Digital information resources collection development policy

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The Penn Library was an early adopter of information in electronic form, beginning in 1973 when librarians mediated batch processed searching of remote databases on behalf of patrons. Since that time the number of digitized resources has increased dramatically; full-text and numeric products have appeared, and time-share based services have been followed by CD-ROMs, floppy disks, magnetic tapes and other media for local loading, and access through remote servers via the world-wide web. Digital resources have proven to be essential to the support of scholarship, and the Library provides a selection of them to the University in accordance with programmatic needs, anticipated use and available resources. The purpose of this policy is to establish consistency within the Library in managing this increasingly important part of the collections.

Program information

Scope of this Policy.

This policy covers networked academic digital information resources purchased or leased by the Library on behalf of Penn faculty, students and staff in all schools and libraries except Law (although members of the Law School have access to our digitized information). These resources may be locally loaded or accessed remotely. All are available through the Penn Library web page to authorized users.

This policy does not govern the acquisition of non-networked products, resources networked within a building, instructional software, applications software or software intended for internal library and/or administrative use.

The Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text & Image (SCETI) creates digitized images of some of Penn's rare and/or unique resources. See the SCETI homepage for details. For digitized visual resources in support of art and architecture, see the policy for Collection Development Policy: Fisher Fine Arts Library Image Collection .

General Policies.

Selection of Networked Resources.

The Library purchases or leases high quality digital resources of major value to Penn programs and user groups in accordance with subject collection development policies, and makes available initially a sufficient quantity of data to be useful. The Director for Collection Management and Development facilitates the selection process and consults with other directors, departmental librarians, bibliographers and liaison librarians as appropriate. As with selection in other formats, the Library welcomes suggestions from faculty, students and library staff members.

This is a transition period in the provision of academic information, and the Library's practice varies depending on the type of resource. Reference and indexing and abstracting tools have largely moved to digital formats, and the Library no longer receives the print equivalents. However, the Library does not expect to cancel print journals even when digitized versions are available until archiving and long-term access are assured. As a result some information is provided at present in both digital and print forms. This is not a practice the Library can maintain over time. As funds permit the Library buys access to some full-text resources deemed to have long-term value in support of Penn's academic programs. When access to a particular resource is not permanent because of product changes, cost or technical reasons, the Library hopes to provide an alternative. The Library may also move a resource from one platform to another when the new interface is superior to the old. In response to faculty and student requests the Library is now acquiring more full-text resources.

The Library acquires some digital resources through package deals with major suppliers such as the Research Libraries Group; others are selected individually.

Digital resources require continuing management to a far greater degree than print resources do. In general it is the responsibility of the sponsoring librarian to keep up with changes in an interface, selecting an alternate vendor and alerting staff and users to problems. Responsibility for writing documentation is shared by collection development and public service librarians.

Selection Criteria.

Selection of a digital resource requires the careful weighing of a number of content, presentation, functionality, technical, cost and management factors. Among these are the following:


  • The importance of the resource for its discipline and the level of use expected at Penn.
  • The comprehensiveness, durability and accuracy of the database.
  • The currency of the information and update schedules.
  • The distinctiveness of the database in the Penn environment, the extent of overlap (if any) with other Penn databases, and the relationship of the database to the Library's print and other holdings.
  • The size of the database.
  • Design of the interface.
  • Willingness of the vendor to make changes for Penn's implementation.
  • Platform(s) available.
  • Functionality, including link to the online catalog, integrated ILL request capability, output formats.
  • The potential of the database for secondary use, and the availability of data apart from that embedded in the interface.
  • The Library's digital resources must conform to current university-wide desktop computing standards. Obsolete formats and platforms are not generally supported.
  • Ease of installation and maintenance, if required. In all cases the Library must have the technical capacity and staff needed to make available and maintain a database proposed for purchase. The Director for Information Systems makes this determinatio n.
  • The Library strongly prefers web versions of digital resources and will only acquire a Window's version in cases where there is no alternative.
  • The cost of the database.
  • The availability and cost of computer storage space if needed.
  • Availability and content of usage reports.



The funding pattern for digital information resources has changed over the years. Initially most were paid for out of central library funds under the management of the Director for Administrative Services. Now most resources (with the exception of Citadel files) are paid for out of the Information Budget. The Information Processing Center is responsible for invoice payment.

Proposals to purchase or lease a database should be directed by the sponsoring librarian to the Director of Collection Management and accompanied by a realistic funding package which takes into consideration all the costs of a particular product, including internet access fees, server space and local staff time. The cost of a new database is initially borne by the appropriate subject fund or funds, and bibliographers are encouraged to collaborate and pool their resources. In subsequent years payment may come from the Digital Resources Fund at the discretion of the sponsoring librarian and if sufficient money is moved from the subject allocations to the Digital Resources Fund.

Databases which the Library purchases on a onetime basis are paid for out of the appropriate subject fund.

The Library participates in consortial purchases or leases of databases when it is financially advantageous to do so.


The Director of Collection Management and the appropriate bibliographer(s) review the license agreements for new databases; the Director signs the agreements.

The Library subscribes to the July 15, 1997, "Principles for Licensing Electronic Resources," drawn up by a group of library organizations, including the American Library Association and the Association of Research Libraries; and to the March 25, 1998, "Statement of Current Perspective and Preferred Practices for the Selection and Purchase of Electronic Information," put forth by the International Coalition of Library Consortia (ICOLC).

In reviewing licensing agreements the Library seeks to protect its rights to information to the fullest extent allowable under law and includes the following statement in all new license agreements it negotiates:


"The Board of Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania reserves the right to use the licensed (or purchased) work to the fullest extent of applicable laws, including the right of fair use under U. S. copyright law, including but not limited to the right to reproduce (or have reproduced) copies for its nonprofit, educational purposes, such as for comment, criticism, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship and research. This term is a material part of the contract between the parties and supersedes any contract terms contrary to or inconsistent with such rights under law."


In addition, the Library pays particular attention to its rights to continuing access to information paid for; the archiving of information; restrictions, if any, on the use of information for sponsored research; and confidentiality clauses.

At present the Acquisitions Department holds the license agreements for negotiated databases and electronic journals.