Desperately Seeking an ERM Librarian


Class, in this section, I will:

  • frame the readings
  • discuss the readings, and
  • list some questions to guide our discussion for the week.

Our goal in this section is to understand how the job of electronic resource management (ERM) has changed throughout the years and to develop some ideas about where it is headed.


This week we read two articles (Hartnett, 2014, Murdock, 2010) that analyze electronic resource librarian job advertisements. Additionally, the reading list includes the NASIG core competencies for electronic resource librarianship. I suggest that you review the list of core competencies before you read the articles.

These articles are of interest since they capture a description of electronic resource librarianship in earlier years. There are many social, political, and economic conditions that have stayed about the same since these articles were published, and these conditions help fixate the work of the ERM librarian, but constant changes in technologies and types of electronic resources have meant that electronic resource librarians are constantly adapting to new work flows. Our Murdoch (2010) reading makes this point.

Though the technology differs, the descriptions and duties of ER jobs are still on the mark in many ways. I posted links to job announcements in the discussion forum to demonstrate this. Most of those job announcements were emailed to the SERIALST email list (please subscribe to it) and are not current job openings, but they were current within the last few years.

To follow up on more current advertisements for ER librarians, I did a Google search on August 24, 2023 using the following query:

"electronic resource librarian" job

Results are consistent with past qualifications listed in the links mentioned above and with the last section's discussions on the nature of ERM librarianship. I will withhold linking to these advertisements since I don't expect the links to persist as the positions get filled. But several sources outline the following requested qualifications, and I think the themes from the prior section come through in this list:

  • provide "consistent and reliable access to the Library's electronic resources and establishing workflows that maintain discovery and use of all Library collections"
  • analyze "feasibility of technical platforms"
  • "resource licensing and contracting"
  • "copyright compliance"
  • "vendor negotiations"
  • "Acts as a bridge across multiple Library units"
  • enhance "access and use"
  • design a "system of access"
  • analyze "staff and user issues with discovery of resources"
  • coordinate "system administration responsibilities for integrated library system (Ex Libris Alma/Primo VE) with Technical Services Librarian"
  • "create reports in Alma and individual databases as needed, including but not limited to usage statistics, user experience statistics, collection analysis and overlap"
  • monitor "listservs for Alma and Primo VE"
  • manage "administrative and troubleshooting functions for EZ Proxy and e-resource vendors for access and authentication"
  • evaluate "the scope and quality of research resources available"
  • "reviews and negotiates licenses for [...] purchased resources and manages the acquisition, activation, and troubleshooting of all purchased and subscribed electronic resources for the Library."
  • gathers and analyzes "serials, e-books, database usage, and other related assessment data"
  • oversees "the activities of the serials acquisitions unit"
  • maintain "responsibility for licensing and the management of electronic information resources [...] as well as the shared consortial resources"
  • assist in "planning and developing policies and workflows"
  • partner "with the Acquisitions Librarian and staff on the ordering and payment activity of electronic resources"
  • establish and "documents library procedures and best practices for the acquisition, licensing, implementation, assessment, and budgeting of electronic resources"
  • work "with colleagues [...] to optimize resource discovery"
  • work "with vendors to resolve technical issues and manages EZproxy for remote access"
  • "collects, analyzes, and presents use, purchase, and availability data of electronic resources"
  • "works collaboratively to support metadata maintenance for electronic resources and both print and digital serials"
  • develop and implement "submissions to a shared University institutional repository"
  • works "under the supervision of the Associate Director for Technical Services"

To stay current about the position overall and about the specific duties involved, I encourage you to bookmark and stay abreast of relevant journals in the area. In addition to the two publication titles used in this section's readings and to the SERIALST list I have asked you to subscribe to, I recommend that you bookmark relevant journals, like the Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship, Against the Grain, and Journal of Electronic Resources in Medical Libraries

Our Readings

Now let's start with Murdock's (2010) overview of the electronic resource librarian's position in the first decade of this century, and proceed to Harnett's (2014) work that describes the electronic resource librarian's duties around ten years ago. NASIG's core competencies were also published around ten years ago and have only received minor revisions since then. We conclude by considering the current job advertisements listed above and elsewhere. With these, our goal in this section is to get a sense of the electronic resource librarian's job duties and available technologies from the earlier part of this century to now; to understand where it was, how it has evolved, and where it might be headed. Overall, you will get a sense of just how much this position has changed in the intervening years, what I refer to as constant disruption in the next section.

One of the useful aspects of Murdock's (2010) article is in section 4.3, which lists a 'timeline of commercial ERM developments and standards.' These technologies and standards continue today, and have, via hindsight, strongly shaped how electronic resources currently work. This timeline includes what's now referred to as the A-Z list of serials, which started in 2000, OpenURL linking technology from 2001, the combining of both integrated library systems (ILS) and electronic resource management systems (ERMS) in 2004, federated searching from 2005, SUSHI usage statistics protocol from 2006, and SERU from 2007. We will explore each of these topics in future sections.

