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61st IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 20-25, 1995

Exploiting Network Information Resources for Collection Development in Libraries

Abdus Sattar Chaudhry, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia



Network information resources, as extensions of library collections and as bibliographic and communications utilities with their unprecedented connectivity, speed of transmission and world-wide breadth have created excellent opportunities for libraries. Networks such as BITNET, JANET, NREN, ISN-NET, and others provide navigational tools and associated services which can be used by libraries to access remote resources for browsing, searching, and even downloading. They are redefining the concept of collection and collection development and transforming the selection, preservation, communication, and liaison functions in libraries. They are creating a powerful new context for the theory and practice of collection management and requiring librarians to develop new skills, accept new responsibilities, and change their ways of performing various library operations.

This paper provides an overview of the potential of networks for better collection development and efficient access to information resources and highlights issues which need to be addressed for effective exploitation of the potential of networked and networkable tools and resources. The paper also suggests strategies for proper adjustment of library work to the new environment focusing on restructuring of collection development functions, redesigning of processing tools, and establishing new roles and relationships for information professionals.


Networks provide a wealth of up to date resources, give access to specialists in a number of disciplines, and allow librarians to reach each other with messages and documents independent of the constraints of mail, telephone, or fax. Lucy Tedd reviewed the application of JANET and INTERNET in library and information organizations highlighting 4 major areas including catalog access, document delivery, searching national and international databases, and accessing electronic books and journals.[1] McCombs reported that the three basic applications of Internet-- e-mail, remote login, and file transfer (FTP)--were used by librarians to acquire and process information electronically and to facilitate access to electronic information including the following activities:[2]

  1. Using E-mail for interacting with other colleagues and staff at bibliographic utilities and libraries
  2. Accessing a variety of professional discussion lists for electronic conferences and professional communication
  3. Using networks to utilize vendor services such as Blackwell Connect
  4. Accessing electronic journals, newsletters, and bulletins for browsing, searching, and down-loading
  5. Acquiring and processing e-journals by special account
  6. Updating on developments through LISTSERV programs
An exploratory study of special libraries, which had access to electronic networks such as BITNET and INTERNET, revealed 49 types of uses of networks in libraries including 15 collection development activities, listed in Table 14. Once their capabilities are properly exploited, the information networks can be used for many library operations. Main uses of networks for collection development work are described in the following section.


Telnet (remote login to another computer) facility on the Internet can be used to connect librarians to systems such as library catalogs, citation databases, campus-wide information systems (CWIS), and free nets to identify materials on a topic. Once connected information on the holdings of a particular libraries can also be compared for evaluation and collection analysis. Through LISTSERV programs, materials available for gift and exchange can also be identified. Such materials generally include long runs of journals and old volumes. Discussion lists such as SERIALIST, AUTOCAT, COLLDEV-2, VP1EJ-L, and many other similar lists are particularly useful for selection purposes. A complete list of library related discussion groups is posted regularly by Charles W. Bailey, Jr. on PACS-L. [4] A guide prepared by the American Library Association provides a detailed listing of directories which can be used to identify relevant resources on the Internet. [5]


Access to records of millions of books around the world on OPACs, available through remote login facilities of various networks, facilitates bibliographic verification, checking of new titles, and even ordering from a number of university presses. Electronic linkages to brokers and vendors support routine activities such as ordering of materials, payment of invoices, and filling of claims of missing material. Marshal has described the procedures for using the Internet connection for electronic ordering using the Blackwell services. [6] Services of many subscription agents like Dawson and EBSCO can also be used through Internet for checking of title availability, subscription, renewal, check-in and claiming. However, the acquisition of electronic information for patrons is still the exception rather than the rule.

