Don’t Feed the Trolls

The library world has two kinds of trolls stalking it lately. Unfortunately, these trolls often have access to major editorial pages from which to pour vitriol down upon us.

Troll #1: We don’t need libraries anymore! These trolls are addicted to those dangerous “everything is on the Internet” hallucinogens. Public libraries are most often in the sights of these kinds of trolls, but other kinds of libraries also come under attack. Newspaper editorial pages are full of their opinion pieces about how no one uses libraries anymore. “We don’t need help finding things anymore. We have Google and Bing.” Or, “We can just buy whatever we want for our Kindle. Information is cheap!” Forget that everything is not free and available to Google’s eyes or Kindle download. Forget that a lot of the information libraries provide is expensive, highly vetted, and still used extensively by library customers. Forget that the service of training users to effectively discover and use information is highly valued in all of our communities. These trolls won’t listen to those arguments.

Troll #2: Don’t you dare change my library of 40 years ago! These trolls are stuck in a time warp. They have fond memories of 1974, when they completed their Ph.D and bought a Chevy Vega. Academic libraries that try innovative new approaches to information delivery will likely raise the ire of these trolls. They will make smug comments about learning commons, remote storage, and any kind of technology that involves electrons in their editorial diatribes. “Any fool knows you need to look at the print journal volumes to do real research.” Which would surprise the other library users who download to the tune of [over] a million journal articles a year, while the bound volumes sit quietly – peacefully in the basement, rarely reshelved, infrequently discovered sitting next to the photocopier. They proudly give research assignments to undergraduates with the instructions NO ELECTRONIC RESOURCES WILL BE ACCEPTABLE. “It is imperative that students know how to use Poole’s Index to Periodicals if they hope to understand the research process.”  Forget that some of your electronic resources include Poole’s (and a lot more) anyway. Forget that academic publishers are plunging headlong into a new digital world. Forget that scholarship itself is embracing and exploring new ways of sharing discoveries, many of which never grace the pages of a print journal. They know what is best and what is best never changes.

My advice is not to feed the trolls. Despite the prominence of their editorial invective, they are the minority. We don’t need to counter their arguments when 90% of the community disagrees with them anyway. Let your gate-counts, check-outs, and downloads do their own talking. If anyone who matters asks, have those data at hand. Talk about your programs that are well attended. Show your letters of thanks and survey responses that tell a different story than what the trolls spin. Know in your heart that you are serving the needs of the community and talk about that with enthusiasm to those who want to listen. But don’t feed the trolls. It’s not worth it.

New Wine in New Bottles

(OK! I’m on again about renting versus owning!) I was engaged in a recent discussion on Google+ about the idea of micro-payments for information based on circulation. It was the basis of a presentation at Internet Library, which I did not attend. (Apparently, the e-book sessions at IL were huge this year.) Anyway, I’m surprise at how tenaciously we librarians cling to the idea of owning information–sometimes coming from the same people who say information wants to be free. I once felt that way. “Not another thing that requires a subscription!”

Now, however, I will cling as tenaciously to the idea that all of our library collection ownership models were developed to handle discrete, physical containers of information. Digital information doesn’t fit the model. It warrants new approaches. I think we should be working our tails off developing new models and presenting those to vendors and publishers. Because, you know, they are going to invent their own systems, if left to their own devices.

We need a sandbox, a laboratory, as it were, for developing new information ownership/access models. Some place to test them out in a safe way. And we need people in our ranks who understand economic and ecological modelling to work on these ideas.


photo courtesy of Claire Schmitt

Berlin Declaration

The Berlin Declaration on open access was written in 2003 under the direction of the Max Planck Society in Germany. Many organizations in Europe, Asia, and Latin America have signed the declaration, but North American organizations have been rather thin on the list of signatories. The main thrust of the statement is that open access is good for scholars and that they should strive to resolve that problems that arise when open access and traditional academic promotion and tenure come together.

With the Berlin 9 Open Access Conference scheduled to occur in Washington D.C. in November, 2011, many North American universities and academic organizations have been hoping to show greater American participation. My university got on board. As the out-going chair of the Faculty Senate Library Committee, I was asked to draft a resolution about the Berlin Declaration. I wrote something up and presented it to the Faculty Senate. They accepted it and passed it on for our Provost to sign, which he has promised to do.

I thought the text of my resolution might be useful for others who would like their university to endorse the Declaration. I’ve attached a generic version of what I wrote. The specific names and titles have been replaced. Feel free to use any portion of this resolution that you like. No acknowledgment required.

