Library looks ahead

To prepare for the recent round of finance internship interviews, students aiming for a position with banks or hedge funds had a new resource that Yalies before them did not: access to the Vault Guide to Finance Interviews, which provides over 150 practice questions along with answers and explanations.

The Vault Guide, acquired this year by the Yale University Library, is just one of the many digital databases that the library provides to Yale affiliates. Current students, faculty and staff can use the library’s digital resources on campus or log into the Yale Virtual Private Network, which provides remote access for Yalies off campus.

Over the last few years, the library has been “aggressively acquiring electronic resources across all disciplines,” said Daniel Dollar, director of collection development for the University Library. University Librarian Susan Gibbons added that the proportion of the library’s general collection funding directed toward acquiring digital resources has increased each year since the library purchased its first electronic resource. This year, over half of this budget went toward digital acquisitions.

But the expansion of online resources does not imply increased access for all. Just as graduates and researchers unaffiliated with Yale must come to the library in order to browse its bookshelves, they also must travel to New Haven to view Yale’s digital property.

Whether researchers will always need to physically travel to view digital resources remains to be seen. When eJournals took off in the 1990s, academic libraries joined forces to negotiate better prices with publishers of electronic journals. But individual libraries still purchased separate licenses for their respective communities. Yale later helped to launch Borrow Direct officially in 2002, creating a system through which Yalies can borrow books from the libraries at the University’s peer institutions.

Now, library administrators are faced with whether a Borrow Direct-type system might be possible for electronic resources, history librarian Gregory Eow said. He added that conversations are in an “embryonic stage” within academic libraries, though challenges regarding licensing agreements with publishers and vendors may be difficult — if not impossible — to overcome.

THE VALUE OF THE YALE IP ADDRESS

“The Yale Book of Quotations,” associate law librarian Fred Shapiro said he often searches the library’s new digital acquisitions for evidence of earlier usage of words or phrases. Within 24 hours of gaining access to the library’s newly acquired online historical archive of the Illustrated London News, the world’s first fully illustrated newspaper, which was created in 1842, Shapiro discovered a use of the word “feminist” that predated the earliest citation listed in the OED, Eow said. Shapiro explained that he had only used the resource for about five minutes before making this discovery.

Shapiro, who maintains a list of words that he runs through the University Library’s new databases as they are acquired, said that the majority of his discoveries come from the University Library’s digital resources such as ProQuest Historical Newspapers and JSTOR documents.

“Just about any new full-text online database provided by the University Library leads to dozens or hundreds of discoveries by me pertaining to word origins and quotation origins,” Shapiro said.

Those affiliated with Yale have access to a large array of digital resources in addition to physical books. In the last fiscal year at Yale, Dollar said, the library provided access to approximately 1,024,973 online books and 114,199 unique online serial titles such as journals, magazines and newspapers.

But alumni who move away from New Haven lose access to most of the library’s databases.

The primary purpose of acquiring these resources is to increase convenience for current library users. Eow said this loss of digital access after graduation can be a “difficult issue.” Every year, for example, when doctoral students graduate and start new jobs at other institutions, a few inquire about access to digital resources they previously used at Yale, Eow said.

He added that while the University Library granted alumni access to JSTOR this fall — accessible through the Association for Yale Alumni website — they cannot make all resources available because of licensing agreements. Even though graduates of Yale’s doctoral programs often work at comparable institutions, some universities do not offer the same breadth of information as Yale, Eow said, citing digital historical newspapers as one area in which Yale might have an advantage over other universities.

But if users approach access to digital resources the same way they view physical resources, the sudden loss of access seems more logical, Eow said.

“There is the expectation that you can get digital products from anywhere at any time … but when students graduate, privileges to print and circulation access [don’t] come naturally,” Eow said. “It’s the peculiarity with digital [media] that people think they should still have access.”

BEYOND NEW HAVEN’S BORDERS

Students can simultaneously access the same digital materials provided by the library while on campus or logged in remotely, but for those outside of Yale, universal access is currently unrealistic. Similar to how researchers often trek from their residences to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library to view special books, they come to Yale’s libraries to use its IP address to access its digital databases.

As universities have turned their focus to digital databases, a disparity has emerged in the resources available to researchers affiliated with various universities, since some institutions can afford acquisitions that others cannot.

“It’s a real gated community of information,” Eow said.

Representatives from Stanford, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania libraries said that the problems with sharing digital resources lie in issues of licensing agreements with publishers. Most commercial eJournals, e-books and databases are currently bound by license agreements that limit access to students, faculty and staff, said Robert Wolven, director of library systems and bibliographical control at Columbia.

“Obviously, if only one institution licensed something, and every other institution could conveniently freeload off that one, any business model for the publisher would vaporize, unless it were funded for public access in some manner,” said Andrew Herkovic, library director of communications and development at Stanford.

Still, all library representatives interviewed expressed interest in expanding resources to better help its users. Wolven said Columbia’s library has “engaged in discussion” about extending digital access among members of the Borrow Direct group. While the process will likely be one of trial and error, he said, he is “hopeful” the groups “will ultimately be able to find ways to share access.”

Joseph Zucca, director of planning and communication at the University of Pennsylvania libraries, said that he does not think publishers are currently prepared to provide a business model.

The University Library has been purchasing licensed electronic resources since they were first developed in the 1990s, Dollar said. The University Library is the second-largest academic library, second only to the Harvard University Library, but Yale is not making an effort to increase its physical resources to catch up to Harvard’s, Eow said. Instead, both are expanding their digital offerings.

“In the past, the mark of a great library system was the breadth of print collections, but increasingly the mark of great library is also measured by the number and breadth of our digital materials,” Eow said.

Alongside the effort to increase digital resources, academic libraries moved from a competitive “arms race” against each other to a collaborative system of sharing materials. Gibbons, the University librarian, pointed out that the “arms race” model was criticized as early as April 1931 by then-Librarian of Congress Herbert Putnam in a speech at the dedication of Sterling Memorial Library. Collaboration between university libraries, Dollar said, is an evolutionary process “with deep roots.”

Under the collaborative model, universities divide areas of concentration, which can result in a richer collection for everyone, Eow said. But for now, because of licensing issues that remain to be solved, Gibbons said, Yale cannot share its licensed digital resources with other institutions.

Contact Sharon Yin at

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