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Don’s Conference Notes: Electronic Resources and Libraries (ER&L) 2024

by | Mar 20, 2024 | 0 comments


By Donald T. Hawkins, conference blogger and information industry freelance writer

Bonnie Tijerina 

The 2024 ER&L conference met in Austin, TX on March 3-6. Bonnie Tijerina, conference convener, welcomed the attendees and noted that ER&L started 19 years ago. It has been partnering with the University of Texas Austin Libraries since 2009. This year’s conference featured 130 sessions organized in several tracks. It attracted 1,300 attendees from 49 states and 13 countries, 800 of whom attended in person. The online version was conducted on the Pheedloop platform (I attended online). Last year’s general theme of space exploration was continued in this year’s conference.

Opening Keynote: Human Responsibility in the Age of AI

Kasia Chmielinski

Kasia Chmielinski, Co-Founder of the Data Nutrition Project, (an initiative that builds tools to mitigate bias in artificial intelligence), and a fellow at Stanford University, focused on building responsible algorithmic data systems that work well for everyone. Recent advancements in large-scale AI systems, growing consumer anxiety around surveillance capitalism, and a lack of meaningful regulation have all created momentum behind building proactive and practical approaches to responsible AI. What are our responsibilities as builders?

AI is not a new concept, but what is new is the speed at which we are deploying AI and the enormous amount of data that is now available.  We have been experiencing supervised machine learning: giving the system definitions then asking it to identify similar objects in a collection. If products are market driven, they must be optimized for growth. 

We can see what is inside boxes of physical things; why are we not able do that with data? We should interrogate the issues before we build the system. Transparency mechanisms will drive the culture. Think about AI as a process, not a product. Do we want to provide it to our users? What is our responsibility (or opportunity) as a user of AI systems? Questions to ask:

  • Is a problem appropriate to address with AI?
  • What was the training data? 
  • How was the model tested?
  • What are the success criteria?
  • How the will model be monitored and updated?
  • What are the criteria for decommission?

We need to think about AI as another tool in a toolkit, not something totally new. There will be shifts in cultural norms and we must be prepared for them. Know when to keep a human in the loop. Think about AI in the context of new cultural norms and how we expect others to use the tools. Take extra care in exposing confidential information and do not put it into generative AI tools.

2001 Changes, an E-resource Management Odyssey: Navigating Staffing Changes while Scaling E-resource Management Support and Competencies

Erin Calhoun and Gabrielle Fournier, Librarians at the University of Toronto described how a small centralized team of e-resource management staff at the libraries managed a transition in e-resources management after significant staffing changes. By scaling e-resource competencies, management of them transitioned to a decentralized model with an increased efficiency in workflows. 

The university has 97,000 FTE students located on 3 campuses with 42 libraries, 12 million volumes, and 500 terabytes of data. E-Resources are campus-agnostic: any user can access anything. Here is the organization of e-resources management personnel.

The libraries tracked usage with OneNote before 2020 and moved to Alma in 2001. Changes in staffing began in 2023 and presented these challenges:

  1. Centralized ERM model. The service model was adapted to accommodate demands; however, demand increased, but the capacity to serve them diminished. So the staff was invited to enroll in an online e-resource course. Colleagues from outside the central e-resources team were trained on select tasks. Ongoing support was offered, and communication channels to colleagues outside the metadata team were established. Reports from Alma captured the activity of e-resources. 
  2. Managing the backlog. The backlog included legacy issues, accumulations during 2020-2023, impact of the COVID pandemic, and staffing changes. Expectations were communicated across the library, and management continued to advocate for dedicated e-resources staffing to build competency and expertise. Management strategy was changed from a reactive to a proactive approach. 
  3. Information and knowledge sharing: Although documentation was geared towards the e-resources team, it was also suitable for use by colleagues from other departments. A page in the intranet was created for use by non-central colleagues, as well as a comprehensive OneNote tracking system for e-resources. Tools such as Microsoft Teams were used for online training and retained for future reference. Documentation can be laborious to maintain, but a commitment must be made to continue to produce it. Videos should be stored in a shared staff location to preserve long term access.

