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Love's Labour's Lost: The Failure of Traditional Selection Practice in the Acquisition of Humanities Electronic Texts.


THE LIBRARY LITERATURE FROM THE LATE nineteenth century to the present offers numerous rational well-intentioned guides to the selection of materials. Yet, collection development policies and lists of selection criteria are inadequate for humanities electronic texts. Libraries, humanities disciplines, and electronic texts are too complex for any rigid approach to acquisition. In order to meet goals and satisfy users, libraries must abandon traditional practices and adopt new ones for these resources.


Bibliographic databases have the universal appeal of collecting scholarly knowledge and providing quick electronic retrieval with powerful search interlaces--users no longer search page after page, volume after volume, of title after title. Electronic journals have the universal appeal of desktop delivery--users no longer make trips to the library to photocopy or read articles. Full-text article databases (EBSCO's Academic Search Elite, Bell & Howell's ProQuest, Lexis-Nexis' Academic Universe, etc.) have the same universal appeal plus instant gratification during bibliographic searches--users no longer search journal titles in OPACs and then head to the stacks to photocopy articles. Electronic texts, on the other hand, do not offer such universal appeal and so are not easy purchase decisions for collection development librarians. Librarians typically use collection development policies and standardized lists of selection criteria to make or break purchase decisions (Norman, 1997). However, this rational approach fails when applied to humanities electronic texts, because these resources appeal to small user groups with idiosyncratic needs and varied levels of technological competence.

This article, using a definition by Hockey (1994), defines an electronic text, or e-text, as "primary source material in the humanities rather than journals and reference works. Such texts may be literary works (prose, verse, drama), historical papers, letters and memoranda, charters, papyri, inscriptions" (p. 677). Outside the scope of this article are digital libraries created in-house--e.g., those at the University of Iowa (Dewey & Hughes, 1999) and Emory University (Spornick, 1998)--because these databases employ varied media, emphasize archive creation over use, and are primarily important to local or regional users. This article also excludes from discussion public domain e-texts such as those of Oxford Text Archive, Perseus Project, and Project Gutenberg,(1) because these resources pose other problems unrelated to acquisitions. Thus, this article focuses on commercial products such as Chadwyck-Healey's English Verse Drama.

The history of selection theory over the past century is quite consistent, whether considering books or the newer media of microforms, audiovisual materials, and electronic resources. A review of the library literature from the late nineteenth century to present yields several basic criteria categories relevant to humanities electronic texts, including price, demand and use, library infrastructure, and product interface. Each criterion will fail when applied to e-texts. Instead, libraries must develop new flexible acquisition methods if they are to fulfill their mission and if they are to satisfy their clientele.


Much of today's discussion on the selection of electronic resources derives from earlier treatises on the selection of printed materials. For example, in his evaluation of Web sites, Rettig (1996) employs Stevens' (1986) criteria for reference book evaluation: accuracy, appropriateness, arrangement, authority, bibliography, comparability, completeness, content, distinction, documentation, durability, ease-of-use, illustrations, index, level, reliability, revisions, and uniqueness. Because of the reliance today on earlier scholarship, a brief review of book selection is first offered followed by a review of electronic resources selection.

Selection Criteria for Printed Materials

Evans (1995) provides the best summary of major selection theories. Yet, because it was not his intention to be comprehensive, he omits several earlier works. These lacunae are filled here. Clarke (1971) discusses early modern European writings on selection and illustrates that today's principles of meeting user needs and providing breadth of subject coverage in academic libraries derive from the sixteenth century. The first American statement on selection criteria was made by Frederick Morgan Crunden (1894), who continues the early European doctrine: "[W]e try to provide the books that people want--not those we think they ought to read" (p. 41). Crunden qualifies this statement in the following paragraph, however, stating that some user-recommended titles are not purchased because of poor quality, limited interest in the subject across the community, or price. Although Crunden's goal was to give equal weight to each of his reasons for non-selection, it is cost which haunts his entire paper. Eight times the financial issue crept into his paper, from comments on selection "mistakes" being a "waste of money," to the lament of inadequately small book budgets, to the cancellation of multiple subscriptions (pp. 41-42). A literature scholar could psychoanalyze Crunden's fixation on price or perhaps speculate on early childhood dominance by a thrifty mother who never let him buy penny candies from the corner druggist! Price fixation is indeed a real malady from which the literature suffers--nearly every work on selection criteria since Crunden features it, including the literature on the selection of electronic resources.

Two often overlooked early articles on selection are those by Mary Salome Cutler (1895) and Charles Ammi Cutter (1901). Cutler emphasizes "sympathy with the popular taste" (p. 339), avoidance of comprehensiveness in subjects and authors, and regard to balance of subjects. Cutter takes a similar stand as he proposes that the library acquire quality books which best meet the needs of the community. Finally, the first substantial American work on selection was by Elva Bascom (1915). She lists numerous criteria, including support of both continuing and formal education, meeting community interests, breadth of subject coverage (funds permitting, of course), quality, usage, selection in spite of fads or negativity, and representative as opposed to comprehensive coverage.

Evans (1979) summarizes later monographs by McColvin (1925); Bostwick (1929); Drury (1930); Bonny (1939); Haines (1950); Ranganathan (1952); Broadus (1973); Carter, Bonk, and Magrill (1974); and Spiller (1974). In his third edition (1995), Evans updates Broadus (1981), Curley an d Broderick (1985), and Spiller (1986), and adds Katz (1980), Gardner (1981), and Wortman (1989). Because the concepts put forth in these books later were modified for selection of electronic resources, it is necessary to duplicate some of Evans's effort by summarizing Katz, whose work is representative of the group as a whole as well as being a standard text on selection. Katz (1980) presents ten evaluation criteria for academic print materials: (1) purpose, scope, and audience; (2) difficulty; (3) authority, honesty, and credibility of author and publisher; (4) subject matter; (5) comparison; (6) timeliness; (7) format; (8) price; (9) curriculum support; and (10) demand (pp. 91-97).

Selection Criteria for Electronic Resources

The literature on selection of electronic resources begins in the mid-1980s with the introduction of CD-ROMs into libraries and moves to Internet resource selection in the late 1990s. This section reviews, in chronological order, unique contributions to the selection literature, and concludes with a summary of the few treatments of humanities e-text selection. The library literature includes scores more works on the selection of electronic resources; however, those concerned with selection criteria contribute nothing to the topic, as they merely duplicate earlier work and thus only offer "words, words, words."(2)

Among the earliest statements on selection of electronic resources are those concerning automated systems. For example, Matthews (1980) recommends comparing products by using least total cost evaluation and by interviewing librarians using various systems. Additionally, in his appendixes, Matthews provides lists of features common to the integrated system modules of acquisitions, OPAC, cataloging, circulation, and serials control. Price, common to the selection of printed materials, now joins the checklist approach offered by Matthews as standard features in selection literature. For example, Hegarty (1983) both analyzes cost and provides checklists of hardware features and vendor responsibilities.

With the proliferation of CD-ROMs in the mid-1980s, published selection criteria for electronic resources likewise proliferate. Helgerson (1986) compares features in twelve information retrieval software packages, including Boolean operators, nesting, wildcards, record display and output, user-definable stopwords, and saving and re-executing search strategies. Helgerson does not address selection, but later articles incorporated her listed features into their own discussions of selection. The first article on CD-ROM acquisition was by Strauss (1986). She discusses nine issues: selection, hardware and supplies, acquisition and cataloging, installation location, staff, level of service, circulation, copyright and licensing, and cooperation with units external to the library. Strauss addresses the need for a collection-development policy to account for electronic resources. She proposes that either the existing policy be revised or that a new one be created specifically for technology. Pre-selection, according to Strauss, takes into account the product's hardware needs, compatibility with the library's existing hardware, and the potential need for additional search software. The bulk of her article asks questions of selection protocol: who selects the product; what budgets are used; and what units acquire, process, catalog, house, and maintain the product. Strauss also details continuing costs of maintenance and supplies, staff training and user education, and the ability of the library's physical space to accommodate technology. Strauss also covers circulation, licensing and copyright, and the coordinated acquisition of electronic resources with campus computing units.

Herther's (1986) article, appearing shortly after Strauss, covers much of the same ground. Herther furnishes discussion on goals, environment, and product demonstrations. According to Herther, libraries should examine a product's benefit in electronic form, its impact on users, and its fulfillment of the library's mission. Regarding environment, the library ought to consider a product's physical requirements of hardware, physical space, furniture, remodeling, and electrical outlets. Also, she suggests that libraries first evaluate vendors and then schedule demonstrations. After reading independent reviews, trade press comments, and market analyses to learn more about CD-ROMs, libraries should make a checklist of questions to ask during vendor demonstrations. Herther suggests the evaluation criteria of ability for and cost of multiple users; information retrieval speed; controlled vocabulary, field indexing, and authority and journal lists; online help, quality of documentation, and training options; interface user friendliness; customer references; and service contracts.

