Issue #6 - Spring 2012

Quarterly Update
OCUL’s quarterly catch-up... read about what’s new at Scholars Portal, announcements from our member libraries and future OCUL plans and initiatives

Hackfest Recap

25 OCUL Member Library Staff
+ 12 OCUL Schools
+ 8 Hours

Test view of SPLURGE Recommender Tool

Let's Make a Deal

Find out what it takes to build a consortial collection.

Comings & Goings

An update on staffing changes at OCUL and Scholars Portal.


Unique Institutions, Common Goals

Library of Alexandria
Credit: Ministry of Natural Resources

There is no denying the power of many voices speaking together – this is an OCUL strength that is well-recognized. With many voices also comes the challenge of how best to ensure each distinct voice is heard. With a diversity of needs, expertise and budgets, our libraries vary in size, location, academic focus and leadership style and there are times when our individual institutional goals may not align. Yet these differences also provide alternative skill sets and points of view that, when shared, are beneficial across institutions. Certainly, we all share some clear overarching goals. These were most recently articulated in our strategic plan:

  • Collaborate to provide a world-class learning experience for Ontario’s Students
  • Expand Shared Digital Infrastructure
  • Provide and Preserve academic resources essential for teaching, learning and research

Recent tangible initiatives demonstrate a big impact on our services when OCUL members collaborate – improvements to Scholars GeoPortal which fully launched out of the beta version this month, the switch to our in-house virtual reference solution Ask a Librarian, enhancements to our Journals and Books platforms, discussions on how to improve our e-resources licenses and purchasing processes, just to name a few.

Recognizing this, OCUL is working to increase opportunities for members to connect across institutions to share ideas, capitalize on expertise, and discuss unique experiences in order to create innovative solutions for library issues. In the first quarter of 2012, members of OCUL institutions have come together to discuss Research Support in the 21st Century, to work on the creation of a shared Recommendation Generation tool (SPLURGE) during a one-day hackfest, and for training to enhance Library Management Skills. This in addition to the cross-pollination of ideas that takes place in our Committee & Groups including the newly formed Citation Management Investigation Task Force which was struck to consider how best to serve our user’s bibliographic citation needs.

To have many speaking as one offers great power, but there is also power in many speaking from individual experiences. We will continue working to create opportunities for the betterment of our individual schools, for OCUL, and for Ontario universities.

Leslie Weir, Chair, OCUL

University Librarian, University of Ottawa

Hackfest 2012

Collage of Hackfest attendees and signage On Febraury 17th, twenty-five programmers, technical services librarians and cataloguers from across the province joined forces for a hackfest. Ryerson University hosted staff from twelve Ontario universities for a day dedicated to exploring the use of collection transaction data to create a recommender tool, like those offered by Amazon and other online stores, to help students find resources of interest and to highlight member collection materials.

Beyond brainstorming, the group used their diverse expertise and experience to create code and flesh out the interface design for the new Scholars Portal Library Usage Based Recommendation Generation Engine: SPLURGE.

According to York University’s Web Librarian William Denton, a member of Scholars Portal’s Technical Advisory Group that organized the day, the idea behind SPLURGE is to take advantage of both OCUL collection use data and work being done by JISC in the U.K. on bibliographic recommendation. The goal is to create a tool that can be easily added to members’ online catalogues and offer tailored recommendations based on usage data.

“If we know who borrowed what and we can aggregate that across the province, we can offer good suggestions based on actual usages,” said Denton, adding, “we have the data, we just needed to figure out how to do it.”

And they did. The group spent the day building on some preliminary work undertaken by OCUL member library staff and Scholars Portal developers and benefited greatly from the opportunity of having a mix of people with different skills sets come together face-to-face, some meeting for the first time, and focusing their combined energy and attention on this one shared project.

The morning was spent brainstorming as the team discussed what they’d like to see in this kind of tool and how they might go about building in it. “By the end of the morning we all sort of knew ‘oh this is how it’s going to work’,” said Denton. In the afternoon they split into five groups each dedicated to a different aspect of the project:

  • How to get good, clean data?
  • How to get it into a shared database?
  • What kind of API would be required to access the data?
  • How to design a widget that individual schools could add to their catalogues?
  • How to turn this into a sustainable, long-lasting project?

By day’s end the hackfest team had come up with working solutions for the five problems, including creating much of the necessary code. Now all that’s needed is to “join up these pieces that right now aren’t quite talking to each other and we’ll have a working prototype,” said Denton. To learn more about the SPLURGE project please visit:

OCUL IR Negotiations Explained

If you’ve ever had buyer’s remorse over a late night Amazon purchase you know that buying online can sometimes be too easy.

Buying and licensing online resources for the OCUL consortium, however, is quite a different story. Getting our shared e-resources from the vendor to Ontario’s students, faculty and researchers takes a lot of communication behind the scenes across a number of departments in our member institutions and at OCUL /Scholars Portal. But in the end, the results are worth the collaborative effort says OCUL Projects Officer Carol Stephenson:

“ By licensing resources as a consortium, OCUL members are able to leverage our collective purchasing power to negotiate reduced costs for resources and sustainable price increases. We also reinforce our core principles of preservation and access through local loading on Scholars Portal, and broad use rights defined in the OCUL model license.”

If you’ve ever wondered how these deals are made, why you have access to certain resources, or the value of adding Scholars Portal metadata into your catalogue, read on:

The Introduction
The process starts when a member of OCUL-IR Committee posts a question about a non-consortia resource to the listserv; it may be about a trial of a new product or interest in shifting a current product to a consortial deal for better pricing or terms.

Not every school takes part in every OCUL trial or deal; participation varies depending on decisions made at the local institution about existing holdings, discipline area, and budget. If more than 3 of the 21 schools are interested, then the process is initiated by the OCUL office. Usually one OCUL IR member takes the lead in negotiating the trial with the vendor, gathering feedback from participating schools, and in co-negotiating a deal with the Projects Officer.

During the trial period participating schools are evaluating the:

  • Quality and scope of content
  • Overlap and use of existing products
  • Assessment of the interface
  • Feedback from librarians, students and faculty
  • Potential upper price, based on existing schools’ pricing or a vendor list price

The Negotiation

Communication with the vendor is initiated well in advance of a formal negotiation discussion and even at this early stage, the topics of local loading on Scholars Portal and using the OCUL license are raised. If the trial goes well OCUL will request a vendor quote based on initial interest from Members. At this point the OCUL Projects Officer and the OCUL-IR trial lead will work together on a negotiations strategy.

Pricing is of course central to product negotiations and this includes ensuring the application of a consortial discount based on joint purchase as well as creating a payment model that fairly accommodates all schools, small or large.

An initial offer is then made to participating schools, and it is also shared with those who might be interested in joining the deal post-trial. This can change the pricing significantly and re-negotiation is often necessary.

While important, price is not all that’s negotiated in a product deal. Other key issues about access and preservation, central to OCUL’s vision and strategic plan, are brought up for discussion. These include:

  • Terms: Will this be a one-year deal or multi-year deal? Is there flexibility to “drop out” in the middle of a term?
  • Content Options: Is it another “Big Deal” or are there options to partition content into smaller packages?
  • Local Load: Will the vendor agree to loading a digital copy of the resource on OCUL servers?
  • Perpetual Access: Will OCUL have continued access to purchased material if a license ends and is not renewed?
  • Use of the OCUL License: Will the vendor use OCUL’s Model Licenses or incorporate key clauses into the vendor license? This is key for OCUL because the license provides clear statements specific to our Ontario and Canadian laws. The license emphasizes rights to provide services such as incorporation of content into course management systems, e-delivery in interlibrary loan, off-campus access and local loading on Scholars Portal. Working through all of these issues with the vendor and the OCUL-IR Committee can take months and during the process other issues are addressed including
  • Usage stats and COUNTER compliance
  • The quality and receipt of MARC records
  • Open URL compliance 
  • Indexing
  • Product training and marketing
  • Notifications re: changes to content 
  • Discussions of additional content options such as back-files or upcoming products

Snakes and Ladders Board
DOWNLOAD the OCUL Negotiations Game!

The Commitment

Once an offer has been finalized and agreed to by the schools, the deal isn’t done quite yet. Payment details will be coordinated through the OCUL Office and license details will be added to the OUR license tool though access may have already been turned on for users. If content is being locally loaded, Scholars Portal staff will be working closely with the vendor’s technical staff to receive correctly formatted and complete files and MARC records or metadata. Librarians at member libraries are pivotal to this step by supporting Scholars Portal staff in assessing the quality of the MARC records and completeness of title lists.

Librarians and staff at participating schools will begin linking the new products into their local catalogues, ERMs, Open URL resolvers, and Webpages. This is often a two-step process as schools balance the desire to offer purchased content to users quickly by linking to vendor records initially while ensuring ultimately that there are links to OCUL’s locally loaded content.

“The reality is local loading takes longer because it often takes a series of discussions with the vendor and Scholars Portal staff to ensure receipt of appropriately formatted content and metadata records,” says Stephenson. “It may take longer initially to get access, but local loading ensures OCUL has control over content access in perpetuity and can transform and preserve content for future generations.”

The Maintenance

Once the negotiation process is complete, evaluation and assessment continues to ensure OCUL’s shared collection meets the needs of Ontario researchers until the process starts again at the point of renewal. “Product negotiations are cyclical and we are always watching to make sure the quality of our content stays high and pricing remains sustainable,” says Stephenson. “Consortia offer an important service in supporting academic libraries in the stewardship of their collections."

Throughout the process one thing is certain, communication - with vendors, OCUL IR members, Scholars Portal and OCUL Office staff and  Member libraries - is key.

Comings & Goings



We would like to welcome Khorshed Alam to the OCUL team. Khorshed will be working with OCUL in the role of Business Officer while Alex So is away on parental leave.

Scholars Portal

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Of Note

GeoPortal wins OLITA Award

OCUL’s geospatial data platform Scholars GeoPortal was awarded this year’s Ontario Library and Information Technology Association (OLITA) Award for Technical Innovation.

Read the whole announcement

Preservation information now available through journals interface

As part of our ongoing commitment to becoming a trusted steward of OCUL's digital materials, Scholars Portal has introduced a new feature in the Journals interface: you can now view our digital preservation metadata through the 'TDR Status' tab. This metadata includes checksum values, file formats, and the object's chain of custody from the time it was loaded into Scholars Portal.

As part of Scholars Portal's efforts to become a Trustworthy Digital Repository, we have been generating this metadata for newly loaded materials since late 2011. We are also working through our backfiles to ensure every article in Scholars Portal receives the same treatment. To date, we have recorded preservation metadata for almost 1.5 million articles.

Latest PSAG Newsletter Posted

You can find the latest Public Services Advisory Committee newsletter on the SPOTDocs wiki. In this issue, an introduction to the Citation Management Investigation Task Force and a Top 10 recap of Scholars Portal Day for those that missed it.

Read the newsletter here:

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Talk to us! Have a comment or an idea for the Quarterly? Send us an email: ocul [at]