Collaborative Collection Conference

Collaborative collection development has been on our lips for 30 years. It’s one of those topics that, to paraphrase Mark Twain (or whoever), everybody talks about but nobody does anything. I exaggerate. There have been a lot of what I’ll call prospective collection collaboration: shared subscriptions, buying clubs, cooperative approval plans. But retrospective collaboration is a tough nut. “Retrospective collaboration?” you say. What to do about managing existing collections, especially monograph collections, in a collaborative fashion? How to weed our monograph collections in an extensive fashion (creating spaces for other activities), while still preserving the greatest diversity of the scholarly and cultural record? Now THAT is on my lips all the time these days.

And its on the lips of several great presenters for ALCTS. See this ALCTS virtual preconference to learn a lot more about this kind of collaboration:

Local Collections, Collective Context: Managing Print Collections in the Age of Collaboration
June 4-6: there are three sessions, 90 minutes each,  beginning at: 11am Pacific, noon Mountain, 1pm Central, 2pm Eastern

Sign up now! I’ll see you there.


I had tea yesterday with a long-time Medieval Studies/English Literature faculty member here. She has always been a heavy user of the library and a real supporter of everything we do. She’s actually retired but still doing a lot of things in the English Department on a part-time basis. Yesterday, she turned to me and asked earnestly, “why is the library going so electronic in everything it does?”

How would you answer that question?

Legal Beagles

All I’m thinking about today are legal issues. Is this what library collection development has come to? And are they teaching students about this in library school? There are, of course, the usual license agreements for subscriptions and electronic resources, but I have some other more specific issues on my mind:

  • Hathi Trust: we’ve been thinking about joining this collaborative organization. I think they are doing important work to ensure the preservation of digital collections. They started with a base of materials digitized by Google from libraries in the Big 10 (and some others), but Hathi is managing these digitized materials with more of the librarian’s concern about preservation, more than Google, certainly. But now there is the sword of Damocles, in the form of a lawsuit from the Authors Guild, hanging over Hathi’s head. I don’t really know all of the ramifications of the suit, or how much it might affect the benefits of joining the organization. But it gives one pause.
  • WEST: this is another collaborative organization that my library HAS joined. The organization is working to create a distributed print repository of print journal holdings. The idea is to ensure at least one print copy of selected journal titles exists within the member libraries of the organization. In order to make the print holdings as complete as possible, some libraries will ask others to contribute journal volumes to fill out a complete run. Here is where the legal issues come in. My state has specific laws about disposing of state property (including library collections of state universities). Can I convince our legal counsel that sharing some volumes from our journal holdings with another library in another state is legal and in our best interest? If we can’t contribute toward the collective holdings of the organization, are we even valuable members?
  • Costco v. Omega: who would have thought that a lawsuit between a mega-store buying club and a Swiss watchmaker would have any impact on an Academic library? This issue came up because someone donated a 6-volume British publication to my library. I mentioned it online and someone suggested that Costco v. Omega may come in to play, especially for a donated book. You see, the Supreme Court ruling (or none-ruling) in this case upholds a lower court ruling (at least in the Ninth Circuit Court) that libraries do not have the protection of the right of first sale regarding materials not manufactured in the United States. What that means is that libraries may not even have the right to circulate foreign publications. Sheesh! Some legal beagles are saying not to worry. There are other protections the cover library activities (beagle1.pdf and beagle2.html). Some of the protections suggest that if you bought the material in a legitimate way, there is a presumption that permission to do library stuff with it is understood. That also presumes, however, that you can demonstrate how you purchased the material. Because of the vagaries of our ILS, we do not even maintain purchase orders for books in our system for more than 2 years. We still have copies of the invoices. But how would we match a particular book purchased 5 years ago with its corresponding invoice? We also do not have title-by-title records for most donations. Extra Sheesh!  I wonder what libraries in the Ninth Circuit are doing.

Thus, I spend the day worrying about the law and not thinking about how to build a good library collection. Maybe I should go to law school.

Transforming Collections

ALCTS E-Forum:

Transforming Collections

Date: February 22 & 23

Description: “Join us to talk about all the ways our collections are changing and discuss topics such as handling new formats, preservation methods, repository services, planning for the future, best practices for moving forward, and budgeting for changing times. Come share your success stories about how you are meeting the research, teaching, and recreational needs of your users of today and tomorrow.”