Murdock's (2010) analysis shows that some duties started to wane in the early years. Website maintenance and deployment (see Fig 13), for example, completely dropped off the radar. This was likely due to the development of content management systems, i.e., turnkey website solutions, that are still in use today. For example, I remember Joomla and Drupal, both content management systems that can work as library websites, taking off around 2007 to 2009, around the time that Murdock shows this area of activity declining.

One of Murdock's (2010) conclusions is that employers sought "to hire those who are able to perform traditional librarian duties, such as reference and instructional service, in addition to e-resource specific tasks" (p. 37). Based on what we see in job advertisements today, this seems to be much less the case as electronic resource librarians have become more specialized, as the position has divided into two areas (cf., technical services aspect and collection development aspect), and as electronic resources have grown and become more dominant in the intervening years. ER librarians still liaison with their communities but in different ways (i.e., not as reference librarians).

A big change since 2012, when Harnett's (2014) research ends, is that more technology has moved to the cloud. What this means is that we rely less on onsite servers, where those servers might be managed by library IT (or other IT). Switching from local IT infrastructure to cloud based IT infrastructure requires different types of technological skills and suggests that conceptual knowledge is paramount. (This is my opinion, but it's based on years of doing and teaching systems administration work.) For example, it's more important to have a conceptual understanding of how metadata works than to know how to use some piece of software for managing metadata (aside: however, conceptual and practical knowledge cannot so easily be divorced from each other). Metadata standards and schemes change far less often than the software used to enter or administer metadata.

Cloud-based solutions have changed the field in other ways. Hosted software means the software isn't purchased but leased, and leasing involves outside vendors who must have the technological skill sets and resources to manage and provide the technology. So we rely, in very important ways, and are more dependent on other actors in the publishing and e-resource provider ecosystem. That involves a lot of trust, and it involves more negotiations between librarians and vendors, and the ability to collaborate and develop good, ethical relationships. The kind of work that may increase, as more software and data are hosted on the cloud, might be the kind of work that requires strong communication skills, strong negotiating skills, and knowledge of how licensing works, how copyright and contract law work, and how electronic resource collections work and inter-operate across platforms. However, again, this can be complicated. A couple of years ago there was an email on the SERIALST listserv by a librarian that asked whether librarians have retained powers to negotiate and sign contracts. The responses were mixed. Some librarians had the jurisdiction but many had lost it, per the email responses. Even under this scenario, though, technological understanding is necessary in order to negotiate the best deal for a library's stakeholders and to acquire the best and most seamless product needed by library users.

Even though IT continues to be outsourced, this doesn't mean that we become lax in our understanding of how the technology works; just as we can't become lax in how librarianship works even though librarians answer fewer reference questions than they did in previous years (i.e., you still need to know how to respond systematically and thoroughly to research and reference questions). What I mean is that, in order to communicate this topic well, to negotiate well, and to sign licenses that are beneficial to our communities, it helps to understand and be adept at the tech so that we are not bamboozled in those negotiations. Also, if something goes wrong, e.g., with the link resolver technology, we have to learn how to identify the problem; that is, whether the technological issue is the link resolver technology and not something else, like the OPAC technology.


I want you to think about these job advertisement studies in relation to what you are learning about electronic resources as well as in relation to the kinds of advertisements you've seen since whenever you started paying attention to them, like those outlined at the beginning of this section. In essence, think about where you see yourself in these advertisements and how they impact you.

Although it might be the case that most of you haven't had a chance to learn electronic resource back ends, that doesn't disqualify you from attempts to start reflecting on this part of librarianship. As library users of these technologies, you have gathered enough abstract and practical knowledge to know enough.

Questions for Discussion

We'll soon move away from reflective questions and get our hands dirty with specific technologies, licensing, etc., but for now let's reflect on the following questions:

  • Where do you think you stand in comparison to ERM job ads and to NASIG Core Competencies?
    • Where are you strong?
    • Where would you like to improve?
  • What can you (and we, as a course community) do to help each of you get there?
    • What's your path?
    • What can you practice?
  • Do a job search for electronic resource management. How do the job ads align with the how the position is described in the readings?

Readings / References

Hartnett, E. (2014). NASIG’s Core Competencies for Electronic Resources Librarians Revisited: An Analysis of Job Advertisement Trends, 2000–2012. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 40(3), 247–258.

Murdock, D. (2010). Relevance of electronic resource management systems to hiring practices for electronic resources personnel. Library Collections, Acquisitions, and Technical Services, 34(1), 25–42.

NASIG Core Competencies Task Force. (2021, April 5). NASIG Core Competencies for E-Resources Librarians.