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Helping You Buy: Electronic Resource Management Systems

Computers in Libraries [July / August 2008]


Does your library subscribe to a long list of electronic journals (aka ejournals)? Do you find it evermore difficult to keep track of the ejournals for which your users have access? Do you need help in allocating the budgets involved with econtent? Does your library's staff feel overwhelmed by all the work related to managing and providing access to thousands of ejournals? If your library faces these questions, then it might be time to consider acquiring an electronic resource management system (ERMS).

While these products have been available for a few years, they have not been all that widely adopted quite yet. Many libraries have deferred the purchase of ERMSs, mostly relying on locally managed spreadsheets and databases to track this part of their collections. But as libraries struggle to efficiently and responsibly manage rapidly growing collections of electronic content, and as the automation products in this area have improved and matured, it may be time to consider a more systematic approach. In this Helping You Buy feature, we'll show you what an ERMS does and provide some details on the major products currently available. With this information in hand, you can make your way through the process of making an informed decision on the system best suited to help your library manage its electronic content.

Librarians need to consider carefully whether they have the need to invest in a software product of considerable cost and complexity. Will the expense and effort result in a net savings of staff work time and offer tangible benefits? Given the increasing burdens imposed on library staff in dealing with ever-growing collections of ajournais, more librarians are arriving at the conclusion that they need specialized systems to help them manage this aspect of their operations.

What Is an Electronic Resource Management System?

An ERMS is a software module that assists the library in managing all the details related to its subscriptions to electronic content. It focuses primarily on article content delivered in electronic journals and databases that aggregate collections of ejournals. In recent years libraries have become more involved in licensing ebooks. ERMS products are likewise expanding to help manage this type of material.

One of the most obvious trends in libraries over the last decade involves the shift toward providing electronic content for the benefit of library patrons. Almost all libraries provide some form of electronic information. Some libraries, such as those specializing in science, technology, and medicine, deal with electronic content as very large proportions of their overall collections. As librarians make ever-increasing investments in electronic content, they require automation tools to manage them efficiently and responsibly. In other words, the more a library spends on electronic content, the more it needs an ERMS to keep track of this aspect of its collection.

The overall volume of econtent to which the library subscribes is one factor leading to the need for an electronic resource management system. The other factor is the complexity of how it acquires that content. If the library purchases most of its econtent from a single provider or through the services of a consortium, then its need for an ERMS may be less urgent. Those libraries with a large number of subscriptions obtained from many different providers may gain the most benefit from an ERMS.

ERMSs operate primarily as a staff tool. In most cases, they do not have their own public interface. In some cases, selected data maintained inside the ERMS may be available for public view through related use access interfaces such as finding aids or linking products.

ERMS Versus ILS?

Today's library collections consist of both print and electronic content. The ILS, originally designed to manage library materials back in the times when collections were composed exclusively of physical materials, has not necessarily evolved to accommodate all aspects of managing electronic content. The ILS's inability to expand its functionality to provide excellent support for econtent led to the emergence of ERMS products as a new genre of software.

ERMS products can work independently from the library's integrated library system and can coexist well with any ILS. It is also possible for the ERMS to be well-integrated with an ILS, essentially extending the acquisitions and serials modules with features related to econtent subscriptions. Keep in mind that an ERMS specializes in helping a library manage its subscriptions to electronic content. It does not obviate the need for a library to continue to operate its ILS. The ILS and ERMS have multiple points of potential overlap and interaction. Libraries will do well to carefully examine the balance of activities carried out between the ILS and the ERMS to ensure the least redundancy of effort and to maximize efficiency. One of the issues related to the adoption of an ERMS involves the bifurcated workflows that may result when one product manages electronic content while another deals with physical materials.

Making the Move to an ERMS

As with any automation product, the adoption of an ERMS involves a lengthy process including the investigation of available products, defining requirements, writing procurement documents, soliciting vendor responses, evaluating responses, making a selection, negotiating terms and conditions, and working through an implementation process. Implementing an ERMS will involve many technical steps such as system configuration or customization, data conversion and loading, testing, and training.

Many libraries will take the implementation of an ERMS as an opportunity to re-examine and optimize the workflow of tasks related to electronic content that are performed by staff members throughout the library.

