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October 07, 2010



I'm of mixed minds about this.

On one hand, it is very good to be moving past the acrimony and self-righteousness that have comprised many librarian-publisher relations in recent years.

On the other hand, the traditional publishing model--based on a time when articles had to be printed and mailed as the only means of distribution--really should be at risk. The idea of the library and university as publisher seems ripe. In addition to the costs associated with obtaining journals, there is huge amounts of staff time (to negotiate licenses) and IT time (to maintain proxy servers) devoted to maintaining the current system. These costs usually aren't accounted for because they are more hidden than the subscription fees.

So while librarians shouldn't demonize publishers, we should boldly explore new models. We can seek to productively work with publishers to do so but should leave open the possibility of going our separate ways. After all (to cite another example), most manufacturing is now overseas because it's much cheaper. Everything has to end at some point.


One notion I'd like librarians to reconsider is that of the publisher role in scholarly communication as merely one of printing and mailing. Publishers work to get content chosen, prepared, and distributed. While historically the only way to do that was in a print journal, that doesn't mean the goal of a publisher is to print and mail something.

With the mix of print and digital media - as well as changing opportunities and expectations in format and accessibility -, readers, authors, librarians, and publishers are all facing changed models. Let's find ways to work together to create the future of scholarly communication.


TRichardson, thanks for the corrective. It is true that publishers do far more than print and mail.

Here's a better way to say it: the relationships and norms between publishers and librarians were formed in that "print/mail era." There was only means of distribution (the publisher) and only one place to access the content (the physical library.) Obviously, all of this has changed. So is it realistic to think that relationships between publisher and librarians can endure in much the same form?

Publishers today are figuring out how to go right to the consumer, cutting out the library middleman. If I were a publisher this is what I would do too. Thus librarians have to be creative, and one possibility would be to publish directly. Any library that undertakes this will rapidly learn just how much more publishers do than print and mail. That doesn't mean it's a bad idea or shouldn't be tried.

I'm not averse to working together and may well be suffering from a lack of imagination. So I leave this as an open question: in the Internet age, how can we credibly align the interests of publishers and librarians?

T Scott

Marcus -- your comments raised enough issues that I wrote a new post to address them: http://tscott.typepad.com/tsp/2010/10/every-year-i-pay-my-own-way-to-go-to-the-mcmla-conference-it-hasnt-been-my-geographic-region-for-fifteen-years-so-i-cant-ju.html

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