In this week’s opinion piece, Michael Zeoli (of YBP Library Services) takes a close look at how collection development practices have evolved in academic libraries in recent years, especially since the advent of the ebook and proliferation of digital content. Regardless of how familiar book professionals are with complex purchasing models in academic settings, it is important that we understand how we ‘got here’ before we can understand how best to move forward. We also must acknowledge that we all willingly participated in the creation of complex business models for buying and managing content. We must now all participate in simplifying them. The reality is, as Michael explains, that the academic library book world is shrinking, even as more content is created and new technologies are implemented. This raises serious questions about the future of the academic library and the roles we all play in shaping it. Perhaps the most important sentence in the piece is: “All parts of our ecosystem have an active role to play; none should act out of fear and remain passive.” Full article below. —Ed.
Academic library staff has been shrinking for 2 decades, while the quantity of scholarly content has grown exponentially. In the 1960s Richard Abel & Company began the Approval Plan service as a systematic approach to help libraries manage the volume of new books published. Libraries rely on vendor services (i.e., companies catering to libraries) to discover and acquire much of scholarly content. Since the 90s, libraries have also depended on vendors to provide shelf-ready services for print books, customized cataloging, to manage financial transactions electronically, and to maintain online interfaces to support collection development and acquisitions processes. Ebooks brought another layer of labor and complexity to library workflows.
Ebooks elbowing their way into the landscape
Within a decade of their birth, ebook aggregators entered mainstream library collecting. Initially, the ebook appeared as just another format or manifestation of the print book; the library choice expanded beyond paper or cloth to include ‘e’ versions (in many cases PDFs). Technology changed this: ebook models have upset the balance in traditional library collecting and continue to challenge traditional understandings not just of collection development, but of the role of the academic library.
The ebook aggregators’ business models exist outside the realm of print books – except as a distribution model on which to piggyback for just as long as necessary (think ‘the scorpion and frog’ fable). The business of the aggregator is to sell ebooks, not books. Aggregator ebook platforms are designed for this purpose. Each is different from the others in design (technical as well as strategic):
- User interface & experience
- Library acquisition models
- Library control of patron access
- Publisher control over: 1) Library acquisition models; 2) License terms for each model; and 3) ‘Triggers’ to purchase and loan (Patron-Driven Acquisitions – DDA / Short-Term Loan – STL / Evidence-Based Acquisitions – EBA)
‘Standards’ in the industry exist only to the degree necessary for one company to compete with another (‘not-for-profits’ are not exempted!). Focus has been split 3 ways:
- Competition to win market-share
- Sustainable development of the market
- Alternatives to ‘unsustainable models’
To a large extent, the futures of libraries and publishers live at the margins of these considerations.
Competition is driving complexity. Beyond complexity, competition does not always favor clarity or transparency, even when possible. Libraries and publishers struggle to gain full vision into some of the forces acting under the surface of a rapidly evolving landscape. Continue reading Academic libraries are shrinking, while content is growing. How did we get here?