Libraries of all types deal with electronic content. Academic and research libraries tend to have larger investments in electronic content today (though other types seem well along the path toward higher proportions of electronic content). As a result, in today's environment academic and research libraries tend to be the largest consumers of ERMS products, while larger public libraries increasingly face the same need for better management of electronic content.

Life Cycle of Electronic Resources

Electronic resources follow a set of business processes as they become part of the library's collection. These processes could be thought of as a life cycle that involves a specific workflow distributed across many library staff members. Let's review the typical workflow involved in adding econtent products to the library's collection and suggest some of the ways that an ERMS can benefit each step.

Consideration: In this earliest phase of the cycle, a given resource receives its initial attention by the library persons with an interest in its related content area. An electronic resources librarian or a subject specialist becomes aware of the product and may or may not consider the product worthy of further consideration. Products seen as strong candidates for consideration proceed to the next step.

ERMS Support: In this phase, the ERMS may provide important information regarding content packages under general consideration. If it is an aggregated database that spans multiple ejournal titles, the ERM knowledgebase may provide a detailed account of the specific titles covered and some analysis of whether these titles might be available through other products to which the library already subscribes. A key feature here would involve access to a comprehensive knowledgebase of all potential econtent products, not just those already activated by the library.

Trial: Most libraries prefer to gain hands-on experience with a product before making a commitment to license. Most publishers of electronic content are willing to activate access to the product on a temporary basis. Trial access to an information product typically involves registering the IP addresses associated with the institution, the provision of a temporary username and password or some other mechanism that allows librarians and library users to evaluate the product. The duration of a term tends to be fairly short-a few weeks or a couple of months-making it necessary to evaluate the product fairly quickly.

ERMS Support: The ERMS can serve as a clearinghouse for all of the library's trial subscriptions. The initiation of a trial involves providing IP addresses and other authentication credentials to the publisher. The library can record the details of the product when a trial subscription is activated. Much of this information will be needed later on should the library decide to acquire the product. If the knowledgebase of the ERMS already includes the product selected for trial, it can be activated, flagged as a trial, and updated to indicate the dates associated with the term of the trial. Events or alerts might be set to notify interested staff members when the end of the trial is approaching.

The ERMS should provide information about all the trials currently in effect, allowing any library staff members involved in electronic resources to try out any relevant products under consideration so that they can provide their input into the selection process. Many libraries convene an electronic collections development committee to allocate the library's available collection funds.

Negotiation: Products given positive consideration may proceed to the negotiation between the authorized library representative and the publisher. During the negotiation phase, these two parties work toward agreement on product options, pricing, and other details.

ERMS Support. During the negotiation, the ERMS can provide information to the library that can help it strengthen its bargaining position. This information might include pricing of similar products, the anticipated level of use, and how many other products might have already been acquired from this publisher or provider.

License: If the negotiations result in an agreement for the library to acquire the product, the provider will require the library to sign a license agreement. This license is a legal document that specifies the terms of use, price, restrictions, and other details.

ERMS Support: A key function of the ERMS involves recording the terms of license agreements associated with each of the library's econtent products. The ERMS may provide data elements for any terms that can be quantified, such as the price, number of allowed simultaneous users, the duration of the subscription, renewal options, and the like. It is also desirable to store the full text of the license in the ERMS for future reference. If a PDF or other electronic version of the document is not available, then it can be scanned. It is also helpful to use optical character recognition (OCR) to make it possible to search the text of the document.

Procurement: If all the steps described above see successful completion, then the library will issue payment for the product to the provider.

ERMS Support. The actual procurement of a subscription usually involves the receipt of an invoice from the provider that the library can use to issue a payment through its own business office or that of its parent institution. In most cases, the ERMS does not handle these financial transactions directly but instead tracks their results. The payment process may be managed through the acquisitions module of the library's integrated library system, or it may be handled through the accounting systems of the library's parent institution. Even when the ERMS does not directly manage the payment process, it can facilitate the process by transferring relevant data to the appropriate business systems and by tracking financial data across products and vendors.

Active Use and Monitoring: Products that successfully complete all the above processes move into active use. Library users should then be able to access the associated content, and library staff can monitor the volume of use received.

ERMS Support: For each product or active user, the ERMS provides a convenient point of access to any information available. In addition, any questions that arise regarding terms of service or whom to contact in case of service interruptions should be easily answered by viewing data from the ERMS.

