By Meredith Farkas | September 13, 2012
I have wanted to write about so many things that have come across my desktop lately, but work and getting ready for a major trip to New Zealand with my husband and a three year old have kept me from getting my thoughts out of my brain and onto the blog. Today was my last day of work before we leave and there’s still so much to get done, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment on some very recent posts about our identity as librarians and our willingness (or unwillingness) to let vendors hold us over a barrel.
I love our profession. I love the values we espouse and our service ethic. I love how we’re always trying new thins and innovating to better serve our patrons. But I sometimes worry that in our zeal to serve our patrons and get them the content they need and want, we are sometimes inadvertently setting back the cause of universal access to human knowledge.
Back when I was still at Norwich, I wrote about how EBSCO signed an exclusive deal with the Society for Military History, and pulled the Journal of Military History out of everything but a new historical full-text collection they were trying to get libraries to buy. To my great chagrin, we ended up purchasing the collection, which we only did literally for the ONE TITLE. I don’t like feeling extorted. Now, Taylor and Francis titles have quietly been disappearing from EBSCO databases, replaced with content that is far from equivalent. I’m assuming Taylor and Francis realized it could make more money by having these be exclusively available from their own platform. So again, libraries need to look at whether they can and should spend money on journals they just had access to through EBSCO (while certainly not getting a cost break on EBSCO’s databases). Libraries keep losing access to things and are asked to pay more at a time when library budgets are already cut to the bone.
Jenica posted courageously yesterday about her library’s decision to stop subscribing to the American Chemical Society’s journals due to their exorbitant cost. The ACS has been jacking their prices up incredibly (300% for one college according to a listserv post) and obviously think they can since they also control the accreditation of Chemistry programs (which actually requires their indexing and abstracting database!). Jenica was able to get her faculty on-board with purchasing a different collection of chemistry journals from other providers. This was a very smart way to approach this. When we face difficult decisions about collections, the faculty should be involved as they deserve to have a voice and can often provide useful insights. But what can we do when the faculty themselves place access over all else? Do we all have to wait until a collection eats up a full 10% of the entire acquisitions budget to take a stand? I have to question whether her faculty at SUNY-Potsdam would have been willing to stand up and say “no more” if the cost hadn’t been quite as high, but still unreasonable in the view of the library.
My colleague, Emily Ford, wrote a brilliant piece about our identity, philosophy, and expression of value as a profession. Following up on Emily’s questions about how we define our own value, Barbara Fister wrote the following:
If we were to question our current practices on the basis of those deeper values, we would make different decisions. We would oppose the massive transfer of ownership of knowledge from communities to corporations. We would stop satisfying community members’ immediate needs at the expense of the future. We would debate the wisdom of supporting individual productivity rather than access to and the advancement of knowledge, which is inherently communal. Knowledge cannot be self-centered. Advancing knowledge only works when it’s shared.
Barbara always manages to articulate exactly what’s in my head. I’m troubled by what’s going on in our profession and what the long-term impact will be on access to knowledge. I’m also worried about how insurmountable these problems seem because we’re all focused at the micro level on our own libraries, which is in no way unreasonable, but it will not solve these very big problems. What is our mission as a profession? What are our enduring values? And how does all that jive with what we’re participating in when it comes to eBooks and scholarly publishing?
And I know it’s not something that one library can change by making a statement. In Carl Grant’s terrific post today about vendors locking up data we rightfully own he writes “when libraries act separately, vendors/collaboratives frequently apply the “whack-the-mole” approach to divide and conquer.” However, I do think that these big statements (like Jenica’s) and engaging in conversations with faculty about these things is vital. Libraries have not, by and large, done a great job of educating faculty about scholarly publishing and the morass we are in. That’s not to say we haven’t tried, but I think the point needs to continually be brought home to them. We can’t just assume that things like The Cost of Knowledge will provide an awakening for faculty and leave it at that. We need to keep the communication and momentum going and keep advocating for the values we hold most dear.
For folks who wonder why faculty tend to see us more as buyers of scholarly content than experts in the support teaching and research, I’d suggest the answer is right in front of us. I think we need to look at how we might contribute to that perception and about how we can better exert our judgment and expertise in dealings with faculty and publishers.
Off to New Zealand for me! See you in October!