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Library Electronic Resources for Harvard Alumni

By Betsy Eggleston, Director of Collections and Knowledge Management, Countway Library of Medicine


A small group of librarians has been hard at work putting together a suite of e-resources that will soon be available to Harvard alumni. The working group was able to assemble a set of resources from seven publishers that contain over 7,000 full-text journals as well as a range of other materials. The resources that will be available at launch will be: the JSTOR journals collection, the Project Muse Standard Collection, ABI/Inform (alumni edition), EBSCO Academic Search Alumni Edition, Sage Publications (including currently subscribed journals), Sage Research Methods, the CQ Press Library, American Medical Association journals (including JAMA and Annual Reviews), Cambridge Companions Online, and Cambridge Histories Online.

This list encompasses licenses that already include alumni; extension to all Harvard alumni of packages that Baker Library, Gutman Library, Countway Library, and the Kennedy School have already been licensing for the alumni of their individual schools; and one that was available for an additional 10% on top of current subscription prices. Funding from Arcadia paid for those resources that required subscription fees. Some other resources will probably be added if long-term financial support can be secured. Possibilities include the Oxford English Dictionary, Grove Music, Grove Art, Adam Matthew Digital, and BrowZine.

The working group encountered a wide range of reactions and pricing schemes from the publishers they contacted about licensing for alumni. Many publishers weren’t ready to consider the idea at any price. Some prime science and technology journals, such as Science (AAAS), the New England Journal of Medicine (Massachusetts Medicine Society), and the Lancet (Elsevier), were not willing to consider licensing for alumni users. Other publishers were much more open with their content. Project Muse, Sage Publications, and Annual Reviews all include alumni in their list of authorized users along with current students, staff, and faculty for the electronic packages that Harvard already licenses. Still others offered to add alumni access for an additional percentage on top of the price Harvard already pays for access. JSTOR, the American Medical Association, and others offered to extend access for an additional 10–15% of the annual subscription payment.

Paying for subscriptions was only one challenge faced by the working group as it sought to provide former Harvard students with access to e-journals and databases after graduation day. Offering alumni access required not only negotiations with publishers, but also taking on technical issues with the help of systems librarians. Alumni access required the establishment of a separate proxy server to act as the interface between university authentication systems, the alumni, and the resources that Harvard has been able to license for them. Complicating matters further, the authentication system for Harvard alumni also needed to be replaced. Until recently, alumni had been listed in a separate database from the one that lists current students, faculty, and staff. Problems with that database contributed to the decision to move the records to a new one and to the institution of the HarvardKey authentication system for alumni (the first group to adopt it on September 22). The new proxy server is now in place, and it relies on HarvardKey to determine who to allow in and who to turn away.

Anne Cushing, Harvard Alumni Association director of alumni digital engagement and member of the working group, provided valuable insight into serving alumni patrons. Cushing suggested that the access that the Library is able to offer will provide many opportunities for engaging in lifelong learning and should be well-received. She noted, however, that it will be important to manage expectations, cautioning that with the wrong presentation of the resources, those who were hoping for full access may not understand why they don’t have it.

The working group is also taking this opportunity to stress the importance of open access. The Library portal presence for these resources will also feature a list of open-access resources in addition to those that have been licensed. The page that will provide access to these resources will be part of a set of pages that address alumni access and borrowing privileges at individual libraries.

Alumni Access to Harvard Library E-Resources Working Group members are: Paul Aloisio, Anne Cushing, Thomas Dodson, Kathleen Donovan, Betsy Eggleston, Noelle Ryan, Andrea Schulman, and Caroline Walters. Valuable input and assistance was also provided by Mary Hecht and Lauren Syer (of the E-Resources Unit) and Davina Chojnowski (of the Harvard Alumni Association).

Article written by Betsy Eggleston.
Article published on October 14, 2015.