Constant Disruption


I think we might conclude at this point that there are many different ways to frame the role of the electronic resource librarian. In The ERM Librarian chapter, Stachokas (2018) showed how the electronic resource librarian works across technical services and collection development and how this requires a holistic view as well as a specialized understanding of the various processes involved. Huleberg (2016) illustrated how framing electronic resource librarianship as a technical communicator yields important insights into the work and profession. Zhu (2016) used the licensing aspect of electronic resource management work to show how central this activity is to the field's identity.

In the Desperately Seeking an ERM Librarian section, we reviewed a list of qualifications from current job advertisements for electronic resource librarian positions. In Murdock (2010), we learned how these kinds of qualifications are tied to various technological developments. As the technology changes, and it changes a lot (see aside below), so do the qualifications. One of the big takeaways from Harnett's (2014) article, for me at least, is that conceptual knowledge of the relevant technology is more important than practical knowledge, although the two are not always so easily divorced from each other.

Aside: See The Library Technology Guides' page on The History of Mergers and Acquisitions in the Library Technology Industry to get a sense of how much change has taken place in the last 40+ years.

Based on the readings so far, I think it's safe to say that the work of electronic resource librarianship is one of constant disruption. And by that I mean, it might be more difficult to find a thread of continuity, from its early days to now, in this role than it would be in other areas of librarianship. That might be part of what makes this area so interesting, but it does present some challenges.


The first listed reading we have this week is by Marshall Breeding. Astute observers will note Breeding is one of the first cited authors in the two additional readings we have this week. We will read more from Breeding later, but I bring him up now because he oversees a website titled Library Technology Guides. If you would like to keep abreast of the recent news on the electronic resource industry, Breeding's website should be at the top of your list.

Breeding's What is ERM? article is a good one to start the week. He provides an outline of the various components of electronic resources, and he provides some historical context for those components.

The Focus on Academic Libraries is Misleading

One caveat, though: while all the articles on our list this week are focused on academic libraries, the terms, concepts, and processes described in these articles are relevant to other areas of librarianship such as public librarianship, school media librarianship, and so forth. Differences in processes and in some details will arise due to organizational or other contextual differences among these library types. Organizationally, for example, public libraries are connected to municipalities, county governments, state libraries, and to public library consortia. This presents unique organizational challenges, and it highlights the fact that municipal, county, or state laws will define how some processes must be handled and who must handle them. The same is true for public schools, and in such cases, school boards and school districts will likely be involved (see aside below). Contextual differences that shape electronic resource management include user communities. An academic library serves its students, faculty, staff, and perhaps the public to some degree. However, a public library serves its local community. Such differences will shape ERM workflows and other choices, like the chosen vendors and publishers. For example, academic libraries provide more scholarly sources, and public libraries provide more ebooks and audiobooks and less e-journals. This means that you might find services like OverDrive/Libby, Epic, and Hoopla offered by public libraries but not in academic ones, and that you will rarely find more advanced scholarly resources in public libraries. These differences in needs, due to different communities, will change the emphasis on some aspects of the ERM workflow.

Aside: As an example, see the impact that the current book bans are having on ebook providers and note all the parties involved in these situations, including: superintendents, county officials, county school system, school district employees, etc. Ingram, 2022.

In a newer development, ChatGPT is being used to satisfy the legal requirements Iowa school districts (Opsahl, 2023) must follow to remove books that contain any sexual content from school libraries (Paul, 2023). There's a worthwhile response to criticisms about this and about the overall law in a recent New York Times article (Exman, 2023).

Another reason why our reading lists lean toward the academic setting is not because electronic resource management is not relevant to public or other types of libraries, but it is because academic librarians publish more about electronic resources and public librarians publish very little. For example, I conducted a search in LISTA with the following query, which returned just three results in 2021 when I first ran the query, four results in August 2022, and four results again in August 2023. In fact, a new article wasn't published since the 2021 query. Rather, LISTA just added an addition item from 2015.

(DE "ELECTRONIC information resources management")  AND  (DE "PUBLIC libraries")

It does not get much better if I expand the query to include some additional thesauri terms. This query returns only six results in 2021, seven in 2022, and eight in 2023:

(DE "PUBLIC librarians" OR DE "PUBLIC librarianship" OR DE "PUBLIC libraries") AND  (DE "ELECTRONIC resource librarians" OR  DE "ELECTRONIC information resources management")

However, if I focus that query on academic libraries, then the results increase substantially. The following query returns 51 hits in 2021, 57 in 2022, and 61 in 2023:

(DE "ELECTRONIC information resources management")  AND  (DE "ACADEMIC libraries")

And this query returns 82 results in 2021, 90 in 2022, and 97 in 2023:

(DE "ACADEMIC librarians" OR DE "ACADEMIC librarianship" OR DE "ACADEMIC libraries") AND  (DE "ELECTRONIC resource librarians" OR  DE "ELECTRONIC information resources management")

We could continue to explore LISTA or other databases for relevant material on ERM and public libraries, and we would find more. For example, more results are retrieved when I attach terms like e-resources, integrated library systems, discovery platforms, or ebooks to a public library search in LISTA. But the results are nearly always much less than academic library searches. Another example, my local library system, Lexington Public Library, uses the CARL integrated library system, but there doesn't appear to be any articles in LISTA about it since 2015.

