A NATIONAL agreement between universities and publishers for the purchase of electronic journals comes into force next January.
Covering 150 libraries, the deal was devised by the funding councils' joint information systems committee. A consortium of research council funded libraries is also interested in joining.
Libraries will buy electronic journals from publishers as a large consortium through a managing agent. The three-year position has been put out to tender according to European Union regulations. The successful bidder should be announced next week.
Toby Bainton, secretary of the Standing Conference of National and University Libraries, said the role of the agent will be central.
It will provide a single access point for libraries and users to electronic journals. Its responsibilities will include negotiating and administering publishers' licences, and collecting revenue for publishers, managing VAT, price increases, cancellations and journal additions.
Mr Bainton said: "We are on the threshold of a development that could provide big benefits for libraries, users and publishers." Benefits to the academic user include a rich source of electronic journals from a range of publishers. The journals will be searchable by broad subject category.
For university libraries, the agreement promises a single solution to multi-publisher deals, licences, access and security. The agent will provide regular statistics on usage, enabling libraries to manage their subscriptions better. It could release library space too.
For publishers, the consortium will save administration and legal costs. Although the service will be searchable by subject and topic, there will still be scope for publisher branding. Mr Bainton said publishers could get users and libraries more accustomed to electronic delivery, possibly lessening dependence on print.