The ERM Librarian


In this section, I will:

  • provide examples of electronic resources,
  • frame the topic of this course, and
  • discuss the readings.


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

Ebook technology is rather complicated and differentiated depending on the copyright status, the file type (PDF, ePUB, TXT, etc.), and the purpose or genre (textbook, fiction or non-fiction, etc.). In some cases, ebooks are software applications and not just plain or marked up text. They also vary by platform or the application used to interact with the text, each of which may offer different types of functionality.

Linking technologies allow users to begin in one search system, like a discovery service, which extends that query to other systems without requiring the user to initiate searches in those other systems. For example, a user begins a search in a library's discovery system, like UK Library's InfoKat (powered by Primo (Breeding, 2006)). InfoKat identifies multiple articles there related to the query, even though those articles are all located in other full text systems, like EBSCOHost, ProQuest, or JSTOR.


The print only era of libraries was difficult enough for many reasons, but managing print and using print resources was comparably a more linear process. Electronic resources have raised the stakes. That might be expected: civilizations have had 500 years to develop and solve print technology, yet we have had only about three plus decades of experience with digital technology. We are a long way off from stability, and many of the challenges and frustrations ahead of us are not simply technical but also social and legal.

As you may surmise from the outline at the top of this page, electronic resources are a major part of any library, whether academic, public, school, or special. The need to manage them with efficient work flows requires attending to many parts of a big system. This will be much of what we will discuss and learn about, especially because there is a lot of complexity in these systems and these systems have had a major impact on librarianship itself.

Our Readings: The nature of ERM librarianship

Our readings this week provide introductions to electronic resource librarianship and help frame this course.

A Specialist and A Generalist

The first article by Stachokas (2018) surveys the history of this specialist/generalist librarian role. Stachokas (2018) finds that the electronic resource librarian has their feet planted in technical services and collection development, that this requires a holistic understanding of the electronic resource work flow, of its embeddedness in the scholarly and library ecosystem, and that this division is leading to different areas of specialization: those who focus on "licensing, acquisitions, and collection development" (p. 15), and those who focus on "metadata, discovery, management of knowledge bases, and addressing technical problems" (p. 15). This rings true to me. In my own observations, I've noticed that job announcements have increasingly stressed one of the above areas and not both.

The Technical Communicator as the "Bridge"

In the second article, Hulseberg (2016) uses the field of technical communication (TC) to interpret the field of electronic resource librarianship. Hulseberg (2016) takes the view that an electronic resource librarian is, among other things, a technical communicator. This is much different from being someone who helps patrons with their technical problems. Rather, this is someone who completes advanced work in documenting and reporting technical processes.

Hulseberg (2016) highlights four important themes about ERM: the interesting themes to me are Theme one: Metaphors of "bridge" and "translator", and Theme Two: Collaborating in a web of relationships. When I was an undergraduate, I imagined the job that I wanted would be one connected people from different silos to each other and helping them communicate. It turns out that, under Hulseberg's (2016) view, electronic resource librarianship does this work, which is pretty cool. However, the other themes are just as important, and in particular, Theme Four, about jurisdiction, highlights one of the major disruptive acts on librarianship in the last thirty or forty years.

As an example, consider that most people, researchers and scholars included, use non-library provided resources to locate information. Additionally, more works, scholarly and non-scholarly, are freely and publicly available on the web, e.g., as open access (OA). This might mean that the library is becoming disintermediated as a result of people using non-library services, like Google or Google Scholar, to retrieve freely available works on the web, instead of at the library. As a result, what becomes of the core jurisdiction of the librarian? And of the electronic resource librarian, in particular? In concrete terms: a recent paper (Klitzing, 2009) reported that researchers state they use Google Scholar 83% of the time and EBSCOhost 29% of the time to find relevant material. That raises strategic and technical questions about today's role of the librarian and library in the scholarly communication system.

To License or Not To License

The third article, by Zhu (2016), places a different theoretical lens on what it means to be an electronic resource librarian. Zhu (2016) posits that the licensing aspect of electronic resource management significantly influences ER librarianship identity. One reason why Zhu's (2016) findings are insightful is due to the fact that we often license electronic resources rather than buy them.

The crux centers around copyright law, which provides librarians with an important legal justification for lending works: the First Sale Doctrine. Copyright law provides copyright owners with the right to distribute their work, but the First Sale Doctrine holds that if you buy a copy of a book, then you have a right to lend or sell your copy. This doctrine is fundamental to librarianship but also raises problems since most digital works (ebooks, etc) are licensed and not bought by libraries. Thus the First Sale Doctrine does not apply to such works. That ALA has a guide on this issue (ALA, 2022).

Stachokas (2018), Hulseberg (2016), and Zhu (2016) present the historical and environmental forces that have shaped the work of electronic resource librarians and their professional identities, and each of these authors discuss important themes that function as evidence of these identities. In our discussions this week, we should focus on these themes and how to make sense of them.


Electronic resource librarianship is a fascinating area of librarianship. Because digital technologies have woven their way into all parts of the modern library ecosystem, and because these digital technologies bring with them a slew of technical, legal, and social challenges, electronic resource librarians have had, as these technologies have developed, to maintain a holistic view of this ecosystem just as they have had to specialize in key areas that require maintaining that holistic, interconnected view.

The course takes that holistic view and divides it into four parts for study. In the first part, we study the nature of the work itself: what it means to be an electronic resource librarian.

In the second part, we learn about the technologies that an electronic resource librarian uses and the conditions that shape these technologies. We will learn about integrated library systems (ILS) and how these systems conform (or not) to standards, and how they foster or obstruct interoperability and access.

In the third part, we focus on processes and their contexts. We will study the electronic resource librarian's workflow, the economics and the markets of electronic resources, what is involved in licensing these resources and negotiating with vendors.

At the end, we focus on patrons and end users; that is, those we serve. Because electronic resources are digital, when we use them, we leave behind traces of that usage. This means we will study how that usage is measured and what those measurements can validly say. Because usage leaves traces of personal information, we will examine topics related to the security of these resources and the privacy of those who use them. Electronic resources likewise means having to use websites and other e-resource interfaces, and hence we will study how electronic resource librarians are involved in user experience and usability studies.

Discussion Questions

As we start to address all of this, I want us to consider two questions:

  1. How do we manage all of this electronic stuff? Not only does it include complicated technology and has an impact on our patrons, but it involves all different sorts of librarians.
  2. What exactly is an electronic resource librarian? I like this basic question because, due to perhaps representations in the media (movies, TV shows, books) and the interactions we've had with librarians in our lifetimes, we all have pretty well-defined, whether accurate, images of what reference or cataloging librarians are. 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 publicly.

Readings / References

Hulseberg, A. (2016). Technical communicator: A new model for the electronic resources librarian? Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship, 28(2), 84–92.

Stachokas, G. (2018). The Electronic Resources Librarian: From Public Service Generalist to Technical Services Specialist. Technical Services Quarterly, 35(1), 1–27.

Zhu, X. (2016). Driven adaptation: A grounded theory study of licensing electronic resources. Library & Information Science Research, 38(1), 69–80.

Additional References

ALA. (2022, June 27). LibGuides: Copyright for Libraries: First Sale Doctrine.

Breeding, M. (2006). OPAC sustenance: Ex Libris to serve up Primo. Smart Libraries Newsletter, 26(03), 1.

Klitzing, N., Hoekstra, R., & Strijbos, J-W. (2019). Literature practices: Processes leading up to a citation. Journal of Documentation, 75(1).

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