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The ERM Librarian

Date: Wed 09 Jan 2019

This semester we're learning about electronic resources and a bit about how to manage them. We can begin first by outlining the kinds of things that are electronic resources. Karin Wikoff (2011) outlines the major categories, and these include:

  • databases
    • A&I databases (abstracting and indexing) / bibliographic databases
    • full text databases
    • journal collections, such as Project Muse or JSTOR
    • specialized and hybrid databases, such as chemical databases, genetic databases, stock and business databases
    • primary source databases, such as original newspaper databases, oral histories, and like
  • e-journals
    • open access or proprietary, and all the issues associated with these types
  • e-books
    • one note about e-books -- here the technology is rather complex and differentiated dependinig on the copyright status, the filetype (PDF, ePUB, TXT, etc.), the purpose or genre (textbook, fiction or non-fiction, etc.). In many cases, e-books may be considered applications and not just plain or marked up text, and they also vary by platform or the application used to interact with the text, which may offer different types of functionality.
  • linking technologies, e.g., where metadata is embedded in a URL and sent across networks, these include:
    • Z39.50
    • OpenURL
    • Federated search

The promise of linking technologies is that a user would be able to start off in one system, such as an OPAC, and expand a query to other systems without going out and initiating searches in those other systems. For example, a user may start off at and find a book that's available at a nearby library. The user would only need to click on the local library link and be transferred to that library's OPAC.

As you can from the above list, electronic resources are now a major part of any library, whether academic, public, school, or special. And the need to manage them and incorporate them into a library work flow is of utter importance. This will be much of what we'll discuss and learn about this semester. And it will be complicated. The print only era of libraries was difficult enough for many reasons, but electronic resources have raised the ante. Just think, civilizations have had 500 years to work out print technology, yet we've had only about four or so decades to figure out digital technology. We're a long way off from settling on anything stable and still face quite a few challenges and frustrations.

Our Readings -- the nature of ERM librarianship

Our readings this week function as nice introductions to the role of the electronic resource librarian and really set the stage and framework for this entire course. The first article by Stachokas surveys part of the history of this specialist librarian role and then reports on a recent study of what the electronic resource librarian does today and where she or he is likely to be found. We'll talk about this in our discussion forum.

In the second article, Hulseberg uses the field of technical communication (TC) to interpret the field of electronic resource librarianship. That is, Hulseberg takes the view that an electronic resource librarian is, perhaps among other things, a technical communicator. This is much different than being someone who simply helps patrons with their technical problems. Rather, this is someone who does advanced work in documenting and reporting technical processes.

Hulseberg highlights four important themes about ERM: one of the most attractive to me is Theme Two: Collaborating in a "web of relationships." When I was an undergraduate, I imagined the kind of job that I would like would be one that would involve connecting people coming from different silos to each other and helping them communicate, which is often harder than it sounds. It turns out electronic resource librarianship is about this kind of work. However, the other themes are just as important, and in particular, theme four, about jurisdiction, highlights one of the most disruptive acts on librarianship in the last thirty or forty years. Consider, for example, that most people, researchers and scholars included, use non-library provided resources to locate information. Additionally, more work, scholarly and non, has become more freely available to the public as open access or like. Jointly, this means, perhaps, that the library, academic, public, and more, is hypothetically becoming disintermediated as a result of people using sites like Google Scholar to retrieve works freely available on the web. As a result, what becomes of the core jurisdiction of the librarian? And of the electronic resource librarian, in particular? To put this in concrete terms: a recent paper reported that researchers in their survey stated they use Google Scholar 83% of the time and EBSCOhost 29% of the time to find relevant material. That raises questions, strategic and technical ones, about the role of the librarian and library.

The third article, by Zhu, places an entirely different theoretical lens on what it means to be an electronic resource librarian. Here Zhu posits that the licensing aspect of electronic resource management has been a major influence on ER librarianship identity. We will spend some time this semester discussing licensing because it is a fundamental aspect of the work. The reason why Zhu's findings are insightful is because of the nature of electronic resources and the problems with copyright law, which has been largely ineffective in dealing with digital works. Copyright law, historically, has provided libraries with its most important legal justification for collecting works, and while no one could prove a counterfactual like this, it could be that if the internet and the web had been created before the modern library, then libraries might not exist at all, because such a legal justification would not have existed. However, they do, of course, but the introduction of digital and electronic resources has resulted in substantial disruptions, organizational changes, and other issues. I'll ask you to discuss the details of Zhu's article on the boards.

Stachokas, Hulseberg, and Zhu present the historical and environmental forces that have shaped these views of this work and these identities, and they each discuss various important themes that function as evidence of these identities. In your discussions this week, focus on these themes and talk about how you make sense of it all.

In conclusion, this semester we'll be exposed to a number of new technologies that an electronic resource librarian must deal with and also the implications of those technologies on the social aspects of our work. These aspects include our work flows, our organizational structures, our measurement activities, design and usability, security, access, licensing and negotiating, and so forth. As we start to look forward to look all of this, we might consider two questions:

  1. How do we manage all of this electronic stuff? Not only does it include a lot of technology and has an impact on our patrons, but it also may involve a lot of librarians.
  2. What exactly is an electronic resource librarian? I like this basic question because, due to perhaps various representations in the media (movies, TV shows, books, etc.) and various interactions we've had with librarians in our lifetimes, we might all have pretty well-defined, whether or not accurate, images of what a reference librarian is or what a cataloging librarian is, but what about an electronic resource librarian? This is something different, right? And it's not likely to be a position that's ever really captured and presented to the public.

Keep this these questions in mind as you read the material this week.

See you on the boards.


Wikoff, K. (2011). Electronics Resources Management in the Academic Library: A Professional Guide. ABC-CLIO.

teaching/the-erm-librarian.txt · Last modified: 2019/01/25 15:40 by seanburns