Archive for the 'My Job in 10 Years Book' category

Whither Science Publishing?

About a month ago The Scientist published an interesting set of interviews with a set of scientists, publishers and LIS faculty on the future of scholarly publishing.

They called it Whither Science Publishing? with the subtitle "As we stand on the brink of a new scientific age, how researchers should best communicate their findings and innovations is hotly debated in the publishing trenches."

It's a pretty good set of questions and answers, provocative and thought provoking, with a few good shots especially from the scientist side of things. Unfortunately, I think it lacks a bit in terms of having an honest-to-goodness librarian as part of the panel.

Guess what? I'm taking a crack at the questions too!

Now, I'm far from the ideal librarian to throw his or her hat into the ring on this one, so if you think you have better answers to these questions than I do please feel free to chime in in the comments or on your own blog post. The more the merrier!

QUESTION 1: What are the main problems with the existing system for publishing scientific research?

There's lots of money floating around in the science publishing ecosystem, it's just not properly allocated. If we want a more open publishing ecosystem, we need to start spending our money to make that happen instead of spending our money to make it more closed.

The trick is to rejig the ecosystem such that the main players that are currently funding the ecosystem -- institutions via their libraries -- have a path forward that allows them to rationally reallocate their scarce resources from paying the current players (ie. mostly publishers) to keep articles closed to paying some new set of players to support an open system.

QUESTION 2: Are there problems with the existing peer-review system?

I think it's useful sometimes to see organizing peer review as separate from organizing publishing. Disconnecting them can take a bit of the heat out of the discussion. No matter what happens with publishing, peer review can happen just the same as before, it could happen differently or it could not happen at all. In that spirit, I'll refrain from answering this one.

QUESTION 3: Is open-access publishing the wave of the future? What problems plague open-access publishing as practiced now?

Yes, definitely. It solves too many problems with the existing ecosystem not to be fairly inevitable in at least some imaginable time frame.

Problems? Mainly that the incentive structure built into the scientific enterprise -- the way that prestige is awarded, mainly -- isn't aligned with promoting increased openness. Researchers behave in a rational way to maximize their own career returns which means favouring the incumbent publishers with their entrenched prestige regime.

QUESTION 4: Is there an as-yet-untried alternative to subscription-based or open-access publishing?

The goal of the OA movement is to make original scholarly research freely available to anyone that wants to read it -- and there is a wide range of OA business models to provide funding, such as institutional support, author fees and many others. The goal of toll access publishing is to make readers pay for reading that scholarship, either directly through personal subscriptions or per-article fees or indirectly through institutional subscriptions of some sort.

What is the third way? I guess that would revolve around finding a new source of funding for supporting science communication that isn't libraries or individual but that doesn't provide open access. I'm not sure what that is, but I imagine that it could entail government funding agencies.

QUESTION 5: Should the source of funding for scientific research determine how manuscripts arising from that work are published?

To a large degree, yes. Publicly funded research should be publicly available. Funding agencies who use tax payer money should ultimately require that all the tax payers who funded the research should be able to read it. That all the billions of citizens of the world who didn't pay taxes in a particular jurisdiction can also freely access the research funded within that jurisdiction is a huge bonus. Research that's funded through private foundations or for-profit corporations wouldn't be bound by those same requirements, although one would imagine that most non-profit foundations would see the benefit of Open Access in a way that we wouldn't expect of for-profits.

QUESTION 6: If you could change one thing about how scientific research is published right now, what would it be?

If I could snap my fingers and change everything all at once, I would automatically convert the funding model of all scholarly publishing to a mix of the arXiv and SCOAP3 models. As far as platform is concerned, I would implement a range of disciplinary and institutional repositories such at arXiv or SSRN, hosted by consortia of libraries. The repositories would hold iterative versions of articles, atom-level research reports, figures, data, audio, video and gray literature such a presentations and code and whatever else you can imagine. Local support for data curation and other services would be provided by local libraries.

Peer review and community building could be provided by some sort of overlay journal/blogging/social network system but that would vary by discipline. Prestige allocation would be managed by a system of metrics that would be open, diverse, flexible and discipline-based.

QUESTION 7: What will the scholarly publishing landscape look like in 10 years?

In a 10 year time frame, sometimes it looks simultaneously like everything has changed and that nothing has changed. I suspect we'll still have that feeling in 10 years. In my view, the most important piece of the puzzle is the incentive structure of science that is so intimately tied to the legacy publishing system. Sadly that's the kind of thing that tends to change one funeral at a time.

But I think it's safe to say that in 10 year's time we will definitely start to see attachment to journals and individual articles per se starting to fade, with a move to a looser, more iterative, more atomic system. We will definitely see vastly more open access, open data and open notebooks although perhaps not yet to any sort of ultimate tipping point. Although I would hope that at least a few tipping points will be within view in that time frame.

Libraries will still have a vital role in the teaching and learning missions of higher education, but our role in the scholarly communications ecosystem is less secure. It's our job to make sure we find a role in funding, promoting, curating and in building the technical and social infrastructure of the coming Open Access universe. The opportunities are vast and within our reach.

5 responses so far

An Open Access thought experiment

Imagine a scenario where suddenly over night all toll access publishing suddenly converts to Open Access. You go to bed and your average academic library spends millions of dollars on serials. You wake up, and the subscription bill is zero.

Now, that doesn't mean that suddenly scholarly publishing doesn't cost anything to support. It just means that the money to support that publishing is coming from somewhere other than library budgets. I would generally assume that an entirely open access publishing ecosystem would be significantly less expensive overall than the current mixed publishing ecosystem with all the profit, duplication and waste built in but that's not really important for the purposes of this thought experiment. I'm assuming that one day we all wake up and library budgets have been completely freed of the need to support scholarly journal publishing, that somehow somebody else picks up the institutional support and/or author fees and/or funder support and/or whatever else comes under OA business models.

(Alternatively, we could imagine something like the proposed arXiv business model somehow becoming universal. While not completely wiping out library serials budgets, this would represent a huge savings.)

What I'm interested in is asking, "What you would spend all that money on?"

How much would you reinvest in other library personnel, collections, spaces or services? What kinds of library personnel, collections, spaces or services would you invest in?

How much would you return to the central institutional budget? And what would you do with that money?

I imagine different constituencies would have different ideas of what we could spend that money on, and I'd certainly like to hear ideas from some of the following:

  • Librarians of all stripes
  • Library administrators
  • Faculty
  • University administrators
  • General public

And of course, any other constituency that cares to chime in.

Let's all have at it in the comments!

(Two main inspirations for this post: first of all, I'm reading Peter Suber's excellent new book, Open Access and it's really got me thinking deeply about the implications of OA. Secondly, I've had this Scholarly Kitchen post concerned with the "diminution of science librarians" on my mind since it came out and have been searching for a way to respond. I may still devote a separate post to it.)

14 responses so far

Don't discard the librarians?

A very nice article by Ian Brown in this past Saturday's Globe and Mail, Don't discard the librarians.

He very nicely summarizes the recent library/librarian angst that's been free-flowing around the media and blogosphere over the last little while.

The world of librarians was thrown into a tizzy this week - it doesn't take much these days - when the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board announced it will shut its school libraries and dump all but four of its library technicians.


That was the tip of the iceberg. While Windsor defended its slash, top-level librarians attended a symposium at McMaster University in Hamilton on the future of academic libraries. Discussion whirled around the radical proposals of McMaster's university librarian, Jeff Trzeciak. Mr. Trzeciak is the mad dog of research librarians: His deeply digital vision is one in which shrunken libraries are staffed not by librarians, but by information technologists and (much cheaper) post-doctoral students. Those aren't just ideas, either. The University of Denver library recently put 80 per cent of its books in storage.

And so on.

He even makes a nice case for the role of librarians in the future, as good as any such explication I've seen in the popular media.

