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Federal Library E-Readiness Study

In December 2007, the Federal Libraries Coordination Secretariat (FLCS) commissioned a study to investigate federal libraries' provision of electronic resources to their client communities. In support of building a future Federal E-Library, the FLCS sought a report on the state of electronic readiness, but also an analysis of the issues federal librarians highlighted as key impediments to delivering published electronic content.

Through evidence provided by staff from sixteen federal libraries, three issues were most often highlighted - procurement, information technology support and licensing - and received more in-depth study. Other significant themes, such as information sharing, tools for outreach, training and staffing, and a go-to office for advice and guidance, were briefly reviewed. As well, the alignment between the proposed Federal E-Library vision to the requirements of federal libraries was reviewed and analyzed. The final report proposed nineteen recommendations for future activities.

Procurement:

The term "procurement" covers, generally, acquisition of a good or service through means of a contract as opposed to acquisition of a good or service through a purchase order. Federal libraries have spending authority limits which dictate when a contract must be processed through Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC), as opposed to handled internally. Federal librarians were asked to describe the procurement process they follow within their organizations and comment on their satisfaction with the process.

Based on the information librarians provided, procurement of e-content is obstructed by three conditions:

  • Delays by PWGSC in processing contracts. This results in library budget shortfalls and, possibly, access or other disruptions.
  • Lack of, or perceived lack of, knowledge about e-content procurement on the part of librarians and departmental contracting officers.
  • Lack of government-wide standardization in interpreting contracting guidelines for procuring e-resources.

Recommended activities:

1. Inform the federal library and departmental contracting communities of the Procurement and Licensing of Electronic Information Resources working group, co-chaired by LAC and PWGSC.

2. Compile, in one document, all the information necessary for librarians and contracting officers to know when procuring electronic content through government contracts.

3. Based on the compiled information, prepare an information package on the e-content procurement process. Indicate points where departments have specific rights and responsibilities.

4. Determine appropriate methods for distributing the information package to librarians, contracting officers, and senior departmental managers.

5. Develop a standardized Statement of Work to be used by all departments for procuring electronic resources.

6. Investigate the feasibility of pursuing an exceptional contracting limit for library materials.

7. Investigate the feasibility of creating a standing offer for all library-related electronic procurement.

Information Technology Support

IT support was used loosely to denote IT personnel that: establish and maintain access, through the departmental network, to external e-content sites; make decisions concerning network security; and maintain network servers.

The conclusion drawn from federal librarians' responses about IT support is that access issues would be reduced if IT staff in charge of departmental network(s) and network security became more aware of published electronic content, where it comes from, and how access occurs. Specifically, IT staff would obtain a better understanding that e-content and the methods by which it is accessed do not vary greatly among suppliers; therefore, threat assessments should be the same for the majority of e-content sites accessed through departmental networks.

Recommended activities:

8. Initiate discussions with the Chief Information Officer of the Government of Canada about mechanisms to inform the IT community.

9. Develop information packages for informing IT staff about e-content delivery.

Licensing:

The negotiation, administration and pricing characteristics of licenses for e-content were considered. Pricing models, in particular the lack of standardized models, were treated as a separate issue.

While some librarians were enthusiastic about shared or consortial licensing for e-content, others were concerned about participating in licensing arrangements that might not offer any advantages in content coverage and could cost more money and staff time than they currently expend. No library participating in the study denounced consortial approaches outright. To encourage the federal library community to participate in shared licensing arrangements, options for governance, operational support and participation will need to be carefully evaluated to create a model that will promote confidence that individual library needs will be met.

Recommended activities:

10. Investigate the Electronic Resources Australia model to determine its feasibility for Canada's federal library community.

11. Design and evaluate governance and operational structures for shared licensing through consultation with federal librarians.

12. Assess models for funding.

13. Select three commonly used e-products and discuss shared licenses with suppliers.

Federal E-Library Alignment:

The findings from this e-readiness study confirm many of the points covered in discussions surrounding the Federal E-Library (FeL) concept. Federal librarians perceive that a proposed FeL would reduce workloads, expand e-content coverage to all government workers, and increase the purchasing power of libraries. It could attenuate many of the problems associated with procurement and licensing, and provide opportunities for improving relationships with the IT community, training government workers to use e-resources and achieving library service goals.

Overall, the activities proposed in this report could be carried out under the umbrella of the FeL. The goals achieved by the successful completion of the activities could form the foundation of the FeL.

Additional findings:

Three additional themes emerged during discussions with federal librarians.

They feel they lack information about activities, outside of their own institutions, related to the provision of e-content.

Recommended activity:

14. Create a mechanism for gathering information from federal libraries on a regular and ongoing basis. An e-newsletter, the What's New section on a website, a blog, or expanded use of the discussion lists would assist libraries to keep informed about interesting happenings on the federal library scene.

They would find common tools for outreach, training and staffing helpful.

Recommended activities:

15. Develop a standard competency profile for electronic resource managers.

16. Prepare a model justification for additional staff to manage e-resources.

17. Explore effective means of creating e-resources management training sessions.

They feel they could work more effectively if they had a centralized source they could turn to when they need advice and guidance on managing their e-content services. Should the recommended activities proposed elsewhere in this report be adopted and carried out by one office, such as the FLCS, a centre for advice and guidance will naturally exist.

Pricing models:

Lack of standardization in pricing models is an issue for the library industry as a whole, and is best addressed at an international issue.

Recommended activity:

18. LAC should look for opportunities to work with national counterparts in other countries, as

FLCS resources:

Numerous activities, requiring the availability of qualified staff, have been proposed throughout this report. Should they be adopted, the FLCS will have a significant role in electronic resource management in the Government of Canada.

Recommended activity:

19. Ensure the FLCS is appropriately staffed to carry out all tasks it is assigned.

Next steps:

A number of the activities recommended above, specifically in the area of e-information resources procurement, are being addressed through the mechanism of the Procurement and Licensing of Electronic Information (PLEIR) Working Group. The Working Group tabled its preliminary report in June 2008, and its final report will be submitted during the fall of 2008 to Daniel Caron, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister, Library and Archives Canada and Liliane Saint Pierre, Assistant Deputy Minister - Acquisitions, Public Works and Government Services Canada.

Draft Vision, Federal E-Library

"The federal e-library is the most effective channel to ensure that decisions made by public service employees are grounded in timely, authoritative and trusted information and thus, that Canadians are being well-served by government programs and services."

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