• September 4, 2015

Library Inc.

Corporate U.

Illustration by Dave Plunkert for The Chronicle

Enlarge Image
close Corporate U.

Illustration by Dave Plunkert for The Chronicle

From industry-backed research to CEO-style executive salaries and perquisites, the influence of corporate America on universities has been the subject of much popular and scholarly scrutiny. University libraries have largely escaped that attention. Yet libraries, the intellectual heart of universities, have become perhaps the most commercialized academic area within universities, with troubling implications for the future of higher education.

Libraries have always dealt with the business world, buying books, journals, and other products. In the past, however, libraries separated the commercial process of acquiring materials from the academic objective of putting those materials to use. But that division has now faded as an unintended side effect of information technology.

Libraries are early and enthusiastic adopters of digital innovations. But these innovations bring the values of the marketplace with them. Through innocuous incremental stages, academic libraries have reached a point where they are now guided largely by the mores of commerce, not academe.

Commercialization has impinged on two core facets of university libraries—their collections and their user services. The ownership and provision of research materials, especially academic journals, has been increasingly outsourced to for-profit companies. Library patrons, moreover, are increasingly regarded simply as consumers, transforming user services into customer service. Both developments have distanced libraries from their academic missions.

The economics of journal publishing have long been problematic for libraries. According to the Association of Research Libraries, the average per-title cost of an academic journal grew by 227 percent between 1986 and 2002; in the past five years, prices have continued to rise 7 percent to 11 percent annually.

At least since the 1970s, libraries have understood that their budgets would never be able to keep pace, and they began to seek an alternative arrangement. They redefined themselves as providers of access to information instead of as owners of the material their patrons required. In the 1980s, the fax machine was heralded as the technological fix that would enable libraries to meet their patrons' needs without blowing their budgets. Libraries could fax each other copies of articles for far less than it would cost to subscribe to a journal.

This early incarnation of the access-versus-ownership idea was narrowly conceived: It assumed that the materials being accessed would be held by other libraries. By the late 1990s, the concept of access had evolved into something quite different. In the online environment, electronic versions of journals are owned by the journal publisher or provider and libraries pay for access. Initially, e-journals were adjuncts to hard-copy subscriptions; libraries still owned the material but also leased electronic versions for the convenience of their patrons.

Over the last decade, however, as the number and cost of journals have soared, most libraries have decided to forgo purchasing hard copies. The shift from owning a journal to merely providing access to its digital incarnation has, of course, saved some money. But those savings come in tandem with detrimental changes both to the content of library collections and the ways those collections are used.

It used to be that subject bibliographers—librarians with expert knowledge of academic disciplines and the needs of their campuses—would subscribe to journals primarily based on the content and quality of the journal. The world of e-journals, however, is dominated by a relative handful of major vendors who create pricing incentives to pressure libraries to subscribe to preselected packages at a discounted per-title cost. These "big-deal" bundles, as they are widely known, tie up a huge portion of a library's budget (sometimes in the neighborhood of a million dollars), making it difficult to trim or reallocate when necessary.

In addition, the big deals take the decision about which journals to purchase out of the hands of subject-specialist librarians, a trend that is leading to the homogenization of library collections. Many institutions are acquiring near-identical lists of journals from the same vendors. Simultaneously, cash-strapped libraries are canceling subscriptions to titles from smaller publishers because their journals are either unbundled or in more flexible packages that are easier to modify when the budget needs balancing.

By outsourcing ownership to mega-vendors, libraries have introduced the commercial interests of the journal providers into what had been an internal academic transaction between a library and its patrons. Purveyors of e-journals provide access to their titles on sites that are designed to bolster brand recognition and encourage repeat visits. This practice is good for business but not for scholarship. It is common to hear library patrons say that they found information on "Informaworld" (the platform of publisher Taylor and Francis) or "ScienceDirect" (Elsevier's platform) and not to know the name of the journal in which the article was published. Students especially have become purveyor-dependent, when they should be familiarizing themselves with the best literature, in the best journals, regardless of who sells it.