The next important publication was the guide of the Machine-Assisted Reference Section (MARS) (1987). In three dense pages, the committee covers four broad areas: needs assessment, administrative issues (service, staff, price, and vendors), and product evaluation. This last category provides extensive selection criteria, divided by software and hardware. Unique among their software criteria are log-on features; menus, commands, and function keys; limiting and proximity searching; contextual highlighting of search terms; and interruption of search process. Unique among their hardware criteria are multiple-purpose usage; portability; and display of color and non-Roman characters.

Strauss, Herther, and MARS cover the most important selection issues. Moreover, two later books by Dickinson (1994) and Bosch, Promis, and Sugnet (1994) synthesize all the issues but break no new ground. The remaining works on electronic resources selection from the 1980s and 1990s add minor, although important, points. For example, Miller (1987) first offers a computer technician's view on CD-ROM acquisition by asking specific hardware and software questions. He begins by stating: "A year from now, I hope, the following notions will seem quaint" (p. 36). Some questions are outdated as technology has evolved, but there is still a need for the technological perspective in selection, and so similar articles continue to be written. Miller covers international standards, error rates, drive sizes, interfaces, and their software drivers. Miller also puts forth vendor reputation and longevity as a selection factor. Graves, King, and Harper (1987) suggest that purchase recommendations be discussed with several library units, including user education, automation, and reference. They also add the issues of update prices, archive disks, database coverage, interface consistency across library databases, and appeal of electronic resources to a wide audience.

Tenopir (1987) broaches the subject of vendors requiring libraries to return superceded disks and the impact this has on access to archived information. In addition, she comments on supplemental online access to updated information, which may entail further costs, as well as the concept of multiple-copy discounts. Stewart (1987) considers collection development and vendor issues. First, bibliographic databases should provide sufficient chronological coverage and timely updates. Next, branch libraries should coordinate acquisition of different databases. Her chief reason to acquire an electronic product is that no print counterpart exists or is held by the library. Finally, Stewart is first to mention vendor technical support during hours the database is likely to be used.

Machovec (1988) promotes use statistics as a selection criterion. He also expands the talk on chronological coverage of databases. He observes the drawback of large databases on CD-ROM, which would require users to frequently change disks. Machovec also points out that the value of older information is relative to academic discipline, and that large magnetic tape backfiles are costly to maintain.

Herther (1988) makes another important contribution to the literature by examining editorial authority and accuracy. She also reintroduces the concept of user satisfaction from the early selection literature, albeit with a 1980s sense of marketing: "If we or our users have significant, inherent interest in the media, the potential shot-in-the-arm to our image may be ample purchase justification" (p. 108). Herther mentions aesthetics by asking if use of color and other artistic qualities are appropriate and valuable.

Littlejohn and Parker (1988) consider both vendors and users. They propose that databases search local serials holdings, and that vendors replace products damaged or lost by users. Most of their article emphasizes post-selection evaluation by users, subject specialists, and reference librarians, all of whom assess a product's value and ease of use and thus together determine its retention.

York (1988) offers two administrative concerns: assured continuation of library funding for a product and insurance and security for it. Intner (1989) changes the topic to software acquisition as opposed to CD-ROMs. She suggests that selection be made on measurable objective criteria--e.g., that searching speed should be evaluated in quantifiable seconds rather than by vague terms like "fast." She also argues that selection processes have flexible requirements, such as in obtaining a designated number of reviews or obtained through specific channels, because rigidity may result in no acquisition. Intner also indicates the usefulness of products offering both novice and advanced search modes. Finally, she advises libraries to look for return and exchange policies from vendors.

The 1980s end without detailed discussion of the technical expertise of staff. It is Reese (1990) who shows that, after acquiring databases, libraries will need staff who know how to create DOS menu screens and batch files and edit config.sys files all in order to provide seamless public access to databases. Johnson (1991) suggests that indexing content, in terms of publication length, needs to be addressed. For example, are notes and reviews indexed or just the articles? Ferguson (1995) advances discussion of the library's mission by using the conspectus to select electronic resources. Finally, Pratt, Flannery, and Perkins (1996) thoroughly address Internet resource selection. They measure content credibility by taking into account peer-review and development by a national organization, academic institution, or company with an established reputation in the subject area. They define relevancy by librarian or user recommendation, by access at peer institutions, and by usage statistics. The authors also add the criterion of resource stability. For example, mirror sites should be available, and downtimes and address changes should be infrequent and announced in advance.

Among the few existing works on humanities e-text evaluation are by Gaunt (1990), Lowry (1992), and Hockey (1994). Gaunt provides a good summary of the history of electronic texts and briefly mentions collection development issues that affect their acquisition. Hockey discusses e-text creation, surveys their diversity and availability, and illustrates their use by, and importance to, humanists. Lowry suggests that librarians evaluate e-texts on text quality, markup (i.e., SGML), delivery medium, software, documentation, and price. She also points out that these categories can also aid librarians in assisting users.


