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The seventh Electronic Resources & Libraries (ER&L) conference was held on March 18-20, 2013. This was the second year that ER&L offered a “virtual conference,” streaming many of the live sessions via a secure internet connection. For less than the cost of two individual registrations, and with no airfare or hotel costs, we were able to register for a group viewing of the conference. By my count, there were seven ZSR folks who viewed at least one session of the conference! Our virtual conference registration also gives us access for a year to all the recorded sessions. The keynote addresses are currently available to anyone for free at

I highly recommend the opening keynote address by Michael Eisenberg, Dean Emeritus of the University of Washington’s Information School and co-founder of Project Information Literacy (PIL). Eisenberg’s address was titled “Listening to Users,” and he based it on some of the PIL findings. According to Eisenberg’s research, multitasking students are more the exception than the rule. Today’s students tend to see technology as a distraction, and they will often unplug and “go monastic” when they are studying. Eisenberg said that employers recognize that graduates are good with technology, but they lack traditional low-tech research skills. He encouraged us to look beyond formal IL training and try to find ways to embed information literacy into online products themselves. The entire address is available at (no password required).

The conference had several sessions on “discovery” systems. In one presentation (“What would Google do?”), Andrew Nagy of Serials Solutions reported that 45% of all search queries in Summon are 3 words or less. I didn’t catch the specific percentages (maybe I should re-watch the presentation), but Nagy said that for most of the searches with 2 or 3 search terms, the user does not end up clicking on any results. This “abandonment rate” levels out around 4-5 search terms. The two most frequent Summon searches are “JSTOR” and “PubMed” (the third most common, in case you’re curious, is “global warming”). It was in response to that phenomenon that Serials Solutions created the ability for librarians to create “best bets” for certain search terms-for example, we could set it to bring up a link to JSTOR when a user searches Summon for “JSTOR”, or set a link to a web page showing the library’s hours when users search on “library hours” (which we have already done). Nagy also gave us a sneak peek at some of the Summon enhancements coming out this summer.

There was also an interesting panel discussion about discovery systems (“Truth or Dare”), featuring representatives from Serials Solutions, EBSCO, Ithaka S&R, and a librarian. The ground rules were “No name-calling, no shouting, no sales pitch.” One interesting aspect was their discussion of search statistics. The librarian observed that each time a user selects a facet, it is logged as a new search, so the number of searches isn’t a very meaningful statistic; as one attendee observed on Twitter, “Number of searches is dead, and Discovery has killed it.” The panelists also made some general comments about continuing development, and the Serials Solutions rep remarked “We’re really just getting started in discovery; there’s so much more we need to do.”

The Tuesday morning keynote was framed as an interview with Dan Tonkery, who has been an Associate University Librarian, a founder of Horizon Information Services, and an VP at EBSCO. Tonkery talked about things librarians wish publisher understood, and things publishers wish librarians understood. I have long enjoyed this type of mutual-understanding presentation, and Tonkery’s sense of humor also made it enjoyable (although it also led him to over-generalize at times). A few examples of the types of topics he addressed:

  • Standards (e.g. COUNTER for usage statistics) – Publishers don’t usually care about standards unless there is a direct effect on revenue. They definitely want to track usage, but how the data are presented is less important.
  • Perpetual access – “Perpetual access” is a term libraries invented, and it tends to be something publishers either don’t care about or are not equipped to manage. A common approach is to not worry about tracking what a library’s perpetual access rights should be, and leave it to the library to alert them if something is wrong.
  • License negotiation – Publisher get a mixed message, because many libraries will sign whatever terms are put in front of them. Tonkery suggested that when handed a license with unfavorable terms, the librarian could just edit the document, sign it, and send it in, and “half the time, nobody will even notice.” (Did I mention he sometimes over-generalized?) If a publisher refuses to accept a crucial change, then the library should refuse to pay full price for the product. “Everything is negotiable.”
  • Publisher organization – Sales and Marketing departments don’t always talk to each other. Don’t assume your salesperson knows what marketing information you have received. Your sales reps also can’t do anything about license terms, but they can go back to the lawyers and say “We’re losing sales because of this.” Revenue is the language the publishers understand.

Of course there were a number of sessions that don’t have as many juicy tidbits to report on. There was the obligatory sesson on streaming video, with a Columbia University librarian describing their process for securing streaming rights (apparently they actively seek out rights to stream DVD’s that they purchase). A University of Michigan librarian described a pilot project of patron-driven acquisition of e-journals. In a separate session, another U.Mich. librarian described his research into effectiveness of OpenURL link resolvers, primarily using canned reports from SFX. I noticed that the best results they were getting at any point amounted to about an 81% success rate, which of course means that the “Full Text Options” links have about a 1 in 5 failure rate.

A new award was presented at the conference, the ER&L/EBSCO Information to Inspiration Fellowship, to support “research that will inspire and inform librarians worldwide about issues related to management of electronic resources.” The winner of this first award was NC LIVE!

The conference closed with a keynote address by Rachel Frick, Director of the Digital Library Federation. If that sounds familiar, it’s because she was also the opening keynote speaker at the North Carolina Serials Conference the preceding Friday. Her presentation also sounded familiar. At ER&L, she focused on being active contributors to the broader library community. Two of the points she made stood out to me this time. She told librarians to “Get off your e-horse!” In other words, stop thinking of products as e-this or e-that, especially when more and more of the stuff we deal with is electronic. Data and local content are part of everyone’s job, and everybody needs to have a knowledge of them.

Regarding contributing constructively to the conversation, Ms. Frick urged us to “Cut out the snark.” She said that the worst criticism of the DPLA project has been from within the library community. Snark, she said, “is really detrimental to new ideas.” We need to be open to feedback (both positive and negative). In turn, we should learn to deliver feedback in a way that is respectful & constructive.

As I’ve mentioned before, the recorded sessions of this conference will be available online to us for a year because we registered for the group online conference. Please contact me if you need access. The keynote addresses are available here and currently do not require log-in.