German libraries bring disciplines together

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John Murphy discovers why three German libraries have teamed up for document delivery

The online world has come a long way in terms of searching for information. It is sometimes easy to forget that, having found a reference to something that you need, it is not quite so easy to actually get it.

Journal publishers have done an excellent job of digitising their back catalogues but key information is found in all sorts of places, including books, patents and conference proceedings.

The world of document delivery hides a huge amount of complexity. Once you have found somewhere that has what you want and that can supply a copy of the full text, it can be time-consuming to find out who owns the rights to it and arranging licence payments for online delivery.

Three of Germany’s leading libraries have joined forces to try and make such a document delivery service more efficient. TIB (German National Library of Technology and Science, Hannover), ZB MED (German National Library of Medicine, Cologne/Bonn), and ZBW (German National Library of Economics, Kiel/Hamburg) have combined to create a service called Goportis, which went live in April this year.

Each library carries a huge catalogue of both German and international material in its specialist area, but all three can now be searched from the same Goportis portal. This give access to more than 13 million titles (books and journals) as well as articles from more than 51,000 current journals and special collections such as reports, patent documents, conference proceedings and statistics.

Copies of these documents can be ordered and delivered either in paper form or electronically using a digital rights management (DRM) system.

Goportis project manager Robert Strötgen says the three libraries were responding to the wishes of commercial customers who wanted to use a single portal to search – and maintain a single account to pay for documents rather than having to deal individually with three libraries.

He says: ‘The three libraries have very large collections which are unique in the world. ‘They have many overlapping customers. Customers from the automotive industry, for example, may want technical information and economic information. Such customers asked the libraries to bring their collections together.

‘They wanted to have a single supplier, a single bill and a single management system.’

The interface for Goportis is deliberately very simple. Customers can even bypass the search window and go straight to placing their order.

This is because many customers already know exactly what they want because they have found documents of interest using other search services, references or databases. The focus for Goportis is not on searching but on delivering the full-text content.

Simple but complex

Behind this simplicity for the customers, however, there is plenty for the three partner libraries to do. One of the biggest tasks is dealing with copyright and checking if the documents are permitted to be supplied electronically or, at the other extreme, whether particular pieces of grey literature require licensing at all.

‘The copyright law in Germany has changed recently and we have had to do a lot of work to arrange licensing to supply information to customers by email,’ explains Strötgen. ‘We have a copyright agency that deals with copyright for printed material but for electronic delivery and pay-per-view we have to deal with publishers ourselves.’

At present the system is unable to hold details of users’ licensees and subscriptions. Strötgen says Goportis hopes to eventually integrate this functionality so that customers are not charged for content they already have rights to. In the meantime, this type of control is usually exercised by internal systems.

The service has been previewing without the ability to order since December last year. The initial feedback from customers has been very positive and a lot of orders have been received since the first orders were taken in April, according to Strötgen.

Goportis is a not-for-profit organisation and only has to cover its own costs, so it believes it has priced its service at a very competitive level.

‘We have customers from about 80 countries using our service at the moment,’ says Strötgen. ‘Our main advantages are the large collections that are immediately accessible. Bringing the services for technology, medicine and economics together makes this service even quicker to use because they do not have to check three catalogues.’ He added that Goportis contains some literature which is very difficult to find elsewhere, from countries such as China, in addition to German literature.

Goportis is managed by a joint board of its three partner libraries. Each library contributes resources to the development of the common portal, which means it is receiving a greater level of effort than any of them could manage alone. As more customers start using the service, a user group will be formed so that customers can participate in the process of planning improvements. Initially, the priorities are on improving the search facilities and improving the integration of the databases so that there are common rankings. It also wants to expand coverage of pay-per-view documents as well as gaining more licences for email distribution.

Strötgen says: ‘Although we have a board of the three library directors that makes decisions, we do things in a very consensual way with no leading library. The three libraries are developing a new service together and integrating our systems.’

The libraries offer a shared helpline for Goportis and each week a different library takes over this service, which means that the staff have to work together to decide how to do things.

‘This is not just a new service but an integration of our systems, which is going very deep into the institutions,’ he says. ‘The really new thing is that three libraries have brought their service together. We have a lot of new jobs to do because of the changes that are happening in the world. By bringing our services together we have three times the resources to deal with those challenges.’