Katz (1980) was quoted above because he best summarizes standard selection criteria for printed materials. He also states: "The ultimate goal of any library is to provide the right book for the right reader at the right time. This is an ancient library creed, and if you substitute `information' or `film' or whatever for `book,' it is as true today as it was many years ago" (p. 12). The problem is that a library's selection criteria can prevent acquisition of materials which users need and want. If standard selection criteria are used to evaluate humanities e-texts, then selection is impossible because e-texts cannot meet many of the most basic, and most significant, criteria. Rigid selection criteria and proscriptive collection development policies are verbal roadblocks that prohibit acquisition. The literature proposes selection criteria both theoretically and practically. Only actual practice was reviewed above. But selection criteria are not merely the tools of individual selectors, they are also codified for entire libraries. Take for example Futas (1995), who excerpts selection criteria from public and academic collection development policies and procedures.

The myriad criteria proposed in the library literature on selection of electronic resources can be broadly categorized as price, demand and use, library infrastructure (including hardware and software requirements, and a library's facilities); and product interface (including functionality and usability). Assuming a proposed e-text acquisition meets valid traditional criteria (supports curriculum and meets community needs), then these newly proposed electronic criteria are the ones which will make or break a selection decision, despite the interests of the library and its users. Monroe (1997) correctly points out that any single criterion can be proven irrelevant for any particular purchase. However, this article proposes that selection criteria for humanities e-texts are categorically invalid and inappropriate. Each of the four newly proposed criteria and the problems they pose for humanities e-texts will be examined in detail below. Solutions to the problems also will be presented.


LaGuardia (1992) wrote: "Chadwyck-Healey has produced some outstanding CD-ROM products we drool over, but we cannot possibly afford the high price tags. Their stuff sails through [selection criteria] numbers one through six but are stopped when it comes to price: only one has made it past seven thus far at my office" (p. 60). LaGuardia is truly an expert on electronic resources given her numerous articles on the subject. Yet during the 1980s and 1990s, she worked at two ARL libraries, the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Harvard--large and wealthy institutions. Cost is irrelevant for many research libraries and some college libraries. Take for example special collections. A scan of the "Acquisitions" section in any issue of College & Research Libraries News reveals various collections, manuscripts, and ephemera. It is safe to say that newsworthy acquisitions came with price tags of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, and that not all of the acquisitions were paid for by private endowments. The admonition in the library literature against acquiring expensive databases becomes particularly absurd when viewed in light of utility: a database, even if for humanities scholars and students, probably will receive far more use than will a special collection. (Perhaps the only real difference between acquiring a manuscript and a Chadwyck-Healey database is that the library keeps the price of the former hidden from the public, whereas the price of the latter often is common knowledge.) Price as a selection criterion is highly subjective and is biased against scholarship and learning. Librarians' definitions of "high price" necessarily vary widely. A librarian's opinion on price directly opposes the invaluable information scholars need. The price criterion thus becomes a censorship tool. If a library can afford to purchase the product, it should purchase the product.

The singling out of Chadwyck-Healey, a brand of the Bell & Howell Company, for high prices has become quite popular in the library literature, humanist discussion groups, and private conversations among faculty and librarians (Shreeves, 1992). LaGuardia does not identify, neither by name nor by type, any Chadwyck-Healey product, but whether bibliographic database or e-text, her argument is indefensible. Reference databases, on the one hand, are expensive regardless of vendor. Moreover, Chadwyck-Healey produces many products at or less than the industry-standard price. For example, site-license annual subscriptions for Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature and Palmer's Index to the Times list for $3,495 and $600 respectively. Compare these with databases such as ERIC and Alternative Press Index (Baltimore: National Information Services Corporation), both of which list for similar prices. Regarding e-texts, on the other hand, often there are no comparative products, as Shreeves (1992) begins to point out. Chadwyck-Healey's Patrologia Latina Database (PLD) is based on Jacques-Paul Migne's 221-oversize-volume Patrologiae Cursus Completus (Paris: Migne, 1844-1855). PLD lists at $45,000, and this so-called high price is because the database was produced by double-keying the original source. CLCLT: CETEDOC Library of Christian Latin Texts (Turnhout: Brepols, 1996) is largely (70 percent) based on their printed series Corpus Christianorum, with the remaining content coming from several other Brepols printed titles, including their edition of Migne. CLCLT lists at only $3,700 because keying was already accomplished in the publishing of the printed editions. PLD's version of the Church fathers is based on early printed and manuscript sources and consists of five CD-ROMs. CLCLT's version is based on modern scholarly editions, and the database consists of two CD-ROMs. Brepols' sales representative at ALA conferences correctly insists that CLCLT is complementary with PLD, not comparable to it. Scholars needing versions from Corpus Christianorum will want CLCLT; scholars needing the original Migne will want PLD. There are other similar products on the market but, again, they are not comparable. The Packard Humanities Institute Latin (PHI) corpus and the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG) provide mostly literary classical Latin and ancient Greek texts respectively on CD-ROM. PHI costs only $125 for a three-year single-user individual or institutional license, and TLG $850 for a five-year single-user institutional license. These figures are relatively low, because private donors subsidized both products. Librarians often lump all four products above into the same category and then chastise Chadwyck-Healey for their price (Shreeves, 1992). This is the classic case of apples and oranges both in terms of the content of the products and in terms of how they were produced.

Prices also become irrelevant when users are concerned. Machovec (1988), borrowing from George Orwell, poses that, if some campus groups are more equal than others, then the library ought to acquire products which satisfy the greatest number of users. Henderson and MacEwan (1997) also support users: "As changes in the research and instructional environment favor digital materials, the library remains relevant by ensuring collections that meet changing classroom and desktop needs. Ultimately, the relevance of the collection lies within its use to the faculty and to the efforts of their students" (p. 489). However, the authors are promoting utilitarianism: "While at one time collection relevance meant acquiring maximum materials for a `just-in-case' scenario, electronic materials are now routinely acquired when they are most heavily, regularly, and generally used by the faculty and students" (p. 490).Johnson (1996) probably holds the same position, as she is not willing to satisfy the individual user: "[Librarians] must take care not to be swayed by promotional promises, individual faculty member demands, or the immediate appeal of a new product" (p. 13).

A single preeminent professor can and should bring about the acquisition of a product or products regardless of price. Individuals do suggest book rifles, and libraries purchase those rifles. Electronic resources should be treated no differently than books, periodicals, or any other materials, as Katz has stated. Ohio State University Libraries (OSUL) acquired PLD, CLCLT, Iter Italicum Accedunt Alia Itinera: A Database of Uncatalogued or Incompletely Catalogued Humanistic Manuscripts of the Renaissance in Italian and Other Libraries (Leiden: Brill, 1995), and In Principio Incipit Index of Latin Texts (Turnhout: Brepols, 1998)--all for the benefit of a world-renowned Latin manuscripts scholar, who inquired very politely about their acquisition. (At other libraries, vociferous professors have brought about the acquisition of expensive databases.) Neither an electronic resources collection development policy nor a list of selection criteria can withstand the faculty juggernaut. Libraries must be mindful of the advice of the selection theories from Crunden to Katz: acquire materials to meet user needs. Libraries must also uphold their missions, which ultimately support users.

Rutledge and Swindler (1987) offer the best use of price tags in the selection process:
 Although many writers include cost as a factor, price is irrelevant to
 making a selection decision as distinct from a purchase decision. We agree
 with Atkinson(3) that "the budget should be viewed not as a criterion for
 selection but rather as an influence upon the relative extent to which
 selection criteria are acted upon." While high cost typically results in
 more care being taken in making the selection decision, the
 priorities--those items that the library must have, should have, or could
 have--do not change in response to budgetary limitations; they remain the
 same, whether money is available or not. (pp. 127-28)

Demand and Use

The six least-used databases in the seventy-six-campus, 500,000-user OhioLINK consortium(4) for fiscal year 1998-1999 are all Chadwyck-Healey magnetic tape loads running Open Text's Web software: Eighteenth-Century Fiction (1,134 searches), Editions and Adaptations of Shakespeare (1,739), English Verse Drama (2,266), English Prose Drama (2,294), The Bible in English (4,898), and African-American Poetry, 1760-1900 (6,300). Compare these to the six most-used OhioLINK databases over the same period: Periodical Abstracts (1,657,831 searches), MEDLINE (1,507,738), Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe (1,005,834), PsychINFO (680,007), ERIC (468,914), and ABI/Inform Global (461,888). Many libraries factor potential use into their acquisitions decisions on electronic resources. Others, such as Jackson, King, and Kellough (1988), make demand their sole criterion. OhioLINK considers potential use. In order to satisfy the large number of English literature students and faculty statewide, OhioLINK acquired Chadwyck-Healey's English and American literary databases. It is for this same reason that Chadwyck-Healey's French, German, and Latin titles have not been purchased--there are far fewer foreign language students and faculty statewide to justify the expenditure. However, OSUL's usage of PLD for the same period is 2,209 searches and usage of American and French Research on the Treasury of the French Language (ARTFL) (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1981) for the first eight months of 1999 totaled 2,220 searches--figures which are higher than, or approximate to, OhioLINK's English-language Chadwyck-Healey databases.