E-journal publishers have legitimate commercial interests to advance. But why are university libraries adopting those interests and values as their own? Libraries now regard their users as customers whose needs should be met in order to secure their allegiance. While an emphasis on improving service is a good thing, it matters how you conceive of the service to be improved. Libraries today are mistaking a part of their mission for the whole, treating one of their most basic, mechanical, and least-distinctive tasks as their dominant, if not sole, patron service.

According to both the professional literature and information-vending companies' usability studies, a library's chief task is to meet the information needs of its patrons. "Information needs," in this context, is understood as identifying and locating known items. True, university libraries do a lot of this work and do it well, but so do public libraries and the GE Answer Center. For university libraries, retrieving what is known should be only the beginning. They are laboratories of the mind, unique places where questions that have never before been asked can be formulated and answered; they are centers of teaching where patrons can learn about the organization and the production of knowledge. And much more.

There are far-reaching implications to disregarding so much of what a library does in favor of an impoverished, customer-service-centric model. In technical services—the behind-the-scenes part of the library that brings in materials and prepares them for us—it is becoming commonplace to hear that "good enough" (read: incomplete) item records and metadata are sufficient. These records may be "good enough" for base-level handling and inquiries, but they are insufficient for the task of answering new and unusual questions—precisely the sort of inquiries at which university libraries should excel.

In public services—the part of the library dedicated to connecting patrons with resources—the dominance of the customer-service model has led to a devaluation of both expert knowledge and systematic inquiry. Libraries should be facilitating thorough and precise research inquiries; instead they are trending in the opposite direction, toward a reliance on dumbed-down discovery tools that will deposit "good-enough" results in a patron's lap. Libraries and their commercial partners envision a future when, to a patron, libraries look a lot like Google: a vast, undifferentiated mass of information queried by a simple search box.

Libraries have already drifted too far down the commercial path: Research and educational values must be restored to their primacy of place. "Good enough" and one-stop shopping are no substitutes for systematic research. Technology cannot replace human expertise. The business world has many valuable tools and resources to offer, but libraries must insist that scholarly requirements take precedence over commercial interests.

The need to realign library values is especially urgent in the realm of monographs. Electronic publishing of academic monographs is still at an early stage, but it is growing fast. As it is developing, e-monographic publishing is following the path of e-journals and will, therefore, reproduce many of the same problems—spiraling prices, homogeneous collections, greater numbers of low-quality monographs. Libraries will provide access to titles owned by the publishers, who will offer them up in preset packages accompanied by complex licensing agreements that constrain their use. (Existing e-book licenses, for example, generally prohibit interlibrary loans.)

Moreover, as has happened with journals, the idea of the book as a coherent object is undermined. Some of the existing e-monograph platforms assign authorship to each chapter, and each chapter is a separate file. On first (and second) glance, the chapters appear to be stand-alone essays rather than connected parts of an elaborate, extended analysis.

It is time, now, to articulate a plan for e-books that better serves the needs of the academic community. University libraries should opt out of the e-book market until it conforms itself to the values, needs, and wallets of academe.

For universities, the libraries' experience is a cautionary tale. Commercial practices, technologies, and innovations often seem to benefit and support the academic mission of universities. But commercial innovations are not value-free, and it has proven very difficult for libraries to embrace some components while rejecting others.

As a result, the identity of libraries as academic institutions has been compromised. Leaders of the profession fear that libraries will become obsolete if they do not abandon their traditional standards and goals and pursue the latest trends. But the reverse is true: The more libraries align their interests and values with their commercial partners, the less distinctive and indispensable they become.

Daniel Goldstein is an arts, humanities, and social-science librarian at the University of California at Davis.


