By Nikki Murphy
DIT has been waiting for access to the Irish Research eLibrary (IReL) for over a decade.
The nationally funded IReL was set up to support researchers in Biotechnology and Information Technology and in 2006, it expanded to support research in the Humanities and the Social Sciences.
Students of the seven Irish Universities with membership to IReL have access to 96 databases.
However, DIT and other Institute of Technology’s were provided with access to just two databases (Academic Search and Complete and Business Source Complete) in 2009.
According to IReL’s homepage, “Researchers in Irish universities now have access to a world-class electronic library service comparable to any such service in the international research community.
“The range and quality of publications available through IReL compares favourably to what is available in some of the leading research libraries, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Columbia University and Imperial College London.
“Since the release of the first resources in 2005, millions of journal articles have been downloaded each year.”
The page goes on to say, “Researchers and students have also made excellent use of the databases and ebook collections, performing over 16 million searches in 2015 and consulting over 6.5 million ebook sections over the last nine years.”
DIT President, Professor Brian Norton said, “Since 2004, DIT has repeatedly asked for access to IReL, a resource which would be extremely valuable to DIT students and we are currently awaiting a formal communication regarding a decision on a full membership from the IReL board.”
Speaking to The Edition last October, Malcolm Byrne, Head of Communications, HEA said, “There is an agreement in principle among all parties that DIT should become a member of the IReL consortium. Terms and conditions, including a funding model to enable DIT’s participation, are yet to be finalised.
“The HEA continues to liaise with the Irish University Libraries Collaboration Centre and DIT to ensure participation by DIT in IReL at the earliest possible date.”
Dr Philip Cohen, Head of Library Services at DIT said, “In November 2015, following continued correspondence from DIT and with explicit HEA support, the Universities in the consortium agreed in principle that DIT could become a full member of IReL”
Dr. Cohen added, “The IReL Board met on Friday, 10th November 2017 to consider DIT membership of IReL. and the processes required to ensure access to resources which students in the Universities currently enjoy.”
Spokesperson for DIT Lisa Saputo, also confirmed that there was “no-one from DIT present at the IReL board meeting and to date they had received no formal communication.”
Much controversy has surrounded DIT over the past year in relation to library services. In March of this year DIT answered serious questions at the Public Accounts Committee hearing when it was questioned about the loss of over €700,000 to SWETS UK.
SWETS UK, providers of electronic e-journals operated worldwide as a mediator between publishers and libraries. It provided the overall management and processing of subscriptions to scientific and professional printed and electronic publications for libraries.
In July 2014, DIT paid SWETS the sum of €671,000, on October 9th of the same year SWETS went bankrupt. DIT were also in credit to SWETS for just under €50,000 bringing the total figure lost to €718,000.
When asked if membership to IReL would have prevented such a loss, Dr.Cohen said, “The loss to DIT following the SWETS bankruptcy was just over €700,000. It is true, however, that the Institute’s exposure was higher than that of the universities with full IReL membership as the consortium’s size allows it to negotiate directly with publishers, enabling the universities to largely eliminate the need to use intermediary agents such as SWETS.
“Individual Universities did lose money when SWETS filed for bankruptcy but their losses were less than DIT because IReL considerably reduced their exposure. Dr.Philip Cohen, Head of Library Services DIT.”
In 2017, the DIT budget for journals and databases was €2 million. The amount was similar in 2016.
While it’s not clear at present what the financial savings will be through membership of IReL, savings will depend on when membership is confirmed; what charges (if any) DIT is asked to pay and on the respective cancellation policies for the very many individual journals and databases to which DIT have subscribed on their own behalf in the absence of IReL access.
“Membership of IReL would immediately provide access for DIT students to additional information resources that students in the Universities currently enjoy,” said Melda Slattery, spokesperson for President Norton.
Ms. Slattery also went on to say, “DIT membership is under active negotiation with the HEA and the Universities. A number of meetings have been held recently and a positive outcome is expected by the end of the year. The biggest benefit of IReL membership is likely to be a very significant increase in the number of journals and databases available to DIT students and staff. However, it could also result in some financial savings for DIT and a reduction in its financial exposure – the detail will depend on the final outcome of discussions underway.”
The IReL website states that, “The objective of IReL is ambitious. The purpose is to provide common access to electronic resources for all IReL members. In doing so there will be clear benefits not just for researchers and research projects, but also for those whose objective it is to attract researchers of the highest international calibre to make Ireland and Irish research institutions their preferred location.
The initial (STM) phase of IReL was jointly funded by the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and the HEA. The HSS phase is funded entirely by the HEA. Total state investment in the first five years of IReL provision was more than €35 million. Budgets are under pressure in line with all public funding and achieving value for money for all resources continues to be imperative.”