Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Winter 1998

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The Development and Use of a Genre Statement for Electronic Journals in the Sciences

Jennifer Weintraub
Bibliographer and Full Text Genre Specialist
Mann Library, Cornell University

ABSTRACT: Selection of web-based resources affects every division of the academic library. Collection policies are changing to reflect the complex array of criteria and issues driving selection decisions. I propose to present a new form of collection policy -- the genre statement -- designed to aid the library organization as a whole in coping with the shift to digital publishing. Specifically, I would like to present a genre statement on electronic journals, focusing on selection criteria, selection strategy, access issues, and the future status of electronic journals in the sciences. The genre statement complements the traditional subject-based collection policy, providing guidelines and criteria for selection of a particular type of information resource, such as electronic journals, regardless of the particular subject matter. In addition to detailing policy guidelines and selection criteria, the genre statement serves as a summary, updated annually, of the state of the art of the library's program in selecting, delivering, organizing, and servicing a particular class of electronic publications.

I propose to discuss the major components of electronic journal genre statement for the Albert R. Mann Library. First, I will delineate principles of collection development as they relate to electronic journals, including evaluation of the advantages of electronic access, how electronic journals affect the scope and nature of collecting, and the minimum standards for user access, functionality, and organization of information. I will then present the selection criteria, touching on traditional criteria, such as subject scope and quality of the journal, as well as new concerns, such as the commitment to the privacy of electronic journal readers. A third section describes the selection strategy for scientific electronic journals, including the key selection tools and sources used (print and electronic) in identifying electronic journals for consideration. Finally, the genre statement documents the present and future status of electronic journals in our collection, such as explicating the issues we are wrestling with to mainstream electronic journals into our collection, including pricing models and contractual issues and their impact on the work of other divisions of the library.

Selection of web-based resources affects every division of the academic library. Many academic libraries are still developing strategies for organizing and providing access to electronic resources to assist the research activities of their patrons. Collection policies are changing to reflect the complex array of criteria and issues driving selection decisions. It is crucial that libraries create a clear framework for selection decisions, as these decisions have a strong impact on the other divisions of the academic library. A new form of collection policy, the genre statement, developed at Cornell University's Albert R. Mann Library, is designed to aid the library organization as a whole in coping with the shift to digital publishing. The subject scope collected by a library is addressed in the general collection development policy statement. A genre statement supplements the general collection policy statement by addressing the type of material collected, not the subject. It is meant to describe the process of evaluating and selecting a genre of material, be it full text, data, or bibliographic information. The development and use of a genre statement for electronic journals has been very useful at Mann for selecting electronic journals and clarifying their selection decisions for other divisions of the library. In this article I will discuss the development and contents of the genre statement for electronic journals at Mann Library. First, I will explain why a genre statement was considered necessary and the factors in its development. I will then describe the four components of the genre statement. These include guiding principles, selection criteria, selection strategy, and future plans. For each component I will explain how this ties in with the genre statement's mission to clarify and systematize the selection of electronic journals in the academic library.

Librarians at Mann Library developed the genre statement because of the need for clear selection and evaluation criteria for specific forms of electronic information. This developed from the particular structure of collection development at Mann, but it is applicable for any department. Mann Library collects information in the agricultural and life sciences, including the biological sciences, some medicine, and rural sociology. At Mann Library, the bibliographers choose the material based on its format, as opposed to its subject area. There are three basic formats of material: full text, bibliographic files, numeric data. There are four bibliographers who, with the head of collection development, select all material for the library. Each selects in a specific genre, such as full text, but across all the subject areas of the library. The genre statement also allowed Mann bibliographers to survey the current state of electronic resources and how they will serve library patrons.