1. chrisprom - October 18, 2010 at 09:57 am

This analysis is true, but incomplete in two respects. First, many libraries, including my own, have placed a large number of resources into attempts to reform the marketplace through 'scholarly communications' initiatives, such as the development of institutional repositories of faculty reserach. The results of these efforts have been uneven, admittedly, but libraries have been trying. But, there is only so much that can be done in the face of legal restrictions and the economic power that publishers wield. Second, the author totally ignores work being done by special collections units, such as rare book libries, manuscript repositories, and archives and the now evolving notion of 'digital curation.' These areas deal with unique materials, and in the future, they will differentiate one institution from another. Furthermore, if you peel behind the surface, you quickly discover a great deal of real action and dynamism, that is more or less uncorrupted (so far) by commercial imperitives.

2. carrp - October 18, 2010 at 03:13 pm

Daniel Goldstein is wrong in his claim that the transition to a subscription in online-only format entails a loss of ownership to the subscribed content. Through industry initiatives such as LOCKSS and Portico and through license agreements, libraries very often are able to secure provisions for perpetual access to subscribed content.

Goldstein is also wrong when he claims that the pressure for libraries to subscribe to 'big deal' packages is coming from vendors. Rather, this pressure is coming from libraries' user communities. Today's users expect seamless and immediate access to the resources they need to support their teaching, learning, and research. If libraries opt not to pursue this level of service in order to pay homage to vague traditional ideals of what an academic library should be, then it is likely that users will look to other information brokers.

In response to radical changes in how information is created, distributed, located, and accessed, libraries need to evolve, pursuing many of the innovations that Goldstein finds so lamentable.

3. johnxlibris - October 18, 2010 at 03:32 pm

Mr. Goldstein should have mentioned that there are many benefits to electronic resources, most notably: access and space. Libraries can provide more access to more users with e-journals. Additionally, the cost of shelving and maintaining those volumes over time (replacement, binding, repair) is reduced considerably. But more importantly, if universities continue to demand libraries adapt to smaller budgets, libraries must make hard choices: generally, I think most libraries will choose the option that provides the most access to the greatest number of users for the lowest cost.

It would have been more beneficial for Mr. Goldstein to address the fact that many journals are only available via one vendor due to monopoly-like practices within the publishing world. Or to address the ridiculous pricing models that publishers "offer" to libraries. Is it right to say that libraries are "buying in" to corporate values because they want to offer students the best access possible and there happens to only be one way to get that access?

There are many people who deserve a finger pointed in their direction and I don't deny that academic libraries deserve it from time to time, but when it comes to providing access to users, they do the best they can given the limited resources they have... and very often they do so in keeping with their professional values.

4. mbelvadi - October 18, 2010 at 04:19 pm

The author seems to have focused on "Big Deal" publisher packages and completely missed the importance of the "citation-abstract-plus-full-text" databases to modern libraries. Aside from at a few very elite institutions like his own, the vast majority of online journals available to most academic patrons in the US come from these databases, in which the journals are a broad mix of publications across many publishers. In fact, the smaller journals which he worries about can often find that getting their content included in these databases to be a huge boost to their revenue, as at least some database vendors pay royalties per full text article viewed. You may be hearing students say "from Informaworld", but I'm hearing students saying "from EBSCOHost" and "from Proquest", two of the mega-database companies. Because these products combine full text with often quite powerful indexing and other search-enhancing capabilities, they can really help "good enough" students find actually quite good resources for their term papers.

5. mbelvadi - October 18, 2010 at 04:30 pm

Unrelated to my previous post, the author also seems to have fallen into the usual trap with journals - he seems to think of "journals" as a unified, central unit, comparable to a "book". But they aren't at all. Patrons don't read journals (at least, not in libraries - personal subscriptions are another matter) - they read "articles". The fact that libraries had to buy yearly multi-issue journal subscriptions in order to provide their patrons access to a few of the articles within was an artifact of the print world, and a business model imposed on them by the publishers every bit as much as the new business models you are complaining about. The proliferation of journals, including the splitting of what was once a single journal into several that each cost as much as the original, has resulted in a watering down of the average quality of articles per annual subscription as the library has to pay for far more "unused" articles to get the few really great ones in that title in that year. Many of us have been calling for years now for a radical rethinking of the "journal subscription" model for delivering the kind of scholarly research reports that lend themselves to 20 pages (articles) rather than 300 (books). Open access publishing is a part of that new vision, but only a part.

