Here at Feeding the Elephant, we try to bring together folks from the different areas of scholarly communications and arts, humanities, and social sciences (AHSS) publishing to talk about our shared mission of creating and disseminating knowledge. This is why I have been pleased to see a number of the #AUPresses20 panels reach out beyond university presses to find areas of common concern in our joint enterprise (what we on this forum affectionately call “feeding the elephant”).
Monday’s panel “Inside Library Acquisitions Now” was an excellent example of this kind of exchange: informative, constructive, and not always comfortable. The panelists--all university librarians--in conversation with the two moderators from university presses, shared their concerns and priorities for library acquisitions, gave advice to presses on how they can work together to help get more books to more users, and confronted difficult questions about the structural challenges facing both publishers and libraries.
Moon Kim, Acquisitions Librarian Ohio State University (@mooncindykim)
Galadriel Chilton, Director of Collections Initiatives, Ivy Plus Libraries Confederation (@gchilton)
Brad Warren, Associate Dean of Library Services, University of Cincinnati Libraries
Frank Brasile, Selection Services Librarian, Seattle Public Library
Liz Hamilton, Intellectual Property Specialist, Northwestern University Press (@rationalfish)
Elizabeth Scarpelli, Director, University of Cincinnati Press (@lizmarketing)
The need for collaboration: Galadriel Chilton reminded us that no modern library has the resources to purchase everything that’s coming out. Decreases in staff, funding, and space coupled with the constant increase in the global output and production of books means libraries must collaborate to ensure bibliographic diversity and as many books as possible are available to users. This includes consortia, inter-library loan, and other inter-university and inter-library initiatives.
Increased demand for online materials: A number of the panelists noted the increase in demand for digital products for teaching and research, and the covid-19 pandemic has accelerated this by causing instructors to scramble to move courses online. Some emphasized the importance of paying attention to how content is consumed. Readers use print and digital books in different ways, so it’s safe to say print is not going away anytime soon. Librarians are also cognizant of the limitations of electronic formats: they cannot be shared via consortia like print volumes; they are difficult to put on time-based reserves at a library; few textbooks are available as ebooks, which has implications for online teaching and costs to students; and concern about international students’ ability to access products were all issues raised. DRM-free formats are preferred.
Affordability and accessibility drive many acquisitions decisions: After the cost of packages and subscriptions, which help libraries get content at scale, collections development tends to serve teaching, faculty research, and existing programs and collections. But as Frank Brasile underscored, librarians must also think about individual users, so a municipal circulating library, for example, won’t want to saddle patrons with the responsibility of replacing an expensive book. Librarians must consider too accessibility of format, including audiobooks, large print books, and ebooks. Some practical advice to UPs that want to get the attention of public library collections, as encapsulated on Twitter by @lisambayer: get reviews in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, ALA Booklist; get more ebooks and audiobooks into Overdrive.
Covid-19 poses across-the-board challenges to publishers and libraries alike: The panel painted a grim picture of the pandemic’s effects on universities, with libraries preparing to cut budgets from 5-20% to 40%. With that reality in the background, Brad Warren stressed that this crisis is also an “opportunity to question all of our systems,” systems that were often built on racism and inequality. Presses and libraries need to be “obsessed with rethinking everything they’re doing.”
Open Access as a point of opportunity and contention: Librarians embrace OA as one solution to the challenges of cost and access, but ways of underwriting it are still difficult to square with shrinking budgets and rising costs. The discussion ranged from collaborative initiatives like Lever Press, Knowledge Unlatched, TOME, and HathiTrust, to more controversial measures like the Internet Archive’s National Emergency Library (an emergency measure meant to support remote teaching and research in response to the sudden closure of libraries during the covid-19 pandemic). Feeding the Elephant has touched on the real challenges of funding OA (here and here), so it didn’t surprise me when a question from the audience about ways to make more books in OA and break even elicited virtual crickets. In a Twitter exchange after the panel, moderator Liz Hamilton had a belated suggestion: “maybe OA publishing operations should be funded the way libraries are: as a department of their university with a full budget for their activities.” And here we get to a hard truth: OA furthers the library’s mission, but it is a challenge to publishers that don’t get budgets to cover their costs. This feels like a place where we all--publishers, librarians, and scholars--need to be thinking together if we are going to “question all of our systems.” Our DMs are open.
Have something to say on this topic? Please feel free to reply to this post or email the Elephant about writing for us. We welcome submissions from stakeholders on all sides of scholarly publishing.