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An interview with Monica Crump

Interview by: Margaret Adolphus

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Photo: Monica CrumpMonica Crump is the head of Bibliographic Services in the National University of Ireland in Galway and chair of the Acquisitions Group in Ireland, a special interest group for librarians coming together to share tips and guidance and chat.

Monica also represents the university in the Irish Research Electronic Library (IReL) steering group, an initiative which is funded centrally by the Higher Education Authority and the Science Foundation Ireland to provide research resources throughout the country to their seven universities.

Can you start off by talking about your role?

I’m the Head of Bibliographic Services in the National University of Ireland in Galway. I also represent the university in the Irish Research Electronic Library (IReL) steering group, an initiative which is funded centrally by the Higher Education Authority and the Science Foundation Ireland to provide research resources throughout the country to our seven universities.

And does IReL acquire e-content?

We would each canvas feedback from our own constituencies in our universities and bring them to the group and haggle and bargain over which resources should be prioritized. Initially we were funded for science, technology and medicine, to the tune of 4.5 million euros a year, so obviously we were able to purchase quite a lot with that. Last year [2006] we got funding for arts and humanities (which also includes law, commerce and the social sciences) as well, we have another 4-4.5 million per annum, so we’ve again started looking for interest in products, and are working through a wish list. We’ve almost concluded our negotiations and got our deals in place, but the funding is ongoing for another couple of years, so we are now monitoring usage and seeing what we shall renew based on that.

We can certainly cut down on one resource due to lack of use. I don’t know whether the publisher was aware that we were monitoring use very carefully, but we feel that we have a very strong responsibility to get value for money. We are so delighted to get this huge funding from the Government that we feel that we have to justify it and give value for money. Plus our wish list was a lot longer than we could afford with the funds so if something isn’t being used we have a long list of other requirements.

Our initial STM funding will be coming to an end at the end of next year so we’re on tenterhooks at the moment to see whether we will get funding to continue. We are quite confident that we will but there is no guarantee of course. We also have an election in Ireland this year which will have a big impact on everything, in that the incumbent Government sees it as a success and research as a priority for funding. We don’t know if a new government will feel the same. Hopefully it will.

How do you go about deciding what e-content to buy? Do you get approached by universities with requests?

Each of us is based in a university so we would approach our academics and researchers and ask them for suggestions. They mostly come back with very specific journal titles, so a lot of the work of the group is to see what aggregated product we could get which would give us the titles requested plus more. In the early stages of IReL we were specifically only to ask Science Foundation Ireland researchers, which is quite a small proportion of Irish researchers, so we would take their suggestions and broaden them out so that our more "normal" academics and researchers would also get content they could use. So we try and be clever with what we do.

Once you’ve purchased these e-content products, you are obviously trying to maximize the usage. How do you go about trying to embed it within the university as a whole?

At this stage, the universities tend to do that in their own way which we see as a bit of a weakness. We should have had a more global as well as an institutional approach. We still don’t have an IReL website for example, it wasn’t felt necessary even though the steering group recommended it.

In Galway, we have MetaLib and SFX. When IReL first came onstream, SFX was implemented but MetaLib wasn’t yet. I would be absolutely convinced that SFX is the only way that we got good usage of those resources, because so much became available so quickly that our cataloguers just could not keep up. We tried to catalogue every resource manually and every title within every resource, and by resource no. 4 we had given up, we knew we weren’t going to be able to do it. Whereas with the SFX platform our electronic resources librarian was able to just switch portfolios on so that academics would see an SFX button and click on it, even if they didn’t know we had gained access to a particular group of journal titles. Now we have MetaLib implemented – we call it e-Knowledge – that has also been a boon because with every new resource that’s switched on, the link goes into e-Knowledge and they can cross-search.