6. provcoll2 - October 18, 2010 at 04:40 pm

Perhaps Daniel Goldstein's issues are important (good metadata, retaining intellectual integrity).

In my view, however, it cannot be EITHER/OR: EITHER resist catering to demonstrated student and faculty needs and preferences in resources, services and facilities OR lose traditional identity, character, values and indispensability.

The presumption of myself and my colleagues is that we have the professional responsibility to make it BOTH/AND: valuable tradition+emerging trends; the best of the old (like me and my 40-90-year-old patrons) + the best of the emerging (my 18-to-40-year-old patrons)- seemless use of windshield+rear-view-mirror.

7. libct - October 18, 2010 at 05:18 pm

I disagree with several points in this article. I, and the librarians I work with, take the academic mission of the library very seriously. What we are working through is how to accomplish this mission as technology transforms both pedagogy and how scholars communicate with one another. In selecting electronic resources and negotiating terms with vendors, librarians have consistently fought for the right to loan materials and put them on reserve. For the most part we have won these rights for journal articles, and we are now working with ebook vendors for the same rights. But we do not have the option not to provide access to electronic journals or books--many students and scholars find this access essential.

There is no doubt that the explosion of electronic resources (books and journals, but also images, videos, audio recordings, and data) have made the library's job very complex. But libraries and librarians are committed to working through the complexities to fulfill our academic mission while enhancing access and services to our students and faculty. --Pat Tully, Wesleyan University Librarian (CT).

8. history_grrrl - October 19, 2010 at 12:37 am

Thank you, Mr. Goldstein, for your insightful essay. In just the last few weeks, I've had consultations with several students (in their fourth year) who were having trouble finding relevant journal articles for their research papers. When I asked how they were searching, they all had the same answer: JStor. So I went to JStor myself to locate an article I had just read. According to JStor, the article doesn't exist. I took a few minutes in class last week to explain to students the problem with using JStor as a "source." This essay has enabled me to contextualize the problem, which I recognize as part of something larger but have not been able to articulate well. Mr. Goldstein has done so.

9. mjwhitekingston - October 19, 2010 at 10:50 am

In the early 20th century, fundamentalist evangelicals admonished their more secular, scientifically-minded fellow citizens to "Read your Bible". Daniel Goldstein offers a similar message to librarians and library users: "Read your (print) books".

Goldstein's argument that libraries should "opt out" of the e-book market is nonsensical. No matter what angle you view it from, it's simply not a wise or viable strategy. Libraries and librarians are very much part of the e-book market and if we wish to have any influence over the development of e-books (and other emerging forms of scholarly communication) we must be active participants. Where would libraries be today if librarians opted out of every technological and cultural innovation of the past 100 plus years? Instead, librarians must continue to embrace change and work collaboratively with students and faculty, publishers and authors to develop the full potential of this new medium.

10. pwiener - October 19, 2010 at 03:01 pm

What a treat to see Mr. Goldstein's diatribe, even if it's 10-15 years too late. It could have been written verbatim about the academic library I work in. It's long been known that serials publishers are legally extorting libraries with their outrageously priced packages of minimally-used materials - similar to the way Fox is extorting viewers right now by pirating public airwaves and demanding a fortune to use them from cable providers, while withholding the World Series and NFL football from viewers. Why journal packagers have gotten away with this, in my opinion, is simple: most librarians at any level are pushovers, ignorant of business practises, awed by anything labeled "scholarly research," believers who, like provcoll2, think that any request made by a patron is god's command, and that their professional obligation is to abandon their judgment and training and do what others tell them to do - because everybody else is doing it! The only solution I can see is one Goldstein suggests: DON'T buy ebooks until a better purchase model evolves. That's not much of a solution, since articles are already locked up, and article-worship has infected - has already scarred - most faculty and students. Only a pay-per-use model for articles might eliminate the spiraling budget disaster (fueled in large part by Elsevier) - that and a change in the way scholarship is undertaken. Except in a few of the hard sciences, (though most of them already rely on better and faster information exchanges), it's perfectly possible to be an excellent scholar - at least as an undergraduate - without ever using a proprietary article database. Librarians should know how to make that happen and should take every opportunity to teach it to the students and the faculty they interact with, many of whom have long been frustrated by difficult-to-use, hard-to-find, poorly-indexed "library" databases.

11. edtallent - October 20, 2010 at 08:29 am

I love a good rant and I applaud Mr Goldstein on this one, even if I do not agree with all of its points. I have worked in several institutions and I still await that mythical place where users take full advantage of, and value, the metadata and subject access that libraries make available to them. Still a dream, I am afraid, one that the so-called dumb discovery tools just might bring closer to a reality. It's easy and fun to toss around terms and to use terms out of context, as is done here with user needs. I am not sure how one takes the goal (which includes the positive value of designing services and collections from a user's perspective -- something basic but not always practiced by libraries) and defines it as simply a service that responds to know item needs. While this is done regularly, I would guess reference librarians would state that they spend plenty of time introducing students to titles, resources, approaches, and options they knew little of nothing about (and given the chance, we could with faculty, too). Not only that, it is done is myriad and innovative ways -- one on one, classes, online tutorials and guides, at the desk, chat and integration into the class curriculum. Change can be difficult and it is often the staff (not the students) who are most challenged by it. Comment #5 by mbelvadi is a good example of how we should be looking ahead and where we should go and not where we have been

12. alf2010 - October 20, 2010 at 09:06 am

Perhaps it is true that many libraries are now taking a "good-enough" approach to collection development and technical services, but I don't think it is fair to make a blanket statement concerning this matter. Furthermore, I do not think it is fair to say that public services librarians are taking a "good-enough," dumbed-down approach to assisting patrons. The libraries in which I have worked have not adopted federated searching because of the many pitfalls and the terrible results that are retrieved. In speaking with colleagues at other colleges and universities, I have learned that they are also not adopting federated searching (or, if the instution has adopted it, they are not promoting it). Instead, we teach our students that going into several different databases will save one time and frustration in the long run, as it will get one the best articles possible for one's topic.

I think it is a shame that Mr. Goldstein feels that his fellow librarians no longer care about the services they are providing to their patrons...perhaps it is time for him to go to smaller institution to see a different environment.

13. dr_redrum - October 20, 2010 at 09:07 am

history_grrrl, did you think to ask one of your institution's librarians for help? If you had you would have been directed to other sources than JStor for the articles you sought. It is too bad you didn't teach that to your students, instead of simply bashing all e-resources for the limitation of one e-resource. I respectfully suggest that your ignorance and hesitation to ask for help makes you part of the problem.

14. aprestamo - October 20, 2010 at 10:07 am

There are many arguments on both sides of the "big deal" journal package question. I can only speak for our library, but detailed analysis over a five year period shows that even if we subscribed to ONLY the top 100 journals (based on number of articles downloaded) in our 8 largest packages our title-by-title subscription costs would far exceed our costs for the "big deal".

15. jpheintz - October 20, 2010 at 10:15 am

yep, let's just keep it all in print and offline. If we can only make it hard enough to use, then the patrons will be forced to come into the library building and be taught the "proper" way to search by Mr. Goldstein and the rest of us academic librarians.

Or not.

We have very different conceptions of how our mission is to be accomplished (if not what the mission is). I suspect we both want want academic research materials to be discovered and used. Do we think that's going to happen primarily online or primarily in the physical library building? I know what I think.

