SERU Initiative Overview

NOTE: The material below is historical in nature, created in 2006-2007 when SERU was first underway as a NISO Recommended Practice. It should be used for informational purposes only.

How SERU got started.

The SERU project arose from a frustration with the current state of license arrangements shared by many publishers and librarians. Initially, most e-resource transactions involved expensive content, and inexperienced partners and licenses were used to work through conversations about digital resources and to address risk. As e-resources became familiar and librarians and publishers have a common experience of positive interactions, wholesale negotiation of licenses from resources has increasingly become a burden for many librarians and publishers, especially in the long tail of scholarly publishing.

SERU originated in a joint effort to develop an acceptable alternative that libraries and publishers could choose. Judy Luther (Informed Strategies) and Selden Lamoureux (University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Libraries) promoted discussions of the issue at several conferences in 2005 and 2006. Based on the interest these discussions generated, in October of 2006 a small group of librarians, publishers, and a serials agent met to explore the issues and develop a formal project - the project that has become SERU. NISO is pleased to host this project as part of its efforts to promote best practices development. The original working group was formed in 2007 and disbanded in 2009, upon approval and publication of the SERU Recommended Practice. Currently, the SERU Standing Committee provides maintenance support for SERU.

How the process works.

Publishers wishing to sell some or all of their products using a SERU approach and libraries wishing to use SERU in acquiring content from selected publishers will be able to sign up on a NISO registry to indicate their willingness to forego a license agreement and rely on the shared expectations expressed in the statements of shared understanding.

Publishers should indicate to serials vendors and to customers their desire to do business in this way. Rather than post terms on their website, publishers should link to the NISO website and SERU documents.

When a library decides to purchase the product, a purchase order is generated and payment is made. (NOTE: Payment is made between the customer and the provider only; SERU is not involved and does not require a margin.) It may be necessary to negotiate pricing (for instance, if the publisher doesn't use list pricing or if special circumstances for the particular transaction justify an increased or reduced price) or work out other business terms. For instance, if the subscribing institution does not fit the general parameters described in the SERU document section on "The Subscribing Institution and Its Authorized Users," the issue can be resolved through negotiation of a special price or some other accommodation appropriate to the unique situation of the subscribing institution.

If either the library or the publisher feels that changes should be made to SERU, it is an indicator that perhaps a license should be used.

If we don't have a license, do we still have a contract?

The creation of a license is not required for the creation of a binding contractual agreement. The invoicing/purchase order/payment process is generally sufficient for the creation of a contractual relationship. Normal contract law and copyright law, of course, apply.

Legal advice informing the SERU project.

As SERU got started it was clear it was important to draw on legal expertise in shaping the approach and the statements of shared understanding. A number of individuals with legal training have been involved in the development of the SERU project throughout its progress. Two of the original working group members are lawyers and the SERU Standing Committee continues to welcome comments from other attorneys.

The audience for SERU.

By reducing the overhead of sales transactions, the SERU approach can benefit publishers, libraries, and serials agents -- pretty much anyone involved in buying or selling electronic resources. This approach should greatly simplify library handling for many electronic products and has the potential, particularly for small publishers and others selling access to inexpensive resources, to largely eliminate both licensing costs and time delays in the sales process. Common use of this best practices approach would make it easier and cheaper for serial vendors to provide their services to both publishers and libraries. The approach could allow a growing number of smaller players to succeed in the scholarly publishing marketplace and eliminate the need to pass licensing costs on to customers.

SERU is particularly reaching out to small publishers to build awareness of this approach and its benefits.

Although this approach may not be desirable or appropriate for many large publishers, the SERU approach can be used whenever a publisher feels that its interests are adequately protected by the statements of shared understanding. Even large publishers may have some low-cost and low-risk sales relationships where they find it beneficial to use the SERU mechanism to sell certain products or to work with certain customers.

Growing support for SERU among librarians and publishers.

Two publisher associations and two library associations sponsored the exploratory meeting that led to the launch of the NISO working group. The SERU Standing Committee members continue to make presentations on SERU at a wide range of publisher and library conferences and meetings and interest from both communities has been strong. The SERU project has drawn support from both libraries and publishers, and it is possible for library, publisher, and other organizations to endorse the SERU sales mechanism by signing up to the SERU Registry.

If you would like a SERU Standing Committee member to make a presentation at a meeting you are organizing, or want to assist in promoting SERU please contact the committee chairs.

Keeping current and sharing feedback.

Want to keep informed? The SERU website is a growing source of information and support on SERU, and you can also join the SERU discussion list to receive progress reports and announcements of new information. To subscribe to the SERU-info listserv, send an e-mail to and put "Subscribe SERUinfo" in the subject line.

Comments from any interested parties are welcomed by the SERU Standing Committee at any time. The committee has consulted widely with experts on licensing issues and will continue to solicit feedback on the project. Comments can be shared publicly by joining the SERU-info listserv and then posting to the participants. All of the committee members are on the SERU-info listserv. Alternatively, comments can be submitted directly to any member of the committee.