Greg Tannenbaum conducted his annual live version of his “I Hear the Train A Comin'” column in Against the Grain. His guests this year were Anne Kenney, Cornell University Librarian; and Kevin Guthrie, Founder of JSTOR and ITHAKA.
Here is an edited transcript of their conversation:
GT: What are the biggest challenges facing the library community over the next 2-5 years? What has to give?
AK: Our materials budgets show us a path forward. The percent going to e-content has doubled from 30% in 2004 to 60% now. We have been surprised by the diversity of our holdings in the past; moving forward we will see more homogeneity. But our organizational arrangements are still heavily oriented towards physical services. Something must give as more and more electronic services become available.
KG: The notion of libraries and publishers as adversaries is not appropriate. It is really about the author and reader and a system to serve them. The allegiance to the intermediary structures must give because much restructuring is happening. It is very hard for the existing actors to give up on how they do things to allow freedom of reinvestment.
AK: The archive is moving towards being seen as a public good worthy of public support. We are moving toward a model of providing support from around the world.
KG: There is downward pressure on pricing of content. The question is what value are you adding on to that. Everybody in the space between the author and reader must figure out how they can contribute value.
GT: What aspect of the vendor-institutional relationship do publishers misunderstand?
AK: We tend to think that publishers see us as a sales channel, with less understanding of our mediation goals, providing access, preservation. There is a stronger relationship between the library and reader than would be considered.
GT: Same question for libraries?
KG: Librarians go into that profession because they are not looking to go into business, so there is a challenge understanding the business aspects. When you build scale, you build huge costs. Value is more challenging. How does a library value the materials they are getting? It is very difficult to mesure value.
AK: We want the same rights for electronic materials as for physical, as for example, e-lending of materials. Libraries see this as publishers trying to curb their traditional roles. The hidden environment of seeking information whereever it is found is justification for that. In the music environment, performers are using concerts for income. We have no similar process in libraries.
KG: There is a tendency to stay with the status quo. The concept of owning something has changed. Publishers sold books to libraries and they were loaned, but there was friction in that. All the former players will not necessarily survive to the new world. Collaboration between those helping the authors write and those helping them distribute is important.
GT: Circumstances and media have changed, which allows us an opportunity to revisit how we are operating.
AK: We are moving beyond the silos of publishers as well as the silos of libraries. Preservation is an area where publishers and libraries need to do much more work as we move towards licenses and not owning material. We are at real risk of losing access. We need mechanisms in place to preserve content. Publishers’ activities are insufficient so far.
KG: There is a tremendous amount to do with e-journals. New formats are coming and it is important that we are investing in those solutions.
GT: What should we take away from current legal cases?
AK: We need to understand the issues associated with what is appropriate for digital access to material. Libraries in the business of respecting agreements, contracts, and rights. If we do not do that, we will lose our sense of trust, which we will not let go lightly. We must respect privacy of use.
KG: The old adage that “nothing in newspapers and blogs is true” is indeed true! It is amazing how far from the truth some of the published articles are. We have benefitted greatly as a country from the respect for the rule of law. If we do not like the law, we advocate changes, and that is a great thing. Libraries have been good stewards of their responsibilities, and we must respect that.
GT: What game changer will we be talking about in Charleston in 2014?
KG: Books in electronic form is the big game changer of the present moment. We do not have broad access to books yet; when we do, everything will change. The Google Books initiative signaled that it was possible to digitize 15 million books. What if everything in a library is available electronically? That changes the way we operate. It is still not here yet, but those books are not yet as widely available as people want them to be.
AK: There are many different game changers. How do we manage the long continuum of scholarly communication? The outcome of the Google settlement is a main game changer, as is the develoopment of the Hathi Trust. Over 60 institutions and consortia are participating, and with 10 million volumes, it is in the company of the elite of ALA libraries. Now we have the ability to search across the content of all those volumes. We are moving towards new forms of reading, where we can mine information in new ways. Researchers will still look at physical books as we move toward orphan works becoming available. How do we as a community keep things lightweight and work together and not diminish the role of the individual institution but enhance it? The future will be in more pre- and post-collaborative activity.
Columnist, Information Today and Conference Circuit Blog Editor