Subscriptions and Access to Journals

Availability of individual article supply services like UNCOVER, BIDS (Bath Information and Data Service), and OCLC's Article First and availability of electronic journals on networks are prompting libraries to replace subscriptions with lease arrangements, where libraries pay only for those articles which are required by their users. A good number of newsletters and bulletin boards can be accessed through LISTSERV software. The 3rd edition of the Directory of E-serials, lists more than 300 electronic journals available on networks. [7] Individual institutions like Virginia Polytechnic Institute have pilot projects to access and process e-journals. [8] Another major project which looked at the technical feasibility of producing and distributing electronic journals has been described by Pullinger. Nine publishers were involved in this project including Blackwell Scientific, Institute of Electrical Engineers, Cambridge University Press, Nature, Elsvier and Oxford University Press. [9] Many other projects aimed at producing and making journals accessible have been documented in the professional literature including the following major initiatives:

Proper exploitation of individual article supply services and effective use of journals available on networks are expected to help libraries overcome the so-called serial crisis (unaffordability of subscriptions due to exponentially increasing number of journals, escalating prices, and declining budgets).

Specialized Materials

Specialized materials are also being made available over networks through image databases. Many museums are interested in scanning rare books and manuscripts which can then be accessed by scholars all over the world. The British Library and the Vatican Library in Rome are running projects in this area. The Electronic Library Image Service for Europe (ELISE) project is linking images from the Victoria and Albert Museums in London and maps and charts from Tilburg University in the Netherlands with the aim of making the collection more widely accessible to scholars in European Universities. [10] In the USA many libraries, through Campuswide Information Systems and Free Nets, offer resources including full-text of many works of literature, supreme court decisions, and weather reports. [11] Electronic versions of hundreds of literary works are available now on networks and can be downloaded freely. One good example is the Gutenberg project which aims at providing access to a large collection of literary works. [12] A pilot project to study the feasibility of creating a digital image database of full printed volumes, manuscripts, and art works from the Vatican Library has also been undertaken recently. [13]

The Coalition for Networked Information, in conjunction with UMI, is exploring the concept of making theses and dissertations available electronically. The Cornell University has already put several dissertations on its Gopher [<URL:http://www.englib.cornell.edu/ThesesAbstracts/theses.html>]. [14]

Availability of special types of material on networks is expected to open up new opportunities to enhance library collections, promote resource sharing and improve preservation of materials.

Document Delivery

In addition to the afore-mentioned individual article supply services (UNCOVER, BIDS, and Article First), many other electronic document delivery services are becoming available on the Internet. The Research Libraries Group (RLG) has pioneered a system for delivering documents over the Internet using the ARIEL software, which offers significant advantages over fax transmission. [15] The British Library Document Supply center (BLDSC) has been running an experimental document delivery service with the University of East Anglia for using e-mail facilities for document delivery. Technical details of this project has been described by Moulton and Tuck. [16] Other document supply centers are also investigating the use of networks for document delivery. Lupovici described the use of electronic document delivery at the Institut de I'Information Scentifique et Technique (INIST) in France. [17] In the Netherlands the RAPDOC (rapid document delivery to end users) service of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (Royal Library) also includes the ability to supply the requested articles electronically. [18]

Information available via Internet adds a new dimension to resource sharing and it is no longer just the physical exchange of library materials. For example, CWIS systems offer hundreds of resources to supplement local collections and are expected to change traditional interlibrary loan practices. Network information resources are making document delivery an integral part of collection development.


A number of problems and issues need to be addressed before the valuable resources and powerful tools available on networks can be effectively utilized. There are many barriers beyond the obvious problems of constrained financial resources, lack of expertise with networking technology and the chaotic and unstable state of the networked information. Attempts have been made by certain professional forums to thrash out the networked information related issues and voluminous reports have been published. The 1993 Clinic on Library Applications of Data Processing deliberated on emerging communities in the network information environment and addressed various issues in the context of academic, public, and special libraries. [19] A multiple research study completed at Syracuse University in 1992 addressed the significant issues facing libraries as a result of Internet/NREN developments. [20] Four issues, which are crucial in the context of collection development in the network environment, have been discussed in this paper. These include ownership versus access, copyright management, standardization, and training and education.

