To help the SafeNet project team gain a better understanding of user needs, exploratory interviews were carried out with 19 serials librarians between the 19th of January and the 6th of March 2015.
As reported in an earlier post, Jisc Collections carried out a survey of its membership in order to understand the post cancellation access needs of the UK HE community. Part of the drive to do this came from earlier consultations with selected NESLi2 publishers. During these discussions it was clear that, for there to be buy-in on behalf of the publishing community, demand for a service based on the SafeNet project from UK HE library community would need to be demonstrated.
The interviews also provided the basis for the identification of 9 distinct personas. The personas do not represent real individuals; they are composites of common themes identified during the interviews. These will be used to assist the project team in being mindful of the audience for the final service and identifying their needs in relation to perpetual access.
The interviews provided an opportunity to find out what concerns and particular pain points librarians experience in relation to perpetual access. The earlier PECAN project identified that, despite existing external service providers offering long term digital preservation services, there are still concerns from the community about continuing access that require improvement and investment. The SafeNet project team specifically wanted to explore user needs in relation to these concerns and how the potential service components of SafeNet could address these issues.
All interviewees noted that their main goal was for users to experience seamless access to content and, should access be lost, to rectify it as quickly as possible. The quantity of journal content available electronically to libraries means that pro-actively checking access to all subscribed material is not practical. Library staff reported that they have to be reactive to access issues when notified by users and this can give a poor impression of their service. Many interviewees indicated that users don’t always see the distinction between the library catalogue and the content provider which is often reflected in NSS and LibQUAL surveys.
Institutional engagement with the issue of post cancellation access (PCA) varied. In some cases a ‘belt and braces’ approach had been taken with institutions participating in both LOCKSS and Portico. In others there were no library-side arrangements and PCA was left to publisher provision.
Record keeping in relation to entitlements also varied. There were similarities in terms of storing physical and digital copies of licences but strategies for making this information usefully available ranged from using the library management system to spreadsheets to nothing at all.
A common theme throughout the interviews was the time constraints library staff face. It was not uncommon for interviewees to report that correspondence with publishers was often protracted and required significant investment of time to provide evidence to support assertions. Again, record keeping was an issue here. In one specific case it was reported that entitlement claims were not pursued because the library was unlikely to have the evidence to hand and the staff time spent investigating the loss of access would outweigh the cost of an inter-library loan.
Several interviewees reported that assurance of PCA was most pressing when moving from a print and electronic subscription to e-only. The SafeNet service, offering a level of national resilience for content, was viewed positively in this scenario as it was common for interviewees to report that they continued to receive print journals in conjunction with the e-version to act as an archive should the subscription be cancelled and electronic access lost. Many stated that these print copies were never made available to users. The proposed SafeNet archive was also welcomed by librarians who had experience of PCA clauses being fulfilled on CD-ROMs or hard drives but who lacked the local infrastructure to provide access to this content for their users.
Overall it was clear from the discussions that there was enthusiasm from librarians about the SafeNet project. The sense that it would save time and provide a centralised, authoritative source of entitlements should access — either current or post cancellation — become a problem, was viewed positively. The national infrastructure was seen as an extremely useful step on the road to providing more robust perpetual access to content which had been paid for.
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