16. lauragibbs - October 20, 2010 at 11:56 am

I can only write from my own experience, and my own experience is that the "vast, undifferentiated mass" of Google - specifically GoogleBooks - has been far more valuable to me than any resources offered through my university library, even though I work at the flagship public university at my state, which boasts of the excellence of its collections. For my purposes, GoogleBooks and the digitization efforts at libraries like the University of Mannheim and the University of Munich have been infinitely of greater importance - so, I would have to disagree with the author of the article about his gloom-and-doom perspective on massive digitization efforts that may indeed lack some of the niceties of traditional librarianship. Thanks to GoogleBooks and other digitization efforts, I have access to many 16th, 17th and 18th-century books - the kinds of books libraries will not release via interlibrary loan, understandably so - and thanks to my access to those books I am able to complete research projects that I could only fantasize about a mere ten years ago. Just this summer I completed a project on Mille Fabulae et Una: 1001 Aesop's Fables in Latin (the book is available as a PDF at pdf.bestlatin.net). With no special thanks to my university library but with enormous thanks to GoogleBooks, I was able to compile the largest single collection of Aesop's fables in Latin ever created (edited with the needs of Latin students and teachers in mind) while linking at my website to all the original online sources that I used, so that anyone who wants to see more of Camerius or Irenaeus or any of the other sources I used can do so for themselves online (including scholars who will want to see the unedited sources, rather than the versions edited for Latin learners as in my book).

I'm sure that other scholars have other needs, but for my own scholarly purposes, the vast, undifferentiated mass of GoogleBooks is the best thing that has ever happened to me, and I am also deeply grateful to the folks at University of Mannheim and University of Munich et al. for their incredibly generous efforts in digitizing their collections (including incunabula and early printed books) in order to share them with the world at large. By their nature, massive digitization projects like GoogleBooks are going to be messy, but that works for me: I would rather have that sprawling and messy access to the old Latin editions of Aesop than no access at all!

17. smui8291 - October 20, 2010 at 01:07 pm

I have had the somewhat opposite experience of what grr history suggests of going to the shelf for a print copy of the article only to find it has been razored out. The library did not have electronic access to that source. I did manage to locate another copy, but I am persistent. The print world of yore was never perfect and the electronic environment is not either. I have found errors in print tools such as Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature (when I still used it) and I have found blind references in the electronic databases. Unlike the print world, one can get the metadata of the electronic database corrected by submitting a problem report to them.

I also disagree with the article author about the loss of the more esoteric resources. If they are needed, the local library can still subscribe to them. However, the old model of buying something because some day, some person migth just happen to want to look at it, just isn't practical. It never was.

In terms iof the issue surrounding "good enough", the question that comes back is good enough for whom? As with anything, one can get what one is willing to pay for. I like a good bottle of wine. I migth be willing to pay as much $20 at the wine store because a $20 bottle of wine is good enough for me. I would never purchase a $100 bottle of wine, but some people with more selective tastes migth, but I suspect they are in a minority of buyers. The same goes for metadata. What we have really is good enough for the vast majority of our users. Those with more speicifc needs can still work with the local library to get that more speicifc data. To spend the resources to try and get "perfect" metatdata because some day, some user migth need it for that speicifc item just isn't practical.

18. justsayin - October 20, 2010 at 03:49 pm

Follow the money. Ask why research university libraries' budgets have been cut from an average of six percent (according to Jacques Barzun, The American University, 1968) to less than three. Where do the fund cuts go? Not to anything so useful as a book, I suspect. Until 1969, library spending kept up with the growth of academic R&D (which produces more papers every year). Since then, libraries have been forced to cancel subscriptions and forego the purchase of monographs to keep a core collection of journals. Changing profitability, not usually reported, can be easily figured from operating statements and government statistics.

19. bmljenny - October 20, 2010 at 04:46 pm

Users of journal content are also the producers of journal content. If our faculty could agree that publishing with a giant European megapublisher is not a measure of prestige, this could all change. Happy Open Access week.

20. history_grrrl - October 20, 2010 at 05:51 pm

dr_redrum, I'm afraid you've completely misunderstood my post. The reason my students aren't finding relevant articles is that they are using JStor as their starting point, rather than using the databases that are specific to the field covered in my courses and thus most likely to produce the results they are looking for (for example, America: History and Life, which is sadly not as helpful as in the past because it's now operated by Ebsco instead of ABC-Clio).

I'm not a Luddite, for heaven's sake. I simply want my students to use the search engines most likely to lead them to the resources they need. Starting with JStor is not the best option, and I was able to use the example of an article I had just read (and therefore had already located, without the help of a librarian) to show the students that, when they start with JStor, they will miss important material. In my example, AHL didn't provide access to the relevant journal, but at least the article in question showed up in a search. That wasn't the case when I tried JStor; there, no articles by this particular author appeared.

The notion that I am "bashing all e-resources" is absurd; I use such resources regularly and encourage my students to do so as well. If you reread my comment, perhaps you'll understand my point.

21. metamorphosis - October 20, 2010 at 07:25 pm

I found Goldstein's article interesting, and some of the reponses strike me as overreactions.
There may be another worrying side effect to all this. Some of the vendors' profits flow back to the journals and to the academic organisations publishing them, and from my (limited) experience I suspect that some of said organisations are suddenly finding themselves with a wonderful new source of income. That's fine. But this may well mean that the strong, already entrenched organisations, and their established orthodoxies, may be getting ever stronger while the weaker, with new but unfashionable ideas, find it increasingly difficult to get a look in. I hope I am wrong ...

22. hjc24 - October 21, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Mr. Goldstein has just enough information to be dangerous. It is clear from the errors and omissions noted by others that he did not take the time to speak to his colleagues in areas such as technical services or e-journal management to gain a better understanding of the issues he attempts to address in this article.

23. simonj55 - October 22, 2010 at 12:06 am

"But this may well mean that the strong, already entrenched organizations, and their established orthodoxies, may be getting even stronger...."

Terrific observation, "metamorphosis". Librarians, stop being defensive about the state of your profession and look at the big picture.

24. binokkel - October 22, 2010 at 07:40 am

The statement of Mr. Goldstein "claiming that "By outsourcing ownership to mega-vendors, libraries have introduced the commercial interests of the journal providers ..." is wrong. Libraries do not have a choice as the scholarly community itself uses publishers with outrages profits. Spriraling journal prices were already a fact before the e-journal existed. Scholarly communication has always been facilitated by publishers, and it is the responsibility of the scholarly community itself to choose which publishers to use. And all this in the OPEN ACCESS WEEK!

25. sauved - October 22, 2010 at 08:14 am

As others have already commented, I am sincerely surprised by this analysis which is entirely focused on the role libraries play in the economics of scholarly communication. When Mr. Goldstein says "Libraries have already drifted too far down the commercial path" and that there is a "need to realign library values", I find it odd that nothing is said about the role and values of scholars who often give away their content to commercial publishers ans wish their university library to acquire this material at a very high cost. It is easy to say "University libraries should opt out of the ebook market until it conforms itself to the values, needs, and wallets of academe" but I believe a parallel effort should be made by the academe to convince its researchers to sign contracts only with book publishers that respect certain parameters. I invite people to check Barbara Fister's blog post of September 30, "The Great Disconnect: Scholars Without Libraries", which, in a colorful way, explains the frustration librarians sometime have with this debate (http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/library_babel_fish/the_great_disconnect_scholars_without_libraries).

As mentioned by others, libraries have made tremendous efforts to push open access for scholarly communication over the last decade, not an easy battle... As we are getting close to the end of this 4th international Open Access Week (http://www.openaccessweek.org), it's a good time to assess what has already been achieved and see that there is still a long way to go - and everyone has to put one's shoulder to the wheel.

26. jirka - October 22, 2010 at 09:19 am

What the article fails to mention is the fact that the economic role of publishers is different in scientific publishing than in publishing fiction, music or cookbooks. An of author of gets a share of the profit tthe publisher makes by distributing is work. Scintists do not make their money by beeing paid for publishing by the publishers and/or their audience. They need a publisher for a different reason: they have to publish in high impact prestigious journals to get grants, keep their job or keep on the tenure track. If it were not for this system, where the publishers own the means whereby an academic can have a respectable publication record. If it were not for this system of eavaluating scientists they would not need publishers - thy could just post their papers online.
Of course the publishers also make paper copies and copyedit, which is a valuable service for the scientific community. However if the scientists revolted against the publishers, they could make the cost of publications much lower or even zero.(E.g.scientific publictions could be cared for by nonprofit organisatins) In the current system the publishers live of science by selling the academic community the products of academic community.

