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Complications. Choices. Decisions. More work. Technology in the library has an undesired side effect that has had an impact on every law library, large and small. Technology has added significantly to the workload of librarians, attorneys, administrators, and academics making library subscription decisions. What was once a simple renewal has become an agonizing process. The fate of a publication is usually decided at renewal time. It starts with a single sheet of paper � an invoice for the upcoming term. First you confirm that you had the item in the collection last year. Then you review the cost � is it still reasonable and affordable? Next you verify that the users are still with the firm and need the product. You renew or cancel the invoice and are done. That was then. NEW QUESTIONS Now the paper needs new scrutiny. Here begins the extra work. The time needed depends on the answers to many questions. Is this product available electronically, and if so, where and how? Is it on CD or online, or accessible with software that must be downloaded? What is the licensing agreement and how will it impact usage? Can the product be distributed without violating copyright? Subscriptions can come directly from the publisher or may already be bundled in a package from an online provider like Lexis or Westlaw. These two giants of the legal publishing industry have swallowed up countless smaller publishers. What was a Research Institute of America (RIA) renewal is a Thomson West renewal today. What was a Mealey’s is a Lexis renewal today. Because Lexis and West provide vast quantities of legal content, it’s impossible to know what is contained in a comprehensive contract from either provider. If secondary sources are a part of a contract, it’s a good time to see if the renewing product is included. Even if it was not there last year, it could be there now. KNOWLEDGE IS KEY Librarians must keep abreast of what is happening in the legal publishing world. Checking if a source is already included in a contract is not as simple as it sounds. You must know where to look, and you must have the inclination to look in the first place. If it’s there, the all-important question of coverage is asked: How far back does this go? What is removed or retained in the collection can be affected by this information. A renewal invoice may or may not inform you of electronic choices. It is now common to discover at renewal that a product will change format and be available only electronically. The renewal may require e-mail addresses and contact information about users. Distributing individual e-mail addresses to publishers requires some thought � what else will the subscriber get with that newsletter? The renewal review process can end abruptly, due to cost. Every publisher is different in pricing electronic subscriptions. To purchase individual user licenses, time is required to determine who the specific users are. This is important since many subscriptions are priced per user, and the publishers want these specific users identified by name. THE ADMINISTRATOR Who will keep track of passwords and access codes? There must be an administrator to add and delete users. In the case of a product like Mealey’s, an e-mailed copy can go directly to the user. This is nice for some libraries that can get out of the routing loop, but very costly if you have multiple users � much more expensive than the one paper copy that was passed around. But the great benefits of timeliness and of having the ability to search an archive, which is often available, needs to be factored into your decision. If the cost is reasonable, or at least acceptable, the users must be (or should be) taken into consideration. It is vital that the electronic product be readily usable. Some products are very complicated, such as the CCH Standard Federal. A direct online subscription from CCH is customized for flipping from section to section. The same subscription through Lexis lacks that interface. Lexis, after its acquisition of Matthew Bender, enhanced its table of contents features to make treatises more usable electronically. What may be OK for the occasional user may not be appropriate for a daily user and needs to be seriously assessed. On the positive side, electronic legal products are slenderizing and becoming more generic every year � a great benefit to the searcher. When a librarian or library administrator takes all these considerations into account, it becomes very time-consuming and agonizing to process a single renewal. Technology has forced choices. It has created more work. It adds up to a lot more time. It takes more knowledge and requires good analysis and personal skills of negotiation and persuasion � far above what was previously required. If the librarian seems frazzled, it’s probably renewal time. Lucy Rieger is a law librarian and owner and founder of Library Update Inc., a library service company. Rieger is the librarian for several New Jersey law firms and specializes in library administration and technical services. This article first appeared in the ALM newspaper the New Jersey Law Journal.

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