Libraries are for Use

Demonstrating the value of librarianship

Maintaining relevance in the age of OA


Librarians have been at the center of the Open Access movement, stemming in no small part from the unsustainable rise of journal expenses.  But, as more and more articles articles become freely available (free, as in beer), how will libraries maintain their relevance to our users?

I know, yet another existential, navel-gazing post by a Chicken-Little on the future of libraries.  Actually, no, it is not.  Because I have little doubt in the near- and medium-term future of our profession (and, short of total extinction of mankind due to ecologic or planetary tragedies, our long-term looks good, too).  But the question still remains…what if the majority of articles that our patrons use were freely available on the Web?  How would libraries remain relevant to our (former?) patrons?

What got me thinking about this was Aaron Tay’s posting about his own foray into this issue.   His question was: What percentage of citations made by our researchers is to freely available content?  His initial results were actually quite astonishing: 80% of the citations to articles by his institution’s economics faculty were freely available.  Of course, Aaron posed a number of limitations to this result, post problematic being that the timing of availability was unknown.  The papers he examined were from 2009-2015, but it is not known when these papers were available at the time that the authors gathered them.  That timing problem is a major obstacle to doing citation analysis for this question…but that’s another story.

We are aware of the numerous studies suggesting that academic faculty are using library-specific tools less and less for finding the resources they need.  By “library-specific”, I’m referring to the more traditional tools that librarians have developed or maintained, including the catalog, ejournal lists, and even the newer Discovery tools.  Instead, our faculty are turning more and more to Google Scholar or the overall Web.  Turning aside issues related to efficiency, let us assume that most of the faculty use GS most of the time to find articles (we will deal only with published journal articles for this thought experiment).  Will they find the articles they need to be freely-available?

Aaron cites a number of articles that have attempted to answer the corollary to his question: What percentage of articles on the Web are freely-available?  Their estimates ranged from 20% to 61% (Aaron – you have the foundations of a good systematic review and possibly a meta-analysis…keep going!).  Based on two studies that appeared to him to have more valid methodologies, Aaron estimates about 40%.  What if this rises to a critical mass of, say, 60% or 70%?  Could librarians strategically cut their costly and burdensome journal subscriptions?  Would libraries need to continue to be the purchasing agent (or, “wallet” as Aaron puts it) for the faculty – at least for journal articles?  If so, how would we remain relevant, especially to the disciplines for which scholarly outputs are primarily journal articles?

We could respond to this challenge as we did at the dawn of the Web, developing our own solutions, such as attempting to “catalog” it.  Or we could look at what we can and cannot control, and focus on the former and let the latter go.  We are often described as being middle-men when it comes to the flow of information.  We attempt to meet the needs of our patrons, which are very different institution-to-institution.  But we cannot control either side — neither what publishers do, nor what our patrons do.  For instance, just because a version of the article is freely-available does not mean it is easily accessible.  Indeed, publishers have attempted to build-in friction into their OA models, actively resisting attempts to make the OA versions less accessible or desirable.  And just because we expend significant resources to making our expensive resources available (via Discovery services or the catalog) does not mean our patrons will use them.

So, how do we remain relevant?  When I ask that question to myself, I next ask, why should we remain relevant?  Aside from my own future employment, why is it important for libraries to remain relevant as a middle-man?  After all, many middle-man occupations have gone by the wayside – people now buy many things once only available via salesmen.  My response to myself (and now, you) is that information is too important to be driven solely by market forces.  Information is what our decisions are based on, decisions that affect our lives, our livelihood, our future.  Access to information is a core value of librarianship, and by abandoning this to the market, we as a society risk being manipulated by those who control the information.

Given this, perhaps we need to re-think our role as ‘middle-men’.  Middle-men typically are independent, beholden to neither party – they attempt to meet the needs of both parties – the producers and the customers.  So, I would argue that librarians are more beholden to the people or consumers of information than we are to the producers.  True, we need to ensure that producers of information can be sustained, but it is the information itself that is important to our patrons, our people.  So I would posit that we librarians can and do maintain our relevance not by being middle-men or agents, but rather ombudsmen or advocates for the consumers of information.  Now, this should not mean that we control the flow of information, but that we ensure that quality information is available and accessible to our patrons.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Information

This entry was posted on September 20, 2015 by in Bibliometrics, LIS Profession, Open Access.
The Scholarly Kitchen

What’s Hot and Cooking In Scholarly Publishing

Libraries are for Use

Demonstrating the value of librarianship

Scholarly Communication | Scoop.it

Demonstrating the value of librarianship

Library & Information Science Research | Scoop.it

Demonstrating the value of librarianship

Library Collections | Scoop.it

Demonstrating the value of librarianship

Lib(rary) Performance

About library statistics & measurement - by Ray Lyons

Walt at Random

Demonstrating the value of librarianship

The Scholarly Kitchen

Demonstrating the value of librarianship

The Quarterly Journal of Economics Current Issue

Demonstrating the value of librarianship

Texas Library Association blogs

Demonstrating the value of librarianship

Demonstrating the value of librarianship

Stephen's Lighthouse

Demonstrating the value of librarianship

ResourceShelf

Demonstrating the value of librarianship

Reference Notes

Demonstrating the value of librarianship

Politifact.com Truth-O-Meter rulings from National

Demonstrating the value of librarianship

Open and Shut?

Demonstrating the value of librarianship

N S R

Demonstrating the value of librarianship

Musings about librarianship

Demonstrating the value of librarianship

LISNews:

Demonstrating the value of librarianship

%d bloggers like this: