Libraries are for Use

Demonstrating the value of librarianship

Random, undeveloped thoughts


With the completion of my ALCTS webinar, I finally have the time to return to my reading.  All the articles, books, blog postings, etc. have started triggering ideas that I need to record, but I don’t want to be so distracted in pursuing each one…yet.  Normally I jot these random thoughts down on a myriad of notebooks, legal pads, and scraps of paper.  This time I thought I’d bare myself to the world (OK, the very limited world) of you readers.  It would be very interesting to get your feedback on developing them into full-fledged, respectable, mature ideas.

Wither A&I’s?

  • With the advent of discovery systems, usage of abstracts & indexes databases has tanked.
  • Undergraduate students need to be able to discover and quickly access this literature.
  • UG’s do not (and never did) avail themselves to that which is not easily accessible.
  • Graduate students & researchers, who can generally afford (although they may not prefer to) to wait, do avail themselves to all of the literature in the world.
  • A&I’s enable the discovery of literature on a subject, but only discovery.
  • Discovery systems enable both discovery and access to the literature on a subject that the library has available.
  • Ergo, A&I’s are actually only being used by those who truly need it, not by those who don’t, but are forced to because that is the only place to find what the library may have.
  • These resources still have value to the graduate students and researchers, but they have lost their value to undergraduates.
  • But, libraries can no longer afford to pay the same prices for something used so much less now.
  • Can the publishers afford to produce these products at lower prices?  Is the profit margin wide enough?  How many cancellations will it take for them to change?

The rotating undergraduate collection

  • Question: Does a collection that serves the undergraduate education need to be permanent?
  • Given:
    • Undergraduate students tend to use monographs and journals that are more published and broad in scope.
    • Usage of individual monographs and journals varies greatly and unpredictably.  Even titles purchased by DDA do not always result in continued usage (and thus increasing efficiency).
    • There is less tolerance by funders for purchases that are never or rarely used (I’ll put aside the argument that maybe we shouldn’t care).
    • Items, once purchased, are very difficult to remove.
    • There are unintended effects of purchasing books, even ebooks, that are never used again, such as increased difficulty in finding the ideal resource in a crowded catalog.
    • Most undergraduate programs across universities need very much the same materials.
  • Proposed: Apply collection funds towards a consortial rental ebook collections of works appropriate for undergraduate education.
  • Advantages:
    • Costs per use, per title, and per title used have been proved to be quite low.
    • The value is in having an up-to-date collection that meets the students’ needs.
    • Unused and underused titles are rotated out of the collection.
    • Collections can be easily modified to reflect changes in curriculum (dropped programs, new programs, programs with a new emphasis, etc.).
    • No permanent collection to manage.
    • Savings achieved from this method could be used to bolster the quality of a permanent and owned collection. (NOTE: Savings must be retained and repurposed by the library.)
  • Barriers:
    • Requires a change in attitude towards ownership and continuity of collections.  Not everything needs to retained and preserved.
    • Requires a shift in user behavior towards ebooks.
    • Requires greater participation of publishers.
    • Requires improvements in the usability of ebook platforms.

The problem of ownership versus access

  • The above argument was meant for a very specific purpose – to support the basic, common undergraduate curriculum.  This does not mean I support an access-only collection for libraries.
  • The first-sale doctrine has always been the foundation on how libraries operate.  Libraries could not have served their patrons (us) without it.
  • However, this doctrine has been totally bypassed and replaced with the license for non-physical information.
  • And they do this primarily because they can – they can control the redistribution, the access, the selection of content, etc.
  • I suspect that the only reason publishers have not done this with physical items is that they couldn’t.  There is no efficient method to control the re-distribution.
  • Publishers often use the argument of protection from piracy to impose restrictions that make it impossible for libraries to redistribute the content.
  • Given:
    • So the reality is that commercial (and some non-commercial) content providers desire to control the distribution of their content as much as they can, primarily for their own financial interests.
    • This shifts the control away from libraries and librarians, who have charges of enabling and preserving continuous access to materials.
    • Consumers may or may not be interested in retaining (regaining?) this “right” (first-sale).
    • But many librarians believe that it is their responsibility to do so.
  • Proposed:
    • Librarians pursue solutions along three tracks: judicial interpretation, federal regulatory/legislative, and collaboration with the providers.
      • There have been modest progress on the judicial front.  But these cost money to pursue and take time to work out.
      • Librarians and others interested in loosening the restrictions on copyright are up against a powerful foe in the legislative arena.  Enlisting the aid of consumers by demonstrating the impact on their own freedoms and choices may help, but this assistance may be fleeting.
      • Many librarians may be loathe to collaborate the publishers or providers (the “enemy”), but that may prove to be our most accessible option.  By acknowledging that these are, indeed, for-profit entities, librarians could approach them with opportunities to make that profit but which also preserves their responsibilities for selecting and enabling continuous and efficient access.
    • Barriers:
      • Lack of trust on both sides of the table.  This may be due less to misunderstanding (we understand that companies want to make a profit; I believe they understand that libraries serve a purpose to the community) and more to direction of interests.
      • Uneven playing fields – some companies are notably more well-endowed to fight or ignore the interests and needs of libraries; the deck has already been stacked in the content providers’ favor.
      • Librarians’ lack of finesse (courage? fearsomeness?) for dealing with the for-profit opponents.
      • Librarians’ overwhelming sense of doing anything to provide our patrons access to the resources they need.

Well, that’s what’s been coarsing through my head lately.  It would be interesting to see how these ideas play out.

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This entry was posted on September 20, 2014 by in Academic Libraries, Collections, Information Resources, Intriguing Ideas, Publishing.
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