Occupy Elsevier

There is an academic boycott of Elsevier going on now that is getting a lot of press and social media chatter. (See “The Cost of Knowledge.”) I know Rick Anderson has written a post about the boycott over at Scholarly Kitchen, but I am going to refrain from reading his thoughts until I get this post down. (Perhaps a follow-up after I read it.) In the interest of disclosure, I should say that I work in a library that is a big customer of Elsevier. In fact, we recently licensed the “Freedom Collection” of bundled journals from that publisher.

The point of the boycott is to encourage scientists and scholars to sign a pledge not to publish in, referee for, or do editorial work with any Elsevier journals. The rationale given on the web page is three-fold (my paraphrase): 1) their prices are high, 2) their practice of bundling journals saddles libraries with a lot of titles they don’t want, 3) they support SOPA, PIPA, and the Research Works Act.

I do not deny that each of these points is bad for libraries and for scholarly communication generally, nor that they apply to Elsevier. But I do want to raise a couple of points of concern about the boycott.

  • The boycott seems a bit like déjà vu all over again. Our discourse regarding scholarly communication has been vilifying Elsevier specifically for at least 20 years. I often have conversations with faculty in which they say, “I know Elsevier is bad, but…” or “I thought we were supposed to avoid Elsevier…” And, yet, with that knowledge, faculty continue to publish in Elsevier journals and serve on Elsevier editorial boards. In short, all that negative publicity has done little to affect the bottom line of Elsevier, but more importantly, has not changed the high rating and impact of many Elsevier journals.
  • All three of the issues raised by the boycott apply equally to dozens of other scholarly publishers. Why are they not included in the boycott? What can the boycott hope to achieve if other publishers simple take up what Elsevier loses? Are we to believe that an open access paradise will be achieved by taking on the large scholarly publishers one at a time? We will have a sequence of boycotts for Wiley, Springer, Sage, Taylor & Francis?
  • I have always thought that libraries were always stuck between a rock and a hard place regarding high-priced scholarly journals. The solution has never been that libraries should simply cancel their subscriptions. The very process of promotion and tenure in higher education requires that faculty publish in the highest rated journals, regardless of the sales practices of those journals. I don’t think, however, that the boycott as it is currently organized presents a coordinated effort that will get the desired results.

I admit to be at a loss to how this boycott ought to be organized. The rot here goes to the very heart of the P&T system in higher eduction. Individual scientists can sign the boycott, but that will have little impact if, at the point of tenure review, entire academic departments (or even entire universities) do not discount the value high-price journals and take predatory publishing into account. It is difficult to see how that kind of journal evaluation can take hold without coordination that goes even beyond department and university, encompassing entire academic disciplines and all the journals serving those disciplines.

It’s time for productivity not publicity

I’ve written here a time or two about apps developed by libraries to highlight unique collections. Three prominent examples:

All of these are well-designed and effectively promote their respective libraries to a readership that is increasingly online and mobile. As a first step to demonstrate, at least partly, what is possible in the mobile world, they are impressive.

Suddenly, however, I begin to have issues with these sorts of library products. Part of my misgiving about them is that they are demonstrations. They are tools for promoting the library collections but they are not the library collections themselves. They are surrogates and even billboards for tangible collections sitting on library shelves.

Obviously, a great deal of the digitizing that libraries have done to date has been focused on unique and valuable collections. Digitization has always been advertising for what was great and special about any particular library. It has been a means of creating online exhibits, as it were. But it is precisely that goal that makes library digitizing and app development of limited value to library users. Advertising and exhibits can be interesting, informative, and motivational, but, in the end, they do not take the place of actually using the library. They do not even especially aid or enhance use of the library in any immediate sense.

Part of what makes the Google Book project so interesting is that it has the audacity to digitize the entire library (many libraries, in fact). It is the library in a way that most library digital projects and products are not. Aside from lacking a collection scope that would serve more user needs, most library digital products are also short on functionality. They are not intended to enable users to do things with information. I think it is time that we start to build apps that will help users do things with information.

Some of what I envision has, up to now, been left to vendors and commercial interests to develop. Some may be beyond the financial means of libraries. Some is just plain hard to do. I think we shouldn’t let those things stand in the way of trying. Collectively, we ought to be able to push the envelope more than we have thus far.

Some of the things library mobile apps ought to enable:

  • Discovery of library collections across all kinds of formats
  • Authentication for and use of licensed digital collections
  • Annotation and note taking
  • Citation management
  • Sharing and conversation via social media
  • Remixing and mash-up of content

We can talk a lot about the digital library, the virtual library, but until the tools we offer to users actually enable use, we are only advertising for the physical library and hypothesizing about a digital future. It’s time to give users real productivity tools and make the digital library a reality.

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.

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)