Hybrid open access journals are not included in this category, for these purposes we are not interested in sustainability at the article level)
  • The content is available in a trusted service such a JISC Journal Archive (a community driven archive of nationally procured journal archive collections in the UK) (9), JSTOR (10) etc.

A journal will be considered unsustainable if it fails the above criteria, for example aggregated services such as ProQuest’s ABI Plus Text or EBSCO’s Business Source Complete do not fulfill any of the sustainability criteria and are therefore titles within these resources would be recorded as unsustainable.

The above cases are dependent on subscriptions for a number of ‘insurance’ services such as Portico, LOCKSS, CLOCKSS or archival subscriptions such as JSTOR and JISC Journal Archive. This is very much a part of E-resource management – call it a modern day disaster plan. Consideration of these services can also use the TERMS cycle.

A new ‘Request for Library Resources Form‘ form is now in use at the University of Huddersfield, which uses a version of the 14 deal breakers listed in TERMS 2 in order to set out a specification document. Faculty are asked to provide a short business case for new resources, the library then checks the deal breakers before making a recommendation to the newly formed Collection Management Group.

3. Get the right team

Again, in the case of a single e-resource, this may just be as simple as consulting with faculty on whether an e-version will be sufficient, however, even with one off purchases there may still be a review panel which approves all new subscriptions (11).

With larger scale databases and more complex resources, this may require consultation with information technology infrastructure support personnel or even with university purchasing officers if the cost of the resource means that an Invitation to Tender (ITT) or RFP is required. In some cases this would be an ad hoc group consisting of:

  • The E-resources manager
  • The subject team
  • The budget holder
  • Faculty

For large scale projects, e.g. resource discovery systems etc., use of the JISC project template (12). For other projects it will be dependent on what is being selecting – which doesn’t mean that everyone should not be kept in the loop.

You may want to consider running update sessions for your subject teams to discuss new e-subscriptions. This forum is useful in getting buy in from other subject teams that may otherwise be overlooked, e.g. many resources such as marketing resources are used by more than one faculty, e.g. Business, Art and Design or Engineering (for product development courses). Of course many institutions make these decisions via a standing committee, if this is the case, make sure that the committee is as well informed as you can make them.

4. Desk top review of market/literature and trial set up

It is not unheard of for academics to request resources that have already been purchased or that are partly available in another subscription. Often academics will request a resource that they are already familiar with. While acknowledging that ‘content is king’, E-resource librarians have a fiscal responsibility to consider the options before making a purchase. To this extent it is important to check whether the request for new resources can be satisfied by existing subscriptions or whether there are alternatives available. In times of austerity we can no longer afford to subscribe to multiple resources that have a large overlap. A desk top review of market/literature may require more investment for larger collections of electronic resource materials or when there is market competition for provision of a given resource. This tends to happen more with electronic A&I services where the reviews and trialing of various versions may be critical to the selection of any one given resource.
Before talking to suppliers, have a look at what is out there. Use commercial tools to check coverage and duplication of content between resources – both potential and current subscriptions, such as:

Alternatively, use the free JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) Academic Database Assessment Tool (ADAT) (17) from the UK or the CUFTS Open Source Serials Management System from Canada. Simple manipulation of A&I database title lists in Excel (title lists are available on most vendor websites) can also pay dividends, especially when looking at duplication of titles across a range of products. The Charleston Advisor (18) is a great resource for finding product reviews and comparison studies of various content platforms.

Once you have done this, use the specification to further narrow the field. Look at trialing your short list. It is very important to get the timing of your trial correct; it can be very frustrating when faculty get in touch on the last day of the trial! Use your faculty contacts to confirm the best time of year, publicise the trial on your blog, wiki or web pages. Make sure you get usage statistics for the trial. Put a comments sheet together to solicit feedback. The length of the trial is also very important. Some suppliers still only offer a 1-2 week trial, a few only offer 24 hours! Try to get a trial for as long as possible – 1 month minimum. Some suppliers will negotiate a ‘sponsored trial’ where, for a small admin fee, the trial can be extended for up to 6 months. This allows you to get a real feel for the usage and is particularly useful for larger subscriptions. Use the budget cuts to your advantage, suppliers may be prepared to negotiate the price down.

Make sure that when you disseminate information about the trial that you have feedback mechanisms in place and that you record any comments and feedback you get, and from whom. This will allow you to justify any decisions made and to collate feedback to the suppliers/vendors.

5. Talk to suppliers/vendors

Talking to providers will follow readily from the desktop review and consideration of trial set-up. Be aware that some resources are available through different suppliers. In addition there may be national or regional consortia agreements in place with preferential prices and licenses. In addition some suppliers may have exclusive deals in a given region or territory, meaning that your choice may be limited. Always make sure to let a supplier/vendor know when you are looking at more than one provider for any given resource as this may result in your learning a bit more about the product as they try to prove why their version would be an improvement over any others under consideration. Make sure that you fully understand all of the contracting and/or fees associated with any given resource to avoid surprises at the point of acquisition.

Try to get a good representation of your team when talking to suppliers – preferably the same people present for each meeting and have your specification document to hand to remain focused on task. You may learn things along the way; go back to previous suppliers to verify anything you pick up. This may seem like a lot of preparatory work, but remember some deals can add up to over $100K over the course of a 3 year deal for example.

6. Making your choice

Finally, score the resources/suppliers against your specification document, using any weighting you may wish to give, e.g. based on your priorities – cost, ease of use, coverage etc.

After this review, which may take only a few hours given a single resource or a few months if purchasing a large collection of content, document in your ERM (if you do not have an ERM, a spreadsheet will do) any relevant points that went into the purchase decision as needed. These could be as simple as subscribing to other journals on the same platform and platform functionality works well or any relevant comparison information you have gathered. If you decided not to take a resource after a trial, document the reasons why – this may help in the future if you are asked to review the resource again or find an alternative supplier.


  1. Acqweb’s Directory of Collection Development Policies on the Web
  2. KnowledgeBase+
  3. Approaches to Licensing in elcat and KB+
  4. Stone, G (2009) Resource Discovery. In: Digital Information: Order or anarchy? Facet, London, pp. 133-164. ISBN 978-1-85604-680-0
  5. Cooper, R and Norris, D, To bin or not to bin? Deselecting print back-runs available electronically at Imperial College London Library, Serials, 2007, 20 (3), 208-214.
  6. Portico
  9. JISC Journal Archive
  10. JSTOR
  11. Holloway, T. Cancellation workflow, In: E-Resources Management Handbook. UKSG. ISBN 978-0-9552448-0-3
  12. JISC project template
  13. 360 Core Overlap Analysis tool
  14. WorldCat Collection Analysis
  15. Ex-Libris Advanced Collection Tool
  16. EBSCO Overlap Analysis tool
  17. JISC Academic Database Assessment Tool (ADAT)
  18. Charleston Advisor

Other documents

  1. Workflow: Resource Service Team’s E-Resource Trials Process Chart. Created by Jian Wang
  2. Patron led ebooks supplier evaluation form. University of Huddersfield
  3. Workflow: trial of a new e-journal. Created by Allison Larkins, University of Huddersfield
  4. This covers questions for all types of ebook requests: OU ebooks questions for module teams. Thanks to Claire Grace at the Open University

Go to other sections

  1. Investigating New Content for Purchase/Addition
  2. Acquiring New Content
  3. Implementation
  4. Ongoing Evaluation and Access
  5. Annual Review
  6. Cancellation and Replacement Review