Home 9 Against the Grain 9 v.22 #2 Measure for Measure: Librarians Want a More Effective ERM

v.22 #2 Measure for Measure: Librarians Want a More Effective ERM

by | May 24, 2010 | 0 comments

by Heather Klusendorf, Media Relations, EBSCO Information Services

According to a recent survey of Against the Grain readers, librarians seem pleased with the level of improvement that e-resource management (ERM) systems offer to daily e-resource workflow; however, there is still room for improvement. Librarians report needing help populating the ERM data and maintaining that data for accuracy. The majority of librarians surveyed want to be able to use one system, having the ERM integrate seamlessly with their ILS. Many librarians continue to supplement their ERMs with workaround such as spreadsheets and other Web-based tools. The goal, it seems, is to create an ERM that reduces the amount of time and systems for updating e-resource information.

Survey Methodology and Demographics

On Feb. 22, 2010, 1125 emails were sent to librarians in the Against the Grain readership, inviting them to participate in a study on ERM System Usage Trends. The questionnaire contained 18 questions about ERM use and was administered via a commercial, Web-based surveying application. In all, 269 individuals responded.

The main objectives of the study were to examine current librarian solutions for managing e-resources, identify satisfaction levels with ERM systems and applications, assess the relative importance of the core functionalities of ERM systems, explore attitudes toward ERM systems among librarians and collect relevant librarian profile and demographic data. 

Almost 88% of respondents indicated that they work in a college or university library setting. The remaining 12% are library professionals in Law, Medical/Hospital, Corporate/Business, Government and NGO/nonprofit settings.  

Twenty-eight percent of the respondents said they were e-resources librarians. Almost 19% indicated they were acquisitions librarians, and 7.6% were serials librarians. Fourteen percent of the study participants who provided their job role reported they were either a library director, associate or assistant director.

Perception of Need

As we suspected, e-resources are becoming more prevalent in libraries with almost all librarians responding that they offer some type of e-resource to users. In order to identify the perception of need for ERMs within libraries, we asked participants what e-resources their library uses. Ninety-nine percent of librarians responding offer e-journals in their libraries to users, 98% offer e-books, 99% offer online research databases and 98% subscribe to e-journal packages. While many librarians (75%) responded that they use some type of ERM system, 94% of all librarians surveyed continue to use spreadsheet applications (Excel, Access, Lotus, etc.) either as their primary e-resource management tool or to supplement their ERM. Using spreadsheets was mentioned frequently in the survey’s open-ended questions, with librarians making comments such as:  “some functions are still easier and faster to do in a spreadsheet” and “we’re still drowning in spreadsheets.”

While 75% of librarians responding are using an ERM system, many of those who are not currently using an ERM to manage their e-resources mentioned that they had an ERM in the past and let the subscription lapse. Reasons for letting the ERM subscription lapse echoed similar complaints of the ERM requiring too much time and manual data entry to maintain, making the ERM a “tremendous drain on time” for the library staff. However, many of these same librarians noted that they continue to be interested in evolving ways to manage e-resources.

Use of ERMs

Among librarian respondents who reported currently using an ERM, findings show they are familiar with ERMs and are using them frequently to manage e-resources. They are knowledgeable about ERM systems with only 10% admitting that they do not frequently use their ERM. Fifty-seven percent of respondents who use an ERM use it several times a day, and 23% use it at least once a week or more.

This data indicates that with relative frequency, librarians rely on their ERM to help them manage e-resources on a daily to weekly basis.

Many librarians noted in the open-ended questions that they are not using their ERM to its full extent. Reasons for not using an ERM to its full capacity include e-resources data not populated, system being inflexible (not communicating with other Web-based tools or allowing field customization) and “not very easy to use and not convenient for others to find the information once entered.” One librarian commented that the “care and feeding is overwhelming.” Populating e-resources data and being able to keep that data up to date is crucial to a library using an ERM to its full capacity.

Satisfaction with ERMs           

Librarians who implement and begin frequently using their ERM tend to have a positive experience; librarians who find that maintaining an ERM is too time consuming due to populating and keeping data up to date report a negative experience. In this latter instance, many revert to spreadsheets and other tools that are not Web-based for e-resource management. Overall, 55% of librarians who answered the question about “how satisfied are you with the ERM system in your library,” are satisfied with their ERMs while only 24% are dissatisfied. Ten percent responded that they are neither satisfied nor dissatisfied.

A surprising outcome from a series of questions was the ability to determine exactly how librarians are using their ERMs. Many simply use their ERM for e-journal and online databases without delving deeper into functionalities for workflow or renewal management, yet these functionalities are considered important to librarians. Librarians were asked a series of questions where they ranked their experiences with functionalities, features and attributes of their ERM from 10, being excellent, to 1, being poor. This question was designed to gauge what librarians feel their ERM does well or does not do well, and, also, to determine what is notably missing from current ERMs. The majority of librarians responding selected “not applicable” when rating how well their ERM handles a certain functionality such as “ability to handle trials” and “ability to handle renewals,” revealing key gaps in current systems.

According to our study, librarians are primarily using ERMs for e-journal and e-package management, online database management and access to license terms and conditions. Librarians are also taking advantage of their ERMs ability to integrate with the library’s journal list and link resolver, giving this feature a positive rating (ratings between 10-7 are considered positive/high).

