I'm On An Anthropological Expedition

"Of the dozen cases of possible research misconduct I've looked into in the last ten years, I was able to retrieve the original data in exactly two." This from a colleague (I won't say with which university) bemoaning the state of current data management practices. When I quote this to some of the Data Wranglers here they're not at all surprised.

On the other hand, when I mentioned it to another colleague, a historian, she was rather shocked. In her field, keeping meticulous records and clear documentation of every statement of fact that goes into an article or book is standard practice.  That there's a research world that has such an apparently casual attitude towards the data is foreign to her.

But in the biomedical research world, as the hapless teddy bear researcher in the brilliant NYU Library video says, all the data you need is in the article.  You do your experiment, you extract the data you need for your article, you move on, leaving your data behind.  ("So many boxes!")  Changing that mindset is just one of the fundamental hurdles.

Each investigator looks at the world through the lens of their own practices, as if all of science and scholarship behaves the same way. I move through it like an anthropologist, trying not to let my own biases about the world color my perceptions of what the natives are doing and why.

When I embarked on this full-time gig fourteen months ago as the mysteriously titled Director of Digital Data Curation Strategies I believed I had a very good high-level understanding of the issues involved. I'd been dabbling in this space for many years, through the Open Access wars, my involvement with the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable and an increasing understanding that open access to data held far more potential for revolutionizing science than open access to journal articles. I knew that addressing the challenges at the institutional level would require bringing people together from all across the institution, that it wasn't a library problem amenable to a library solution. Indeed, it wasn't a problem localized in any unit of the university.  Given the way our research institutions are organized, there isn't a unit within the typical university that obviously has primary responsibility for figuring this out.  Most often, it's librarians who have taken the lead, but they can only touch a portion of the problem.

I still believe that I was correct. I did have a very good high-level understanding. But I did not imagine how delightfully complex it would be once I started to dig in.

I'm starting to get to know some of the #datalibs and a fascinating, brilliant and passionate tribe they certainly are.  I'm learning a lot and enjoying that tremendously.  

My perspective is a little different, though.  I remain the quasi-outsider, observing through my anthropological lens.  Since I'm no longer in the library, I'm not preoccupied with building a library service and marketing it to my research community.  In Charleston, one of the panelists in the "Making Institutional Repositories Work" session was explicit that once you have developed a solid institutional repository service, the next step is to engage with the faculty to see what problems the IR can solve.

At the monthly Data Wranglers sessions, and in the numerous conversations I have with individuals throughout the campus, I'm mostly trying to listen.  I want to understand what the problems are first.  What do investigators need in terms of services & infrastructure to comply with the data management requirements of funders and publishers?  How do we develop institutional policies that assist researchers rather than creating more administrative headaches?  How do the needs of the social scientists and historians differ from the epidemiologists and brain mappers?

If we can map that out, then we can start to identify roles.  What can the Office of Sponsored Programs take on?  How do the libraries contribute?  What do we need in terms of IT infrastructure?  How do we incorporate effective data management practices into the various graduate and post-doc training programs?  We'll probably identify the need for an institutional data repository of some sort at some point.  But we haven't gotten there yet.  I have much more field work to do.

 

 


What We Share

I was in Frankfurt in 2006, having been invited to speak at the annual meeting of the STM association. It was a heady experience. I don't remember what I talked about (I hope it was useful) but I certainly learned a lot. I came away with the understanding that the commercial publishers were already knee-deep into the reinvention of scholarly publishing and they were eager to partner with librarians in that great adventure. But they weren't going to wait for the librarians to show up.

Sadly, the librarians never did. It was still the early days of Open Access publishing. But Mabe was at great pains to point out that STM was officially agnostic on the subject. I met Hindawi, who had recently joined. I had a long conversation with Velterop, full as always with his enthusiasm for what might be achieved with some goodwill and creativity and daring. Even Erik Engstrom, then CEO of Elsevier, told me in conversation that he was not at all opposed to Open Access. He just needed to figure out how to make it work as a business.

But in the years that followed, the librarians didn't show up. Led by ARL/SPARC they manned the barricades, determined to make this a holy war between good and evil. Fueled by anger over the affordability problem, stoked with rhetoric that characterized Elsevier's profit margins as typical of the entire industry, and willfully oblivious to the economic realities of publishing, the librarians found emotional satisfaction in castigating the evil publishers, writing letters to congress and investing portions of their scant resources in institutional repositories that their faculties have little interest in supporting.

