Friday, April 16, 2010

More Massive Disruptive Change at the Network Level

Two interesting reports: Schonfeld &  Housewright's  "Faculty Survey 2009: Key Strategic Insights for Libraries, publishers, and Societies" (Ithika, 2010) and Michalko, Malpas, & Arcolio's  "Research Libraries, Risk and Systemic Change" (OCLC Research, 2010).

The Ithika report (from the folks who bring us JSTOR) continues a longitudinal study begun in 2000 to gauge faculty perception of how digital technologies and services are affecting research, teaching, and scholarly communication. The 2009 questionnaire was sent to 35,184 faculty members, with a response rate of about 8.6% (3,025). Chapter 1, on "Discovery and the Evolving Role of the Library" interested (and alarmed) me the most since it describes an erosion of libraries' traditional 'gateway' role as an increasing number of resources become available online and companies like Google compete to provide access (see e.g., p. 12). Based on the survey data, the authors contend that "the academic library is increasingly being disintermediated from the discovery process, risking irrelevance in one of its core functional areas." This evolution seems virtually complete in the case of  physics (or at least high energy particle physics). Partly due to the continuing importance of locally-owned print monographs, however, and therefore local discovery tools, the humanities and certain social sciences still rely on library mediation for resource discovery. The authors suggest that the "most urgent challenge facing academic library leaders" is to decide whether to reach out more to the scientists for whom the library stopped serving as a knowledge portal and thus risk losing the humanists or to continue to focus on the needs of humanists at the risk of further alienating the scientists. (The social scientists are somewhat caught in the middle in this scenario). Moreover, "Libraries need to regularly assess whether their constituents continue to use and value the gateway services that they provide to ensure that the level of investments being made are justified by the benefits being gained by their constituents" (p. 12). How would this apply to the Yufind project?

By contrast, the role of the library as 'buyer' or 'purchasing agent" is more appreciated than ever, perhaps due to shrinking acquisition budgets and growing need to have the library coordinate digital licensing across academic departments.

Chapter 2 o fthe Ithika report focuses on the growing acceptance of digital publications as definitive (i.e., not derivative from print) and digital repositories as a reasonable long-term preservation strategy. Chapter 3 looks at changes in scholarly communication, and continuing resistance from authors to e-only, open access journals. As long as tenure committees continue to rate traditional journals most highly, policies to encourage alternatives, like institutional depository mandates, are unlikely to succeed. While electronic preprints in arXiv is a great boon for physicists, even in their case "the published article remains all-important" (p. 29), and rapidly supplants the eprint once available in published form. Moreover, even among disciplines that value free access most highly, "a journal being well-read among one's peers is the most important characteristic in its selection, and in every case free availability is among the least important" (p. 26). This doesn't mean that everyone's happy with this arrangement. In fact, "one-third of faculty members strongly agree that tenure and promotion practices 'unnecessarily constrain' their publishing choices'" (p. 32).

The second report, from OCLC Research, is based on interviews with 15 ARL library directors in the United States. The introduction states that "in 2008 OCLC Research engaged an organization experienced in conducting risk assessments for corporate, governmental and education clients with the objective of identifying the most significant risks facing research libraries." One concern I have is that the risk assessment firm is never mentioned by name in the report. This seems like a pretty important detail. 

As reported in the section called "Risk Cluster observations" library directors worry that non-library actors are doing a better job making resources available and usable and "our current value proposition can't compete with the alternative service provider" (p. 12). The perceived result is a "defection of the library user base" (p. 15). Not surprisingly, perhaps, given the provenance of this report, the authors "do not regard these as risks that the individual libraries can reasonably hope to mitigate, rather, they demand join action at the group and network level." Other major concerns among ARL library directors include a dearth of leadership potential among younger library staff and an "organizational culture that inhibits innovation".

No comments:

Post a Comment