Next steps and final thoughts: There is no “one size fits all” solution to e-resource management. Competencies will continue to be expanded, and awareness about e-resource management will be raised, which will encourage a culture shift in the library system.

Mission Control for Library Accessibility

Elyssa Gould and Leigh Mosley, librarians at the University of Tennessee (UT), Knoxville noted that accessibility is mission-critical to the successful use of e-resources. This session described digital accessibility requirements in procurement and contract processes, how to review and validate Vendor Product Accessibility Technology (VPAT) documents, how to advocate for accessibility improvements, and how to document this work.

UT Knoxville is the university’s flagship campus with 36,300 FTEs, so it has a responsibility to provide accessibility.  VPATs were requested from all of their vendors. The Office of Technology started reviewing all their resources which became an overwhelming job, so they got funding to hire an Accessibility Coordinator.  Now, when a new resource is being considered, accessibility is considered first and supporting documents are required. VPAT review documents can be long and complicated, and sometimes they are inaccurate. An accessibility statement with contact information for a support system is necessary.  The system must be tested with multiple browsers, screen readers, and operating systems, hopefully by vendors. Accessibility roadmaps showing where there are problems and the plans for resolving them are created. All products will have accessibility problems; vendors’ web designers should know how they can be resolved. Alternate access plans provide a temporary workaround during the time when problems are being corrected.

Documenting accessibility work should be done by several audiences: Legal, Internal (UT libraries), and External (users). Documents often have a lot of jargon, especially when describing who will be affected by the problems. 

Accessibility literacy can be taught in courses for staff and faculty. Zoom calls and demos are better than phone calls for collaborating because they can illustrate problems. Some libraries have developed useful webinars which are good for highlighting issues for vendors.  

EZ-proxy data analysis to comprehend user behaviors for 2017-2023, before, during, and after COVID-19 pandemic

Jan Sung, Librarian at the University of Hawaii (UH) noted that vendor-provided statistics often lack user-level data. Therefore, at UH-Manoa, user logins are required for accessing e-resources, whether on-campus or off-campus. This access point data enables the library to better understand user behaviors, including timing, location, and platforms used for access. EZproxy Analytics helps demonstrate the value of a collection by transforming complex data into simple analytics, sharing graphs, etc. 

In January 2020, news about a new virus appeared. From March 2020 to Spring 2022, everything was online only, and then in Spring 2023, it became hybrid. People are still taking online classes. One concern was whether students were learning as much as before. 

Interesting observations:

  • Faculty headcount is dropping because of the expense of getting to and from Hawaii and the cost of living there. 
  • Some vendors (such as the New York Times) require that licenses be renewed every year. 
  • Undergraduates read a lot of books online. 
  • People still like Google Scholar. 
  • E-book usage is going up, but other sources have decreased.

Juggling Chainsaws: How Cognitive Overhead Impacts Library Workers

Courtney McAllister, Sr. Solution Architect, Atypon, and Natalie LoRusso, Librarian, Boston University said that Cognitive Overload impacts librarians, exacerbating stressors that lead to burnout and attrition.

Cognitive load refers to the limited capacity of our working memory. The three types of cognitive load are:

  • Intrinsic: the overall effort required to complete a task,
  • Extraneous: the effort produced and influenced by the environment, and
  • Germane: the overall cognitive effort used to make sense of information. 

Delegating tasks or saying no can help to manage the overload.   

Cognitive load matters because our information processing capacity is finite. Overload occurs when memory demands exceed memory capacity. It is not a moral failure; anyone can experience it. Working harder will not cure it. People in service professions, like libraries, are especially susceptible, especially at present when “doing more with less” is prevalent. Physiological symptoms of cognitive overload are poor performance, feelings of dissatisfaction or discomfort, declining levels of interest in tasks, and abrupt or curt interchanges with users, all of which can lead to burnout. Signs of burnout include insomnia, forgetfulness, loss of appetite, depression, and anxiety. We need to understand that there is a limit on how much assistance can be given to someone.

