Web Magazine for Information Professionals


The ERCOMS team explain the intricacies of their Electronic Reserve Copyright Management System project.

The ERCOMS [1] project, one of eLib’s electronic short loan projects, focuses on electronic copyright management. The partners in the project are the International Institute for Electronic Library Research [2] at De Montfort University [3], the Library and GeoData Institute at Southampton University, and The Open University Library.

The Project takes advantage of current Web technologies, in the form of Java programs, mod-Perl and mSQL database tools, to facilitate the development of a generic copyright management system for Web- based electronic reserves. This makes possible a cost-effective solution for these new library services, which require effective user authorisation, usage monitoring, accounting and reporting functions.

The ERCOMS prototype is a scaleable modular system based on a secure Apache web server. The system includes access and password control; tracking of usage of document objects, which have been delivered from the server to the client, and provides the tools for collating and reporting on that usage. There are three components to the system: the client, the web server and the accounts/tracking database.

A Java applet, known as “SureTX”, controls the user authentication and access facilities and this must be running before a restricted object can be delivered to the browser. It feeds details of the user to the web server, which checks the accounts/tracking database to see if the account holder has clearance. This approach has two advantages over the simple HTTP protocol: the applet has a timer which can be used to remove account holder details if an object has not been requested within a specified time period, and additional user information may be checked through the applet - credit card details for example. Furthermore, all the Java code is running on the server, so no special features are required by the browser.

An important element of the ERCOMS project is the development of the testbed e-reserves by the supporting partners, The OU and Southampton University. Any new digitisation project needs built-in monitoring of its performance in order to optimise or improve it, and the tracking module in ERCOMS is being developed so that libraries can learn how their evolving services are being used, as well as to demonstrate effective copyright control and authorisation. Evaluation of this prototype will begin late in the summer.

An electronic publishing group based in the GeoData Institution [4] at the University of Southampton has pioneered the use of electronic resources for student teaching. The work was initiated under the University’s Scholar project, which strove to make use of electronic delivery to increasing student numbers.

In the meantime the University Library which has a short loan collection of over 24,000 items was concerned at the ever increasing volume of the collection and the corresponding administrative load. As the collection provides efficient but restricted access - limited numbers of copies for limited periods of time - the library was interested in exploring alternative solutions. Electronic delivery could perhaps maintain the availability for students of all disciplines, but enhance the delivery to a larger number of students with perpetual tight deadlines. With departmental moves and additional sites, attention has been focused on the growing need to provide easy multi-site access to teaching and learning materials.

The Coastal Zone Management resource - mulitmedia training module - allows access to over 3000 pages of text and imagery for a series of classes for over 200 students and is accessible anywhere in the University. Using this as a model, the Library short loan collection was assessed to identify possible further target areas and suitable types of material for digitisation. These include the development of core collections for the Departments of Human Morphology, Oceanography, English, Adult Continuing Education and the School of Nursing. This delivery provides the opportunity to utilise multimedia materials such as video, graphics and spreadsheet exercises. The materials are currently accessed from the GeoData Institute’s server.

At the Open University [5], e-reserve development is based on a lecture series on Astronomy delivered by staff at the OU for the Gresham College. The e-reserve will consist of books, lecture notes and supplementary articles. Twelve lectures will be given in total and each lecture has six references, including articles or research papers and books. These materials are of interest to Open University students on two specific courses.


[1] ERCOMS Web Site,

[2] International Institute for Electronic Library Research Web Site,

[3] De Montfort University,

[4] GeoData Institute at Southampton University,

[5] Open University Library,

Author details

Anne Ramsden,
ERCOMS project manager
Email: ar@dmu.ac.uk
Phone: 01908 834924
Fax: 01908 834929