Summer lets me teach my favorite course, the run-down of what’s going on with several publishing industries and how libraries are riding the rapids. (It’s actually a course in environmental awareness and handling change, but such skills are much easier to teach given a concrete context in which to exercise them.) As I tore through syllabus and lecture revisions earlier this month to clear time for other necessary work, I found a few spare milliseconds to wonder whether the serials crisis, which hasn’t felt like an immediate all-hands-on-deck crisis in some time, might finally be heating up into one. Into many, really; the localized nature of serials pricing means that crises hit consortia and individual libraries at varying times, not all of academic librarianship at once.
I’ve written before about what I called the two cultures that sometimes clash, the commercial culture of a lot of scientific publishing and the gift culture of academia. In addition to clashes of culture, there are clashes of values. Thanks to the recent brouhaha surrounding the Taylor & Francis journal Prometheus: Critical Studies in Innovation, another clash of values has emerged, that of academics editing a journal to encourage debate and that of commercial publishers trying to stifle debate about their methods.
Is there any applause line in our profession more tried and true than the assertion that “libraries are essential?” The problem with such statements is not that they’re wrong. It is that they pose a danger: they all threaten to leave us complacent about our future. What will determine our future is not whether we and our services are essential in fact, but whether we are seen by our stakeholders as more essential than the other essential programs and projects that are competing for the same resources.
I heard a couple of very interesting presentations this spring given by extremely smart people on ways that libraries can do more with data to improve the user experience, help students succeed, and make a case for the value of libraries. Last week, a group of brave speakers decided to start their slide presentation with a cow and conclude with a grilled steak, asking us to consider whether it was time to finally tackle this library sacred cow: privacy.
The library community has been talking about a “journal pricing crisis” for over two decades. What we have not seen so far is any kind of concerted effort to break through this cycle. But two growing movements—the push toward open access and the growth of library publishing programs—make me think that we may be reaching a tipping point. In a white paper released last month, library administrators Rebecca R. Kennison and Lisa R. Norberg describe the need for “deep structural changes” in the systems through which scholarship is created and communicated. I honestly do not know if their proposal is the one that will trigger these changes, but I know that they are pointing us in the right direction.
Could we talk about skill and competency lists, please? They’re everywhere, inescapable as change. Professional organizations have made dozens. Dozens more come from the LIS literature, as content analyses of collections of job ads or position descriptions. Whatever job you do or want to do in libraries, someone’s made a list of the skills you must supposedly have mastered.
This is sort of an open letter to some librarians I’ve encountered in the last year or so. The encounters left me puzzled as to what the librarians thought they were accomplishing. There are a lot of passionate, indeed even angry, librarians out there, and I would like to offer some advice on how to persuade other people rather than alienate them.
In my last column, I talked about some general principles that academic library administrators should bear in mind when faced with requests from other entities on campus to occupy space in the library (either temporarily or permanently). Those principles were: first, remember that the library does not belong to you; second, say “yes” or “no” based on strategy, rather than on a knee-jerk defensive reaction; third, remember that cooperation creates political capital. With this column I would like to share some of what we’ve learned in my library about building and maintaining happy and mutually beneficial relationships with those non-library entities that do find their way into the library building.
In a course I teach, we spend a little time thinking about the role fear plays in the construction of social issues. Philip Jenkins and Joel Best have both written persuasively about the ways in which anxiety is a potent lever for influencing public opinion and gaining attention for various causes. Once a problem has been identified and named, various claims-makers have incentives to associate their pet issues with the named threat, often expanding the domain of the problem by widening its purported influence. In the process, the threat is often distorted.
Everyone who teaches copyright uses the same metaphor, I think. Copyright is a “bundle of sticks.” A property owner is said to have a bundle, where each “stick” represents an exclusive right. I had not really thought deeply about this metaphor until it was raised at a conference I attended whose theme was what a new copyright law might look like. There was a lot of talk about the problems with the current law. Until then it had not occurred to me that one of those problems was the bundle of rights itself.