Organizational aspects affecting cognitive load include definition or ambiguity of roles, work culture, responsibility without authority, learning on the job, internal politics, and the need to figure out what you are not allowed to do. We need to rest productively; anything that resuscitates your capacity can qualify.

How can we lessen the effects of cognitive overload? Here are some recommendations:

A book on cognitive overload From Chaos to Order is expected to be published later in 2024.

The Evolution of Database Lists:  Promoting Content to Connect With Users

Melissa Robohn, Electronic Resources Librarian, and Michael Crane, Systems Librarian at the US Air Force Academy noted that database lists sometimes lack a sense of purpose or meaning to our users. Database content can now be incorporated into discovery layers and publication finders. 

We must know the purpose of each resource list. A Representative Committee was formed to find users’ actual behavior in accessing information. Many libraries do not change the text supplied by the vendors describing the database and its features and capabilities. Perspectives of vendors and characteristics of databases in the past and at present are shown here.

Initially, staff members thought that resource lists were the only available reliable access point, which raised questions about who should decide which resources to add, what is the best pathway to present a resource to users, and when is the database the best place. The academic discipline matters in these decisions; for example, search for a chemical structure is different from one for critical reviews. Sometimes the reason for adding a resource gets forgotten. 

Many competing factors affect decisions about a resource. It is a balancing act to find the right access point. Conversations with faculty are important. Overlapping content can be studied to determine the degree of full text and indexing overlap and identify high traffic and value added pathways. 

Red Alert: When the Consortial Deal Goes Out the Airlock

Shawn Vaillancourt, Collection Analytics Librarian, University of Houston (UH) said that when a long-standing consortial package of databases undergoes dramatic changes, it can feel like being tossed out the airlock without a spacesuit! This presentation described the methodical, accessible way databases were analyzed, and which ones we could live without throughout the changes.

UH participates in a consortium called TexShare that includes database access. It has been stable until recently. Then a new vendor was selected (the airlock was released!). Here are steps for coping:

  1. Gather the data: unique identifiers are the key.
  2. Compile all lists into a master sheet to see which database has the content and remove duplicates.
  3. Prepare database sheets with data for each one.
  4. Gather the usage data from COUNTER data or ISSNs. Check vendor specific usage reports which can provide additional insights.
  5. Add a column to check for high usage or titles being lost.

A large volume of data may not allow all these steps to be done.

E-Resources Librarian Burnout: how to use self-advocacy and self-care to create a healthier work environment

Diette Ward, E-resources Librarian, University of Tennessee, Chattanooga began with some anecdotal experiences and said that staff turnover has almost doubled since 2018. Some librarians are leaving the field and are finding other jobs. A survey asking librarians why they were leaving their jobs gave these reasons: morale, lack of vision, workplace culture, limited budgets, poor leadership, lack of ability to work remotely, workload, and poor pay. Librarians are caretakers of information so it is hard for them to leave. Librarianship is a mission. So how do we respond? If you aren’t responsive, you may be in danger of losing your job.

The only person you can fix is you. How will you change what you are doing?  We tend to be non-confrontational. Know your expectations are. What are you willing to do or not do? Will there be repercussions if you create boundaries and have a discussion with your supervisor?  What if the answer the answer is “no”? We must keep our boundaries, but they won’t work if both parties don’t stick to them. 

Think about practical changes you can make that will reduce anxiety or stress. 

  • Get your email inbox under control.  Take an hour on Friday to look at messages that have arrived that week and deal with them. 
  • Is there something you can reorganize that will make your life easier? Find ways to put down your phone and take a break. 
  • Find some tasks you can move to your assistants and delegate to them. 
  • Get up and move around for 10 minutes each hour. 
  • Find one habit making you anxious that you can change. 
  • Just say no! Frequently, managers will understand this. 
  • Make a friend and collaborate with them. 
  • Decorate your office and redesign it (plants are very good for this). 

Change something in your home life that will reduce and anxiety and stress and make your work life better: get a new hobby, more sleep, and exercise. Find a way to help your community. Is there something that you have not changed but should? When you go home, realize that home not a workplace. 

You cannot do these changes overnight because new habits take time to develop. Don’t be afraid to seek help; we all have things that need changing. 

You’ve been hacked! How libraries and publishers collaborate to mitigate unauthorized access

Libraries and publishers play pivotal roles in information dissemination, making them prime targets for cyber threats. How well prepared is your library to handle such threats?  What authentication methods are in use at your institution? 

Cybersecurity matters; hackers target colleges and universities for four major reasons: 

  • Population: A large user base,
  • Data: They host a large amount of data,
  • Espionage: Research at higher education institutions is valuable, especially in medical and engineering disciplines, and
  • Easy targets: Many attacks succeed. 

Many institutions try new technologies, but others stick with legacy systems. Most academic staff members seem to know very little about cybersecurity. Academic libraries are frequently on the front line of attacks.

Libraries are well positioned to be security advocates because they have relationships with users, their institution, and publishers to protect. Stolen credentials can access personally identifiable information as well as institutional assets. IP authentication is widely used even though it is less secure than federated access, which can mitigate risks and has several benefits, such as easier maintenance, support for multiple users, and authentication at the point of need. 

Collaboration with IT departments at other institutions is critical: we are all vulnerable; inaction is not an option. Cybersecurity Awareness Month 2024 is October; participation is an excellent way to get an awareness of security.  Best practices include:

  • Adopt modern authentication systems.
  • Use a password manager. 
  • Create unique passwords not tied to an email address. 
  • Develop a security plan for your library; don’t wait for something bad to happen. 

From a publisher perspective, a significant role of content providers is to sound an alarm when they see unusual activity or usage spikes on a server. They are usually first to experience a breach and they must inform the library immediately and then work collaboratively to resolve the problem. Unauthorized access to library resources is a risk for other campus systems such as payroll, medical, and grading data. Users may not know that their credentials have been stolen, and their identity may be compromised. Publishers must ensure that they are in good communication with the right people to provide a rapid response. When a breach occurs, content providers are aware of it, but they do not know the details of who caused the breach. An “email hotline” should be established to allow rapid communication between providers, libraries, and university IT departments.

Here are some potential solutions and initiatives to cybersecurity issues. 

The Scholarly Networks Security Initiative (SNSI) is a collaborative effort between publishers, libraries, and societies to combat cybercrime. The greatest thing we can do for our users is to collaborate and build strong info security defenses at our institutions.   

So You’ve Signed a Read and Publish Agreement: Now What? Library-Driven Standards in Open Access Workflows

Two librarians from the Max Planck Digital Library noted that as license agreements evolve to open publishing agreements, library and publisher workflows evolve, too! The ESAC library community of practice has developed internationally accepted workflow recommendations and metadata requirements to improve efficiency and get the most out of agreements. 

In the scholarly publishing environment, OA is the biggest growth sector and this trend is continuing. OA will soon become the dominant model. Transformative agreements are based on the assumption that there is enough money in the system. This map shows the worldwide extent of transformative agreements in 2024.

About 3,500 articles per year are published OA at the Max Planck Society. 

Workflows must be shaped after the agreements with publishers are signed, and authors must be notified. Most authors do not actively search for information on OA agreements; it is more efficient to change publisher workflows, get the authors’ names from them, and then have the authors confirm their affiliation, after which they will receive an eligibility message saying that they can publish OA at no cost to them. These messages must be customized to the authors; OA access can be set as the default. If an option to opt out, it should be made hard for the authors. CC-BY should be set by the institution without the possibility of selecting other choices. Most authors do not know what the licenses mean.  We must make publishing as easy as possible and put the author at the center of the process; they should have to do nothing after submitting their article for publication. Frequently, once the article is accepted for publication, authors will not complete the forms or respond to emails about it.

As an institution, we can focus on OA as 100% of our budget; fortunately, the library community is now realizing the importance of this. Every renewal is an opportunity to negotiate and get better terms.  Many of today’s processes are still oriented to the print world. The community must work together to get everyone involved with the transformation. We are in a transition now and must establish accountability for continuing the optimization of processes around OA publishing. It is in all of our interests to maximize these processes. Each step forward will bring new challenges: cost distribution, complexity, culture, and attitudes.  

