Electronic resources are a cornerstone of modern library collections. With many libraries offering a robust selection of licensed, purchased, and freely available e-resources, users have come to expect near-instantaneous access to diverse, high-quality content. However, the systems in place to support the discovery and delivery of e-resources to patrons are complex. Depending on the library, a user may pass through as many as five distinct technology components to retrieve the full text of a single journal article. Since those components depend on the accurate and timely transfer of data among libraries, publishers, subscription agents, and discovery vendors, it’s unsurprising that libraries and their users experience disruptions in e-resource access.
Like most labor performed in technical services, the work required to maintain e-resources and resolve access issues is largely veiled. We hope that highlighting the breadth and depth of e-resource access issues will help nontechnical services staffers better understand them. We also hope library administrators will reconsider what support—especially staffing—needs to be allocated to maintaining and troubleshooting the systems patrons rely on for seamless access to content.
When someone reports a broken link, the resolution is seldom as simple as correcting a URL. Most libraries today employ a knowledge base and central index to help manage electronic resources and make them discoverable. The benefits of using a knowledge base are many: The burden of e-resource management no longer falls on an individual library for millions of e-resource records, and with a central index, patrons can retrieve more granular, targeted results in their discovery searches. However, the volume of metadata that feeds into these systems is immense.
Broken or misdirecting links are often the result of metadata inaccuracies in these systems. Because the knowledge base receives data directly from content providers, each with its own internal standards, the quality of data can vary from provider to provider. Some knowledge base vendors attempt to augment or normalize this data to keep it consistent across providers, but this process can also introduce additional errors. Furthermore, providers frequently make changes to their platforms, the content on them, and the way that content is packaged and sold to libraries, making it difficult for knowledge base vendors to keep up with the changes. As a result, there is often a time lag between when a collection or resource is modified on the provider’s platform and when its metadata is modified in the knowledge base.
Once a troubleshooter has determined and reported the metadata issue that caused the broken link, there can be a delay of several weeks while the knowledge base vendor verifies the issue. This could mean notifying the publisher and requesting corrections, or it could mean reprocessing or reloading publisher data. When the knowledge base is finally updated, it may still take time for the updates to be experienced by patrons in the library’s discovery search.
While waiting, patrons need support to meet their immediate information needs. This is where library administrators and other staff members can assist. Administrators can support cross-departmental initiatives to train staff in providing content through alternative routes. Other support systems can also be implemented, such as Ask a Librarian or contact information for help with access issues prominently displayed on the library’s website. Finally, administrators can do their part by keeping communication channels open with technical services leadership to ensure that any future resources needed to support their library’s troubleshooting workflow are allocated as smoothly as possible.
Adapted from “The Current Landscape of Electronic Resources Access Issues,” Library Technology Reports vol. 58, no. 7 (Oct. 2022).