Electronic Resource Management: Handling users’ pain points


I missed this year’s ER&L 2018 conference.  It has always been one of my favourite conferences and it never fails to amaze me with an interesting line-up of insightful presentations and workshops.  While checking out the tweets for this year’s conference, I came across this wonderful article by Claire O’Neill, Library Services, Wiley, on the top 10 trends@the conference.

Top 10 Trends at the 2018 Electronic Resources & Libraries (ER&L) Conference | Wiley

I love the following points brought up by the author:

4.  Thinking outside of the box to identify student pain points

5.  Getting creative with outreach

6. Librarians work hard – and deserve acknowledgement

9.  Librarians share tips for improving user experience

10.  Information is power

Point 4 stood out for me.  Why?  Working in the electronic resources management field, I have always received a number of fan-mails from our users on electronic resources issues.  Their questions range from simple ones such as creating a personalized account in a particular electronic resources publisher website to more complex access issues such as accessing our subscribed e-resources off-campus.  As I received more and more of such questions, several thoughts flashed across my mind:

  • How can we alleviate the “sufferings” faced by our users proactively?
  • Can we better manage these issues by providing information up-front to them so that they are able to resolve these issues by themselves?
  • How can we heigthen the awareness of our users that such information are available?
  • How can we cull such questions and study the trends/patterns?
  • Are there any system that can manage these inquiries and provide meaningful data for us to analyze?
  • What can the library do to upkeep and update the staff knowledge on ERM matters?
  • … (the list goes on)

So many things, so little time on top of the limited resources. What are the ones that should take priority over others?  It reminded me of my first day in the office when I set out to become an E-Resources Librarian/Specialist (most of use are called Specialists over here).  It dawned upon me that among my main focus would be the troubleshooting of electronic resources and managing our users’ expectations.  Users always wanted information fast and within a few clicks.  They can get pretty irate and frustrated whenever their search hits a brick wall. (paywall seems much appropriate 🙂 )  How can our ERM team ensure that this does not happen? How can we manage our users’ expectations with regards to the workings of our subscribed electronic resources.

One of the earliest method used by our team was implementing an access monitoring system via Excel Spreadsheet (we’ve now moved on to a more sophisticated ERMS system).  Information regarding the access status were entered daily into this file.  I remembered highlighting those that have issues in RED color.  The other 2 colors were Green and Yellow.  I guess you probably would know what Green stands for.  (We had a file which uses the traffic lights color to alert us of any outstanding access issues).

Whevener a RED cell appears on the spreadsheet, the ERM team will alert our KAUST community as well as our internal library staff via email and other communication vehicle such as the library website.  At the same time, the ERM team will liaise with the publishers to investigate the root case and remedy the issue.  When the issue has been resolved, another alert will be sent to all stakeholders to inform them.

As much as possible the ERM team tried to be as proactive as possible.  However, due to the dynamics of electronic resources, things can change within a split second.  One moment things can be working, the next, it can go down.

The ERM team would conduct daily checks on all our electronic resources, manually.  The main access points to these electronic resources were also checked and verified such as:

  • Discovery layers
  • AZ portal
  • Online Guides
  • Google Scholar

In addition to that, we’ve placed online forms/email addresses on strategic access points for our users to report any e-resources issues.  This is an alternative form of obtaining feedback from our users.  Information entered via this online form/email is chanelled into our online Reference Inquiry Tracking system (Sprinshare’s LibAnswers).  These questions are then acted upon by the respective ERM staff.

It is also important to note the scheduled maintenance of the electronic resources.  Publishers would inform their customers on any impending scheduled maintenance.  In turn, we would publish this information on our library homepage as well as online guides.  (not to mention emailing as well).

Some other methods that we deployed to assist our library users was the creation of guides and FAQs that covered the electronic resources topic.  For example, I’ve created:

There are also other communication medium that can used to disemminate the information. These include the social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter.

Looking back, I felt that despite all these tools, the human touch is always important. How we communicate with our users, how we manage their expectations can create a positive user experience.  How we handle and how  we listen to their rantings while at the same time, keeping our sanity intact 🙂 3 words that always resonate with me:

  • Patience
  • Perseverance
  • Resilience

In the pipeline: Our team is working on building a knowledge base to store the main e-resources issues and how we can overcome them.  The target audience for this initiative is our internal library staff.  We believe that by sharing valuable knowledge with internal library staff, we can increase our productivity and effienciency towards better service excellence.


IFLA World Library and Information Congress, Wroclaw Poland 2017 & ACM Library Advisory Board meeting

I had the opportunity to attend IFLA conference from 19 – 25 August 2017 in Wroclaw Poland.  (Thanks to my Boss, Dr Vijay, KAUST Lib Director for approving my trip).  The event was held @ Centennial Hall, Wroclaw. Before attending this conference, I also had the privelege to sit in the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Library Advisory Board meeting which was held @ SOFITEL WROCLAW OLD TOWN.