ALCTS Online Courses

ALCTS has several online training courses coming up:

Fundamentals of Acquisitions (October 3‑October 28)
This four‑week online course provides a broad overview of the operations
involved in acquiring materials after the selection decision is made.

Fundamentals of Collection Development/Management (October
24‑November 18)
This four‑week online course addresses the basic components of
collection development and management (CDM) in libraries.
Sponsored by Coutts‑Ingram.

Fundamentals of Electronic Resources Acquisitions (November
14‑December 9)
This four‑week online course provides an overview of acquiring,
providing access to, administering, supporting, and monitoring access to
electronic resources.
Sponsored by Harrassowitz.

Fundamentals of Preservation (October 17‑November 11)
This four‑week online course introduces participants to the principles,
policies and practices of preservation in libraries and archives.

See more info at:


Project Muse Beta

Project Muse is rolling out a beta site that demonstrates their future integration of journals and ebooks. (You’ll need a campus subscription to Project Muse to get to the beta.) The ebook product should go live in January 2012. We can certainly expect the ebooks to be a quality product, like the journals. Muse is collaborating with the University Press Content Consortium to provide “digital books” from about 65 different publishers. According to Project Muse newsletter, the digital and print versions of books will be released by the publishers simultaneously. The ebooks will also offer unlimited simultaneous use and will have no DRM. The files will be PDF.

If the beta site is any indication, each book will divided up into individual PDF files for each chapter. I know the intent is to keep the file sizes manageable and to make each book consumable in smaller bites. I think this actually works in a negative way towards download of books to mobile readers. Does anyone actually want to download and manage 15 different files in order to read a single book? There should be a choice to download the entire book. In fact, I’m rather disappointed there won’t be a file option other than PDF. EPUB would work more seamlessly with mobile readers (well, Kindle excepted).

One of the points I’m interested in is whether users will really embrace a journals-n-ebooks collection mix. I know several scientific publishers have already been offering this for several years. (See Elsevier and Springer for example.) And the great push in libraryland is to develop discovery layers that integrate everything into one search interface. Still, platforms like Project Muse and JSTOR that have done such a good job with providing journal access are venturing into new territory. (JSTOR will have an ebook product available on about the same timeframe as Muse.) Platforms like this have always been a selective subset of journals. In such a selective environment, does it make sense to integrate journals and books? Of course, their users will love these platforms. The user population for Muse comes primarily from book-centric humanities disciplines. They will likely love having more content and having books added to the mix.

Conference Round-up

Some upcoming conferences (online and face-to-face) that may be of interest to collections and acquisitions folks:

July 21, 2011
Taking Our Pulse: The OCLC Research Survey of Special Collections and Archives
Webinar, hosted by the Greater Western Library Alliance

July 27-28, 2011
Handheld Librarian Online Conference
Totally online conference dealing with mobile technology in libraries.

August 18, 2011
Current Trends in E-Journals: SERIG Summer Program, Boston, MA
ACRL New England sponsored

September 15-18, 2011
ALA affiliate involved in developing Spanish-language collections and services

September 29-October 2, 2011
LITA National Forum, St. Louis, MO
ALA affiliate involved in library technology

October 17-19, 2011
Internet Librarian, Monterery, CA
Sponsored by Information Today

November 2-5, 2011
Charleston Conference, Charleston, SC
31st annual conference for library collections and acquisitions

December 5-7, 2011
International Digital Curation Conference, Bristol, UK
Sponsored by the Digital Curation Centre

March 21-23, 2012
Computers in Libraries, Washington, DC
Call for speakers deadline, September 9, 2011

March 29-April 2, 2012
ARLIS/NA, Toronto, ON
Art Libraries Society of North America

April 2-4, 2012
Electronic Resources & Libraries, Austin, TX
The e-resources crowd

May 19-22, 2012
Acquisitions Institute at Timberline, Timberline Lodge, OR


Please post any others you know of in the comments.


Collection Communication

I’ve been thinking about an issue for library collections recently. I might like to do a research project on this topic but have not pushed through the inertia to get working on it. The topic is: communication about collections. There are so many issues about library collections that require communication with a wide variety of constituents both within the library staff and in the user community. The number of issues that require communication is almost never ending. And the variety of constituents is daunting.

