New Electronic Resources

22 Jan 2001
A recurring problem/opportunity is the Hot New Offer from a publisher or vendor for an online resource available by annual subscription. Case in point is The Prokaryotes from Springer:
 The electronic version of The Prokaryotes begins with an online implementation of the content currently found in the printed reference work, The Prokaryotes: Second Edition (1992). Approximately 25% of the content will be fully updated each year over a four-year period until the work is completely revised. Thereafter, material will be continuously added to reflect developments in Prokaryotic microbiology. This online version features information retrieval functions and multimedia components.
We don't have the paper 2nd edition (but we do have a 1981 Springer publication which may be the 1st edition), and in fact it looks like we don't have very good coverage of the subject (just 12 hits for a keyword search for 'prokaryotes' in Annie). Springer's annual fee for the online version is $495, and they have a free 30-day trail ("Once you review The Prokaryotes, we are confident you will want your library to subscribe to this useful reference."), which Maryann Simurda brought to my attention. Here's part of what I wrote back to her:
 At $495/year this one falls under the "serials" category (as if it was a journal), and as such what it needs is "curricular justification", library shorthand for "tell us that you're going to use this in classes, that it's an essential resource, etc etc..." At this point (Jan 2001...) something like this goes through Barbara, since it's a long-term budget commitment of middling size.

It certainly looks like it would be a useful tool, and is part of the New Wave of electronic resources that the library is trying to figure out how to cope with. The practical problem is that something of the sort comes along about every two weeks, and we don't have very highly evolved ways of dealing with requests. There isn't exactly a pool of $$ set aside, nor are there funds earmarked for particular departments, so each request gets dealt with in an ad hoc sort of way, or gets postponed until the general coffers refill in July.

How should we be thinking about the general problem of providing access to proliferating online substitutes for reference books and monographs? Piecemeal solutions are frustrating for librarians and professors and budget myrmidons; collection development policies have to preserve flexibility and defend fiscal prudence; and users need to be able to get to the truly useful resources.
One emerging criterion is interlinkage, exemplified by the links to full text in Web of Science and the cross-linking of Science and PNAS and other HighWire journals. Electronic resources that join such linkages or broaden the reach of existing ones are of greater value than stand-alone products that do only one thing.
Clearly something we need to figure out...

And here's a (somewhat) related issue: HighWire offers the full text of non-current issues of many titles (at the moment 80 titles, and more than 200,000 "free full-text articles") they publish. A list is available and includes links to the journal homepages. How should we be providing access? In theory we are linked to HighWire in Cambridge Scientific Abstracts (in fact it's in the process of being set up...), so an article from Applied and Environmental Bacteriology like

Genotyping of Campylobacter spp.
Trudy M. Wassenaar and Diane G. Newell
Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 2000. 66:1-9

 IS available to us (or anybody), and WILL be linked in CSA, and COULD be linked in Web of Science (if we request that they turn on the link to the title) ...and a few titles are just plain FREE, like British Medical Journal (1994-present)

Does it make any sense to put these HighWire freebies into Annie, or at least the subset of titles we think/know our users would have use for? Certainly I'll experiment with them as links in my nascent database of Science Library periodicals.

Another sort of case-in-point is the Grove/Macmillan Encyclopedia of Life Sciences, a resource that isn't a digital substitute for an existing resource, but represents a new development. It describes itself as "the most ambitious single reference source ever to be published in the biological sciences, providing a unique and dynamic resource for the next millennium... When launched in full in 2001 it will comprise 12 million words; over 3,000 specially commissioned and peer reviewed articles, written by 5,000 scientists. Our growing database of articles is now available" (there's a 24-hour trial link on the page, and of course there's a 30-day trial institutional option).

Grove is also mounting a Scientific American Archive Online, 1993 to present.

2 Feb
Another of the same sort of thing: Nature has been available online via a clumsy password with one simultaneous user, and they're now announcing that site licensing will be available (but are cagey about pricing) and that the former scheme will end in a couple of weeks. At the moment I'm inclined to think that Nature would need to add some value before it would be worthwhile for us --it should link with Web'o'Science at the very least, preferably should adopt the HighWire format and interface, and ideally should release its archive to JSTOR as well. As a standalone it's not likely to get used all that much.  And here's an interesting case-in-point of the progress of evolution in the online world: six months ago the interlinking wasn't particularly salient for us (well, me...), and now it's becoming a criterion for selection and resource allocation decisions.