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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Spring 2001

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[Board Accepted]

Selecting Electronic Publications: The Development of a Genre Statement

Lila A. Faulkner
Electronic Publishing Graduate Assistant

Karla L. Hahn
Collection Management Team Leader

Collection Management
University of Maryland Libraries


While electronic publications offer opportunities to enhance collections and services, they unfortunately raise significant issues with regard to the duplication of investment, conversion from ownership to licensing of primary source materials, and concerns with long-term access to information. Acquiring these resources demands substantial amounts of staff time in selection, acquisition, cataloging, and management. This article describes the development and creation of a genre statement for a subset of electronic resources that the University of Maryland Libraries have termed "electronic publications." Issues covered include the factors that created a need for the genre statement, the process followed to develop it and the issues contained in the genre statement. The development of a genre statement provided us with an opportunity to assess emerging problems and a chance to codify and disseminate developing best practices. Its completion marks the first step in a process to create a coherent program for the evaluation and selection of electronic publications.


In the clamor of electronic resources that demand the talents and attention of librarians, electronic publications play an increasingly prominent role. Databases, a category that subsumed most early electronic resources, have become commonplace for most libraries. We have learned to handle the challenges of their evaluation, selection, licensing, funding, and technical management. But before our heads can nod and we can drift off into a complacent doze, electronic publications have arisen to prod us once again to examine procedures and policies for electronic resources. Electronic publications, as discussed here, are a subset of electronic resources and tend to be commonly conceptualized as electronic journals, electronic books, or other types of full-text resources. The old procedures that we applied to databases do not suffice for selecting and evaluating e-publications; before the dust settles on our collection policies for electronic resources, the time has arrived to write new ones.

A little over two years ago in this journal, Jennifer Weintraub recommended a new form of collection policy - the genre statement - to help libraries cope with the shift to digital publishing. A genre statement "supplements the general collection policy statement by addressing the type of material collected, not the subject" (Weintraub 1998). Over the past few years, the University of Maryland Libraries have followed Weintraub's recommendations and adopted genre statements to aid in the development of clear guidelines for digital materials. The Libraries first developed an extensive set of guidelines for electronic resources, and less-detailed sets for electronic journals and free web-based resources, to supplement the general policy statement and subject criteria. These genre statements sufficed only for a short time in the swiftly-moving world of electronic resources. It soon became clear that the statements no longer adequately addressed the issues associated with a growing subset of electronic resources that encompassed full-text items such as electronic journals and books. Another genre statement was clearly needed.

This article describes the development and creation of a genre statement for a subset of electronic resources that UM Libraries have termed "electronic publications." We have defined "electronic publications" as full-text works that

  1. are recorded, stored and transferred digitally, but made accessible or available to the reader in analog form, usually through either disk-based or networked computing;
  2. are designed to be read or interpreted in a manner similar to a printed or written work;
  3. in contrast to an electronic abstract or index, include the main body or the original words of a text (as opposed to a paraphrase, description, condensation, or other representation); and
  4. can be purchased, selected, or acquired as a self-contained work and not only as part of a larger collection or database.

The first section of the article addresses the factors that created a need for a genre statement devoted solely to electronic publications. The second describes the process that we followed to produce the guidelines in the genre statement. The Libraries have implemented a team-based organization, and we wanted the process to reflect our new organizational structure. Third, we provide an overview of the genre statement and describe the major issues it covers. Finally, we explain our plans for the future. We regard the genre statement, along with the rest of our collection policy statements, as part of a process designed to produce a collection that addresses the needs of our users by reflecting both the formats and the subjects suitable for our Libraries. The current version of the genre statement is located at {}. Our earlier genre statement on electronic resources is located at {}.

The Local Environment

Collection development at the University of Maryland Libraries takes place in a team-based culture. More than 30 selectors manage the collections and provide public service support on three teams for the Arts and Humanities, Social Sciences, and Science and Technology. While each selector serves as the collection manager in his or her subject area, teams work to set policies and programs that affect the collection as a whole. Over the years, the selectors, like those in other libraries, have devoted increasing portions of their budget and time to electronic resources. In FY 2001, out of a collections budget of more than $7 million, selectors spent $1.5 million on electronic resources such as databases, electronic books, electronic journals, and other full-text resources.