I started keeping a spreadsheet of all the different communication issues we have:Very Large Array

  • Product trials
  • New products
  • Vendors visits
  • Vendor training announcements
  • New approval titles
  • Renewal notices
  • New product requests
  • Order problems
  • Fund problems
  • Orders or requests (from librarians or users)
  • Invoice (received or to be paid)
  • Claims
  • Connectivity problems
  • Service Outages

Some of those are entirely internal. Some are issues that we communicate outward to library staff and users. Some are issues that users communicate to us. ERMs were designed to handle some of the internal communication issues (although even at those, they don’t do a very good job), but ERMs were never intended to be the means of pushing out the entire gamut of communication elements to a library community.

What can we use to meet all these communication needs? I’ve been pondering that for my own library and not come up with a good solution. Probably no one tool is right for everything. But we do have a lot more options now days. We use a lot of email discussion lists in my library, but, personally, I’d rather eat a bag of glass than be added to another listserv.

So, the number of communication tools is equally daunting:

old phone

  • Telephone
  • Text message
  • Chat
  • Personal email
  • Group email list
  • Newsletter (print or electronic)
  • Face to face
  • Webpage
  • Intranet
  • Local network drive
  • Wiki
  • Calendar
  • Facebook
  • Blog
  • Twitter
  • Libguides
  • Course management system
  • Skype
  • RSS
  • Adobe Connect
  • YouTube
  • Other Social Media

And probably 500 other things. Ideally, it would be nice if we could integrate all of this into a single system. A blog platform like WordPress might begin to do the job, but I haven’t figure out how to sort out the internal and the public. So many puzzles to solve.

What is your library using for internal and external communications about library collections issues? Help me out here!


image credits:

Very Large Array: Rick Ortiz (Flickr)

telephone: Frédéric BISSON (Flickr)

Mobeus Trip

yin yangThe other day, I was at a retreat for my library’s administrative team. We were doing some strategic visioning. I managed to get some of my ideas about collections embraced. Well, actually, they were all pretty prepared to accept a lot of what I want to have as part of our collection vision. In fact, our head of discovery services (cataloging) was pretty quick to recognize the key concept: discovery and collections are one and the same. We spent some time coming up with metaphors for that idea. It’s the yin/yang of the library. Or maybe its a mobeus strip. Collections and discovery on different sides of the strip…wait a minute!

There are a couple of other key concepts to this vision. Discovery is seamless, which is to say all discovery looks the same. There are no separate interfaces. It’s all one interface, one discovery platform (though perhaps with many customization and personalization features). The other concept, however, is that the collection is a hybrid. Some of it is an owned physical collection, some of it is subscription-based, some free, some curated local data, much of it is digital. A lot of it is not owned or subscribed to in any normal sense of those words, but access to it is mediated instantaneously or on-the-fly. Demand driven collections that happen at the point of need.

The discovery mechanism is what allows your library users to have access to information. In this environment, library staff will be engaged in pointing the discovery mechanism in the direction of collections or repositories that are useful. Although I think users should also be able to point it anywhere they like. More to the point, library staff will be engaged as well in creating metadata for information objects that will make them more discoverable, regardless of whether they are already owned or subscribed to. I guess this also means that cataloging and acquisitions are more or less the same process.

Welcome to the World of Tomorrow

Welcome to the World of Tomorrow! That’s the kind of jingoistic positivism you’d hear about things like the World’s Fair back in the 1930s and 40s. It’s also what you’ll hear from me right now as I talk about the New York Public Library’s new iPad app, Biblion, which was just released this week. Biblion is a marvelous showcase of how to design interactive information for the touchscreen tablet. It is not a book, per se. Nor is it a website. It is an amalgam of text, image, audio, and video organized in a way that makes sense on this new platform.

Biblion: The Boundless Library contains a wonderful assortment of archival materials from NYPL about the 1939-1940 World’s Fair in New York. The NYPL website suggests that this is just the first of many “displays” for Biblion. Is it a magazine? Is it an encyclopedia? A book series? We don’t know yet. They call it “An NYPL Digital Publication.” Welcome to the post-bibliographic age!

Part of the beauty of Biblion is the variety of navigation schemes that are employed. The linearity of the print book is forever destroyed in this publication. You can riffle through images, scroll through text, pinch and expand thumbnails, and follow sidebars to your heart’s content. Like the much-lauded The Elements, Biblion takes familiar kinds of information (photos, manuscript materials, drawings, posters, etc.) and reworks them for a new medium. All of these are fairly intuitive. The iconography makes it easy to work your way back to familiar territory. There are, nonetheless, a couple of missing elements that I think would be useful: an index or sitemap and a search function.