Ownership Versus Access

A key issue in the effective utilization of network information resources is the philosophy of acquisition adopted by libraries. Librarians seem to have little choice but to initiate the transition to an access-based model of service based upon electronic networks that will provide bibliographic, numeric, and full-text information to scholars and researches. They will have to create an environment where access to collective scholarly resources supersedes the historic quest for the great comprehensive collections. It will require a paradigm shift forcing libraries to change their philosophy of acquisitions from "just-in-case" (the building of large collections in traditional media) to "just-in-time" (providing the needed information when the need is made manifest). Figure 1 gives a clear representation of the terms of this argument.

Figure 1

Access Versus Ownership Schematic

Ownership-based Library Model (Library as Storehouse)

Emphasis on use of traditional print collections stored locally and physically browsable.
Value is attributed to the size of the collection.
"Just in case" approach to collection development, based upon the goal of physical acquisition of resources that form an archival collection. Access-based Library Model (Library as Gateway)
Emphasis on access to resources that are networked and browsable electronically.
Value is placed on the availability and deliverability of information.
"Just in time" approach to collection management, based upon a high reliance on expatiated document delivery.

Source: Journal of Academic Librarianship. [21]

Despite the fact that the rhetoric of "access versus ownership" has been here for a long time, a paradigm shift has not exactly happened because of some concerns. Michael Keller says that his "concern is that the paradigm of access instead of ownership leads ultimately to an environment where 'all is meta-information', with no or few ideas on the shelves." [22] Buckland suggests a balanced solution recommending that the more heavily used material be considered for ownership and selective resources for access. [23]

The present existence of a large number of databases and considerable body of networked information is making it easier for libraries to move beyond the rhetoric of access versus ownership. However, there remains the need for deliberate thought regarding what information is best stored and transmitted electronically and what is best fitted for other media, at least until the time of widespread virtual libraries. This transition will require rethinking, revisualization and perhaps even a re-conceptualization of library functions. The "previrtual" libraries or "gateways" will require for some time (at least the next ten years) an intersection of two information systems, one print and one electronic. This complex function will require grappling with, defining and refining, the notion of the core collection as well as core access (connection) and eventually a document delivery mechanism will have to be built into the regular collection development activities. [24]

Copyright Management

Copyright has become more complex in the networked information environment. It is difficult and sometime impossible to detect the movement of works electronically. Once digitized and stored in a computer they can be transferred unseen. Since information can be transferred via networks all over the world, the international implications of the copyright issue have also become more complex. Copyright management needs to be made more workable if information networks are to be used by all sectors of the society. There are various groups working on the problem of control and management of copyright. In the U.S. the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI), in conjunction with the Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA) and the Library of Congress has undertaken a project on the design and implementation of an Electronic Copyright Management System (EMCS) to demonstrate the Licensing of rights and permissions, payment of royalties, and the electronic deposit, registration, and recordation of copyright works and related documents in a computer network environment. [25] The CITED (Copyright in Transmitted Electronic Documents) project setup under the EC ESPRIT program seeks to provide a means for controlling, policing and remunerating in respect of works stored in digital form. [26] Information retrieval vendors are also introducing new sets of requirements for copyright compliance. Dialog Information Service has announced recently the availability of Dialog ERA (Electronic Redistribution and Archieving), the first online copyright compliance service. [27]

Various professional forums have been trying to produce appropriate guidelines for librarians to handle copyright issues in the electronic environment. IFLA has published various reports on copyright implications for electronic information and the American Library Association (ALA) has also attempted to provide technical advice on these issues. [28] But much more need to be done to handle copyright issues in the complex electronic information environment. Warro points out that electronic formats pose new legal challenges for librarians and they need to work with their attorneys to review contracts and alter unfair provisions. He suggests that librarians and their professional organizations devise reasonable agreements and apply pressures on publishers and database producers to use them as standard contracts. [29]


Adherence to standards is another important issue related to the effective utilization of networked information. While libraries have been using standards for bibliographic description and interchange of cataloging data for many groups, they need to develop a new level of standards awareness to handle the networked information environment. The new standards must address information technology and communication, information search and retrieval, text encoding, open system interconnections, mark-up languages, electronic document interchange and ILL protocols. Crawford has provided a good overview of library related information technology standards. [30] A special issue of Library HiTech has discussed the international dimensions of information technology standards. [31] Efforts of various library groups for the implementation of standards are reviewed regularly in the current issues of Library HiTech and Information Technology for Libraries. A list of selected standards, which librarians have to deal with in their work of resource development in electronic environment is given in Table 2.

Librarians will have to understand all the standards that provide the foundations for network use, make efforts for their implementation in libraries, and require compliance of these standards from vendors. There will also be a need to promote conformity to these standards by libraries and information centers at the national, regional and international levels. Therefore, the professional associations will have to play an important role to promote the implementation of these standards. Approaches to adopt these standards will also have to be changed. In the past libraries used classification schemes, subject headings, cataloging codes, and communication formats very rigidly aiming at consistency. In the new environment flexibility will be needed for, as we know, on the Internet there are a very few rules and very little consistency. These conflicting objectives will require creativity and innovation among technical service librarians in general and collection managers in particular for appropriate standardization.

Training and Education

Libraries need to train and educate not only their own staff but library users as well. The resources and level of effort required for such a training are significant and entail a long range strategy and an adequate budget. Among the materials available to assist librarians in this task is the excellent general-purpose training tool Crossing the Threshold: An Instructional Handbook. [32] For the academic community, a video and instructional workshop package is available from Syracuse University prepared in cooperation with NYSERNET. [33] Makulowich includes many tips for training others in the use of the Internet. [34] Scott suggests that the four principles to have in mind when running an Internet training course are preparation, patience, persistence and luck. [35] An excellent bibliography of works on how-to-do-it instructions has been included in the OCLC report. [36]

Mc Combs points out that librarians need to be educated beyond the how-to-do level. Training should also target changing the conventional attitudes and assumptions about information transfer that were made in a print environment in addition to learning basic skills--taking Internet classes or learning the navigational tools of Gopher, FTP, Archie, Veronica, etc. [37] Kalin suggests that the training hurdle in network use can be overcome with more cooperation and better collaboration. [38]


Libraries must put aside the comfort of the status quo to survive in the new environment that networks are creating. They have to become more knowledgeable about the options, play an active role to seek solutions to the issues involved, and be more innovative to devise strategies for revisualizations of the collection development function. It is likely libraries will where to make vast changes in the ways of handling various activities and operations. A functional restructuring and accordingly redesign of relevant tools and redefinition of roles and relationships will be necessary for this purpose. The discussion in the following section suggests appropriate steps to implement necessary changes to move forward:

Restructuring of Collection Development Function

An increasingly complex set of choices is being dictated by networks causing a fracturing of the traditional flow of information and processes within the collection development units and requiring a convergence of functions. Expanding the collection development responsibilities beyond the traditional boundaries of acquisitions departments seems to be a key survival strategy in the new environment. There is so much work to be done in for identification of network resources, dealing with information suppliers, faculty, students, system staff, and financial offices that involvement of more and more professionals is inevitable.

Forward looking libraries have already taken steps to cope with the new environment. For example, Albert R. Mann Library at the Cornell University in the United States has set-up an Electronic Resources Council (ERC) to implement the aforementioned concepts. Demis reports that the ERC serves as a forum for coordinating necessary activities among the functional units of the library in acquiring, organizing, and providing services for new electronic formats. The ERC identifies what issues must be addressed, tasks performed and policies and procedures adopted to enable the organization to operationa