The opening session for IFLA was awesome.  The crowd was great.  The music, effects and performance were outstanding.  Forever etched in my mind.  Apart from that, there were several interesting presentations such as:

  •  Altmetrics: It’s Time to Take Action – Serials and Other Continuing Resources
  • Libraries: A Call to Action – IFLA President’s Session
  • IFLA Global Vision Discussion
  • Demonstrating the Contribution of Libraries to the UN 2030 Agenda

The poster sessions was good. There were numerous interesting posters that provided enlightening information from various libraries around the world:

Interesting sights of Wroclaw, Poland:

Visited  Wroclaw University of Science and Technology library.  Noted that the main library does not contain any print books.  Instead, they have lots of computers and discussion rooms for their academic community.  Most of their printed collections are kept in the Faculty libraries located in various buildings within the campus.  Another interesting fact: Games Room: where their students can play XBox 360.  I wanted to check it out but unfortunately the place was closed during the visit.


Managing user questions using cloud services: KAUST library experience

iMacMy paper for the previous Special Libraries Association / Arabian Gulf Chapter (SLA / AGC) 2017 has been uploaded to our university library’s repository.  Here’s the link to the full paper.  It (paper) outlined the tasks undertaken to implement our virtual reference tool (LibAnswers) as well as the challenges faced.

One of the benefits that we reaped after implementing this:

  • Eliminate chaos in tracking, replying and monitoring all questions coming via email / online forms
  • Better statistics management
  • Tagging feature
  • Public-Facing FAQ website for our users

Moving forward, we are taking a look at implementing the Ref Analytics feature.

Presenting@Library conferences in Gulf region

Communication Week's sketchnotehttps://flic.kr/p/noKt5w

I read an interesting article on Presenting at your first conference by Michelle DeAizpurua.  It appeared on International Librarians Network.  In her article, she gave several pointers on presenting at conferences:

  • start small
  • go local
  • take every opportunity
  • Don’t assume you have nothing to share

It got me thinking about own experience presenting at library conferences in the gulf region.  I’ve presented at 2 Special Library Association Arabian Gulf Chapter (SLA-AGC) conferences so far: Muscat, Oman 2011 and Doha, Qatar 2014.  Both brought back many beautiful memories of the people I met as well as the picturesque natural beauties of the countries.  Below are the links to my papers:

I’d like to share a few things (with regards to the conference / presentation):

  • Come prepared and be ready to make adjustments
    I won’t dwell on how to give presentations but if you have emailed your presentation slides, do also come with file back-ups in USBs, dropbox or external hard disk – just in case.
  • Do not miss the conference exhibition.  It’s an opportunity to network with other vendors and publishers.
  • Check out the pre-conference workshops: I have attended several and obtained valuable information from attending them. (esp on license agreements).
  • Explore the chance to collaborate with fellow librarians in the Gulf Region.  There are interesting research topics to work on.
  • Take the time to visit the local libraries and speak with fellow librarians.  Note that this would take prior planning as you will need to contact the libraries first.  Getting the opportunity to visit the libraries would provide valuable information to see firsthand of how things are done and provide insights on the similarities or differences between libraries.
  • Snap pictures; lots of them. (but obey the photo-taking regulations in the country).

Muscat, Oman 2011

Muscat, Oman 2011

Frozen in DC

I attended the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI) conference in Washington DC 2016. Stayed at Capital Hilton which was quite near the White House. Weather wise: Freezing cold but no snow.  Flight in was good with no delays.

Before the conference started, I had the chance to discover DC.  But due to time constraint, I only managed to walk to the White House and the nearby streets.  It was not like in 2010 ALA conference where I had the chance to visit the mall and the nearby Library of Congress.  One incident which I won’t forget is the hotel evacuation due to a fire incident sometime during 4 am.  It was freezing cold.  Had to stand with the others in the streets, watching the Fire Brigade or Battalion in action.  However, the hotel informed us that we could wait in the nearby hotel lobbies or chill@Starbucks.

Back to the conference stuff.  There was a bunch of interesting project briefings given by various universities.  The ones that I attended were:

  • Research Software Preservation/Sharing
  • Cost of Open Access: Pay it Forward
  • Scholars@Cornell: Visualizing Scholarly Record
  • Expanding Research Data Services
  • The Future of Finding at Oxford
  • Institutional Learning Analytics

Below are some of the CNI conference videos:

The Cost of Open Access to Journals: Pay It Forward Project Findings from CNI Video Channel on Vimeo.

Makerspaces, Virtual Reality, The Internet of Things at alia Stories from CNI Video Channel on Vimeo.

In the nutshell: It was my maiden conference for CNI.  I found it useful as there was a lot of takeaways as well as insights topics new to me.  Given my interests in Web Discovery and Virtual Reference, there were several briefings that caught my attention.  One of which was “The Future of Finding at Oxford”.  They have published their report online.  It’s very comprehensive, outlining their aims, objectives, project methodology and related matters.  (I am still reading this).

I also googled for previous CNI briefings in Youtube and discovered an interesting talk on Virtual Reference:

One more thing: I should have listened to my wife on bringing just a few clothes for the conference (I was there for about 4.5 days). The custom officers were looking at my ‘huge’ luggage and decided to take at look at it.  Out came the Nescafe coffee bottle, sugar sticks, 4 sweaters, biscuits and so forth.  Before clearing me, the officer commented that I should be well insulated during my stay there 🙂