I have a gift for picking despised professional niches. I used to run institutional repositories, and if there’s a niche in academic librarianship more despised than that, I’m honestly not sure what it might be. From the frying pan into the fire—now I teach library school. If nothing else, I’ve greatly expanded the universe of librarians and archivists who despise my work!
Peer to Peer Review
Regular LJ Academic Newswire column rotation including Barbara Fister, Dorothea Salo, Wayne Bivens-Tatum, Kevin L. Smith, and Rick Anderson.
For those who don’t know, the Big Deal is an arrangement with ejournal publishers to bundle their entire content into a large package of ejournals, while charging less than the full content would cost a library through individual subscriptions. An example is Elsevier, which provides something called the “Freedom Package” to academic libraries. For a relatively small percentage of what a library pays for Elsevier subscriptions, the library get access to everything Elsevier publishes. That’s the upside. The downside is that, once locked into multiyear licenses for these Big Deals, libraries are unable to reduce their number of subscriptions or lower their ejournal costs if they need to.
The concept of surplus value clearly works well in a marketplace context, where goods and services are exchanged for money in real time, making it easy and intuitive to think in terms of value versus cost. But what relevance does it have in the library context, where services are (or seem to be) provided at no charge?
I was fortunate enough to see an advanced draft of The New Digital Scholar: Exploring and Enriching the Research and Writing Practices of Nextgen Students, a terrific new collection of insights into how our students approach research tasks and what we can do to improve their learning. (Reader, I blurbed it.) Now that I have a print copy in my hands, I’m reading it all over again, and I expect it will become one of those books I pull off the shelf frequently, until the pages are dog-eared and rumpled. Most of the authors are in the field of composition, though librarians and technical writers also contributed. It does a fascinating job of examining how students become information literate—and what barriers get in the way.
Recently I was talking with a Duke faculty member and editor of a prominent scholarly journal about ways to improve access to the journal he edits. In the midst of the conversation, I found myself being lectured on the need to get scholarly publishing out from under the control of commercial publishing firms. What were libraries going to do, I was asked, to break the stranglehold that commercial publishing had over scholarship? Fortunately I had some answers for him, and a great deal of sympathy for his perspective. But it was very odd to have the tables turned on me like that; I am usually the advocate for open access and new models of scholarly communications, so it was strange to be treated, even briefly, as a defender of the status quo.
Librarians rejoice! The Supreme Court of the United States insisted in its Wiley v. Kirtsaeng decision that we can legally lend foreign-manufactured materials!
The case was about textbooks and textbook-market arbitrage, though. That’s worth keeping sight of. Extrapolating from reactions on all sides, what does the Wiley v. Kirtsaeng decision likely mean for the textbook-publishing business, and what can textbook publishers and libraries do if they don’t like that?
There are definitely publishers who come to mind when I hear the expression “predatory publishers.” My first thought is of the high profile academic publishers who are increasing their journal prices by ten or twenty percent per year, leaving libraries with impossible choices to be made between maintaining their journal subscriptions in key fields or [...]
Many of you are probably familiar with the TV movie The Librarian: Quest for the Spear or its sequels. For those who aren’t, the lead character, Flynn Carsen, is a man in his thirties who has never left college. He obtains 22 degrees before he’s finally kicked out. He’s then recruited to be “The Librarian,” the head of a secret, enormous museum of strange and magical artifacts. Recently I was engaged in an online discussion about whether there are or can be a basic set of skills that all librarians should master. I have yet to see a persuasive argument for any particular library-specific skill that absolutely every librarian or library school graduate must have, and I’m pretty sure that’s because no such argument can be made. Most claims about what all librarians need to know or do or think rest on the assumption that there is a mythical creature—The Librarian. However, The Librarian doesn’t exist.
We all know the story of Procrustes: he was basically the Basil Fawlty of Greek mythology, a terrible hotel owner with a single iron bed. He would invite passersby to spend the night as his guests, and would then either stretch them or cut them to fit the bed. In academic libraries, the temptation to take a similar (if more gentle) approach to our patrons and their research needs is great.