Another factor in the development of the genre statement for electronic journals was the creation of the Full Text Resource Assessment Tool (FT-RAT) at Mann Library. This document explains formats and functionality of full text resources, and delineated the boundaries of what would be unacceptable, acceptable, or ultimately, optimal characteristics for the library. This tool was later adopted by all of Cornell University Libraries. As Mann Library began to investigate how the current state of electronic journals fit in with the acceptable standards for electronic journals, we were able to describe specific criteria journals would have to meet for inclusion in our collection.

A final reason for the creation of the genre statement is to systematize a selection procedure which takes into account the work done by other divisions of the academic library. In most cases, electronic journals are additional publications which expand the volume of work in all divisions. They have not been entirely mainstreamed into library operations. The genre statement sets standards for selection, so that other divisions of the library understand the importance and quality of the electronic resources with which they are dealing. The genre statement also clarifies the role other divisions of the library play in providing access to these resources.

The genre statement for electronic journals has been increasingly useful over the last year. Many new electronic journals have been published or are in the works. Because Mann Library has already decided our standards for acceptable electronic resources, our selection decisions are not swayed by the appeal of having access to electronic journals for the sake of novelty. If an electronic journal is not organized well or if it is too expensive, we have a policy to back up our decisions to the publisher (and perhaps change their publishing practices) and to our patrons.

The genre statement for electronic journals consists of four sections: guiding principles, selection criteria, selection strategy, and present and future status of the electronic journals.


The first segment of the genre statement is to explain how the principles of collection development used at Mann apply to electronic resources. The genre statement first defines the subject scope of the electronic journal collection. In Mann Library's case, the scope of the collection of electronic serials is the same as for print materials. We collect print journals in all the agricultural and life sciences, and some social science journals. For electronic journals, there are a few differences. Serials in "related or peripheral" subject areas, which might be passed over in print form, may be selected in electronic form if they are free, low maintenance, high quality, dependable, and at least partially indexed in a secondary source to which we also provide access. These titles would not be tracked on an issue by issue basis.

In the first section, electronic journals genre statement also addresses the criteria for evaluating the advantages of collecting an electronic journal in addition to or instead of print versions of resources. Mann Library uses the following principles for evaluating electronic journals:


Once the primary criteria have been established, the genre statement next lays out more specific criteria for evaluating electronic journals. Mann's genre statement for electronic journals first addresses the standard of "quality" of a resource in three ways: content, completeness and continuity. These minimum standards for "quality" of an electronic journal are derived from the standards of quality for print journals.

An effective genre statement should also clearly state the minimum standards for functionality, access and organization, cost, and archiving. Librarians at Mann have developed these standards with the help of the FT-RAT and by considering how electronic full text resources are best accessed at Cornell University.

The document formats supported by the library should be defined by the genre statement. Mann Library found that ASCII text which contains all required characters is acceptable. Where a journal prefers to use page images rather than full text, images that can be viewed with standard client software (such as a web browser) are also acceptable. Mann prefers to collect journals published in HTML or a document exchange format such as Adobe's PDF. Document images are preferred when they are viewable in multiple, alternative formats, that are directly accessible. Foreign language serials and those with complex mathematical and/or scientific symbols should be provided in a form which supports proper display of the necessary diacritics and symbols.

The genre statement also presents standards for access to and around the electronic journal. Mann Library does not consider subscriptions which violate our patrons' privacy by requiring users to sign into the journal using a password. We also only sign agreements which allow all of Cornell faculty, staff, and students to use the resource from any computer, on or off campus. The full text resource should be accessed through a resources-specific interface that can be automatically lunched from within the digital library interface, or through a standard user interface that works across multiple resources. This will allow the electronic journal to be implemented as part of a digital library. A section within the resource should be able to be found by browsing or a search engine within the resources, or conform to an open standard to be able to be searched simultaneously with other resources (Z39.50 compliance). We prefer to select serials which are systematically and consistently organized, with regular issues, as opposed to individual articles.

