New Kids on the Block
Despite my tendency to dismiss most new legal vendor services as mere marketing ploys, I must admit that I've been pleasantly surprised over the past few years with some of the new customer service "e-services." West's online filing instructions make my life easier at least once a month. Hein's Hein-subs-l listserv has not only helped me lower the number of claims I send out, but also keeps me informed of title changes and publication delays. Anderson Publishing's online Directory of Law Reviews, although not as up-to-date as I would like, has helped me effortlessly locate proper addresses for law reviews, and almost all the major players now offer web ordering. To these you can add a growing number of services offered by vendors who have made their reputation outside the world of law libraries (Academic Book Center's BookBag database and Swets/Blackwell's DataswetsConnect database come to mind.) And now, even companies who have made their reputation in the world of retail Internet book selling are beginning to offer their services to libraries.
Clearly, law libraries will never be the main market for these new services, but they do offer legal acquisitions librarians another tool for their toolbox. I'll leave it to others to "review" these services, but let me mention a few that I have found particularly helpful over the past few months.
The first of these new "e-services" comes from a company that we all know - Amazon.com. If you are like me, you've probably used Amazon to acquire some of those non law items that your normal legal vendors just don't handle, or can't quickly obtain (i.e., the Dean needs that new John Grisham novel to take on vacation.) Our library has been fortunate because we have had access to a library credit card and so placing the order was relatively easy (provided we successfully convinced Amazon that the University was a tax-free institution.) I've learned in conversations with many other librarians, however, that many law libraries don't have credit cards and, as a result, often end up using a personal card or look elsewhere for the title. This all recently changed when Amazon introduced a "corporate accounts" division.
By opening a corporate account, libraries are able to order materials without having to use a credit card. Instead, they are invoiced for the order just like any other library jobber. In addition, purchase order numbers can be used and tax exempt institutions can establish tax-free accounts. Multiple buyers, which you designate, can use the account to place, modify, and track current and past orders. Along with this come all of the regular "features" of Amazon shopping.
Applying for the account, online, takes only a few minutes (I was placing my first order within 30 minutes of completing the application.) More information about Amazon's corporate accounts, as well as the application form, can be found via a link on Amazon's home page http://www.amazon.com/.
Another useful new tool that I've discovered is the Advanced Book Exchange's abelibrary.com website. Originally developed in 1996, as an online database containing the inventories of Out-of-Print and Rare Book Dealers, ABE's database now contains more than 30 million titles from dealers all over the world. I've been using ABE's regular website (abebooks.com) for several years for my personal OP book purchases, and have also occasionally used the site to purchased materials for our library. Again, however, the problem has been in paying for the material. In the past, once you found what you were looking for in the ABE database you had to work with the dealer to arrange the purchase. This could mean everything from negotiating the price to working out a payment plan. Most of the dealers are very small businesses and, understandably, require prepayment and many will not accept credit cards.
With the debut of abelibrary.com http://www.abelibrary.com in September, however, ABE has created a service designed specifically for use by libraries. This new service allows libraries to establish an account that allows them to place orders without having to prepay. In the new service, once a desired title is found, the library need only click a button to purchase it. ABE then contacts the dealer and makes the actual purchase. The dealer sends the book directly to the library, while an e-mail invoice is sent from ABE. Another nice feature is the ability to create online "want lists" which will automatically notify you when a needed title is loaded into the database. An online glossary of the terminology used to describe the physical condition of OP materials will also help newbies translate OP citations.
Most law libraries will probably not use a service like this often, but with materials going out-of-print sooner and sooner it can be a powerful tool when you need to obtain a title that is no longer available from traditional sources. I can only imagine how helpful this type of service could be to an organization just starting, or expanding, a library. While a user is obviously limited by the titles dealers enter into the database, I've had surprisingly good luck locating legal related materials that our library was lacking. I've been particularly comforted by knowing that the inventories of standard legal OP dealers like Meyer Boswell Books and The Lawbook Exchange are contained in the database. Another reassuring feature is ABE's creation of a Library Advisory Group (which I have joined) whose purpose is to increase communication between librarians and the ABE development team, and thus produce a site that meets the needs of library acquisitions departments.
I'm a little hesitant to mention one more new service, because it is really more of a product than a service. Still, some libraries may already have access to it and others may at least benefit by being aware of its existence. ProQuest's Digital Dissertations is a new version of the old UMI Dissertation Abstracts. What makes the new version so different is that in addition to the traditional abstract of the dissertation, one is now able to view/print the first 24 pages of all dissertations published since 1997. In addition to the old paper and microform order options, you can now order a growing number of dissertations (approximately 100,000 right now) as .PDF files. This means you can have the needed dissertation in your library, within minutes of placing the order.
The downside of all of this is that the service is currently only available to institutions who are willing to pay a huge subscription fee based on the number of Ph. D.'s their school produces. If your library is a law school library within a larger institution, however, you may already have access. To find out, just visit Digital Dissertations home page http://wwwlib.umi.com/dissertations/ . I did speak with a ProQuest representative who indicated the company is looking into creating a method for individuals (and individual libraries), who are not part of a larger institution, to access the system. Right now, any individual can do limited searching and place a credit card order for a paper copy at the company's sister site, Dissertation Express http://wwwlib.umi.com/dxweb/gateway.
So there you go - three new e-services that might not help you on a daily basis, but three services that can help you obtain some of those hard-to-find items, faster and easier than ever before. If you have found some particularly good new electronic services, let us know.