Three features that librarians felt their ERM systems executed poorly are the “ability to manage budgets” (17%), the “ability to import data from other systems” (17%) and the “ability to eliminate managing data in many systems” (16%). In addition to these lowest rated functionalities, many librarians noted in the open-ended questions that their ERM does not handle e-books well. While 98% of librarians responded that they offer e-books in their libraries, 30% responded “not applicable” when rating how their ERM handles e-books. From these responses we may infer that librarians are not yet using ERMs to manage e-books, instead concentrating on e-journal management.

Many librarians consider their ERM to be a “work in progress,” believing that “these systems will only get better over time.” Librarians note that they are pleased with the general level of improvement that ERMs provide, reducing the amount of time and effort typically needed for regular e-resource management as indicated by one librarian who added that, “The ERM allows us, as a department, to share and manipulate e-resource related data to reduce duplication of effort and facilitate smoother workflows.” For this reason, many librarians are willing to be patient with their ERMs, acknowledging that there is still “room for improvement.” Librarians also noted that a lack of full understanding about what the ERM can do may also be affecting their perception of the ERM.

Not surprisingly,  according to the survey, librarians want it all. We contrasted the satisfaction levels with functionalities, features and attributes with a later question that asked, “how important to you are the following ERM features or attributes?” Each feature listed was rated as important by the majority of respondents.  The highest rated feature was “the ability to manage e-journal packages” with 74% rating this feature as extremely important. Other features rated as extremely important include “ability to eliminate managing data in many systems” (66%), “ability to manage online databases” (65%), “ability to integrate with journal list or link resolver” (63%) and “ability to manage individual e-journals” (61%). The only feature that was given an average rating was the “ability to handle trials” with 12% of librarians rating this as slightly above average in importance.

Rating of ERM Components

The survey shows that librarians find their ERM easy to use and believe that using an ERM to organize e-resource data aids in making collection-development decisions for the library. 

In addition to asking what functionalities work well and what features are important to librarians, we also asked for librarians’ attitudes about the different components offered in an ERM: “how strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements regarding your ERM system.” This question helped us gauge how librarians feel about the current functionality in their ERM system. Many librarians find their ERM “easy to use” (36% agree) and “essential for managing my library’s e-resources” (37% agree). The majority of librarian respondents were neutral when asked if their “ERM vendor frequently offers useful new enhancements and features,” with 24% agreeing and 30% disagreeing that useful new enhancements and features are offered frequently. Librarians expressed concern about whether or not the ERM system was being advanced with added improvements. Many librarians noted that their ERM does not integrate with their ILS, which results in problems with managing budgets and the need to update multiple systems many times for the same data.

Another concern with current ERMs pertains to integration with other Web-based tools. Librarians who ranked the effectiveness with which their “ERM system integrates well with other Web-based tools” were primarily neutral (24%) with many of them noting in the open-ended question that their reason for a neutral ranking is a lack of full understanding of what the ERM can do. Twenty-two percent agreed, and 32% disagreed that their “ERM system integrates well with other Web-based tools.” One librarian noted that the ERM “does not eliminate the need to use multiple systems to track e-resource information,” and another offered that the “ERMS functions in modules … and are not integrated in one system.” This results in “significant duplicate efforts” when maintaining an ERM along with other systems.

Still Room for Improvement

Librarians were candid in their open-ended responses to questions, and we found repeated complaints about the necessary amount of manual data entry required when maintaining an ERM. When detailing why librarians might have cancelled or no longer use a purchased ERM, some librarians commented that they “found it too labor intensive for our staff to use” and that “It’s all data and labor intensive no matter what you do.” Librarians repeatedly mentioned the difficulty entailed in populating the ERM, labeling this process as “cumbersome” with “too many links/pages that need to be filled out” for e-resources information. One librarian noted, “Most data must be entered manually. It’s like the days when we had 40 pound invoices and had to manually key all those records.”

Librarians had many positive comments, too, about how their ERM helps them manage their e-resources, such as “The ERM allows us, as a department, to share and manipulate e-resource related data to reduce duplication of effort and facilitate smoother workflows,” and that “The system has improved our ability to successfully manage these resources a hundredfold.” While surveys are often a venue for respondents to note dissatisfaction, we were pleased to find that many librarians took the time also to offer positive feedback, reinforcing that ERM systems can greatly improve e-resource management given the library has enough available staff and time to implement and use the ERM. It appears that the hardest part is the ability to move past data population into true, effective ERM use.


It is important that vendors assist with these problems, creating an ERM product that does not require workarounds and can help librarians move past organizing data in multiple locations such as in spreadsheets, e-mail and other documents.

One librarian offers what seems to be the general feeling about ERMs today: “Although there are things that could be better, it’s a huge improvement over life before ERM.” Despite some negative experiences, it seems that ERM vendors are offering basic functionality that increases the effectiveness of e-resource management. Librarians may be dissatisfied with some pieces of their ERM, such as reporting functionalities and difficulty in locating license details, but, overall, librarians believe that ERMs are evolving—it’s an ongoing effort between libraries and vendors. Librarians need new features and functionality; the ERM must continue to grow and meet the increasing needs of e-resources as libraries build larger and more diverse electronic collections.


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