This paper constitutes an initial approach to surveying the use of electronic journals in the state universities of the Spanish Autonomous Region of Castilla y León (the universities of Burgos, León, Salamanca and Valladolid). It is based on the samples provided by the smallest and most recently established universities, Burgos (UBU) and León (ULE).
The work focused on the use made by these two university communities of the journals included in the Emerald, ScienceDirect, SpringerLink and Wiley InterScience packages during the first few years of their joint subscription, between 2002 and 2004.
The literature on this topic has recently been revised and consolidated by Tenopir (2003) and in the papers of the seminar that the Ingenta Institute (2002) devoted to the subject of joint purchases and the extent to which they were worthwhile.
In the early days of the transition from paper to digital formats, consortial purchase served to expand collections in a way that suited publishers’ interest in generating a fresh demand for their products. They did this by offering in an electronic form, at marginal cost, material that in principle would not have been acquired for printed collections. The journal packages considered were obtained by the Castilla y León consortium (BUCLE) following the pattern of what has been termed a ‘big deal’. Such an arrangement was especially aimed at consortia, who were offered a spectacular increase in the accessibility of scientific information, breaking away from the former tendency towards continual cutbacks in library periodical collections. This approach has been the subject of debate (Frazier, 2001a, b; Rowse, 2003; Sanville, 2001). The economies of scale represented by consortia are very well known and are borne out by the constant growth in the number of such arrangements.
The financial benefits of joint acquisition of journals and the spread of their use in large collections set up on the basis of big deals have been the topic of a number of studies. These give a framework of reference for the current work, particularly the works by Sanville (2001) and Urbano et al. (2004). It is in this context that the employment of usage statistics for electronic resources should be viewed, as also should be any evaluations of the return on investment and details of user satisfaction.