Anyway, you get the picture. There simply isn't a lot of material on electronic resource management from the public library perspective, and a quick search in the school media sphere mirrors this issue, too. The following search return zero results in 2021, 2022, and 2023:

(DE "LIBRARY media specialists")  AND  (DE "ELECTRONIC information resources management")

If you go into public librarianship or school media librarianship, I'd encourage you to publish on electronic resources. It would greatly benefit your peers and those of us who teach courses like this.

Back to Breeding. I understand some terms Breeding uses and the technologies he describes might still be new to us. Let me spend some time providing some additional background information and highlighting some things to look for in these three articles.

Librarians started to migrate to electronic resource management in the 1970s. Breeding mentions this, but the seeds were planted well before this. Nearly a decade ago, I published a paper that provides a historical account of the first library automation project, which took place in the 1930s with Hollerith punched cards. By the 1960s, the primary use of computers was to manage circulation, and in the late 60s and early 70s, library automation focused on managing patron records. In the early 1970s, tools became available to manage and search bibliographic records. Hence, computers were first used mostly to manage the circulation of books, then patron records, which allowed patrons to check out works electronically, and then we had the ability to search for works. If a work of interest was located using these tools, the work could be retrieved from the shelves or ordered via interlibrary loan by snail mail. Full text search came much later with the introduction of better storage media, like CD-ROMs, and saw major growth with the introduction of the internet to more institutions in the 1980s and the web in the early 1990s, which at its heart is nothing more than a big document retrieval system.

In the process of migrating from print to electronic, all sorts of things had to change, but all that change rests on the major premise of librarianship: to provide access by organizing information in order to retrieve information. Although you may have often heard that libraries are ancient entities, libraries and librarianship as we understand them today did not modernize until the late 1800s but more so starting in the 1920s and 1930s. It during this later time frame when some in the profession began to hone in on the major complexities and challenges, social and technological, involved in organizing and retrieving information in order to provide access. The challenges with organizing and retrieving information that they identified nearly 100 years ago were indeed major and problematic, but fortuitous, because it gave rise to what we now called library science, the rigorous study of libraries, librarianship, collections, users, communities, and so forth.

Yet consider when those people laid the groundwork for a library science nearly 100 years ago, librarians only managed print, and the primary means of accessing print collections was through a physical building. With the introduction of computer systems in the 1960s and with better networking technologies in the 1980s and 1990s, issues with organizing and retrieving information grew exponentially, and indeed, this exponential increase created new complexities and launched an entire new field, what we now call information science.

All right, back to the ground level. Let me highlight some key terms in Breeding's article. They include:

  • Finding aids
  • Knowledge bases
  • OpenURL link resolvers
  • ERM systems
  • Library service platforms (LSP)
  • Integrated library systems (ILS)

Not all but many of the above terms are defined in ODLIS: Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science.

Unless you already have some solid experience with these things, and even after reading Breeding's article, these terms may still be abstract. So, this week, you have two major tasks:

  1. Find real, practical examples. Pick one or two of the above terms and see how they work in practice. Then come back here and tell us what you found. Use the articles to help you locate actual products or examples. See Breedings Library Technology Guides for reference.
  2. Locate how these terms appear in either the Cote and Ostergaard (2017) article or the Fu and Carmen (2015). Note other terms that may appear in those two articles and comment on the role they play in the ERM workflow and the migration process.


As you work on this task, I ask that you pay attention to the emphasis on workflow. The idea of a workflow is a major theme in this course because it is a major part of electronic resource management. We'll come back to the idea throughout this work. Also, as we read the Cote and Ostergaard (2017) and the Fu and Carmen (2015) article, we will learn about how migrating to new systems is a major, expensive, and time-consuming project, and one of the great things about these two articles is that it documents the workflows used in these migrations. If you become involved some day in a migration process, you should use articles like these to assist you and to help you make evidence-based decisions about what you need to accomplish. And like what these authors have done, I would encourage you to document and publish what you learned. In the print era, there were some cases where librarians had to migrate to new systems, too. For example, some research libraries in the U.S. started by classifying collections using the Dewey Decimal Classification system, but then began to convert to the Library of Congress Classification system after the mid-20th century. This was no small task. Today, migration is big business in the library world (see Breeding's site for other examples) because the technology changes fast and because there are a number of competing electronic resource management products that librarians can choose for their communities, which they might be inclined to do if the migration provides an advantage to their users, communities, and themselves.

Readings / References

Breeding, M. (2018). What is ERM? Electronic resource management strategies in academic libraries. Computers in Libraries, 38 (3). Retrieved from

Cote, C., & Ostergaard, K. (2017). Master of “Complex and Ambiguous Phenomena”: The ERL’s Role in a Library Service Platform Migration. Serials Librarian, 72(1–4), 223–229.

Fu, P., & Carmen, J. (2015). Migration to Alma/Primo: A Case Study of Central Washington University. Chinese Librarianship: an International Electronic Journal.

Additional References

Burns, C. S. (2014). Academic libraries and automation: A historical reflection on Ralph Halstead Parker. Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 14(1), 87–102.

Exman, B. (2023, September 1). Opinion | A Word on Censorship From the Book-Banning Monster of Iowa. The New York Times.

Ingram, D. (2022, May 12). Some parents now want e-reader apps banned - and they're getting results. NBC News.

Opsahl, R., May 26, I. C. D., & 2023. (2023, May 26). Governor signs education bills, including ban on school books depicting sex. Iowa Capital Dispatch.

Paul, A. (2023, August 14). School district uses ChatGPT to help ban library books. Popular Science.