An idiot’s journey through systems/e-resources librarianship

This has been a very tough week for me. I mentioned in my last post how I had practically zero systems or e-resources experience prior to this role, and this week has been all about firefighting in my various library systems! Whilst it was very unpleasant, I have also learnt a lot and I thought I would share my learning here.

1. Setting up a new system? Write everything down

I am currently transitioning all of our students at the Royal Marsden School over to Shibboleth authentication from OpenAthens. This is not a fun process. Shibboleth needs to be configured and tested for all of our e-resources (that’s 7 e-book platforms, 1 discovery service/database provider, and 9 journal platforms); I have also tried to set up WAYFless URLs to all of these different systems to improve user experience.


I have been working on this since early September, alongside all of my other day-to-day jobs! It was really easy to lose track of where I was with the process for each resource; eventually I got my act together and just recorded absolutely everything (email exchanges and all, it’s amazing how quickly they get lost in Outlook) in a Word document divided up using headings. I’m sure there is a fancier way of doing this but it was quick and easy and worked for me.

Also, if/when I leave, then all my documentation is there for my successor to follow up on.

2. Don’t be afraid to be a pain

One of the things I have discovered about systems librarianship (at least at my level) is that it is mostly about communicating with other people, rather than doing any coding or hugely technical stuff. When I have an issue I send off a communication to the relevant customer services contact. This week I’ve been in touch with Springer, Ovid, 123library, Cambridge Core, EBSCO, Myilibrary, and RCNi because various things have not been working (I did say it was a bad week! Normally I go weeks without an issue). Of these 7 suppliers, 3 are still causing me problems several days on…

Some companies are better at responding than others. I used to be really polite and wait for ages to get a response; now I have learned that it’s ok to be more firm and chase things up. For example, I had an instance this week where the support contact said ‘sorry, that’s the best we can do’ and I sent quite a strongly worded (for me!) reply insisting on a better solution and stating that my other suppliers had managed to accommodate my request. And it worked!! They did eventually provide me with the OpenURL compliant WAYFless URL I needed. If I hadn’t been more insistent, it wouldn’t have happened.

3. Service providers are poor at communication. Be incredibly specific.

Here is a scenario from earlier this week:

  1. YiWen to Journal Provider: Hello! I am encountering an error message when I try to login to your journals using Shibboleth. Here is a screenshot of the error message. Please can you investigate?
  2. Journal Provider to YiWen, minutes later: You are not logging in the correct way. Please follow these steps.
  3. YiWen to Journal Provider: Yes! I did follow those steps! Those are exactly the steps that I followed to produce the error message!
  4. Journal Provider to YiWen: Oh yeah, I’ve just tested, you’re right, there’s a problem. I’ll get back to you.

Invariably, service providers will assume that YOU are the problem, not their system. The burden of proof is on the complainant! It is best, in your very first email, to provide an incredibly detailed, step-by-step outline of the issue, with screenshots of every single step taken. This would have saved me lots of swearing and frustration later on.


Anyway, there we go. Those are some of the lessons that I’ve learned during one of the toughest weeks I’ve had, systems-wise. It has been quite cathartic writing it all out and if anyone else has to step into a systems-related role, I hope it helps them too.