27. hulibrary - October 22, 2010 at 03:08 pm

Mr. Goldstein seems to view the relationship between librarians/libraries and journal publishers as new. Libraries have been faced with this dilemma for years. How about the conflict of interest with those academic, professional (supposedly not-for-profit)societies and publishers that require libraries to purchase subscriptions to all their journal titles (in print or online) for the programs of instruction at their universities to be approved or accredited by the same profession society. At least the for profit publishers or aggregators do not hold this sword of damocles over the university's head.

28. spindry - October 22, 2010 at 03:26 pm

I agree with Jirka that scientists don't make money through publishing, but they do convey "prestige". This is a place where many faculty and university administrators have yet to step up to the plate. We need incentives for faculty publication in open access journals. Faculty *could* view this as an essential part of academic freedom and the efficient advancement of research and intellectual inquiry. If they don't respond the grant agencies will respond for them through open access publication requirements to publically funded research, this is beginning already. Libraries are effectively responding to the market faculty have created for them by their choices of publishers and the demands of researchers for fast and (apparently) free access! Open access is a beautiful thing, faculty should honor that and get with the program! Happy Open Access Week!

29. lelliea - October 22, 2010 at 03:37 pm

jpheintz: I believe you miss Mr. Goldstein's point entirely. I don't believe he is an advocate of "let's just keep it all in print and offline" at all. He is merely stating that we have abrogated our collection development responsibilities by "buying in" (literally and figuratively)to mega-aggregators.

Not only are we purchasing only some of the things we want (and getting a whole lot of things we don't want), we are buying the same information two, three, four times over. That's the game of aggregators: give them a little of what they want and a whole lot of junk and sell it as many times as you can, whereas in the "old days," we chose individual titles.

Would I want to go back to those days? Heavens, no, but I would certainly like more choice than the canned collections we are continually offered. Soon, every library will look the same, with the same collections, and since no one is purchasing individual print journal subscriptions anymore, even ILL won't be able to satisfy the need for a particular journal not found in any database.

We need to move beyond the current model into something MORE and libraries need to say NO to data aggregators who don't offer us what we need.

30. molsmith - October 26, 2010 at 11:24 am

The "consumer-driven" aspect of academic library practice is not new at all; nor, as several commentators have observed, are librarians as spineless as he implies. Yet one aspect of the consumer-driven system has not been addressed, and that is the system by which libraries pay for content that scholars use. Scholars use their books and journals, but libraries pay for them. Thus,for decades librarians have protected the consumers of scholarly information from the true costs of that information--encouraging unbounded user demand and alowing the big for-profit publishing conglomerates to raise prices almost at will. As a result we are fast approaching a point where the economics of scholarly publishig is unsustainable.

As has been pointed out here, scholars have played a role in creating this mess by their ignorance of the true economics of scholalry communication,through their publishing choices,and by continuing to link tenure and status to the prestige conferred by certain journal/publisher brands, but librarians themselves have helped create this ignorance by paying the bils on behalf of users. For my part, I take every opportunity to remind our faculty what their favorite journals cost, but the culture of ignorance that we have allowed to develop was decades in the making and will take long sustained effort to change. -- Moira Smith, Indiana University.

31. edchamberlain - October 27, 2010 at 07:11 am

This debate has moved around for some years, rather than Librarians, academics and publishers all pointing fingers at each other over blame, it would be great to see some positive involvment from all in formulating new business models to compliment or eventually replace big packages. All three parties have a vital role to play in this. The concept of the journal should really be rethought, let alone that of the package. I've written a small blog post outling one potential alternative here:


Add Your Comment

Commenting is closed.

  • 1255 Twenty-Third St., N.W.
  • Washington, D.C. 20037
subscribe today

Get the insight you need for success in academe.