Potential use is a poor criterion for the selection of any academic library resource. We need only think of the Pittsburgh Study (Kent, 1979) or of Trueswell's (1969) 80/20 ratio to see the inadequacy of use as a factor in selection decisions--most of what academic libraries purchase simply receive little use, and this is the raison d'etre of academic libraries. A library cannot predetermine the unknown: there is no way to ascertain how many users will search a database. Instead, a library can monitor database use after acquisition, evaluate the benefit to users, and then the library can decide on retention. For example, Chadwyck-Healey offers annual subscriptions to its e-texts. Instead of buying PLD outright for $45,000, a library can subscribe at $3,995 (a price which is much less than many bibliographic database subscriptions). If the database receives little or no use, or if the use it receives is of no benefit to users, then the library can cancel the subscription. In the case of OSUL, several thousand queries each for PLD and ARTFL were deemed significant, and too the benefit of the products to dozens of faculty and students. The libraries thus have fulfilled their primary goal of providing research materials for their users.

Yet, what if electronic resources are not demanded by humanities scholars, as is often the case? Bibliographers certainly do not wait for faculty to request the latest monographs. The request may be a long time in coming, as most scholars today interact little with their librarians. Moreover, faculty traditionally are reluctant to use electronic resources, as has been shown by Franklin (1993); Massey-Burzio (1999); Shaw and Davis (1996); Siegfried, Bates, and Wilde (1993); Stern (1988); and Wiberley and Jones (1994). Undergraduates also need to be served. Bibliographers at academic libraries usually do not have collection responsibilities for undergraduate studies, and students are more reluctant than faculty to suggest library purchases. The library must keep students' interests in mind when considering e-text acquisitions. Shreeves (1992) provides another scenario of powerful senior faculty Luddite library liaisons who thwart their junior colleagues' efforts to get the library to purchase electronic texts. If e-resources are on the market, and there exists interest in the subject matter, then the library ought to acquire the resource, despite the lack of a formal purchase request.

A 1996 OSUL survey of faculty revealed that a majority of respondents rated as "very important" (5 on the Likert scale) to their research printed journals (84 percent), printed books (60 percent), and electronic bibliographic databases (57 percent), whereas Internet resources and electronic books received 38 percent and 13 percent respectively. Receiving the greatest number of "not at all important" (1 on the Likert scale) responses were audio recordings (51 percent), video recordings (45 percent), and microforms (32 percent). Another question asked faculty to choose the three most important material types or services for which they preferred the library to allocate money. The responses to this question are similar to the former: printed journals (76 percent), printed books (66 percent), and electronic bibliographic databases (41 percent); Internet resources and electronic books received 12 percent and 4 percent respectively. Receiving the fewest votes were library instruction, course reserves, audio and video recordings (2 percent each), and microforms (1 percent). Because the 1996 survey asked faculty to project over a three-year period, this author presented these same two survey questions to humanities faculty and graduate students in 1999 to see if attitudes have changed or if humanities scholars held different opinions than the academic community as a whole. The results are similar: rated as "very important" to their research were printed books (95 percent), printed journals (82 percent), and electronic bibliographic databases (59 percent), whereas Internet resources and e-texts received 36 percent and 6 percent respectively. Receiving the greatest number of "not at all important" responses were audio recordings (53 percent), electronic books (47 percent), and video recordings (39 percent). The other question asked faculty and graduate students to choose the three most important material types or services for which they preferred the library to allocate money. The responses to this question are similar to the former and to the first group: printed books (82 percent), printed journals (77 percent), interlibrary loan (33 percent); electronic bibliographic databases, Internet resources, and electronic journals received 19 percent, 4 percent, and 3 percent respectively. Receiving no votes at all were e-texts, FAX delivery to office, library instruction, and course reserves. The survey shows that humanities faculty and graduate students are more reluctant than the faculty as a whole to use electronic resources, especially full-text databases. Although the French faculty and students predominantly rated electronic books as "not at all important" or "not important" (2 on the Likert scale), nonetheless this group has been using the ARTFL database. Furthermore, the Classics faculty and students also predominantly ranked electronic books as "not at all important" or "not important" despite the fact that the discipline is among the most wired in the humanities and has been using electronic texts for several decades. Moreover, when OSUL purchased Chadwyck-Healey's Acta Sanctorum, this author announced the pending acquisition to the Classics faculty and graduate students. Several individuals replied asking to be notified when the database was mounted on the Web so that they could begin using it. No one in the department had ever requested the database's acquisition. Furthermore, the Classics department does not have anyone who works on the topic of saints' lives--those scholars mostly reside in the history and medieval studies programs (the definition of "classics" ends in the early fourth century). Perceived use indeed makes a poor selection criterion.