The Library and Generative AI: Helping Faculty to Understand Artificial Intelligence

Research shows that students are embracing generative AI, but do they know the proper uses and hazards associated with it? Faculty members want original composition and critical thinking in classroom assignments from students. Librarians are needed to explain digital information literacy and copyright to students and assist faculty with AI classroom policies.

Students will use AI because they are excited about new technologies, even if faculty members say they should not. At Northeast Lakeview College in San Antonio, TX, a general district policy on AI was issued in Spring 2024. Faculty members were unsure of what their policies should be, so they were helped to modify their research assignments and provide examples to students of how to use AI.  A LibGuide for faculty was created that contained information on determining if a paper was written by AI or a student, curated links from librarians on AI tools, and cautions on confronting students on their use of AI. A student LibGuide contained some of the same information as well as a Legal Statement for their attention, articles on AI in higher education, and advice to talk to their professors or a librarian. 

What’s next: more resources for faculty and students including:

  • Addition of a module to the information literacy course,
  • Development of a student training course on the use of AI,
  • Development of a faculty course on AI and its uses in the classroom.

Closing Keynote Panel: Unpacking Emerging Treats to the Culture of Learning and Academic Libraries

(L-R) John Chrastka, Executive Director, EveryLibrary; Kathleen McEvoy, Sr. Policy Fellow, The EveryLibrary Institute; Nancy Kirkpatrick, Dean, University Libraries, Florida International University; Roger Schonfeld, Vice President, Ithaka S+R

The dangers making headlines for school libraries and public libraries are beginning to impact academic institutions and their content and technology providers. State-level threats to academic libraries come from mandated shifts from the social sciences and the humanities to STEM at state-funded universities, the elimination of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and other programs, the elimination of tenure, and changes to accreditation processes. National threats to research and academic freedoms include subpoenas, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and lawsuits against social science researchers who have investigated new and emerging areas, such as disinformation, misinformation, election interference, and public health messaging.

John Chrastka introduced the panel and mentioned two significant areas for discussion: 

  • Policies vs. practices. Are we equipped with policies internally but at the state and federal level? 
  • Academic libraries have been isolated. Does the rest of the campus know how they are implementing the DEI laws? 

A general discussion followed:

  • Academic librarianship is a business. How is the marketplace now? Nobody is coming to save us from the challenges now facing us. We are trying to get work done without getting in trouble. Work is still happening because if we do not do it, we would not be serving our users. 
  • We are supporting curricula, students, researchers, and faculty. We must remind them that we are not just book warehouses. 
  • We must not be intimidated by changes in technology. We must learn how to use our tools better. 
  • As hard as the work is, take time to rest. 
  • How do we inoculate ourselves against content challenges? 
  • Library leaders are looking for support from their communities. Issues around DEI are causing a lot of anxiety and stress. Solutions will have to be found locally. 
  • Understanding what you are up against is essential—internet trolls, legislators, and dark personalities on social media are looking for clicks, votes, and dollars. 
  • The culture war is a fight for power, which is exhausting. If we want things to be different, we must start doing things differently. 
  • Can we deliver competitive intelligence to our users and administrators that will make a difference in their lives? 


ER&L 2025 will convene in Austin, TX on March 23-26 for its 20th anniversary meeting.

Donald T. Hawkins is a conference blogger and information industry freelance writer. He blogs and writes about conferences for Information Today, Inc. (ITI) and The Charleston Information Group, LLC (publisher of Against The  Grain). He maintains the Conference Calendar on the ITI website. He contributed a chapter to the book Special Libraries: A Survival Guide (ABC-Clio, 2013) and is the Editor of Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage (Information Today, 2013) and Co-Editor of Public Knowledge: Access and Benefits (Information Today, 2016). He holds a Ph.D. degree from the University of California, Berkeley and has worked in the online information industry for over 50 years.


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