Digital Collections Engagement – How Can Publishers Help?

November 1, 2019 Dominic Broadhurst

old, hand-written letters and framed portraitWhat Do We Mean by Digital Collections?

It’s no surprise that most new content hitting academic libraries, such as journals, articles, archives, and primary resources are now digital. Using primary resources has always been an important part of scientific enquiry, yet there is a growing need for access to archival material. So, what are the major digital archives offered on a commercial basis by publishers, and why is using archival resources important?

Alongside this, I will also be discussing how academics, librarians and publishers can work together at embedding and extending the reach of the archive to as wide an audience as possible.  It is equally important to measure and analyse both the level of engagement undertaken, but also crucially the impact of this engagement

Why Are Digital Archives Important?

There are three important reasons why this form of engagement with digital collections is vital for a library:

  • To facilitate the exploitation of digital collections for teaching, learning, research and digital scholarship;
  • To stimulate a greater level of engagement from users;
  • To achieve a greater return on investment from our digital resources;

The Role of Academics

Before I turn to the contribution publishers can make, let’s reflect on the role of other crucial stakeholders in what is very much a partnership with publishers.  Namely, the academics who often initiate the demand and request for a digital collection.  The library should always insist on these particular requirements from the academic, especially where we’re looking at a significant financial cost to our institutions

  • They should embed a link to the resource (or give permission for the Library to embed a link) on relevant course unit reading lists or on the VLE;                                                     
  • They should actively promote the resource to students, teaching staff and researchers via relevant communication channels (lecture slides, e-mail, social media, VLE);
  • They should provide qualitative feedback to the Library on how the resource has been used in teaching or research;

The Role of the Library

The Library also has a central role to play in all this, including:

  • Collaboration with academics to assess potential demand levels and usage potential across the University and to create a robust business case for acquisition
  • Working with publishers to ensure any acquisition is financially sustainable and meets the needs of the student, academics and other stakeholders
  • Facilitating and driving engagement through innovative engagement methods, then analyzing subsequent reach and usage
  • Crucially coordinating all activities to make the above happen!

The Role of the Publisher

In terms of what publishers can offer beyond the supply of premium quality content, and indeed what we need to ensure acquisition and subsequent high-value use, there are really four key elements post-acquisition that publishers could and should deliver, often framed as a series of questions,


  • Is there an overlap of content with existing resources? Is the publisher able to provide an overlap analysis to identify unique content?
  • Can we use images from the resource for promotion of the resource?
  • What level of resource promotion can the publisher provide in terms of effective marketing collateral, participation at library hosted sessions and/or teaching sessions?                              


While it may be stating the obvious, our students and academics need to find and source the content quickly and seamlessly via our discovery systems, otherwise, resource engagement and usage will wither on the vine.  These are a typical representation of what’s needed;

For many academic libraries, the authentication requirements often required are;

  •          IP recognition
  •          EZproxy
  •          Shibboleth

For the interface three summary questions are valuable,

  •          If the content is available from more than one vendor, which interface do we prefer?
  •          Does it work on the latest versions of all web browsers?
  •          Does it work on a tablet and mobile devices?


What access restrictions are there if any?  For example, what’s the number of concurrent users, locations, and affiliated users (e.g. Alumni. partner institutions or programmes, overseas campuses)


As we all know, effective discovery is frequently reliant on quality metadata.  Too often, guarantees of quality metadata at the time of acquisition are unfulfilled, leading to poor discovery and frustration from users, extra work for library staff, and lack of potential future sales for a publisher!

In addition to the usual metadata criteria for vendors communicated at the acquisition stage for digital collections the following is advised:

  • Bibliographic metadata records should be created in the MARC 21 Format for Bibliographic Data
  • The preference is for RDA-compliant MARC records, however, AACR2 or hybrid records are acceptable as long as consistent standards have been followed
  • Records must be supplied with a secure URL or DOI for online access. Where EZ Proxy cannot be set up for off-site authentication purposes, an alternative form of institutional authentication should be built into the URL-string
  • Sample record-sets sent for appraisal prior to purchase, particularly where there is an additional cost for the records, are also preferable.

Additional criteria should be given for collections that contain audio-visual streaming media, as there are additional metadata elements required for correctly cataloguing these types of e-resources to ensure correct display

The message to publishers is that it’s not just about the content, it’s about the whole package on offer.  From there, it’s a partnership between libraries, publishers and our academic colleagues to drive student and researcher engagement with our digital collections and ultimately prove the value of the acquisition.


About the Author

Dominic Broadhurst

Head of Content & Discovery, University of Salford Library

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