Gypsy Rose LeeThe elements of Biblion work well together. The whole is rather masterfully curated, wedding spot-on selections from an archive of over 2,500 boxes with contemporary essays by notable authors and scholars. Historic figures like Gypsy Rose Lee, Albert Einstein, and Adolf Hitler all weave together in an interesting story (that still functions as a story). Essays by Amy Azzarito, William Grimes, and Karen Abbott enrich the visual information with compelling text. American Rose at the Fair


A library created this wonderful app, but it is unclear how libraries can help serve library users in this particular information ecosystem. Apple designs things to be accessed and used by individuals. Sharing is not yet part of the plan. Even in a non-sharing environment, however, libraries can still serve to aid discovery. If you’ve ever tried to find something in iTunes, you can image how useful a catalog of apps would be. In terms of owning and sharing collections, maybe those days are over. Maybe now we’ve moved into a world where we still buy materials, but we give each copy away to individuals on an “as needed” basis. Rushing headlong into the post-bibliographic world of tomorrow.

Preserve and Protect

weedWeeding! It’s a swear word for a lot of academic librarians. Our public library counterparts are more amenable to the whole thing. (See Awful Library Books.) Academic librarians, however, take very seriously the charge to preserve the scholarly record. In an online discussion recently with my literature librarian colleagues, many of them said they would NEVER weed a literature book. I think that begins to be an untenable position. Space in academic libraries rarely grows at the rate that the collection grows. Given that situation, you can choose to either to stop growing the collection or begin to dispose of items that are not vital for your local population. The response to that is typically: “well, I thought about getting rid of a book once, and lo and behold, 10 years later I really needed that book.” Most anti-weedenists are willing to push that number years to infinity. What if someone needs it 20 years, 50 years, 300 years from now?  It’s not sustainable, my friend.

Here is what IS sustainable: a coordinated approach to preserving the scholarly record. Librarians need to think and work in a collective way, across multiple collections. Each library focuses its efforts on preserving a section of the scholarly record. The rest of the collection is gravy, as it were. It can be maintained as long as it is serving the local needs. When it is no longer serving that need, it becomes expendable. But not to worry. Some other library considers that material to be part of its preservation responsibility. So, the University of New Mexico, for example, is pledged to preserve materials about New Mexico, the American Southwest, Hispanic and Chicano culture, Latin American studies, and Pueblo culture. Of course, we also preserve anything published by our university press and by authors associated with our university or our state.

We would also keep a core of materials that serves any our of curriculum needs. Undergraduates would have the assurance that they can study any subject that interests them…to an undergraduate level of depth. A research level collection we would let be driven by whatever the current needs are, but we would not feel compelled to keep that material beyond the period of its current need, unless it was in one of our areas of pledged preservation interest.

There are now many tools that make this kind of distributed preservation work possible. JSTOR was intended, from the beginning, to be a way that librarians could have peace of mind about disposing of particular journal volumes that were available in a safe online archive. Most libraries never took JSTOR up on the offer to get rid of those journals that are in the archive. But there are other resources that begin to provide additional layers of preservation. LOCKSS, CLOCKSS, and Portico all offer additional preservation of digital content. Google Books provides digital copies of many public domain books. Many of those digital copies are further preserved by the Hathi Trust.

Several consortia are also developing a means of preserving print materials in a distributed way. WEST, the Western Regional Storage Trust, is developing plans for libraries to cooperate in creating a distributed repository of print journals. Most of their initial target materials will be items that have significant digital preservation and duplication as well.This list goes on and on of library consortia and organizations that are preserving print elements of the scholarly record: California Digital Library, Greater Western Library Alliance, Center for Research Libraries.

All of these factors can work to make a distributed preservation plan work:

  • mass digitization (Google, Internet Archive, Hathi)
  • cooperative, distributed print respositories (WEST, CDL, GWLA, etc.)
  • cooperative digital preservation initiatives (LOCKSS, CLOCKS, Portico, Hathi)

More initiatives like these will flourish in coming years. At a certain point, we need to say, these materials are widely available digitally, a print copy is safely housed in a library repository, and the level of use locally suggests that I don’t need a copy sitting on my shelves any longer. Time to make room for something else.

Photo courtesy of tobym on Flickr: