Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Libraries are approaching the time, perhaps not too distant, when the balance of our budgets will tip from hardcopy collections to leased digital information -- when we pay more for access to databases and online resources than we do for putting books and journals on the shelves. This event will probably go unnoticed in most places, but that doesn't make it any less momentous. It seems like we should at least hold a small ceremony, or bury a time capsule, when the moment comes. Some of us may feel a twinge of nostalgia for simpler times, but most librarians will rightly be focused on just getting on with it.
This issue of ISTL is devoted to aspects of collection development in the Internet age. As I read the contributions, I was reminded again how much the nature of collections has changed in recent years, as has the role of the librarians overseeing them.
These changes have brought with them a number of now familiar challenges to our organizations. Whether we are selectors, administrators, reference librarians, catalogers, or one of the new breed of licensing gurus or webmasters, much of our time is spent dealing with questions like these:
The articles in this issue address some of these questions. Lila Faulkner and Karla Hahn get down to the basics and describe how the University of Maryland has developed a "genre statement" to define electronic publications in a meaningful, consistent way. This is a necessary but easily overlooked first step in codifying best practices of selection, acquisition, licensing, and access. Next, Anne Christie and Laurel Kristick tackle the problem of prioritizing a university's needs as a starting point for selection decisions. Oregon State University conducted a survey, modeled on Louisiana State University's serials projects of the early 1990s, to build lists of important electronic journals most desired by the faculty.
Jonathan Nabe reports on a survey of academic libraries in the Boston Library Consortium, aimed at learning how and why institutions decided to purchase (or not purchase) major publisher-based e-journal packages. The long-term impact of these packages on library budgets is a primary concern, and has recently been the subject of much discussion. J.B. Hill takes a look at a different type of e-journal package, comparing the science coverage of three multi-disciplinary aggregator products: Bell & Howell's Research Library, Ebsco's Academic Search Elite, and Gale's Expanded Academic ASAP. John Matylonek and Denise Bennett discuss access implications of another type of aggregator, the IEEE/IEE Electronic Library (IEL), which is unusual for its inclusion of multiple formats (journals, conferences, standards) in a single interface.
Finally, Cecily Johns describes a new research project in the University of California libraries to assess the impact of sending to offsite storage facilities print runs of journals that are available online. The lessons to be learned here may guide us in the future as we make tough decisions about space, duplication, and archival holdings.
If the digital revolution has done anything, it has fundamentally altered the relationships between publishers and libraries. Where once libraries were fairly passive consumers of whatever print products emerged in the marketplace, they are now active participants in shaping the world's information landscape. Libraries are showing their clout in this new marketplace. Consortia have not only increased libraries' bargaining power, they have also set important precedents and turned aside a number of problematic initiatives. For example, Nature magazine has backed away from its much-criticized plan to embargo some content from institutional web subscriptions. Librarians should take heart from this, because it proves that publishers will eventually listen if we act together.
Monitoring the marketplace, negotiating wisely, and keeping the needs of users front and center are critical for the long term health of libraries as information providers and repositories. Our responsibility to carefully consider long-term outcomes is more crucial than ever. It's clear from these articles that librarians are on top of the situation. That's the best place to be.