March 17, 2018

Catching What I Could at the Charleston Conference | LJ Insider

The weather in Charleston, SC, in early November is perfect. Not so much the weather in New York City, where a Nor’easter added insult to Sandy’s injury early last week, just in time to keep me from the first half of my first Charleston Conference.

Of those sessions I did get to attend, by far the most popular were those on scholarly publishing. Plenary session “The Twenty-First Century University Press: Assessing the Past, Envisioning the Future”, whose key points included university presses no longer dismissing commercial scholarly publishing and letting go of print, had a standing-room crowd, almost half of which abandoned ship before the following session, an update on the DPLA, though that may simply have been because they were involved in the project and already knew, first hand, about the developments. (The DPLA’s Appfest, running concurrently in Chatenooga, TN, may also have drawn off some of its audience. Watch this space for more on the Appfest from LJ’s Josh Hadro.)

Primarily a rundown of previously released information on the service and content hubs,  the presentation made two useful points for smaller content-holders: that if they want to participate, the DPLA will help find them a partnership pathway to do so, though perhaps not in time for the April launch, and that the service hubs are helping to provide digitization services. Emily Gore, director of content, also emphasized that DPLA’s content mission is much broader than books.

Despite the interest in getting away from print in scholarly publishing, sessions on etextbooks attracted only a dedicated few. While Etextbooks: One Year On addressed new offerings in how to provide etexts, in  Textbooks, Libraries & Students: An Evolving Partnership, San Jose State University explained their clever method of making the most of existing library resources to deliver at least some etexts—and savings—to students without major overhauls of how texts are selected. The SJSU library partnered with the bookstore to get the list of assigned texts, checked that list against its existing multi-user ebook holdings, and created a list of the available books by course—supplemented by signs in the bookstore next to the stacks of books saying they can get that book for free from the library. With no change in purchasing by the library or text choice by the professors (but with a lot of legwork by library staff), SJSU saved its students about $50,000 and increased use of those books about 800 percent.

Among the concurrent sessions, one very popular item was “Giving Our Users a Voice,” which was in itself an illustration of library cooperation—a coalition of Connecticut libraries presented their findings on user feedback on electronic resources with the help of a librarian and a panel of student and faculty users from the College of Charleston. The major takeaways from the session were that restrictions on how much can be read, or on downloading material for printing or later use on other devices, is a major hassle, and that while eresources are extensively used—even those who preferred working with print used them for discovery—electronic study tools are not, and all these added features that companies keep developing and releasing are largely considered beside the point by their target audience.  “We don’t need more platforms. We don’t need improved platforms. We need all this stuff to work together in a way that’s seamless,” said one Charleston librarian, to widespread agreement.

Other plenaries of interest included an update on the legal landscape which covered, in addition to the HathiTrust, GSU, Google Books, and Kirtsaeng v. Wiley (and some memorable sing-alongs), updates on the perhaps less-well-known international legal front, including Golan v. Holder, which returned materials previously in the public domain in the U.S. to copyright because of treaty agreements, and the WIPO’s proposed Draft Treaty on Copyright Exceptions and Limitations for Libraries and Archives, which includes a right to translate as well as lend and preserve.

And, of course, last but not least, the Hyde Park Corner Debate, in which Rick Anderson convinced the audience that the traditional research library is, in fact, dead, despite the colorful arguments (and kilt) of his opponent, Derek Law of the University of Strathclyde. Though I enjoyed the specter of undead libraries raised by Anderson and the real-time voting via digital device (perhaps not surprisingly, those who felt the traditional library is dead were faster on the trigger than those who felt it was not), my favorite aspect of the debate is the unusually candid program description, which reads in part, “As with political discourse, this Oxford debate will contain the normal mix of misleading facts, half-truths and personal abuse. We will also encourage additional misinformation from the audience, so come prepared!”

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz ( is Executive Editor of Library Journal.

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  1. Many of us who left the DPLA session did so only in order to get to our favorite lunch spot before a major line formed. Honestly, eating in Charleston is an important part of the conference experience. Hated to miss Emily’s presentation, really!