Usage statistics also can be misleading and incorrectly applied in decision-making. Townley and Murray (1999) studied database use at six southwestern universities. They observed that usage does not fit any predictable pattern. For instance, resources are used very differently at different institutions. Database usage at one institution may be similar to usage at another institution for one database and very dissimilar for another database. The authors also observed that usage is positively related to length of availability: the longer a database has been available, the more likely it is to be used. Townley and Murray also found that user education positively affects use. Some libraries have been reluctant to acquire humanities e-texts because of low use at peer institutions (a variant of the perceived use criterion), and Townley and Murray show the fault of this approach. Most importantly, their study shows that a library's persistence with and promotion of electronic resources will eventually pay off. Willett (1998) reports much the same--i.e., patience and marketing bring about slow but steady interest in e-texts by scholars.

Library Infrastructure

The compatibility of hardware and software, and the existence of space, furniture, Ethernet, and so on only are significant insofar as the library wants to provide a database standalone in-house or via a network. For several years, OSUL bibliographers could not justify e-text purchases because the criterion of library infrastructure could not be met. In some cases, many of the proposed acquisitions could not be networked due to a lack of staff or technology. The library took a rational public services position in their promotion of networked, not standalone, electronic resources. This stance makes sense in light of bibliographic databases, because it is in the users' interests to have wide-area multiple-user access. In other cases, the product's platform was the problem. OSUL does not support Apple Macintosh, for example. Even if a library lacks infrastructure, it can still provide e-resources. This is especially true with CD-ROMs which can be offered to users on a circulation basis. At OSUL, e-texts on CD-ROM circulate to OSU patrons for three days, no renewals. Among the circulating humanities products are CLCLT, In Principio, Iter Italicum, and Letteratura Italiana Zanichelli (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1995). In the near future, OSUL will acquire a number of other full-text foreign-language CD-ROMs. Of course, there are several problems with circulating e-resources. Web-based products and spools of magnetic tape cannot circulate. License agreements also could prevent circulation due to the threat

of copyright violation. Another problem is potential loss, damage, or theft. At OSUL, this is a concern but has not been a problem. The aforementioned CD-ROM's range in price from $300 to $5,000, which is the same price paid for a number of monograph sets, and even some single volumes, in the circulating collections. OSUL experiences loss and damage of printed materials but has not for e-texts. Another problem is that users need to know about the availability of circulating CD-ROMs. Most users expect to see electronic resources on database menu screens or on standalone workstations in the reference department, not at the circulation desk. Most libraries today catalog their electronic resources and provide lists of products on their home page, but this is not enough. Circulation of CD-ROMs needs to be widely advertised by the library generally, and bibliographers who select the products will have to market the new service to their clientele. Public libraries have had a great deal of success with circulating CD-ROM collections, and academic libraries can build on their experience (Lubelski, 1995; Shirinian & Nicholls, 1997).

Under the heading of infrastructure can be included user education. Support for the plethora of electronic resources plagues libraries. Most libraries with large collections of electronic resources probably fail to provide adequate support. Indeed, the library should have an obligation to provide support for the products it networks, and users expect this. By circulating CD-ROMs, the library admits that it cannot provide support, but this does not remove the library's obligation to provide some level of support. There are a few solutions to this problem. First, by circulating products, the library can also offer the product's documentation via circulation as well. Vendor documentation normally is not provided with networked or standalone resources, so users will actually benefit from this new service. This commercial material can be supplemented with in-house guides. Second, a number of academic libraries have distributed support for electronic resources throughout the library staff by developing contact lists, whereby subject specialists and foreign language speakers can join reference librarians in offering user assistance. A problem with these contact lists is that the designated experts are not standing at the reference desk when users need help. The individuals could be at lunch, in a meeting, or on leave. Yet, humanities e-texts often are the kind of research tool that will be used over a long period. Bibliographic databases and full-text article databases, on the other hand, need to be used quickly by students and faculty to meet paper deadlines. Users of humanities e-texts, then, if they require a librarian's assistance in using a circulating product, may be able to wait for the librarian to become available.

There are also cases when the existing library infrastructure inhibits research. For example, some data files on CD-ROM are not bundled with search software. Two examples are PHI and TLG. Several software packages exist for these two databases and vary in quality. Some individuals strongly prefer one package to another, and some users go so far as to find alternative access to the databases, often at other academic institutions. In another case, a professor recently alerted this author to one product that searches the English, Greek, Hebrew, and Latin Bibles bundled on PHI (all of which are ASCII), but not the bulk of the CD, the Latin literary texts. Inquiries with the software vendor confirmed the inadequacy of the product.