Through the 1990s the UM Libraries struggled with the collection development issues posed by databases and other electronic resources. Selection practices created for traditional formats did not encompass the complex decisions required for electronic products. Selectors needed to consider much more than just the content and format of an item, and even those criteria took on new meaning in the electronic environment (Davis 1997; Metz 2000). To solve the problem, like many research libraries, we formed committees that developed policies eventually encoded into a series of collection development guidelines. The guidelines primarily responded to the challenges of database selection, although we did develop brief statements for selecting electronic journals and free web-based resources.

Almost as soon as we posted these guidelines, however, the need for additional statements became apparent. While our committees had deliberated, the availability of electronic journals had exploded, and e-books evolved rapidly. Selectors increasingly faced a deluge of full-text resources. Library staff often found it difficult to evaluate these resources consistently or to account for the unique issues they posed. We now faced new problems in the selection of what we came to call "electronic publications."

Many of the issues had arisen when the UM Libraries first began to buy databases, but the decision making had taken place in a radically different environment. A single librarian controlled selection and purchase of databases. Therefore, whenever a problem arose, that librarian resolved it, learned from it, and applied the knowledge to the next purchase. Electronic publications mark a transition from this old centralized version of decision making to the new. First, there are simply too many electronic publications for centralized purchase. Electronic resources of all types are now items common to any collection. Second, responsibility for selection decisions about electronic publications is dispersed among selectors in teams. Decentralized decision making, combined with the new issues raised by electronic publications, dictates that we find a way to share information and learn from one another's mistakes. At the same time, we want the ultimate responsibility for evaluation and selection to remain with the individual selectors who have expertise in their particular fields. We did not want to wholly relinquish decision making to a team, causing what Manoff has described as a "bureaucratization of the collections process and a dilution of the input of individual subject specialists" (Manoff 2000). A genre statement allows responsibility to remain with the individual selector while ensuring a level of consistency in our decisions.

With electronic publications, we grappled with selection hurdles such as terms of access, subscription start and end dates, congruence of print and electronic versions of titles, bundling, licensing rather than owning content, and a wide range of novel pricing models. We found that we made mistakes because we did not always know which questions to ask or which information to seek. Selectors, for example, would assume that they had purchased certain content only to find that it was excluded from a bundle of titles. They would not question whether our users would access a product via IP address only to find that access required a login and password.

New pricing models especially created confusion. To begin, publishers often tie their electronic pricing to print purchase, sometimes in complex ways, making it difficult to perform our usual cost/benefit types of analyses. Electronic publications also seem, more than databases, to impose separate content and access fees. Further, they increasingly force libraries to migrate from a one-time purchase of content to ongoing payment or conversely require substantial one-time payments to initiate subscriptions. In many cases providing access to content requires conversion from monograph-like to serial-like purchase patterns. Selectors have been understandably unsure about how to manage the funding of these materials.

Furthermore, although we had become somewhat accustomed to licensing electronic resources such as databases, licensing terms for electronic publications brought new challenges. Terms regulating interlibrary lending, ongoing purchase of print, and archiving after contract termination pose thornier issues for electronic publications in comparison to databases. We also felt that as an institution we wanted to become more aware of how publishers use licenses to restrict the fair use of materials.

It had become clear that electronic publications presented special problems. Further complicating the evaluation and selection processes is the fact that most electronic publications have print equivalents and many are relatively small dollar amount purchases compared to databases. Perhaps because electronic publications were seen as small purchases and similar to familiar print resources, selectors tended to omit important areas of evaluation. Only later when Acquisitions processed the order or access was activated did a variety of problems come to light.

Developing the Genre Statement

As soon as we decided that we needed a set of guidelines for electronic publications, we realized that we could not draft such a genre statement without the input and participation of all interested parties in the Libraries. One reason was practical: we could not hope to embody the best practices of selectors in the Libraries without seeking their input. The second was organizational. For the past couple years, the University of Maryland Libraries have been moving to a team-based system. Our work culture demanded the full participation and contribution of those that the genre statement would affect. Third, we saw the development of a statement on electronic publications as an opportunity to educate both ourselves and the selectors about issues bearing on the selection of these resources. Cooperative development of the statement's guidelines would allow us to learn from each other. A discussion of the guidelines would also complement the UM Libraries' {scholarly communication initiative}, a forum for selectors to learn about and discuss the scholarly publishing crisis and to develop a process to address that crisis.