Where are we now, nearly ten years later? The commercial publishers have turned OA into the business model they were beginning to envision back in Frankfurt. Springer claims to be the largest source of OA articles in the world. Elsevier launches a new OA journal practically every week. Every major STM publisher has a PLoS One clone.  The OA partisans conspicuously have nothing to say about PLoS's revenues.   It's become a huge publisher by adopting the strategies and utilizing the talents of some of the best in the publishing industry. It's now running a surplus that bests that of most of the commercial small fry and the OA partisans can't figure out if PLoS is still one of the good guys.

The partisans retrench into the incoherence of green OA. Since they can't stomach making payments of any kind to the commercial publishers (Harnad's painful pun of "Fool's Gold") they fly the flag for green, continuing to manage a splendid feat of cognitive dissonance by ignoring the fact that green is entirely dependent on the existence of a vibrant, healthy, subscription-based publishing infrastructure -- the very system they want to eradicate.

The partisans lob their attacks on liblicense-l. The latest comes after Robert Glushko posts a message asking if we can't all recognize that despite our differences we are all still in this together. "I'm hopeful that we can work to find common areas of interest, and that we can all work together to promote those areas. At our best, we do so much good."

The critics are quick to disparage such foolish idealism.  Prosser says,  "Gosh, I wish this was true. I wish that we were all just one big happy family striving to promote scholarship. But I don’t think we are. We all have different priorities and drivers and sometimes those drivers and priorities clash."  Guédon quickly chimes in:  "Hear, hear, David! The notion that publishers/libraries/scholarly are close relatives is completely fanciful."  Later, in his long post, he seems to temper this somewhat, "Let us concentrate our fire on the few, multinational, baddies and the rogue scientific associations, and let us see how we can repatriate publishing capacity within academe."  So not all publishers are evil -- it is the multinational baddies that we must go to war with.  I'm sure this is comforting to the struggling commercial and society publishers trying to avoid being caught in the crossfire.

At UKSG 2013 I gave the closing plenary, arguing that publishers and librarians share the same overarching  commitment to advancing scholarship through the distribution of new knowledge.  It's our view of the role of the market that puts us at odds.  Librarians see market forces as the impediment to distributing knowledge.  Commercial publishers see market forces as the mechanism for distributing knowledge.  This fundamental disconnect will continue to make our business relationships more difficult than they need be. And librarians are at a particular disadvantage because of our unwillingness to learn to deal realistically with the economics of publishing. 

But surely there can be more to the relationship than that.  The publishers themselves are fiercely competitive with each other, but still managed to get together to create CrossRef, which has done more to facilitate efficient movement through the scholarly literature than anything that librarians have put together.

I still believe that the best way forward is for librarians, publishers of all stripes, researchers, academics and members of the public to engage and argue and work together to build a scholarly ecosystem that works for the public good. Something that I believe we all want. The people who work in those companies that the partisans castigate as "the baddies" (and worse) are, by and large, good people who are committed to doing a good job and advancing scholarship.  They also want their organizations to be successful.  A sentiment that I believe is shared by every librarian I know.

There are some positive signs. While I'm still not seeing as much positive energy from the library community as I would like, the Library Publishing Coalition is doing very good work.   I'm still optimistic that SHARE can achieve some useful things, particularly as it works more closely with CHORUS. The deal that CHORUS just signed with ORCID is very positive and should give librarians something to get behind.

Most promising of all perhaps, is the energy I saw at the Society for Scholarly Publishing meeting in Arlington in May. SSP, more than any other association, has made a major commitment to bringing publishers and librarians together. They have just elected a librarian as president. Rick Anderson generates a lot of skepticism among librarians but he is librarian through and through.

The way forward will continue to be difficult.  But if librarians are going to influence that future they're going to have to show up and find ways to work with the people in publishing.  Writing them off with the kind of demeaning and insulting rhetoric that characterizes so much of what the partisans write doesn't advance anything but the would-be revolutionaries' sense of self-satisfaction.  A dose of humility and a willingness to listen would serve the cause much better.

 


We Are Librarians

He's in the family room, half dozing over his evening scotch.  He's feeling pleasantly sluggish from the football game and the beer.  His team won.  Now the kids are watching their latest favorite show.  He's not paying attention, hears the voices drift in and out.  Some silly sci-fi something.  Some group of quirky, not quite normal eccentrics, out to save the world.  Snatches of dialog drift in. 