Content providers are usually required to collect statistics that measure the use of each product by users from each institutional subscriber and to generate statistical reports. The COUNTER guidelines describe a uniform approach for making these statistics available to the library. Most content providers offer an administrative account for authorized staff of the library to sign in to view or download these statistics. The SUSHI protocol was recently developed to support an automated approach for libraries to acquire COUNTER-compliant statistics from all their information products without having to manually sign in and download each one. Some ERMS products include the capability to automatically obtain and record COUNTER statistics using SUSHI for all the library's subscriptions.

The regular accumulation of use data regarding each product gives the library valuable information for assessing cost effectiveness or value. It also allows the library to diagnose problems related to user access. If, for example, the use statistics suddenly drop, it may reflect a technical problem that library users may be experiencing in connecting to the content. Variations in use statistics may also reflect usability problems in the environment the library provides to assist its users in finding and connecting to its electronic resources.

Renewal/Deselection: Most information products involve subscriptions revolving around annual renewal and payment cycles. A renewal of an existing product may involve a greatly simplified process compared to the initial license, but it provides the library with an opportunity to assess the value of the product. If the product fails to receive the anticipated level of use or if the provider requires too steep of a payment increase, the library may choose to deselect it in favor of higher-value alternatives.

ERMS Support: The ERMS should provide a wealth of information to support ongoing assessment and renewal decisions. A combination of use statistics and cost data provides a general cost-per-view figure that might inform a renewal decision. For products that involve an aggregation of individual ejournal titles, an overlap analysis performed by the ERMS may reveal whether it continues to provide unique content not covered within other subscriptions.

Installing a Base

An important consideration in purchasing any product involves knowing something about the number of libraries that have already purchased it (see Table 1). Being one of the first to adopt a product may involve considerably more risk than acquiring it after it has become better established.

It is also interesting to note how long the various products have been on the market. Innovative entered the track earliest, and it has maintained the lead in this area following its 2-year head start. Verde launched in June 2004, about the same time as Meridian. Serials Solutions has steadily expanded its product line surrounding its ejournal holdings data since its founding. The company began offering a full ERMS in October 2005. While Innovative still holds the lead in the number of ERMSs sold and installed, Serials Solutions has achieved almost as many sales despite a much later start. We note that the number of libraries that have licensed Verde ranks much higher than those actually using the product in production.

Local or SaaS?

ERMS products come in two major flavors of implementation: locally installed software or software as a service (SaaS). (See Table 2.) Those going with locally installed software will need to provide the hardware and software platform for the system and should count on the need for at least some local technical involvement. A SaaS implementation involves using an instance of the software that runs on servers provided by the vendor and accessed by the library's staff and users via the web. SaaS requires much less technical involvement by the local library.

The cost model also differs between SaaS and a locally installed ERMS. A local install follows the traditional software model where the library pays a substantial up-front license fee, with an annual support payment in the neighborhood of 15% of the initial license fee. SaaS involves an annual subscription payment and avoids the hardware expenses associated with locally installed software.


One component of the product involves a knowledgebase that tracks the contents of each subscription product. A comprehensive database of ejournal holdings can add an enormous level of efficiency. Given the variability of content in the major subscription packages, having a database that carefully tracks them serves as a valuable resource for helping the library understand exactly what titles it has access to through its cumulative body of subscriptions.

Creating and maintaining such a knowledgebase is a major undertaking. The number of potential products is immense, and it changes constantly. The companies that maintain these knowledgebases have to obtain data from many sources, especially the publishers that create the products. Even the producers of the econtent products have difficulty in specifying the exact contents of any given product, given that individual titles are added and deleted from the aggregated products constantly. A thorough process in maintaining a complete and accurate knowledgebase would involve compiling all data available from the publishers and providers; systematically reviewing, correcting, and enhancing that data; and incorporating changes and fixing errors as reported by the users of the knowledgebase.

The effectiveness of both the products that provide access to electronic content and the ERMS employed to manage that content behind the scenes depends on an extremely complete and accurate knowledgebase to function well. We asked each of the companies offering an ERMS to describe the knowledgebase associated with its product. Each quantifies its knowledgebase quite differently, but each shines some light on its approach to this critical component. Given the substantially different ways that each of the companies measures and describes its knowledgebase, it's difficult to make an objective comparison. One can observe that each of these knowledgebases of econtent holdings is reasonably comprehensive. Measures of quality remain even more elusive. See Table 3.