Standards for the acceptable cost of electronic journals should also be clarified. Mann Library, with the approval of the other science libraries, decided not to pay a surcharge to gain access to the electronic edition of a print version. We will also only subscribe to the electronic version in addition to the print if the electronic edition provides at least one value-added feature, such as full-text indexing, personalized table of contents service, or multimedia. We may make exceptions to this rule for highly important resources, but we will never pay more than 20 per cent of the print version for the electronic version. For novel electronic titles, Mann expects to pay no more than for print material of comparable quality and quantity. Novel titles which are not indexed by a major abstracting and indexing service should be significantly devalued, if not eliminated from consideration altogether. The genre statement should be used as an explication of the library's principles and our expectations of publishers. By stating our criteria and reasoning, we can create standards for the publishers to follow.

The final criterion for selection of an electronic resources is archival access. Mann Library prefers to pay for permanent access to information, both print and electronic. Electronic journal publishers rarely consider providing access to journals for years which the library had a subscription after the subscription is canceled or the journal ceases publishing. Librarians at Mann always ask publishers if they are considering provisions for archival access. Mann would ideally like the publisher to provide access from their own servers, but we accept that we may have to load the data onto our servers when our subscription ends or the journal ceases.


A brief selection strategy is included in the genre statement. This explains how the bibliographer responsible for electronic journals finds journals. It lists alert services for new journals and lists of established journals. This section of the genre statement should be updated each year by the bibliographer in charge of electronic journals. It is a very useful section of the genre statement to share with other librarians or patrons interested in electronic journals in specific subject areas. It has also proved helpful in training new librarians to select electronic journals.

The strategy for selecting electronic journals begins with web sites a bibliographer finds most useful. Mann Library's genre statement lists sites to look at weekly (such as Yahoo's {"What's new" page}, the {NewJour list}, or {BioSites}, a comprehensive index to medical web sites, which has frequent updates), monthly, and less often. The list also includes a few sites which provide some general background to the current state of the genre. This is the segment of the selection strategy which becomes obsolete quickly, so it is helpful to update it yearly. The selection strategy also lists other methods for keeping up with electronic journals. There are listservs, reviews in print media, suggestions from patrons and co-workers, and other awareness services over the web. These are essential resources for keeping track of new publications.


The final section of the genre statement covers the present and future status of the genre at the library. This is a section which should also be updated yearly. By updating this section, librarians can discuss future plans for electronic resources and set them into the policy, creating a dynamic picture of the state of the library's work in mainstreaming electronic journals into the collection. This section of the genre statement explicates some of the issues that the library will face in the future regarding the evaluation and collection of electronic journals

In the genre statement for electronic journals, this section currently states that Mann Library collects electronic journals in all subject areas. We have collected many electronic journals which are freely distributed, but few which require a paid subscription. Many prominent electronic journals are still requiring patrons to sign in when they use the journals, or require a high additional premium for online access. This section also describes the goals for the workflow of other divisions. Collection development will explore cooperative and consortial development efforts in order to minimize strain on budgets and staff time. Technical services will maximize the use of automation of procedures when cataloging resources, and bring titles which engender more work than necessary to the attention of collection development for discussion. The workload of public services and the Information Technology support staff will also be taken into account when choosing resources.

Finally, the genre statement lays the groundwork for future plans in the genre. In Mann Library's case, bibliographers may have to compromise and pay more than expected for some prominent journals. We hope to develop a strategy for alerting interested patrons about new electronic journals in a timely manner. The work of all the divisions of the library should be considered in the selection of journals available through aggregators. Other goals include weeding the electronic journals we currently have and collecting as many electronic journals as possible.

Creating a genre statement for electronic journals at Mann Library has become an ongoing project. It has helped librarians clarify their decision making process and justify their selections. It also summarizes the state of electronic journals at Mann Library and a framework for future work to be done in collecting electronic journals. The genre statement, providing an explanation of how principles of collection development apply to electronic journals, is a dynamic companion to the general collection development policy, providing guidance to librarians struggling with the shift to digital publishing.


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