We involved selectors and other interested parties at all phases of the process. Initially, one of us (Faulkner) conducted a series of interviews with selectors most involved in the selection of electronic publications to determine the issues selectors find most important and to unearth some of the frustrations selectors face. These interviews revealed a number of problems that the current genre statements were not addressing. Electronic publications thus highlighted some existing problems with our electronic resources statement while suggesting that electronic publications themselves present additional pitfalls. Based on the interviews and a review of the genre statements of other institutions, we drafted a preliminary statement that covered all the major issues. We have included a list of the genre statements that served as inspiration at the end of this article.

We then sought additional input on the draft in three separate forums. We presented it to the Collection Management Team, a body that manages budgetary decisions and develops collection policies, to inform them about the process planned for the draft and to allow them an opportunity to comment upon it. At a regular meeting of all subject team members (the selectors), we requested feedback and participation. Subject team members gave input into the structure of the guidelines, content, and ambiguities in phrasing. We also discussed the new draft with the Subject Teams individually. The Subject Teams helped ensure that the guidelines are truly in line with our best practices at the Libraries. Team members both added and deleted issues and gave tips on how to make the guidelines easier for the selectors to use. After incorporating these comments into the draft, we presented the genre statement to the Libraries' Electronic Resources Committee for final approval.

Organization and Content of the Genre Statement

We drafted the genre statement with several purposes in mind. We wanted it to communicate to our users how we make our decisions to select (and deselect) certain electronic publications. We also wanted a set of guidelines that our selectors would find easy to use and informative. A selector who has little experience with electronic publications should be able to read through the guidelines and understand the major issues to consider. Third, we wanted to make a clear declaration of what the UM Libraries find troublesome or intolerable in how publishers package and price their electronic journals. For example, the Libraries will not purchase electronic publications that require individual user IDs or passwords.

The genre statement divides its discussion of the issues that pertain to electronic publications into three areas: "Introduction," "Guideline Issues," and "Additional Help." The statement begins, in the "Introduction," with a definition of electronic publication and an introduction to the genre statement, designed to give the reader an idea of the structure of the guidelines and the territory they cover. A "Summary of Issues" follows so that selectors and other readers can peruse explanations of topics covered so that they can get a better idea of the areas of the statement that bear directly on their concerns.

"Guideline Issues" presents the meat of the genre statement; topics include Content, Pricing, Use and Functionality, Archiving, Access, Duplication and Substitution, and Licensing Terms and Conditions, progressing from the issue most familiar to selectors -- content -- to that most foreign -- licensing. "Content" focuses primarily on the unique issues a selector should consider when pondering the content of an electronic publication such as updates, currency, time limits on access to back issues, and the consistency with the print version. It leaves issues concerning particular subjects to policy statements that pertain to all resources. "Pricing" explores the aspects of the variety of pricing models that confront the selector of electronic publications. Examples of some issues include per-use pricing, pricing caps, bundles of titles, and prices that depend upon the number of simultaneous users. "Use and Functionality" covers issues pertaining to navigability and user-friendliness.

In "Access," we give the readers information about issues associated with access to an electronic publication, such as the method of validation and numbers of simultaneous users, as well as information about the requirements of the UM system. For example, we discuss the importance of evaluating IP address subnets. "Archiving" attempts to give selectors not only a sense of the relevant concerns (fees, restrictions, reliability) on the rare occasion that archiving is made available, it also attempts to raise awareness of the possibilities for archiving electronic publications by providing links to information on some of the better archiving models.

"Duplication and Substitution" serves as a step toward our development of a more concrete policy determining when to replace a paper publication with electronic or to maintain both. We expect that publishers will not always offer electronic as part of the paper package; we may soon have to choose between formats. Determining how best to handle the advantages and disadvantages of each format forms a continuing dialogue in our institution. Priorities constantly evolve in accordance with user needs, budgetary requirements, and available technologies.

"Licensing" remains, for our selectors and many of our users, the most foreign aspect of evaluating an electronic publication. Although our selectors do not negotiate licenses, we encourage them to read the license and work with our Acquisitions Department to ensure that the license reflects the selector's understanding of the subscription or purchase. Because licensing is such a new aspect of selection, we include more background information in this section than we do in the others, such as a description of what a "license" is and where to look for one on a web site. We also explain to the selector how to find information relevant to the selection decision within the license, such as descriptions of the publication, payment requirements, and limitations on access and use. We further include a discussion of issues in the license that may present problems for Acquisitions; for example, Acquisitions must negotiate any provision that requires the contract to be interpreted by the law of a state other than Maryland.

