Collection development strategies for online aggregated databases

Susan McMullen
Patricia B. M. Brennan
Joanna M. Burkhardt
Marla Wallace

Document Type Article


Before 1990 few library materials were available in electronic format. Most libraries did not have Collection Development Policies specific to the electronic format, simply because they were not needed. Today, it is common to find electronic materials in library collections. The exponential growth in the number of items available in electronic format, and the acquisition of those materials in libraries has created a need for collection policies that address both the format and the contents of electronic materials. Creating policies for some of these materials has been problematic. Some types of materials have become less popular due to changes in available technology. Some types of materials present difficulties due to the changing nature of their contents. One type of electronic information that has proven troublesome for Collection Development interests is online aggregated databases. Content of aggregated databases may change without notice. Titles included in the aggregation may or may not be suitable to every collection. Publishers are driven by the market value of the product, rather than its research value for scholars. Yet aggregated databases are a reality for the foreseeable future and libraries must plan a strategy for their collection. Evaluation of this type of material should consider: breadth and depth of coverage, quality of indexing, usability—including screen design and ease of searching, ability to customize, delivery options, accessibility, availability of statistical data, value added features such as cross-linking, and quality of support. Methodology for evaluation should include an analysis of user needs, analysis of vendor policies and standards, and analysis of the content quality and quantity of the database. It is helpful to use worksheets and checklists that allow easy visual comparisons to be made among competing products, and to insure that all vital concerns are addressed. In 1999 members of Rhode Island’s HELIN consortium created and used such worksheets and checklists to conduct in an in-depth study and comparison of selected aggregated databases. The HELIN project, and a comparable project conducted at the University of Hawaii-Monoa, are described as examples of a methodology that can be adapted by other libraries.