Relation to OpenURL Link Resolvers

Libraries interested in an ERMS will likely have an OpenURL link resolver in place or will acquire one in the process. While OpenURL linking isn't a formal prerequisite to implementing an ERMS, they tend to go hand in hand. Link resolvers provide services to end users based on the knowledgebase of econtent holdings; an ERMS helps library staff manage econtent products, making use of the same knowledgebase. (see Table 4.)

Integration With the ILS

We've already noted the complex relation between the ERMS and the ILS. It's important to ensure that these two systems work together well, with as little redundant effort as possible. Some data may need to be passed between the ILS acquisitions module and the ERMS, especially regarding the vendors from which the library purchases its subscriptions and the financial data involved in payments. The cataloging module of the ILS usually includes bibliographic records for the titles managed in the ERMS, making it highly desirable to have some mechanism for automatic updates.

Some, but not all, of the companies offering an ERMS also support one or more ILSs. There are often differences in the degree of interoperability possible when using an ILS provided by the same vendor as the ERMS. Those that do not offer an ILS, such as Serials Solutions and TDNet, make a strong effort to support data exchange with all the major ILS products.

All of the ERMS products aim to work with a wide range of ILSs. Given the complexity of the data involved and the lack of standards, a vendor has much less control when dealing with a competitor's ILS. The level of interoperability may also relate to the level of technical ability available in the library for extracting and manipulating data within its ILS. See Table 5.

Managing License Data

One important feature of an ERMS involves how it manages information related to the license agreement in effect between the library and each content provider. An ERMS provides an opportunity to store the text and images of all the licenses in a central repository and to record the terms of each license as data that can be retrieved and manipulated. Table 6 provides some general information on how each system handles license agreements.

Statistics and Reports

One of the most critical factors in making purchase and renewal decisions on each econtent product involves its level of use. While it has become expected for publishers to provide use statistics for each product, libraries need a systematic way to store and hopefully automatically retrieve these statistics. The ERMS provides a platform for managing use statistics. The COUNTER guidelines describe the categories of statistics that should be reported, such as sessions, searches, and documents retrieved for each discrete title and for each aggregated product. Having to visit the site for each publisher and manually download COUNTER statistics can be a time-consuming and tedious task, especially if a library subscribes to hundreds of econtent products. The SUSHI protocol was developed to automate the collection of COUNTER statistics. An ERMS with support for SUSHI can provide a very efficient way to harvest detailed information regarding the use of licensed content products. In addition to automatically gathering the raw statistics, the ERMS should also be able to produce reports that put these statistics to work for comparative analysis among products and to reveal various usage trends. These use statistics should ultimately help the libraries determine the products of highest value and help make resource allocation decisions.

The ERMS should also be able to generate reports that perform analyses of the library's overall collection of electronic resources. Libraries generally want to avoid unnecessary duplication within their collections. Manually comparing lists of titles available within subscription packages can be a tedious exercise. An ERMS, however, should be able to generate reports that perform an overlap analysis automatically. See Table 7.

Product Costs

Now that we've learned the capabilities of these ERMS products and their potential benefits for a library, it would be nice to know the costs involved. Like all other library automation software, none of the products comes with a fixed price tag. Rather, the price of the system can vary greatly depending on the options selected by the library and is scaled according to the size and complexity of the library.

Keep in mind that locally installed versions and SaaS options offer quite different cost models. SaaS avoids the front-loaded software license fees and hardware costs but will involve higher annual costs compared to the annual maintenance associated with locally installed software. When comparing the costs between these models, it's important to perform a total cost of ownership analysis that spans the total number of years that the library expects to use the product.

Table 8 provides basic information that each of the vendors can state. Actual pricing can be determined only through a quote calculated for a specific library as part of a procurement process.

Ready to Buy?

It should be clear by now that electronic resource management systems are complex, sophisticated products designed to help libraries deal with an especially difficult, but important, aspect of their operation. We've looked at just a sampling of features possible in these systems. Libraries ready for serious consideration of an ERMS will want to develop their own detailed checklists or vision statemerits that describe what they expect from a product that will help them more efficiently manage their electronic content.