Functionality and ease of use often are not factors in any selection decision, despite being promoted in the library literature as essential criteria. Lexis-Nexis' old text-based interface was terrible for users and library staff. The arcane "dot" commands and the need to select "library" and "file" ciphers made the database extremely difficult to use and required enormous time on the part of library staff to train users. The interface notwithstanding, libraries continued to subscribe to the service because it was unique and invaluable and users wanted it. SilverPlatter's UNIX-SPIRS is another example of a difficult interface for users to master, although librarians and trained users find it extremely powerful.

A prescribed list of features is inappropriate in the selection process, even if proposed specifically for humanities e-texts. Lowry (1992) and others insist on SGML tagging of texts; nevertheless, several e-texts are quite successful without SGML: PHI, TLG, and ARTFL. Tradeoffs should also be taken into account. For instance, PLD on CD-ROM offers a number of features absent in the Web version, such as the ability to search Hebrew and Greek words. OSUL users were willing to accept lack of functionality for the speed and availability of networked access. Finally, humanities e-texts cannot be held to the same standard as bibliographic databases. If an e-text's search software lacks features such as limiting or truncation, it may still have some value to a scholar. Humanists, after all, are and will be long accustomed to the printed book. The end user and the librarian together need to evaluate product interfaces, and ultimately the end user's opinion should be the selection criterion.


Traditional selection criteria have served the profession well for a century but, since the introduction of electronic resources, criteria have hindered selection. Librarians cannot abandon general collection development policies, because these are valuable for a number of reasons--e.g., defining the mission, establishing acquisitions protocol, ranking priorities, promoting development, and confronting complaints. But librarians must devise new selection methods for humanities e-texts. Hazen (1995) first suggested that traditional collection-development policies are no longer needed, and that, instead, libraries need flexible documents to account for the interdisciplinary multimedia research of today's scholarship. A new model incorporating Hazen's ideas will help selectors acquire the e-texts their constituency will need and use.

To be successful, Hazen's model requires that academic libraries have qualified full-time subject specialists who know evolving disciplines and the needs of their curricula and individual users. Monroe (1997) also calls for greater reliance on full-time subject specialists. He points out that, because budgets are limited while publishing output ever increases, libraries need experts to make the best selection decisions to meet user needs. Monroe's comments are even more apt today as electronic resources proliferate and compete with books, periodicals, and services for the same budget. Part-time or unqualified bibliographers may do more harm than good when selecting electronic resources. Starkweather and Wallin (1999) report on faculty who feel that selectors know more about technology than the subject itself. The faculty desire a greater amount of subject and language expertise on the part of their librarians. The authors are not, however, reporting that faculty do not want to use electronic resources, but rather that they need more assistance from librarians in learning how to use technology in the context of their own research. Willett (1998) and Massey-Burzio (1999) report much the same. Willett urges librarians to demonstrate to humanities faculty the utility of electronic texts. Massey-Burzio goes further and invites campus technology centers to demonstrate resources to faculty on a one-to-one basis.

E-texts are important to humanities teaching and scholarship. To meet the needs of users, librarians both must know the technology and know their users. They also must not let traditional artificial methods stand in the way of making the right selection decision. If new flexible policies and procedures are arbitrary, let them be so. Because the library profession is based on rational organization and thought, there will be neither irrational selection decisions nor inequality among user groups as a result of flexible methods. The bulk of acquisitions will continue to be made based on standard criteria and guided by traditional collection policy statements. But the utilitarian selection principle these documents embody cannot be allowed to bless most user groups with technological advances while leaving others behind. With reason, there is no "bleeding edge" of technology; with equal attention to individual users, there is no periphery.


(1) See,, and respectively.

(2) Shakespeare, Hamlet, 2:2:192.

(3) The quote is incorrectly attributed to Atkinson, 1984. Subsequent effort on the part of the authors, and this author, has not resulted with identification.

(4) For more information see

(5) Shakespeare, Much ado about Nothing, 4:105.


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Beau David Case, Ohio State University Libraries, Language and Area Studies Department, 1858 Neil Avenue Mall, Columbus, OH 43210-1286

BEAU DAVID CASE is Assistant Professor and Head, Linguistics and European Languages Collections at The Ohio State University, where he serves as librarian to and as lecturer in the College of Humanities. He teaches courses in European languages, literature, and bibliography. Before his current appointment, he held positions at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Indiana University, Bloomington (IU). He has authored works on both library and literary topics and co-edits Reference Reviews Europe Annual. His current research focuses on collection management and on European librarianship.
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Date:Mar 22, 2000
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