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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 when it comes to making library subscription decisions. What was a simple renewal has become an agonizing process. The fate of a publication used to be decided at renewal time. You’d start with a single sheet of paper — an invoice for the upcoming subscription period. First you confirmed that you had the item in the collection. Then you reviewed the cost — was it still reasonable and affordable? Next you would verify that the users are still with the firm and need the product. And finally you renewed or canceled the invoice. Now, the process of renewing a publication requires greater scrutiny � and more work. The amount of extra time depends on the answers to many questions. Is this product available electronically and, if so, where and how? Is it on CD or available online, or is it accessible with software that must be downloaded? What is the licensing agreement and how will that agreement affect 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 such as Lexis or Westlaw. These two giants of the legal publishing industry have swallowed up countless smaller publishers. Because Lexis and Westlaw provide vast quantities of legal content, it is impossible to know what is contained in a comprehensive contract from either provider. If secondary sources are a part of a contract, it is a good time to see if the renewing product is included. Even if it was not there last year, it could be there now. Librarians must keep current with 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 is there, the all-important question of coverage must be 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 time that a product’s format is changing and will now be available only electronically and via e-mail. The renewal may require e-mail addresses and contact information for users. Distributing individual e-mail addresses to publishers requires some thought; what other kinds of e-mail will the subscriber start receiving along with that newsletter? The renewal review process can end abruptly, due to cost. Every publisher is different when it comes to 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. Who will keep track of passwords and access codes? There must be an administrator to add and delete users. For some publications, an e-mailed copy can go directly to the user. This is welcome news for some librarians because it means they can get out of the routing loop. But it can become very costly if you have multiple users; it’s much more expensive than the one paper copy that used to be passed around. But the great benefit of timeliness, and of searching the archive which is often available, needs to be weighed and decided. If the cost is reasonable, or at least acceptable, the users must 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 has customized itself to allow 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 content features to make treatises more usable electronically. What may be okay 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 us to make more choices. It has created more work. It requires more knowledge, good analysis and personal skills of negotiation and persuasion — far above what was previously required. If your law firm’s librarian seems particularly frazzled, it’s probably renewal time. Lucy Rieger is a law librarian and owner and founder of Library Update Inc., a New Jersey-based library service company.

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