The other thing we’ve bought recently is an add-on to SFX which allows us to export MARC records for every journal title in all of our SFX enabled products, so now our catalogue is coming up to date with what we have. SFX is a linking resource, a link resolver. MetaLib is a portal for federated searching, but only about 50 per cent of our databases can be cross-searched as they need to be Z39.50 compatible, which a lot aren’t. So we use MetaLib as a portal, primarily, and we are trying to push cross-searching with the publishers as well as with our users.

Do you find you need to do much in the way of user education?

We don’t with SFX funnily enough, they seem to cop on to that very quickly. I think that people are inclined if they see a button just to click it to see what it does! With e-Knowledge more so, we had a soft launch, then we did a hard launch whereby we turned off our web-based database list, so the only route to our database was now through e-Knowledge. We suddenly had a flurry of phone calls into the information desk, but again, people (I think they are clever being academics!) were able to work it out.

We also had a big "E Day" where we promoted all of our electronic resources with the main focus on e-Knowledge and MetaLib. We had a huge uptake with hundreds of students and academics coming into the library, we organized it a bit like an exhibition, with stands, it was really exciting, we gave out chocolate, it was a very good day, and from that we generated interest.

We also have a lot of training sessions on e-Knowledge specifically, which are very heavily attended. IReL needs less user education; people really don’t care where the content comes from once they get access to it. However we consider it important to promote it and to make sure that people know that it’s centrally funded and that the funding could go away unless they make it clear that they think highly of it.

How do you see the future of search based libraries over the next few years?

I think that the biggest change that we are going to see will be the demise, or the shrinking, of print journals, but not necessarily quickly. My strategy would be to go for electronic over print because like every other library we have huge space shortages. But even just from the staff resources point of view, I have three people checking in journals all day, every day. I think it’s a very repetitive job, but it’s also a bit of a waste of resources so I would love to shrink our print journals to only those not available electronically. That would be a big change, but academics are nervous that the electronic access will go, whereas you can always hold on to print copies, so we do a lot of negotiation with publishers about perpetual access, and then a lot of persuasion of academics that this access is more or less guaranteed. Things like JSTOR – the scholarly journal archive and Portico are helpful in my cause.

What about books?

I’m not convinced that e-books will replace books. We had a project a few years ago where we took on the Safari platform, we had very close involvement with academics, we subscribed to a number of titles, and because we had academic involvement during the project, we had great usage, but in very specific areas. It was aimed at IT, business and computer science students for which e-books are perfect. I’ve used them myself, you just pop in and get a bit of code. But for other textbook-based disciplines I just don’t see people being happy to sit at a screen reading Shakespeare online rather than reading the book curled up in bed or on the sofa or on the bus. People have tried to persuade me that it’ll change with new hardware that’s available for e-books, but until they become really mainstream I don’t see that happening. And somehow books don’t have the same draw as music or videos. So students will spend their money on iPods or whatever rather than on an e-book platform. So, I don’t see books disappearing. I would see a big growth in e-books for reference books and in particular disciplines.

I did a project where we subscribed to e-books, the e-book equivalent of our high demand reading-list material. I expected there to be massive usage as these books are always out on loan, the students have huge hold queues for them, but the take up wasn’t big at all, which is quite astonishing given that these are high demand texts.

INULS is coming up later this year. Although this is well known in Ireland, would you like to say something about it for the benefit of the rest of the world?

INULS is an initiative of the universities in the Republic of Ireland, the National Library, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, as well as the universities in Northern Ireland, so it’s an all Ireland initiative, the purpose of this group being to organize an annual conference for Library staff. Traditionally it is aimed across all the grades of staff in the library so it’s pretty unique in that respect, as normally it’s only professional staff who head off to conferences. It happens once a year, we have an exhibition with it, it’s closed invitation to our member libraries only and it’s very popular.

Is there a theme?

This year it’s collaborating and competing. It’s an interesting one in that libraries are particularly good at collaborating with one another – for example IReL, but there are lots of other initiatives. But in fact our universities are also competing – obviously for students, some of the universities are having very funky ads on the radio – but also for research funding and researchers.

Interview conducted at the UKSG conference in April 2007.