We have provided "Additional Help" items as tools to further aid the selector. An "Evaluation Checklist" contains lists of questions for each topic to remind the selector of important concerns. "Special Considerations for E-journals" and "Special Considerations for E-books" conveniently bring together the issues that are most relevant to each of these types of electronic publications. Two additional sections -- "Contacts and FAQs" and "Approaches to Financing E-publications" -- give selectors guidance in coordinating the purchase of an e-publication with other departments of the library, important information on funding, and links to additional information on topics such as licenses and finding electronic publications.

The genre statement is designed as a web document and spreads over a series of web pages. Use of HTML and Javascript makes the statement easy to navigate and allows readers to use the guidelines in whatever manner best suits them. The home page contains a table of contents comprised of links to each section, along with the introduction and definition. All pages contain a Javascript menu at the end of the page that allows access to all issues. Each topic in "Guideline Issues" contains at the end of the page a link to a checklist. Finally, each issue heading in the "Summary of Issues" serves as a link to the full treatment of the topic. Some pages in "Additional Help" further contain links to other sites that contain pertinent information.

Steps for the Future

While electronic publications offer opportunities to enhance collections and services, they unfortunately also raise significant issues with regard to the duplication of investment, conversion from ownership to licensing of primary source materials, and concerns with long-term access to information. Acquiring these resources demands substantial amounts of staff time in selection, acquisition, cataloging, and management. Tools to assist with this work are scarce to non-existent. At the same time, the number of available electronic publications is mushrooming. Even when we acquire electronic publications in bundles, the importance of effective evaluation and selection remain substantial. The development of a genre statement provided us with an opportunity to assess the emerging problems and a chance to codify and disseminate developing best practices. Its completion, however, marks only the first step in the process to create a coherent program for the evaluation and selection of electronic publications.

As Lou Ann Stewart notes, "policy statements cannot be static documents" (Stewart 2000). We have no intention of simply posting our genre statement to the web in the hope that those who stumble upon it might find it helpful. We are developing a training program so that we can continue to identify troublesome issues for selectors and keep up-to-date on trends and models. The training program feeds into another step in the process: the assessment of the usefulness of the genre statement. Only time will prove whether we have produced a document that informs and aids our selectors when they come across difficult or unknown issues. To ensure that our genre statement remains salient and informative, we need to periodically review and revise the guidelines to account for new issues and new models. The electronic publishing industry is changing rapidly. Pricing models, archiving models, licensing practices and access issues mutate from one day to the next. Libraries must keep abreast of issues involved in the acquisition of electronic publications to ensure that they continue to serve their users.


Davis, Trisha L. 1997. The Evolution of Selection Activities for Electronic Resources. Library Trends 45(3): 391-404.

Manoff, Marlene. 2000. Hybridity, Mutability, Multiplicity: Theorizing Electronic Library Collections. Library Trends 48 (4): 857-877.

Metz, Paul. 2000. Principles of Selection for Electronic Resources. Library Trends 48(4): 711-729.

Stewart, Lou Ann. 2000. Choosing Between Print and Electronic Resources: The Selection Dilemma. The Reference Librarian 71: 79-97.

Weintraub, Jennifer. 1998. The Development and Use of a Genre Statement for Electronic Journals in the Sciences. Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship (Winter 1998). [Online]. Available: [April 5, 2001].

A Selection of Genre Statements

Collection Management Team, Cal Poly Pomona. Collection Development Policy Electronic Resources (June 25, 1998 (rev.)). [Online] Available: {} [April 6, 2001].

Electronic Access to Resources Committee, California State University. Principles for CSU Acquisition of Electronic Information Resources. [Online] Available: {} [April 6, 2001].

Publicker, Stephanie and Stoklosa, Kristin. 1999. Reaching the Researcher: How the National Institutes of Health Library Selects and Provides E-journals Via the World Wide Web. Serials Review 25(3): 13-23.

University of Arizona Library. Policy for Selecting and Acquiring Electronic Products (Revised May 20, 2000). [Online] Available: {} [April 6, 2001].

University of Maryland Libraries. Collection Development Policy Statement: Electronic Publications (Revision). [Online] Available: {} [April 12, 2001].

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