Here is the case for human librarians: You, the information consumer, don't want to go insane.


Librarians know what's available in a field, where to find it, whether to use it. You, on the other hand, have to write a paper about the self in Hamlet. Try Googling that without the help of a professional librarian: 12.3 million results.

Brown's performed a very valuable public service in this article, making a case that the information universe isn't only simpler than it used to be, but it is also in some ways more complicated. And that librarians can play a role in helping people negotiate that complexity.

As David Weinberger so aptly puts it, Remember what it was like to be dumb? Although I guess I wouldn't have put it exactly that way. I would have said, "Remember what it was like to be ignorant?"

Once upon a time, libraries and librarians concentrated as much on making us less ignorant as they did on making us less dumb.

Now, I think we as librarians have to concentrate on making us all, as individuals and as parts of a larger social context, less dumb.


A couple of supplemental points. First of all, when you read the Brown article please do take some time to read over the comments. It's quite a lively "Librarians FTW" vs. "Fire 'em all and let Google sort 'em out" debate. Which I think a few commenters have interestingly tied to valuing social vs. commercial aspects of community life.

As well, I'd like to express a fond wish that Brown had gone beyond a such a strong Toronto (particularly a University of Toronto) focus in the preparation of the article, disappointing in a national newspaper but not really that surprising.

No responses yet

Librarians are universally the most collegial professionals on campus

Hey, it wasn't me that said that. It wasn't even another academic librarian.

It was Joshua Kim in his post from today's Inside Higher Ed, 5 Reasons Librarians Are the Future of Ed Tech.

It's a great post, talking from an outsider's perspective about what librarians bring to the educational process. Kim concentrates on the role that libraries and librarians can play in moving into campus educational technology roles but really, the list he gives applies to the roles that we can play all across the various functions on average campus. Especially those we play as librarians.

Not as explicitly part of educational technology departments or, perhaps, research or outreach offices. But as explicitly part of libraries. Those roles of course encompass facilitating and advancing the institution's educational mission, research activities, governance, outreach, educational technology, the whole enchilada.

The five reasons are, with Kim's full explanation for the one that needs that context the most:

  • Service Orientation
  • Strong Relationships
  • Multilingualism: People trained in information science enjoy the benefits of a broad set of skills and perspectives. Some librarians are trained in the disciplines of the faculty and courses they work with, and all librarians have the baseline of skills to relate to the full range of academics. Librarians speak the language of research, are familiar with its tools and practices, and can connect specialists with the databases, journal and articles they need to accomplish their work. The training and practice of librarians encourages a comfort with a wide range of disciplines, ensuring a common language (and worldview) across the academy. Where technologists might thrive with specialized knowledge (networking, server administration etc.), librarians being largely client facing need to speak many languages.
  • Technology Experience
  • Collegiality

I like the way he ends his post:

The discussion about Library / IT campus mergers is, I think, largely besides the point. Formal mergers may or may not happen, either way the future of academic technology belongs to the librarians (and those most like them). Us non-librarians would do well to learn from and emulate our colleagues from the Library.

So, to the librarians out there reading this, stand a little taller today.

To the faculty members and researchers out there reading this, take a moment and think how you could collaborate with a librarian to advance the goals of your institution.

Thanks, Joshua. We appreciate it.

(Some of this is also inspired by the general academic librarian angstiness going on right now. I'll do a bit of a focused "Around the Web" on that next week, probably Monday.)

2 responses so far

University Professors Teach Too Much

This series of four posts by William M. Briggs is pretty interesting stuff.

The kind of thing where I'm torn: is it the most brilliant and perceptive thing I've ever read about higher education or is it a series of slightly early April 1st posts?

Dear Internet, I really need all you people out there to help me figure this one out. Which way does it go.

And by the way, you really have to read all four posts to get the complete message. The comment streams are interesting too.

University Professors Teach Too Much: Part I

Here is what everybody knows: the best researchers are often not the best teachers. Statistically, the relationship is negatively correlated. Prowess in the lab implies indexterity in the classroom. This is natural. An individual managing four graduate students, one post-doc, writing a new grant, revising an old one, and writing papers from the results of a third cannot devote adequate energy to preparing a Friday-morning quiz on "What is a paragraph?" to freshmen, of which a non-trivial fraction are hungover or otherwise sleep deprived. I am speaking "on average", of the predominant reality, and therefore it would be a fallacy to counter with examples of exceptional researchers who are also brilliant teachers.


Universities should become bipartite: college and research institute under one banner. In practice, each would--and should--have little to do with the other, though they would share the same name and school colors. The college mandate is to teach all undergraduate courses and those graduate courses which are non-specialized. The people that man colleges should not be researchers--unless, as will be rare, somebody wants to cross the line and write a paper on a subject dear to them. The people that man research institutes should not be teachers--unless, as will be rare, somebody wants to cross the line for a temporary change of scenery. It would be best if some "universities" eschew all research (via attrition of workers) and become solely colleges. Other universities should separate from, or eliminate their college components, and become solely research institutes.

University Professors Teach Too Much: Part II

Requiring teachers to write papers is asking them to do what they are not good at. If they were good at it (and had the desire), they would be researchers and not teachers. Teachers are wasting time publishing an article in the South-by-Southwest Far East Asia Journal of Research: C when they could have been polishing a lecture, holding extra office hours, or in just plain reading. It is a waste because the paper will never be read by anybody except the one or two referees attached to the journal, and it fools the teacher into thinking he has been productive. It also fools the promotion committee (which obsessively counts papers) into thinking they are measuring the ability of the teacher to do his job.

Counting papers is like eating opium: it is an addiction everybody knows its wrong, but nobody can resist. It's only a wonder academics don't receive spam promising a "Proven method to grow your paper numbers. 7++ new citations! Make Deans scream in delight!!!"

University Professors Teach Too Much: Part III

Colleges themselves--which, I remind us, are to be separated from research institutes--should be broken in two: traditional college and technical or trade school (this break need only be administrative and not physical). As Russell Kirk tells us, college exists to impart wisdom, not knowledge, and certainly not information or even, as is by now commonplace, trivia. Trade schools should take students interested solely or mainly in obtaining a skill or a "degree", a talisman which they must emboss on their resume to get a job at one of the many non-contemplative and undiscerning companies which require them.

Incidentally, this purblind requirement of a "degree"--and not of knowledge or ability--is why there are too many kids going to college.

Trade school will encompass majors like "business", "marketing", "sports management", "diversity studies" of any kind, "communications", "journalism", "computer science", "health", "nursing", "art" of any stripe, "engineering", "security" (yes, it exists), "criminal science1", "hotel management", and so forth, which give students a taste--an amuse bouche, but no more--of the fields in which they will toil. Cosmetology and refrigeration schools have the right idea (I do not jest nor denigrate; these are useful, honest places).


College is not a place to learn a trade or skill of any kind. It is not job training. It is a place to think; rather, a place to learn how to think, to develop the habit of discernment. As Cardinal Newman said, college is a place to "open the mind, to correct it, to refine it, to enable it to know, and to digest, master, rule, and use its knowledge, to give it power over its own faculties, application, flexibility, method, critical exactness, sagacity, resource, address, [and] eloquent expression." College is the first step for those who would be future leaders.

University Professors Teach Too Much: Part IV

What Should Be Taught

I suggested (in Part III) that "computer science" students should be housed in trade schools and not college. This is because the vast majority of enrollees in this subject only want to secure a job in programming, web or game design, or the like. These earnest, honest folk really don't need to know more than the basics. (In a strange twist, professors, insisting on purity (and theory), won't teach what most of these kids want to learn. Teaching actual languages is seen as an left to trade schools?)

Hey! Wouldn't it be nice if computer students knew all about unsolvability, Turing tests, the theory of languages. It would indeed. It would also be nice if they knew all about differential equations, analysis, group theory, quantum chemistry, string theory, all the various niceties of electronic engineering, and so on, plus (for their customers) Spanish, Chinese, and French. And since no education would be complete without a thorough understanding of history, give 'em that. Shouldn't they know something about literature? And writing? And a slew of other subjects? Yes, absolutely. Let's well-round them!

I have to admit, I'm intrigued if not quite convinced.

I have some questions that perhaps the crowd can help me with:

  • How possible would it be to disentangle research from teaching in terms of government funding to the various types of institutions?
  • How would research time & effort be allocated for fields that don't have immediate practical application or sources of outside funding?
  • Are faculty so completely and uniformly convinced that research and undergraduate teaching don't somehow inform each other?
  • How much does the above vary by discipline?
  • Are students' real interests well served in this model?
  • Is the library's role in these types of institutions enhanced, diminished or about the same?


8 responses so far

Stealthy librarian stories

My Stealth Librarianship Manifesto post from last month continues to gather comments and page views, albeit at a slower rate than before. Of course, that's very gratifiying to see. If you haven't checked in on the post in a while, there are probably a couple of new comments with librarians' stories that you might want to check out.

To keep the idea going, I've decided to have occasional posts highlighting "stealthy librarian" posts and articles I see around the web. These are posts that highlight facutly/librarian collaboration in teaching or research, librarians integrated with business teams, librarians at non-traditional librarian conferences and other instances of close co-operation between librarians and patrons/researchers on non-library ground.

Here's the first bunch.

'Embedded Librarian' on Twitter Served as Information Concierge for Class

What if a reference librarian was assigned to a college course, to be on hand to suggest books, online links, or other resources based on class discussion? A media-studies course at Baylor University tried the idea last semester, with an "embedded librarian" following the class discussion via Twitter.

At the start of each class session, the professor, Gardner Campbell, asked the 11 students to open their laptops, fire up Twitter, and say hello to their librarian, who was following the discussion from her office. During the hourlong class, the librarian, Ellen Hampton Filgo, would do what she refers to as "library jazz," looking at the questions and comments posed by students, responding with suggestions of links or books, and anticipating what else might be helpful that students might not have known to ask.

Opposite sides of the cafetorium: notes from a THATCamp Southeast session on librarian-scholar collaboration

"We get paid to be interrupted!"

The academics in the room started out by saying that they weren't sure when it was appropriate to ask for assistance from a librarian. At what point, they wondered, are we impinging on the librarian's time? Librarians responded that it sounded as though they needed to give out better information about the specific services librarians offer, like research interviews. In general, they said, they welcome any kind of consultation. "We get paid to be interrupted!" one librarian said.

Professional expectations inform our behavior

It emerged that both librarians and scholars are subject to professional pressures that inform their expectations of each other. Scholars were surprised to hear that it's professionally important for librarians to claim research interviews. "You like that?" one faculty member asked. "I always thought I was bothering you!" Scholars were also surprised to hear what a great professional boon it would be for librarians to be credited as collaborators. "I had no idea about the professional expectations for librarians," a faculty member said. Librarians told scholars how much they'd appreciate professional recognition like inclusion on a dissertation committee.

Embedded Librarianship Part 1: Aligning With Organisational Strategy to Transform Information into Knowledge


It's clear that adopting embedded librarianship within your organisation pays dividends on many levels. One of those is the ability to grasp the strategic mission of your organisation more strongly, which trickles down into better understanding of your partners and co-workers' contributions, challenges, language and information needs.

Grasping your organisation's strategic mission also enables you to gain deeper insights into its workings and generate deliverables that transform information into knowledge. Once this is achieved, information professionals can move beyond improving process and begin to pursue broader skills and professional goals.

Embedded Librarianship Part 2: A case study from Spain

Along with other tasks, this new role involves working with researchers in their offices physically out of the library's building, managing their output, assessing dissemination strategies, monitoring the impact of their production through bibliometric indicators or following the publication process and editing drafts before sending them to journals.

In the Spanish case we can see how the profession is evolving by incorporating elements of the "embedded model." In conclusion, using skills and techniques that librarians already have, and having the ability to apply them in different environments where they haven't been applied before and where they can really make a difference, helps to make these professionals irreplaceable.

SXSW 2011: The Year of the Librarian

Tech for tech's sake is over. In a year when social media is helping inform our coverage of everything from political upheaval in the Middle East to the unfolding nuclear disaster in Japan, your app better do something more than be cool.

I kept coming back to the librarians as I talked to people at SXSWi because this micro-track mirrored what I saw tweeted and written about the conference as a whole. Interactive didn't feel blindly focused on discovering the killer app. Tech didn't feel like an end unto itself -- rather, it was about processing data with a purpose; data for a greater good.

Go read the articles and posts, they are truly inspirational.

If you know of a post or article that highlights or describes a stealthy librarian in action, please let me know either in the comments or at jdupus at yorku dot ca. I'll feature anything I'm sent in a later post.

And please don't be shy to promote your own work.

Here's an updated list of all the posts (including mine) that mention the manifesto:

No responses yet

Innovation & asking the right questions

In all of our organizations fostering innovation is an important goal. But how do you turn the innovation fawcett on? Somehow it seems so much easier to turn it off.

Of course, it's all about institutional culture. The way problems and solutions are framed. The way management/leadership/peer culture frames, encourages and rewards ideas.

Sometimes it just the way we ask questions about new ideas.

A nice articles from Tony Golsby-Smith at the Harvard Business Review blog site: Three Questions that Will Kill Innovation.

They're mostly aimed at commercial organizations but can easily be re-framed for non-commercial organization like universities or libraries.

First of all, how to ask innovation-discouraging questions.

  • What is the return on investment on this project?
  • Can you prove your case and back it up with hard data?
  • Are you meeting your milestones?

And now, how to ask essentially the same three questions but in a way to encourage innovation.

  • What hard and soft capabilities are you beginning to build by doing this? (ie. skills and techical infrastructure.)
  • What value are you creating for stakeholders?
  • What are you learning?

This is all fleshed out quite a bit more in the original post. It's well worth reading.

I also like the way Golsby-Smith ends his article:

What are the most toxic questions in your organization? The most energizing?


One response so far

HarperCollins and The Capitalist's Paradox

I saw this just after I published my previous post and think it really encompasses what I'd like to say to HarperCollins and its fellow travelers.

This is from The Capitalist's Paradox by Umair Haque.

So here's my question: Does what you're doing have a point -- one that matters to people, society, nature, and the future?

Beancounters, listen up. To paraphrase Shakespeare, I come not to praise you, but to bury you. I don't care about your "strategy," "business model," "campaign," "product," or "deliverables" (sorry). All that stuff is focused on outputs. What matters to people, in contrast, are outcomes: did this bring a tiny slice of health, wealth, joy, inspiration, connection, intellect, imagination, organization, education, elevation into my life, that lasted, multiplied, and mattered to me -- or was its final result merely to make me just a bit fatter, wearier, unhealthier, disconnected, dumber, duller?

What I care about is whether you can change the world, radically for the better -- whether you can attain deep significance, and matter in human terms. Why? Because the world needs, wants, is crying out for changing -- and if you can't change the world, a rival who can is going to make your latest, greater so-called blockbuster look mediocre, the people formerly known as customers are going to tune you out, communities are probably going to self-organize against you, and, when all is said and done, you're probably going to end up at the mercy of hurf-durfing "investors" whose idea of "long-term" is speed-dating on steroids.

That's it, HarperCollins. Create more value than you destroy.

3 responses so far

Towards a library ebook business model that makes sense

Over the last week or so a huge issue has sprung up in the library and publishing world, which I touch on in my eBook Users' Bill of Rights post.

The publisher HarperCollins has restricting the number of checkouts an ebook version of one of their books can have before the library needs to pay for it again. The number of checkouts is 26 per year. Bobbi Newman collects a lot of relevant posts here if you're interested.

There was a comment on my post by William Dix:

Publishers are shooting themselves in the foot on this issue. As well as alienating a lot of the potential market with idiotic proprietary formats and frustrating DRM schemes. I do wish that more publishers would follow the example of Baen Books with their no DRM multiformat approach to epublishing.

I responded over on that post but I thought it would be worth expanding on what I said here.

Some more-or-less thought out thoughts and impressions.

The way I see it, HarperCollins' decision merely reflects the the book publishing industry's fears that the napsterization that hit the music industry a decade ago is immanent. They fear that their current business model based on selling physical objects will be undermined by the web without anything to replace it.

And with good reason. This is definitely a rear-guard action that is part of the publishers' long term losing battle to impose the same kind of monetization structure on digital content as for print.

The print business model grows out of scarcity. Physical objects cost money to produce and are by definition limited in numbers. The last time I checked, there was no scarcity of text to read online.

The only scarcity that is potentially exploitable in the online world is of good text and publishers need to find a way to insert themselves into the equation by convincing people that filtering the wheat from the chaff and organizing and curating the good stuff is worth paying for.

Libraries potentially blow up the scarcity of digital content by mutualizing community resources to share purchased or licensed digital content. In other words, we use the pooled monetary resources of a community to buy stuff for that community that most individuals wouldn't be able to afford on their own. With digital content libraries can basically share digital content with everyone without the same kinds of per unit costs that pad the bottom line for publishers.

If I have a digital file and I say I want to share it, that's great. But to somehow to say I can only share it with a certain number of people for a certain period of time is absurd. It's not like a physical resource that has a real, concrete scarcity attached to it. The scarcity that DRM tries to impose is completely artificial in the case of digital files. It tries to graft the limitations of a physical format where it doesn't belong.

Publishers fear and mistrust the kind of sharing libraries are committed to for precisely that reason. It exposes the absurdity of their false scarcity.

Let's say Harry Potter 8 comes out some day. Great. California's public library systems buy a few thousand copies of the physical book and pay some sort of fair price for it, say $20 dollars per copy. The people of California get to read those copies one at a time for as long as they last. When they wear out, California will buy new ones. If they get less popular at some point, they'll be weeded and probably sold off at book sales.

Now, those very same public libraries want to provide digital copies to their citizens who happen to have one of a range of devices that can read ebooks. How many copies do they buy? Well, just one, really. They only need one copy on their servers (or on a publisher's server) to share with the millions of people of California.

Of course, thousands or millions of people from California or even the whole world can actually read that one copy simultaneously because that's the way digital works. When I want to read something you have, I just make my own copy. The marginal cost of making that one copy is essentially zero.

That's where DRM comes in. Because that kind of arrangement doesn't work for the publishers or authors very well. They'll want to impose an artificial scarcity on the digital copy they "sell" to California so only a limited number of people can read it. In effect, even though California only really buys one copy, they'll want the transaction to look like they've really just purchased a bunch of paper copies that people just happen to be read on electronic devices. Publishers want to monetize every act of reading.

It's not hard to see parallels to the music industry here in the way that the publishers want to hide from the implications of digital rather than embrace them.

What's the answer? What should California pay for one digital copy of Harry Potter 8? $20? $20,000? $20,000,000? Maybe ten cents or a dollar for every time it's downloaded?

What's the business model that properly compensates content creators, that gets enough cash flowing to allow a book/ebook ecosystem to flourish and grow and expand. Most importantly, what's the business model that gets the content into the hands of the people that want it and that makes piracy irrelevant? That monetizes the reading transactions that need to be monetized and leaves alone the ones that don't?

I have some ideas, and I think they'll flow from the same kind of arrangement that companies like Morgan & Claypool, O'Reilly and others have forged in the academic and technical content spaces, a set of business model that libraries can work with, that often frees content, that trusts readers, that sees libraries as partners rather than adversaries.

Even business models that use DRM like Books 24x7 or Safari can be library-friendly.

When I talk to publishing people or authors and they get all worried about how libraries are denying them sales, the one thing I tell them is this: Think of libraries as the one partner in the content ecosystem that is actually willing to pay good money for quality content. Always has been, always will be.

Or I could be all wrong.

(All of this is as true for public libraries as for academic libraries. But I think that kind of speculation might be for another post.

And I'm still thinking of doing a giant link dump of all this HarperCollins/Overdrive/ebook mess.)

3 responses so far

A stealth librarianship manifesto

Stealth librarianship is a way of being.

This particular edition of the manifesto applies to academic libraries. The principles of stealth librarianship apply to all branches of the profession, each in particular ways. Other manifestos could exist for, say, public or corporate librarians.

However the core is the same: to thrive and survive in a challenging environment, we must subtly and not-so-subtly insinuate ourselves into the lives of our patrons. We must concentrate on becoming part of their world, part of their landscape.

Our two core patron communities as academic librarians are faculty and students. This manifesto concerns faculty. A later manifesto may address infiltrating student communities with stealth librarians. Or, you can write that one yourself. Go for it.

The jobs of faculty comprise research, teaching and service. We must stealthfully insinuate ourselves in those areas. We must make our laser-like core focus our patrons.

  • We must stop going to librarian conferences and instead attend conferences where our patrons will be present.
  • We must stop presenting only to our fellow librarians. That's what Twitter is for. We must make our case to our patrons on their turf, not make our case to ourselves on our own turf.
  • Where possible, we must collaborate with faculty in presentations.
  • We must stop reading the formal library literature. That's what librar* blogs are for. We must familiarize ourselves with the literature and scholarly communications ecosystems of our patron communities.
  • We must stop writing the formal library literature. That's what librar* blogs are for. We must make our case for the usefulness of what we do in the literature of our patron communities.
  • We must stop joining librarian associations. That's what Friendfeed and Facebook are for. (Go LSW!) We must instead join associations that revolve around our patron communities.
  • We must not segregate ourselves within "library divisions" in those organizations but must partake fully in those associations. As above, this includes conferences and society publications.
  • In terms of engaging faculty at conferences and in the literature, we must engage both their teaching and research roles.
  • We must stop serving on so damn many library committees and make time to sit on committees at all levels of our institutions' governance structure. It may take time and considerable effort to stealthily insinuate ourselves into all the places we belong.
  • We must invite ourselves to and actively participate in departmental meetings, faculty councils, senates and whatever other bodies make sense.
  • We must integrate ourselves as fully into the teaching mission and classroom environment of our faculty as staffing levels allow. We have much of value to teach their students and can help faculty fulfill their curricular goals.
  • We must fully engage our faculty in the social networking spaces where they live. As well as all the library people we engage, we must also follow and interact with our patrons on Twitter, Facebooks and other sites, where appropriate.
  • Add your manifesto element here.

A couple of final points.

As with all manifestos, this one is subject to the failings of hyperbole and oversimplification. Think of it as a series of provocative statements not a realistic plan of action. For example, I don't really think we should all abandon our professional associations.

This is based on hope and promise, not despair.

Similarly, it is incomplete and flawed. Please feel free to add to it in the comments as well as suggesting modifications and deletions. Certainly the education part could be expanded.

And the student one. Let's start building that one together in the comments.

And yes, I did really start thinking about this at Science Online 2011, with some ideas here and here. I also started germinating some of these thoughts after seeing how the library sessions at Science Online 2010 worked out, see here and here, noting how the session on Reference Managers was better attended and didn't have "library" in the title. And looking further back, it's a fairly common theme for my blogging, for example here and here.

What does this all mean? I'm not sure. But it's worth thinking about.

Finally, this document is released under the CC0 license. Have at it.

Update 2011.02.23: Some futher links and reaction to this manifesto:

28 responses so far

« Newer posts Older posts »