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When less really is more: Automated holdings updates reduce librarians’ work and result in better access to subscribed content

Interview with Carlen M. Ruschoff, University of Maryland | Aug 31, 2015

The tip of the iceberg 
The University of Maryland Libraries subscribes to more than 350 databases, 17,000 ejournals and 900,000 ebooks. Each item is tracked by metadata and meticulously entered into the Libraries’ knowledge base (OCLC WorldCat®) when it acquires new resources. However, throughout the year as publishers add and remove resources from their lists, the Libraries may discover a new title outside the direct order process only through user feedback: “I found this. It says we have it, but I can’t get to it …” Library users help fill in the gaps as holdings information updated in one system awaits synchronization with another.
“The databases are just the tip of the iceberg,” says Carlen M. Ruschoff, the University of Maryland Libraries’ Director of Technical Services. “We are trying to provide metadata for every single title in them. We can’t possibly keep those links up to date manually in a link resolver. We really need the help of the publisher.” 
Elsevier has answered this call with a ScienceDirect API that library automation vendors can integrate with their products. OCLC and Ex Libris (SFX® and Alma) have taken advantage of this opportunity to provide libraries with efficient tools for managing their local holdings. The ScienceDirect API includes information about an institution’s entitlements, so librarians do not have to spend time activating individual titles or manually updating after the link has been activated. It’s as simple as flipping a switch!
Figure 1 – Activate automated holdings exchange in the ScienceDirect Admin Tool
“Elsevier has taken a lead role in helping libraries improve user access to electronic resources. They were the first to develop these APIs which help time-strapped librarians deliver up-to-date resources. This proactive API serves as a model for other publishers,” says Carlen, who acknowledges that advancements in discovery and access to electronic content is a work in progress globally. 
Sustaining the momentum

“Ideally we want every publisher to do this,” says Carlen. “Unfortunately, it can be a case of waiting to see where it ends up in their development queue.” For her part, she would like to encourage librarians to keep up the momentum in ensuring that the data created by librarians, publishers and other vendors is interoperable and accessible across various discovery tools. Librarians can request that their content vendors offer APIs and that library automation vendors that are not currently integrating with APIs prioritize this feature. The payoff for the library is not only in terms of managing resources, but also downstream in enhanced search and discovery.

As a member of the cross-industry E-Data Quality Working Group, Carlen contributed to the white paper “Success Strategies for Electronic Content Discovery and Access.”1 This contribution was one of many cited by the Association for Library Collections & Technical Services (ALCTS) regarding Carlen’s leadership and scholarship when it awarded her the Ross Atkinson Lifetime Achievement Award this year.
“One thing we tried to convey when working on the white paper is that vendors have more of a role in this than ever before,” Carlen notes. “If our users cannot find or link to the resources that you sell us, then the use rate is low and we cannot justify the purchase of them. So it’s really, really important that we work across industry to ensure our data is accurate and full as it possibly can be.”
ScienceDirect Quick Reference Guide - Automating your holdings updates
The white paper is an outline for better collaboration and a jumping-off point for ongoing talks. For example, she mentions that if a KBART file from publisher or vendor contains a mistake, there should be a means for the community to go into the link resolver and fix the problem immediately. And there should be an established and efficient mechanism to inform the publisher that is the source of the data, and to correct the error.
As the library ecosystem expands, so too expands the potential to spread bad data or to fix it. Another byproduct of this expansion is that users are going beyond the library catalog as their primary discovery source. 
Google Subscriber Links
In 2013 Google Scholar launched the Subscriber Links program. If libraries opt in, subscribed users can easily see when they have full-text access to an article in Google Scholar search results and click through directly to the content. Full-text indicators help to ensure users have uninterrupted access to the research materials they are seeking. This is a functionality that link resolvers have long facilitated on many different search and discovery tools, but that has not been available on Google Scholar until recently. And it has been popular! Elsevier has seen an increase in usage within ScienceDirect of between 2 percent and 5 percent from institutions participating in the Subscriber Links program.
In the University of Maryland’s case, it has activated its holdings sharing with Google via OCLC. Libraries not using such a platform can start by inquiring with their largest content providers. For example, Elsevier offers an opt-in form (ask an account manager) so libraries can give permission to share their ScienceDirect holdings information with Google.
The downside of such efficiency can be users’ misperception that subscribed content is free on Google. 
“So many times when I’m talking with faculty they say, ‘I don’t even have to go to the catalog. It’s all free on Google Scholar,’” says Carlen. “We need to educate them so they understand that it just doesn’t magically happen.” As libraries invest time and resources to meet the needs of researchers, they also need to ensure that this investment is communicated to their stakeholders.
Though automation can seem like magic, it’s actually the result of librarians, publishers and other vendors working together to improve the user experience.

1.   Kemperman, Suzanne Saskia, Bill Brembeck, Elizabeth W. Brown, Alexandra de Lange-van Oosten, Theodore Fons, Catherine Giffi, Noah Levin, Alistair Morrison, Carlen Ruschoff, Gregg A. Silvis, and Jabin White. 2014. Success Strategies for Electronic Content Discovery and Access: A Cross-Industry White Paper. Dublin, OH: OCLC.