We have provided lots of information on "Helping You Buy" an electronic resource management system. We've given readers a taste of each of the major products on the market. We've identified some of those products' strengths and weaknesses. Yet we do not make specific recommendations or endorsements. It is up to each library to ask its own questions of the vendors, assess the responses it receives, and choose the product best suited for its particular needs based on both the capability of the software and on confidence in the vendor as a partner in the library's automation strategy.


Many libraries have deferred the purchase of electronic resource management system.

Introducing Representative Products

Only a handful of products are available-today in this genre of electronic resource management systems. We invited each of the major companies offering a product in this space to respond to a set of questions that probes at the general characteristics of their products. This report contains a selection of these responses, which have often been edited and summarized, Readers should take these responses with some discretion. The questions posed are not designed to measure the minute details of functionality involved in an ERMS. Each library will have its own set of requirements based on its local workflows and the size and complexity of its collections of econtent. We aim to give only a general impression of the products and do not provide the level of detail and completeness that a library would need in its own procurement process. Also, keep in mind that these products evolve rapidly. As the competition among them heats up, we might expect some leapfrogging where the relative strengths among the products change over time.

  • Electronic Resource Management, Innovative Interfaces, Inc. pioneered this genre of library automation products with the introduction of electronic resource management in 2OO2. Innovative ranks as one of the leading library automation vendors, offering the Millennium ILS, witha largecustomer base from alltypes of libraries, including academic, public, and special. The company's other offerings include the WebBridge OpenURL link resolver, Research Pro federated search environment, and Encore, a new discovery services platform. Innovative is privately held by its co-founder Jerry Kline.
  • Named Resource Management System for its October 2OO5 launch, Serials Solutions' ERMS product is now marketed as 36O Resource Manager. Since Serial Solutions' acquisition in July 2OO4, it has operated as a business unit of Prouuest, part of Cambridge information Group, which also owns R.R. Bowker. Serials Solutions got its start on products that leveraged its core expertise in managing ejournal holdings data. The company's KnowledgeWorks repository of econtent data continues to provide the foundation for all its products and services.
  • Verde Ex Libris, a global company based in Israel, launched its Verde ERMS in June 2004. The company offers the ALEPH 500 ILS and has been very active in developing products for managing electronic content. The company pioneered OpenURL link resolvers with the introduction of SFX in February 2004. Ex Libris has been a portfolio company of Francisco Partners since July 2006, which also acquired Endeavor Information Systems in November 2006. Prior to its acquisition, Endeavor offered the Meridian ERMS. Ex Libris continues to support Meridian, which finds use in several major libraries including the Library of Congress, butdoes not offer it to new customers,
  • TDNet Open ERAM TDNet offers a suite of products that together comprise its electronic resource management offering. TDNet was founded in 2000 and isa subsidiary of Teldan information Systems, Ltd., based in Tel Aviv, Israel. TDNet Open ERAM consists of a knowledgebase of econtent holdings data, the Search Analyzer federated search utility, Journal Manager, e-Book Manager, TOUResolver OpenURL link resolver, and Holdings Manager. This set of products offers ERMS functionality in a more diffuse model than the competing products.
  • VERIFY VTLS announced VERIFY as its ERM offering in June 2004, with the Tri-College Library Consortium of Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore colleges as development partner. No additional sales of VERIFY have been announced and the Tri-College Consortium has since implemented Verde. Though no specific announcement has been made withdrawing the product, it does not appear to bean ongoing product.
  • EBSCO offers services related to helping libraries manage serial subscriptions, both print and electronic. The company's EBSCO A-to-Z product finds use in thousands of libraries to assist libraries to provide end-user access to collections of e-resources; EBSCONET and EJS simplify the acquisition and management of ejournals. The company offers the LinkSource OpenURL link resolver. The company does not currently offer a product that can be considered a full-fledged ERMS, but it continues to expand its products with related functionality. EBSCO indicates that it will release a full-featured ERMS in the near future.
View Citation
Publication Year:2008
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Computers in Libraries
Publication Info:Volume 28 Number 07
Issue:July / August 2008
Publisher:Information Today
Place of Publication:Medford, NJ
Record Number:13437
Last Update:2022-11-27 22:13:51
Date Created:2008-08-03 14:02:19