Serials Symposium, take one

The theme for the symposium was “E-Journals, Are We There Yet?: Drawing A Road Map to Collections, Usage, and Integration.” I went to the keynote speech and two sessions. I enjoyed the symposium for two reasons. First, many of the librarians were from the Houston area and surrounding region, which gave us the opportunity to interact and converse with librarians from our immediate area. We face many of the same issues and often send users to each other’s libraries. Second, everything had a practical edge. All the sessions I attended were more than theory and there was plenty of good discussion at the end of each. I plan on going again next year and I highly recommend it. As usual, my thoughts are in parenthesis.

Trouble Downloading, aka Problems in Scholarly Communication

Keynote given by Margaret Landesman, Head of Collection Development at the University of Utah

Margaret’s talk focused on the things that keep e-journals from being more accessible and useable. They are great when they work, but when they do not work, our users give up and go elsewhere. Common roadblocks she mentioned were that our interfaces are faulty: there is no spell check, there are multiple paths to a journal and only one is correct, and embargos are often not listed or listed incorrectly. (That is if they even know what an embargo is)

Margaret spent a large portion of time on the points of view held by library professionals and others which make it hard for us to move forward. Funders, for instance, have heard us asking for money for many, many years. No matter how much we get, we always want more and the legislatures do not understand why we, libraries, do not wield the power in the publishing world. (This makes sense, but it is something that we do not always talk about. Why don’t we have more power over the publishers? There are some movements in HE, such as large, respected research institutions signing pacts saying that their professors will not work with journals who price gouge and ask for a reversal of the current pricing structure of academic journals.)

There are beliefs held by librarians that hold us back as well.

  • Our users will always be our users. (Google and pay as you go information services are proving us wrong thousands of times a day)
  • We will never be properly funded and we should not look to be in the future.
  • We are a societal good and therefore everyone will see the inherent value in what we do. (If this were true, we would never have to argue for funding or wonder why there are less people in the library.) Margaret called this the “acolyte mentality.” It goes along with the idea that because we are in academia we are not a business. (Wake up! We are a business and the sooner we realize that, the sooner we will stop making excuses for giving people what we feel they need instead of what they are asking for.)
  • Better ILS or linking software will enable us to give better service. (This was my favorite bit) Maragret said that we will never be able to build a better Google and we should harness that power, not run from it. (Tell it like it is!)

What we have to realize and do:

  • We will never have enough money so we have to start making some choices.
  • We have the information and the credibility.
  • We have to compete with our competitors.
  • We should see ourselves as investment managers.
  • Price increases are not the issue, the starting price is. An expensive journal that increases 15% is still expensive, while a cheap journal stays cheap.
  • We are becoming the campus aggregators. (This was especially enlightening) As the cost of journals increase, individual departments are canceling their subscriptions and relying on the library to provide access, publisher’s circulation numbers go down and their overall cost per issue goes up, and this results in a larger cost for us in the long term.

I believe that we have to compete. I have been poo pooed for my beliefs on this, but I believe we will compete or we will fail. As Margaret put it, “aggregate or be aggregated.” We have the power to be as important as any Google or Yahoo if only we harness what we do well and learn from others in the areas in which we do not.

–Jane, moves forward