"Who are you people?"

"We're librarians."

He snaps awake.  The memory comes back.  The one that has mystified him all these years.  Oh my god!  They're real!  I met them!

****

It was 2000.  I'd gotten one of those Marriott timeshare offers -- 5 nights in a deluxe villa near Disneyworld for some ridiculously cheap price.  The only catch was that before you left you had to sit through the hour-long sales pitch.  Why not?  We like Disneyworld.  We'd bring Marian along.  We'd be polite during the pitch.  Hell, maybe we'd even buy in after all (this was just before we found Lynn's dreamhouse).

The villas were quite nice and the vacation was lovely.  By the time we entered the sales office on the morning of our departure we were in a mellow mood.  We weren't inclined to buy, but we were willing to have them try.  It was all relaxed and low-key.  First a video, then we sat down with the very nice, professional agent.  He asked us questions about our likes and dislikes, trying to sort out which of his categories to slot us into.  No, we didn't golf or ski.  No watersports.  More interested in cities than mountains or beaches.  He flipped through the album of pictures of the various properties.

He started to talk about financing options, but Lynn stopped him.  "If we do this, we'll probably just pay cash." An eyebrow went up.  We could see him mentally recalibrating.

So do you travel much?  Quite a bit, actually.  And is that for business or pleasure?  A pretty even mix of both.

And what do you like to do when you're traveling?

"Have lunch," said Lynn.  He looked confused.  I elaborated, "If it's a day when neither of us is working, we'll sleep late and then try to find a nice place for a leisurely lunch.  Then maybe a bit of sightseeing or a museum.  Find an interesting restaurant for dinner and then maybe a local dive bar for drinks and some live music.  That'd be kind of a perfect day."

I could see that we weren't making this easier for him.  "So where have you been in the last year?"

"Oh, let me think...  Chicago, Cairo, New Orleans..." (It had been a particularly busy year). "London & Paris, Vancouver... DC, Charleston, Bucharest..."

He looked back and forth at the two of us as we sat quietly smiling at his perplexity.  "I'm sorry," he said.  "But I have to ask, what do you do?"

Without missing a beat, and in perfect unison, we said, "We're Librarians."

We didn't buy, but we left content with the knowledge that we had rearranged his impressions of librarians forever after.  I do hope that he sees the show and thinks of us.

****

I know the members of my tribe are split on the merits of the show but Lynn and I rather love it.  Some of my favorite lines:

"Dad? Who are those people?"
"They're librarians, honey."
"Librarians? Wow."
 
"Librarians win with knowledge.  Librarians win with science."
 
"What is a librarian?! [Sighs] They're the ones who protect the rest of us from the magic and the weird and the things that go bump in the night."
 
Story of my life.
 

Conversation in Charleston: Public Access and Data

"Promote ORCID."

That was Greg's "if you take just one thing from this session" recommendation.  Howard agreed, but added, "...equally promote having your researchers submit their funder information when submitting manuscripts for journal publication.  Having the Researcher ID and Funder ID together married up to the article DOI is a powerful combination."

On the other hand, just having Howard & Greg chatting together on the same stage was a pretty powerful combination.   When SHARE & CHORUS were first launched, just a few months after the Holdren memo was released, many observers saw them as competitive.  In this corner, the publishing lobby making a policy end run to try to maintain their market dominance; and in this corner the combined might of the research libraries and universities seeking to leverage their investments in institutional repositories into some greater relevance.  Which of these mutually exclusive solutions would the federal funding agencies settle on? (Or would PMC simply vacuum everything up into an expansive PubScience Central)?

Fortunately, it didn't take too long for the developers to see where the projects overlapped and where there were advantages to be gained for both projects by sharing expertise and perspectives.  By the time I had lunch with several of my Roundtable colleagues at the AAAS meeting last February those conversations had gotten to the point where a joint appearance at Charleston was starting to look like a real possibility.  I immediately thought of Greg as a potential participant.  He's a Charleston regular and has been working with SHARE as a consultant.  Turns out that he had been having discussions with Judy Ruttenberg about a similar panel proposal and when the Charleston directors got wind of all this, they put us together.

Bringing Howard in was a natural given his role with CHOR., and I wanted to include John Vaughn, whose experiences with handling scholarly commnications issues for the AAU go back many years, and whose roles in chairing the Roundtable and in helping to develop the SHARE concept have amply demonstrated his commitment to including the views of all stakeholders in working through these very complicated issues.

The concept that Greg & Judy were developing was broader than just SHARE & CHORUS, however, and when the three of us spoke by phone over the summer we agreed on the necessity of bringing in a data person.  We were very fortunate that Laurie Goodman, editor-in-chief of Gigascience, was able to join us.

I've done several sessions like this over the years -- "facilitated conversation".  No presentations.  Some informal agreement among the participants about the likely themes.  I prepare half a dozen or so questions ahead of time, but once we get to the event, I rarely use more than two.  With the right people, the conversation flows naturally and takes its own course.  My job is just to keep it moving.

With this group, my task was extremely easy and the 45 minutes went by in a flash.  Of course we could have gone on much longer, but I'm happy with the range of topics that we were at least able to touch on.  (The session was recorded, so there will be a link on the Charleston website at some point). 

One of the most striking moments was when Greg asked how many in the audience were involved in managing institutional repositories.  Half the people raised a hand.  Then he said, "Keep your hands up. Now how many of you are successful in getting your authors to submit directly to your IR?" Only 2 hands were left up and one of the two was wavering in uncertainty.

Reshaping the scholarly communication eco-system is a massive job.  As John said, developing achievable policy will require adult deliberations and negotiations among all the key players – universities, libraries, publishers, and government.  It is also clear that a focused effort in data access and interpretation, management, and preservation will become increasingly important, and is one of the areas that currently is both most volatile and most challenging.

So in addition to promoting ORCID, noting funding sources, sharing best practices for effective IR management, and a whole host of other things that came up during the session, John suggests getting one of the nifty yellow Data t-shirts like the one Laurie wore.  Cafe Press has some nice options.

 


The New Job

"Effective September 8, I'll be Director of Digital Data Curation Strategies reporting to the office of the Provost."  I've started sending this announcement around to the discussion lists, alerting the far-flung professional network to my change in circumstance.

There's been a nice assortment of congratulations and well-wishes.  But what has surprised me have been the comments from people who assume that this means they won't see me at the usual library conferences anymore.  What?  I'm still a medical librarian.  I'm still a member of MLA & SCMLA & MCMLA & ALHeLA.  I won't be representing UAB at the AAHSL meetings anymore, it's true, but I'll continue to go to the other conferences.  And given the increasing importance of data curation at research institutions I expect to be more involved with the work of some of my librarian colleagues rather than less.

Lynn reminds me that she went through a similar thing 25 years ago when she left UAB to work for EBSCO.  She had to work very hard to get people to understand that she was no less of a librarian just because she was no longer working in a traditional library job.  I guess I'll have to do the same thing.

John Meador, most recently Dean of Libraries at SUNY-Binghamton, picked up the reins as UAB Dean of Libraries August 5.  The challenge he has accepted is to merge the two existing library organizations -- Lister Hill and Mervyn H. Sterne -- into a single organization serving the entire university community.  Unlike some recent reorganizations (UNC & Florida come to mind), UAB's roots as a primarily biomedical research institution offers some unique opportunities.  The two libraries are similar in size of staff and budget, are located just a few blocks from each other on a compact urban campus, and serve an increasingly multidisciplinary institution.  So while services will continue to be delivered from both buildings, we anticipate that, over time, a single, seamless organization will be formed to provide those services.

It's a bit of a conceptual leap because even though most of the important work that librarians do now takes place outside of the building, we still think of the library organization and the library building as occupying the same space.  As I was trying to explain the goals of the merger to a faculty member he said, "But the biomedical literature will still be based at Lister Hill, won't it?"  I had to tell him, gently, "Actually, since we spend less than 1% of our content budget on print, that hasn't been the case for five years now."  The reference librarians do far more of their work by chat, email, phone, webinar, office hours in classroom buildings, or meetings & workshops around campus than they do in person in the building.  The building is still very important, of course, but basing the organization on the physical limitations of the building is an anachronism.

One consequence of the merger is that the two Director positions go away.  The Director, Lister Hill and Director, Mervyn Sterne functioned as deans, although we didn't have that title.  But we met as part of the Deans Council and had the same level of budgetary and personnel authority as the deans.  Now that there is a single individual with the title, as well as the authority, of Dean, those two director positions are superfluous.

So what has opened up for me turns out to be quite marvelous.  Every research institution in the country is trying to figure out how to effectively manage research data.  What services should the institution provide?  How do you effectively manage security?  How do you establish policies and monitor compliance with the full range of increasingly complex federal requirements?  How do you make data available for reuse in clean and well-structured contextualized environments?

A number of institutions have made some headway in sorting this out, but part of the challenge is that there isn't really a single entity within the modern research university that is the logical home for the full range of issues that need to be addressed and coordinated.  It requires true collaboration among the libraries, IT, the research office and the various pockets of excellence and expertise that exist across the campus -- often unknown to each other.

My task, for the next several months, will be to map what exists at UAB, to figure out who is doing what, to identify where there are significant gaps, and then to work with all of the various players to help develop strategies for pulling all of the pieces together into a coordinated whole.  From this vantage point it looks ridiculously complex.  

I plan to have a lot of fun with it.

 

 


What are librarians' views of Open Access issues?

I've cooked up a little survey that you can get to here.

Later this month I’ll be speaking at the AAAS meeting on this topic.  Although I know what the positions of our library organizations are, and what some individual librarians might think, I’ve never felt that I had a good grasp of what librarians in general think.  I suspect the range of opinion is pretty wide.  So I’ve come up with a list 15 statements that people can indicate their level of agreement with.  They're the sort of statements one reads and hears in presentations, blogs and discussion lists.  In some cases they may be too broad or simplistic for simple agreement or disagreement so I’ve included a comment block that people can use to amplify their answers or explain why they can’t agree or disagree with the statement as written.

I don’t expect to draw any general conclusions from this, but I hope that it will be useful in illustrating some of the breadth of opinion that exists in the library community.  I'll post a summary of the results here.

The survey shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to complete – although you can certainly take longer, depending on how much you choose to comment.

And, of course, if there are other things you think I should be telling the AAAS audience about what librarians think, I'd love to hear about it.


Sometimes you just need to talk....

It seemed as if the unstated subtext of most of the conferences & meetings I went to this spring was that the boundaries between publishers and librarians is getting increasingly porous.  Geoff Bilder made it explicit in his plenary session at the MLA meeting when he referred to a presentation that John Unsworth gave at the Society for Scholarly Publishing meeting several years ago titled, "Pubrarians and Liblishers: New Roles for Old Foes."   Increasingly, librarians are starting to move into the publishing space and publishers are worrying about things that used to be the exclusive domain of librarians.

Despite this, we're still too often talking past each other, or not talking at all.  We need more conversation.  Which is why one of the most enjoyable things I did was the SSP "Chat With A Librarian" roundtables.  Jean's done a good writeup of the event for the SSP website.  The room was packed and ninety minutes flew by.  We could easily have gone on longer.

Jean and I, along with Norm Frankel, will be using some of the feedback from that session to develop the Chicago Collaborative's "Libraries 101" modules, designed to present the broad array of library issues to people in publishing.  The evidence of the SSP session is that many people in publishing are very hungry for more information about how libraries really operate and what librarians really want.

Anything that can foster more conversation will help.  As those boundaries continue to become even more porous we're going to need the expertise of everybody involved in the scholarly communication chain more than ever.

 

 


Busy Telling Stories

Every piece of writing should tell a story.   This is as true for a report for my boss (like the update on our investigations into the impact of journal cancellations that I need to get done this week), as it is for an essay that I may be preparing for print, or a tale about Josie that I post here.    Same thing for any kind of a presentation that I might do for a conference:  What's the plot?  Who are the characters?  Where's the dynamic tension?  How do I want the audience to feel when they've come to the end?

I have lots of stories to work on in the next few months:

In two weeks I'm doing a presentation on open access for the annual meeting of the NCRR/SEPA program directors.   My assignment is to take 10-12 minutes to discuss what open access journals are, why SEPA PIs should be interested in publishing in them, and any other advice I have about "publishing in open access journals or publishing in general."  To do this adequately in the time allotted is practically impossible.  Approaching it as a story helps to keep the presentation concise and on track, rather than just a scattering of semi-related facts.

The editor of the JMLA asked me to write a guest editorial for the January 2011 October 200910 issue.  I'm quite thrilled about this since the editorials that I wrote while I was running the thing include some of the best writing that I've ever done, and I've missed having that challenge.  I'm going to use the opportunity to write about the experience of participating in the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable.  The report stands on its own and we've been pleased with the reception that it's gotten, but what I'm interested in relating in the editorial is what it was like on the inside -- as far as I'm aware, the Roundtable was the only occasion during all of the smoke and thunder surrounding the open access discussions of the past decade or so that a group of stakeholders covering the range of views that we did was brought together to have the kinds of intense discussions that we did.  There ought to be more of that.

I promised Flannery that I'd work with BtheA on an article about medical humanities for the theme issue of the JMLA that he's putting together.  I'm far, far behind on the original schedule that I'd set for that, although I do have a pretty good sense of how I want to approach it.  The tension between the need to educate physicians for the science and to try to help them become fully rounded human beings at the same time remains unresolved, and I'd like to dig a bit into the issues surrounding that tension.

In June I'll be in San Francisco as part of a panel presenting at the annual SSP meeting.  My brief for this is to talk about budgets in libraries -- the things that publishers don't necessarily know or think about.  The panel comes out of the efforts of the Chicago Collaborative, part of our range of education activities designed to bring librarians and publishers to a greater understanding of the challenges and issues that each other faces.  In this case, the story that I want to tell has to do with the varied ways in which libraries get funded, the multiplicity of priorities that are always jostling for resources, the gradual shifting in how library directors are thinking about allocating those resources -- and what that might mean for publishers.

July takes me to the annual CESSE meeting in Pittsburgh to talk about open access, public access, and the various issues that the Roundtable occupied itself with.  Until I got the invitation, I didn't know that CESSE existed, but it's no surprise since there is an association for everything.  It's possible that I'll have crossed paths with some of these folks at other meetings, but I do particularly like going to meetings that are outside of my usual orbit.  Librarians spend too much time talking amongst themselves.  They need to get out more.

And then there's the Doe Lecture.  I don't actually give that until May of next year, and don't need to have it ready to send to the JMLA editor for a month or two after that, but I've started to think about the story arc for it.   As I've remarked to a number of people, while I've had the opportunity to do many interesting and valuable things with the Medical Library Association, the only two things I ever really wanted to do were to edit the Bulletin (back when it was the Bulletin rather than the Journal) and to someday give the Doe Lecture.  It means a great deal to me that I'm going to have that chance.

All of these stories, of course, are variations on the same themes -- the radical changes occurring in the realm of scholarly communication and the tremendous opportunities that they present for librarians.  The tale unfolds in the telling.  As always, when I'm looking ahead to a presentation or a piece of writing, I'm eager to find out what I'm going to say.


Incentives

Charlie points to the list of publishers who've agreed to hold prices at 2009 levels and appears to speculate that we may be seeing an end to the historical trend of significant annual price increases for STM journals.    But it remains to be seen what the impact of those pricing pledges actually turns out to be -- much of that depends on the choices that librarians make.  Will those publishers be rewarded with a disproportionately smaller number of cancellations from those libraries struggling to deal with reduced acquisitions budgets?  Or as librarians scramble to find the funds to maintain the big packages from the publishers that they love to hate, will it be the "good guys" who end up getting screwed?

For many years, Library Journal has published, each April, an eagerly anticipated article by Lee Van Orsdel and Kathleen Born analyzing pricing trends in the scholarly journal market.   Kathleen retired last year, and the article has been taken over by a new team.  As it happens, I had dinner with them a couple of weeks ago.  They were just beginning to crunch the data, so our conversation was entirely speculative, but we spent quite a bit of time talking about where the cancellations were likely to fall and what the impact on the overall market would be. 

Based on the informal conversations I have with my colleagues, I suspect that Elsevier is going to come through this year just fine, despite that fact that they continue to be aggressive in their pricing.  "We can't cancel ScienceDirect," is the refrain that I hear constantly.  I remember a conversation that I had with an ARL director who said that if she threatened to cancel, the sales rep would start calling her faculty and getting them to put pressure on her.  She wasn't going to risk that.  (When our sales rep suggested to the woman who does content management for us that he was going to start contacting our faculty about our proposed cuts she offered to send him a copy of our phone directory.  I think she confuses him.)

