NASIG 2009: Ensuring Perpetual Access to Online Subscriptions

Presenters: Judy Luther (moderator), Ken DiFiore, Nancy Gibbs (contributed, but not able to attend), Selden Lamorueux, Victoria Reich, Heather Ruland Staines, and Kim Steinle

Librarians have asked publishers to ensure that they will have perpetual access available to paid subscribers, which is a reverse of the previous arrangement with print, which required the librarians to preserve access to the physical copy in their buildings. It took publishers some time to address this, and it continues to evolve.

Libraries, and academic libraries in particular, have proven staying power. Librarians, working with publishers, are responsible for providing access to information.

There are two issues with online perpetual access: maintaining access to content when a subscription ends and maintaining access to content when a publisher ceases to exist. Libraries have the resources to be custodians of the content through digital preservation practices, both alone and in community.

How are librarians & publishers managing expectations for the financial impact of moving to online-only content? First, make sure that there is some sort of preservation guarantee. You will need to start shifting staff from managing stacks/materials to managing online, which will impact training needs. There are cost savings in space and opening up the building to other relevant uses. Peter McCracken suggests that we should emphasize the service and benefits of online content.

Libraries purchase the delivery mechanism, not the content. Owning a print archive does not mean that online is automatically free. And, it’s not just the content that you get with online. The user interface is an essential component, and it isn’t cheap to develop or maintain.

The most important thing that librarians need to do is read the license agreement. If it doesn’t specify what happens to content if a subscription is canceled or if the publisher ceases to exist, negotiate for that to be added. CYA, folks! If you pay for it, make sure you’re really going to get it.

luddite with a heart of gold

Chuck Munson has a soapbox pronouncement that is sure to burn through the ranks of librarian bloggers as quickly as Michael Gorman’s anti-blog people essay. However, unlike Gorman, Munson doesn’t come across as an elitist ass. He makes some good points and some points that others are likely to quibble with. I hope he is heard, and in return hears his critics. My own quibble is with the following statement:

“These tech savvy librarians are also the ones responsible for the disappearance of books and other printed materials from our libraries. They want to turn libraries into everything but LIBRARIES. They want fancy new buildings to showcase technology. They slash periodical budgets so more tech can be brought into libraries.”

As the Serials and Electronic Resources Librarian, my responsibilities are to provide our users (students, faculty, and staff) with the best information using the most appropriate format within the limits of my budget. In my book, there are two types of periodical publications: those that need to be browsed in print and those that are used for research where only one or two articles are needed. For the latter, electronic subscriptions and full-text aggregator databases make sense. For the former, print subscriptions makes sense. I also take into account other factors such as the inclusion of illustrations and format when choosing electronic subscriptions over print. The reality is that most undergraduate students prefer to download and print articles on demand, rather than pulling the bound volumes off of the shelves and making photocopies (not to mention a total aversion to anything in microformats). A quick literature search will reveal a number of articles on user preference regarding print versus electronic.

If the periodicals budget is getting slashed, that is only because the university isn’t funding the library to the level it should. In fact, the biggest problem I face is the annual subscription price increases, regardless of format. I’d like to implement some cool tech toys that will make it easier for our users to locate information, but my budget can barely cover what we already have.

I think that Mr. Munson’s rant is motivated by his personal experiences and does not necessarily speak to the library profession at large. While we tech librarians love to congregate around the virtual water cooler and geek out about the newest tech toys, our musings about library implementation of those toys does not imply that we want to turn libraries into some sort of Matrix-like cyberworld. Anything that draws in users and provides them with tools to find accurate information is a good thing in my book.