The frontier for subscription agents and library intermediaries continues to expand. Swets (www.swets.com) recently announced the acquisition of ScholarlyStats from MPS Technologies. ScholarlyStats (https://www.scholarlystats.com) defines itself as "the online portal for library usage statistics" delivering "consolidated reports to libraries around the globe, providing a clearer view of usage of over 70,000 journals and almost 450 databases from 46 platforms." Swets has been distributing ScholarlyStats since January 2006 but only announced the official acquisition of the company on Oct. 2, 2007. According to Arie Jongejan, CEO of Swets, "Apart from doing normal agent business, helping customers manage their collections is one of our prime objectives. And ScholarlyStats, we feel, is an excellent tool—helping customers to make the right decisions about the things they purchase."
Subscription agents and intermediaries continue to expand their service and product offerings in an effort to move beyond their conventional roles. Over the past 5 years, companies such as Swets, EBSCO Information Services, and others have broadened their scope to include A–Z listing services, link resolvers, and federated search products. They also continue to provide their own searchable, end-user content gateways that either cover journals hosted by the agent or links to full-text titles. All these new services and products co-exist with more traditional offerings that continue to facilitate the purchase and delivery of subscription-based content.
ScholarlyStats is not currently integrated into the SwetsWise portfolio of products, but when asked about plans for integration, Jongejan noted, "That is the obvious next step … you want customers to stay within your environment and there are lots of other functionalities within SwetsWise so this should be a natural extension." Put simply, Jongejan said, "We thought that by the outright purchase we would have more control." Jongejan mentioned one specific outgrowth of integration, namely cost-per-use analysis: "A lot of customers ask for that; they do it now themselves, and they do it now in a very crude or maybe even incorrect way. With ScholarlyStats, we want to bring some uniformity so that customers can compare apples with apples rather than apples with oranges." ScholarlyStats accommodates and aggregates both COUNTER-compliant and non-COUNTER-compliant usage data for customers. COUNTER (Counting Online Usage of Networked Electronic Resources; www.projectcounter.org) is an international standard of usage bibliometrics covering online journals, databases, books, and reference works.
Agents have an enormous amount of data about pricing and subscriptions particular to any institution, so any future integration of ScholarlyStats into Swets’ services should further enrich the worth and scope of its institution-specific information. For now, at least, business will continue as usual for ScholarlyStats customers, with customers continuing to access their ScholarlyStats accounts through the ScholarlyStats Web portal. Elizabeth Mengel, head of collection management at the Sheridan Libraries of Johns Hopkins University, noted that Johns Hopkins is a customer of both ScholarlyStats and Swets. While Mengel is excited about the possibility of more easily retrieving cost-per-use analysis through the integration of ScholarlyStats and SwetsWise, she hoped ScholarlyStats would continue to be developed as a stand-alone product. She commented that her institution has just purchased an electronic resource management (ERM) system from another vendor and that they only use Swets for some of their subscriptions.
All is not wine and roses with subscription agents, however. While agents are busy expanding their e-resource services, some growing pains are an unfortunate side effect. Bernd-Christoph Kaemper, electronic resources coordinator at the Stuttgart University Library and member of the International Advisory Board for Project COUNTER, commented, "The acquisition of ScholarlyStats from MPS Technologies was a surprise move that neatly solves Swets’ own problems with its usage statistics." The Swets performance issues do not end with usage statistics. Kaemper went on to say, "However, this does not solve all the other quality maintenance problems of SwetsWise, especially SwetsWise Online Contents, and we still have to be convinced that SwetsWise performance as an integrated platform lives up to the high expectations that [its] marketing efforts are generating."
Swets is not alone in its difficulties, particularly with COUNTER compliancy. Peter Shepherd, director of COUNTER, sent a message on Feb. 12, 2007, to the official usage list that clarified the current status of COUNTER as well as advising vendors, librarians, and library consortium managers (see www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A2=ind0702&L=usage&T=0&F=&S=&P=51).
Agents need to address their current product deficiencies and ensure that their core services do not suffer from too much diversification. Regardless, they continue to forge ahead in their refinement and expansion of services and products. Many libraries and information centers cannot afford to purchase or implement an electronic resource management (ERM) system, such as those offered from Ex Libris (Verde, www.exlibrisgroup.com/verde.htm); Innovative Interfaces (ERM, www.iii.com/mill/digital.shtml); or Serials Solutions (360 Resource Manager, www.serialssolutions.com/ss_360_resource_manager.html)—nor do they have the staff to create a homegrown solution. While some libraries and information centers simply do not have the volume of e-resources to warrant separate electronic resource management systems, many smaller organizations still need assistance managing increasingly complex e-resource collections. Thus, agents continue to fill a void by offering more ERM-like functionality.
For example, EBSCO Information Services, via its subscription management system EBSCONET, continues to release upgrades within EBSCONET that allow for greater e-resource control and tighter integration with other e-resource tools, e.g., through its A–Z listing service and ejournal gateway. Likewise, in February 2007, Swets announced the integration of all of its services under the SwetsWise portfolio, aiming to create a more robust SwetsWise Subscriptions tool. Other agents offer similar service tools, such as HARRASSOWITZ’s HERMIS product (HARRASSOWITZ Electronic Resource Management and Information Solutions; www.harrassowitz.de/subscription_services/hermis.html). Librarians can expect to see even more e-resource functionality in their agent tools, probably premiered at upcoming vendor forums at various conferences. Swets is offering one such forum at the 2007 Charleston Conference on Nov. 8, 2007, during which it plans to showcase upcoming license management capabilities and to seek input on the licensing data needed to be included as well as license management functionality and interface design issues.
For those who have already implemented an ERM, however, there may be some duplication. Information professionals will have to determine how to juggle all of these tools so that staff members are not performing duplicative tasks. John Rutherford, library systems manager at Wayne State University, noted that his organization is conducting some cost-per-use analysis using its existing ERM.Librarians and information professionals increasingly use a variety of tools to manage their e-resource collections from a variety of vendors. It is in the libraries’—and, ultimately, the vendors’—best interests if these products work as interoperably as possible. On the other hand, continued transitions such as Swets/ScholarlyStats, CSA/ProQuest/Serials Solutions/Ulrich’s, Ex Libris/Endeavor, as well as partnerships like the ones between EBSCO and WebFeat and SirsiDynix and Serials Solutions, are impacting how librarians envision what were previously discrete services.