If the titles in the big packages are the ones that you generally believe are more important for your community than those put out by the publishers on the "good guy" list, then you should by all means keep those titles.  And if that means that the small publishers who are hanging in by the skin of their teeth and holding prices in response to the pleas of librarians are the ones who get whacked, that's just the way it goes.  You've got to do what's best for your faculty, right?

But I don't think I've ever heard a librarian make that argument.  What I do hear is the fear that the faculty will rise up and...  and....  Well, that part's never quite clear, but I think some library directors have visions of wild-eyed faculty members surrounding the library with pitchforks and torches.

We stepped away from the big packages last year.  And yes, we had many faculty (57) who contacted us expressing concern about the loss of access to some titles.  Most of those we reinstated.   The conversations in almost all cases were respectful, thoughtful and extremely beneficial to us in getting a better handle on what was being used and why (we did have one rather agitated faculty member who I had to talk down from the ledge). 

We're going through a similar process this year, although since we've already gotten out of the package deals, the potential loss of access is much smaller, although the titles are certainly more valuable to the community.  And again, the engagement with the community has been excellent.  Not a pitchfork in sight.

I don't know how this is going to unfold in the long run, but I'm certainly more eager than in any previous year to see what trends show up in the LJ article.  I worry about the impact of these cuts on the teaching & research missions of my university (we're going to be holding a series of focus groups later this spring to try to get more detail on that), but I'm also enjoying the conversations with faculty that this crisis is giving rise to.   And although I fear that we're not spending enough money to really meet the demonstrated needs, I know that the money we are spending is being spent better than ever before. 

We've been meeting with each of the health sciences deans to be sure they've got all of the details about our budget situation, what we're doing and why, so they can handle any questions they get from their faculty and so they can alert us to concerns that they have.  The discussions have been great -- these are smart people, who care deeply about the importance of library resources, but also understand the practical difficulties of managing large organizations with greatly diminished resources.  They've got our back.

At the end of each meeting, as we're standing up to go, I've said, "Y'know, when I can step away from my anxiety about the potential negative impacts that our decisions are having, we're actually having a lot of fun.  It's pushing us to be more creative and connected to what the community is doing.  This really is the greatest time to be a librarian in 500 years."

I really believe that.


The Relevance of Libraries

"And the library?

"It can look like the most archaic institution of all.  Yet its past bodes well for its future, because libraries were never warehouses of books.  They have always been and always will be centers of learning.  Their central position in the world of learning makes them ideally suited to mediate between the printed and the digital modes of communication."

This, from the introduction to Robert Darnton's The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future

I've been a fan of Darnton's ever since reading The Great Cat Massacre many years ago.  As a historian with an annales disposition, he has done some of the most interesting and useful work on the history of the book and printing and the way they have affected society and the diffusion of knowledge of anyone in the past fifty years.  As an innovator and experimenter (he founded the Gutenberg-e program), he has taken what he's learned from all of that scholarly work and looked for ways to apply it in shaping the intellectual infrastructure of the 21st century.  Now, as Director of the Harvard University Library, he is perfectly placed to assess the state of libraries and the convergence of print and digital.

Plus, he's a damn fine writer.  I would put this book on the absolutely must read list for any librarian who actually wants to understand better why the question of "how do we make libraries relevant" is a complete hand-wringing red-herring waste of time.

Of course, it's a book.  It's 206 pages (plus intro and index), and I know that a lot of the hip young techno (hand-wringing) librarians don't like to read books.  They get everything they need from blogs and twitter.  Look at it this way -- very few of Darnton's sentences are longer than 140 characters.  Take a deep breath and pretend it's just a really long twitter feed.  I know you can do it.  Two evenings, max.

It's a collection of essays (most reworked somewhat) that he's written over a number of years, divided into three sections -- looking into the future, studying the present, and considering the past and the implications that our past has for our future.   He has particularly insightful things to say about the Google Books settlement (agree with him or not, his arguments need to be considered), the advantages or disadvantages of electronic books, the importance of open access, and why the history of books matters.

Darnton is neither a technophile evangelist for the coming digital revolution, nor a grudging apologist for how it used to be "better".  His long historical perspective puts him in the position of someone who is excited about what the new technologies can offer us without losing his understanding of the importance of what we've had in the past and what needs to be preserved as we move eagerly into the unknown future.

Librarians, and the institutions that they build, have always played a critical role in the advancement and preservation of learning and culture.  Darnton's book helps to explain why that is even more the case now than ever.