Sunday, 5 December 2010

A tangent from a brown bag discussion

Last Wednesday I attended another brown bag lunch in Cambridge, inspired by the British Library debate on whether the physical library is redundant.  Katie has already posted an excellent summary of our discussion so I won't repeat any of that, although I did find the point that only three of the 150 most used books in the Economics library are even available electronically very interesting.  A few related items popped into my RSS reader just after the discussion:
  • Ed Chamberlain reported on the FutureBook conference, including stats that show that even most publishers don't believe that ebooks will make up the majority of sales in the market in the near future
  • Libby Tilley shared a comment from one of our academics on the value of holding classes in the IT Suite within our library, rather than elsewhere in the faculty
  • Louisa Brown's research on the use of ebooks in the Education Faculty Library here in Cambridge showed that their students still prefer the printed book - they use ebooks when "forced" to because they are unable to make it to the physical library
  • Disturbingly, an academic opened a University Science and Technology Librarians Group conference in Oxford by claiming that library funding should go straight to researchers (so each researcher would have to purchase the articles they need, no sharing of resources and good luck to the poor unfunded undergrads?!?)
Instead of repeating what others have said (no, I don't think the physical library is redundant, and besides, there's more to a library than a building with books in it!), I'd like to follow one of the tangents that cropped up during the discussion.

A parallel was drawn between the fate of record companies because of easy availability of music online and the difficulties of digital rights management, and that of publishers who are trying to work out how best to monitor the use of their ebooks and ejournals.  Although this is undoubtably a headache for the publishers, is it really as much of a problem for the researchers?  How many of them make anything from academic publishing in the first place? Perhaps they could follow the example of musicians, who have been able to take more control of the distribution and promotion of their own music by releasing only part of a track, or an individual track from an album.  It is already clear that articles that are freely available online are more likely to be cited.   I know of one person that posts draft or  pre-publication versions of his own articles to a blog (when possible) in a conscious attempt to raise the profile of their work, as well as submitting work to his institutional repository and to open access journals. The main difficulty is having some sort of quality control, but there are various ways to do that and besides, isn't that why critical appraisal is so essential?

Thinking about all of this brought me back to a post by Anne Collins on the Librarian of the Future.  In it she suggested that in addition to the teaching, marketing and management roles, we could support our researchers by providing "copyright advice, help with getting published, help with citations, help with indexing terminology, open access advice".  This kind of added support chimes strongly with the tailored boutique library service idea that is gaining momentum at the moment thanks to Libby and Andy.*  The Contemporary Music Centre provides some similar services to their composers, but I was wondering if anyone knows of other libraries that provide this kind of support already? Or are there other services that academic libraries are providing that might not be considered standard?

* Someone needs to put up a post about the boutique library idea so I have something to link to!  Or maybe you could point me towards an existing one...


  1. Lovely post, Niamh. Thanks for mentioning that statistic from Economics, which I forgot to note down.

    The comparison with the music industry is really interesting. I think that if (or when) research publication moves to the open model you describe, the role of librarians in helping people find and evaluate information will grow hugely. When the 'high grade' information is believed to be findable in a set number of journals, research doesn't look so daunting - when it's 'out there', free and all over the place, on the net then people who know how to find it will (hopefully) become increasingly valuable.

    For those CILIP members who haven't seen it, the excellent boutique libraries article was published in the July 2010 issue of Update, pp. 36-38. I agree that a freely available blog-post summary would be handy.

  2. Thanks for the comment Katie - I agree that the hassle for researchers would shift to having to filter through even more content in search of the most useful. Equivalents of LISA and LISTA in the various subject areas would become even more invaluable and the librarian would be even more necessary in helping researchers to find their way.

    Thanks also for providing the link to the boutique libraries article. I have put in a special request with one of the authors that a blog post be written so the concept is opened up to non-CILIP members!

  3. Came across an interesting thought at a meeting I attended last week (think it was in regard to Open Science Notebooks). This was the possibility that journals which won't accept items that have already been published may state that that which has already been accessible online may be considered as 'already published'.

  4. Hi Chris,
    That definitely is an issue already - journals often stipulate that only pre-publication draft may be made available online in an institutional repository or elsewhere. I don't think anyone would advise posting articles online before submitting them to a journal. I guess you could post bits and pieces to a blog as you go, but not the final article.