Monday, April 03, 2006

"Whistling past the graveyard"

In the first plenary session of Monday afternoon, Rick Anderson stepped up to ask "What will become of us? Looking into the crystal ball of serials work".

What's already happened
  • information has become much more abundant and accessible -- less need to visit the library to locate content
    • content is no longer king?
    • information *seems* cheap and ubiquitous to patrons -- and this user perception will shape librarians' future
  • attention has become much more scarce
    • users have less time and are less willing to invest it in looking for content
  • the information world has become a *fundamentally online* place
    • librarians need to come to terms with the user notion that "if it's not online I'm not interested"
At U. Nevada, Reno, usage of online content is going up; dramatic drop in circulation since 1994. Number of items checked out per student down by 45%, and further if you exclude DVD check out. If we don't acknowledge these changes to circulation, we're whistling past the graveyard (i.e. putting on a brave show in denial of our worst fears). How far down are these numbers going to go before they stop? What will form the "hard floor" of materials that continue to be used? -- answers likely to vary from institution to institution.

Things likely to happen next
  • The amount of high-quality information available at no charge to the public will continue to increase
    • "follow the money" -- in the last decade, lots of people have worked out how to make money from putting free content online
  • The percentage of high-quality information available at no charge to the public will never reach 100
    • the OA movement will continue to grow and develop, but Rick is agnostic and suggests it's not likely to replace scholarly publishing as we know it
  • Of what remains non-free, we will continue to purchase the wrong things for our patrons
    • one of the biggest elephants in the crowded living room of our profession is the large amount of money being spent on content that's not necessary
    • we must deal with the elephant -- as our funding bodies will reevaluate how we are funded
Things that are quite likely to happen
  • 1Laptops will replace desktops, at least among students (and mobiles may replace laptops)
    • *compare # of laptops in your library 2 years ago to now
  • Something like Google Print will emerge and take hold
    • *remember: follow the money -- Google have dramatically demonstrated how much money can be made providing access to content
    • *we can see this in Yahoo!'s nascent e-book project, or Amazon's "Search inside the book"
  • Journal inflation will continue, and library budgets will not catch up
    • *tax payers are unlikely to rise as one and insist that civic leaders give libraries a bigger budget ...
    • U. Nevada Reno had a flat budget this year compared to last, and cut monographs purchasing to protect journal subs
    • *when Rick asked, hypothetically, "what would you do if your materials budget was cut in half", he was disappointed to learn that people considering looking at their statistics and cancelling some serials...
      • some folks said they would stop buying books all together -- Rick was surprised, but "we might be forced into this as a short term measure"
What does this mean for serials and acquisitions work?
Laptops -- more remote access = fewer people in the library. Gate counts are already low; what if this declines further as users no longer come in to use work stations? It will become hard to justify staffing/existence even if services are still valuable -- will they be perceived as such?

As more info is free online, it will be harder to justify materials budgets. Administrators are desperate to make cuts. Can we make compelling enough arguments to keep our budgets?

Google Print = OPAC flight. Despite sophisticated work to create them, OPACs are crude -- and often "actively user-hostile"; Google may just be a full text index, but its deceptively simple interface is customer-focussed and masks v. clever back end processes.

Since not all information will ever be free, patrons will need someone to pay for it -- but will that be a librarian? U. Nevada Reno's collective purchasing in recent years has involved very few librarians.

Patrons need to get information more quickly -- faster, and more targeted access. We will have to find a way to deliver this.

Conclusions
  • more information, more broadly available
  • less usage of printed materials
  • more remote use of library resources
  • less use of the OPAC
  • more difficulty justifying staffing and budgets
Q: Todd Carpenter, BioOne. As more quality information is freely available (one of this morning's speakers mentioned that 20% of users think they're accessing OA titles when they're not) - is there anything that publishers and librarians can do to overcome this perception that information is free?
A: Users don't care -- our goals should be getting that information to them as transparently as possible. But there does need to be some level of awareness to support expenditure. Some databases do offer customised branding, which can help as long as it doesn't get in the way.

Q: Alexis Walckiers, ECARES. You say you will have more difficulty justifying staff/budgets. In my experience, having information scientists to demonstrate layers of quality of publications is important. Could this be the librarian role of the future? Also, users find it hard to get to information, and need to ask librarians for assistance in locating it. Librarians are still better at discovery.
A: these are two key areas -- we shouldn't try to get patrons to change their behaviour, but to affect students we should work more closely with faculty and get our services integrated into the curriculum. Faculty members have a power over the student that librarians don't; use it.

(For some more details, see my review of Rick's presentation at February's ASA conference)

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