Library Committee Report - AY 2004-2005
AY 2004-5 was the fourth and final year of my term as Chair of the MU Library Committee. During this year, the Committee did not undertake any fundamentally new initiatives, but rather completed at least some portion of the agendas and initiatives that I described in my earlier reports for AY 2001-3, and AY 2003-4. In this report, I will begin with a brief account of our activities for what turned out to be a relatively quiescent year, followed by a somewhat longer discussion of the challenges that, I believe, lie ahead.
As in previous years, in AY 2004-5, the Library Committee was most urgently engaged with matters where Library policies and concerns about faculty consultation intersect. Our main achievement was the clarification and amendment of guidelines for faculty communication and consultation with regard to journal subscriptions. Over the summer of 2004, a series of miscommunications between the Geology Department and the Library Administration illustrated some of the ways in which the familiar problem of journal cancellation was becoming transmuted into a new and more complicated form. As academic journals convert to electronic format, and as Library budget pressures mount, the traditional subscription is giving way to a more complex set of licensing agreements, designed to make scholarly publications available to university researchers, while regulating the forms and terms of access in which they will appear.
While this new system puts enormous power in the hands of publishers, who now control access to scholarly publications, it also helps cash-strapped librarians to avoid outright cancellations by opting for cheaper forms acquisition (e.g. document delivery) that reduce costs (albeit by often degrading the conditions of access). For student and faculty users, the question is no longer merely "does the Library have the article I want?", but also "how can I get it, in what format, and at what opportunity cost?". To deal with this situation, a Task Force on Faculty Communication and Consultation was created, under my chairmanship, which drew on volunteers from the Library Committee, as well as concerned faculty in a variety of disciplines across campus. After two meetings with Jim Cogswell (Library Director) and Mary Ryan (Head Librarian, Reference Services) we came up with a new set of guidelines to deal with all changes in journal subscriptions and services. These guidelines were modeled on existing practices with regard to traditional journal cancellations, as well as those developed a year earlier to deal with the transfer of materials from Ellis to UMLD. The new guidelines are attached to this report as Appendix A.Explanations:
Given the ambitious agenda that I outlined in my report for AY 2003-4, I hoped that we would be able to accomplish more than we actually did in AY 2004-5. There are several reasons why many of our earlier initiatives did not come to fruition as quickly as I had anticipated:
1) Although the Library remains dangerously under-funded, the budget situation improved, at least by comparison with the previous few years. As a result, there was no imminent prospect of journal cancellations -- hence, no need to go through the painful and divisive process of targeting particular titles for cuts. It must be said however that this is only a temporary reprieve. The cumulative budget reductions of the past three years have cut very deeply into the Library's foundations and are beginning to undermine its ability to perform its central mission of collecting and archiving knowledge in every academic discipline, and making this information available to students, faculty and the citizens of Missouri.
2) The Library Committee itself showed signs of exhaustion in AY 2004-5. Several of our longest standing stalwarts (notably Marcus Rautman, Ingolf Gruen, and Marilyn James-Kracke) either rotated off the Committee, or were forced to retire by the press of other commitments. We are grateful for the superb service that they provided over the years.
3) Given the departure of these individuals, it is essential that new recruits be identified by Faculty Council, so that the new Committee can get started as early as possible in the fall semester. During the summer of 2005, Jim Cogswell spoke with Bill Lamberson, Chair of Faculty Council, about this matter. I hope that the new Committee will be able to start its work early -- with a fresh roster of new recruits -- under the incoming leadership of Anne Stanton.
4) The subcommittee system that I instituted in AY2003-4 did not work as well or as efficiently as it had during the previous year. Since there was no budget crisis, the Budget Committee did not meet. Since plans for an Institutional Repository have been shelved or abandoned, that Committee is defunct. The Subcommittee on Space and Ellis Resources met briefly, but took no action, as the plan to send MU books to an underground storage facility in Springfield has been postponed. The Depository (UMLD) is rapidly filling up, but plans to deal with the problem of remote storage appear to be in a state of uncertainty. Finally, the Subcommittee on Information Literacy, which had gotten off to a promising start in AY 2003-4, stalled during 2004-5. This was probably due to the excessive burden that I placed on junior faculty, whose first priority must be to their own research. We have clearly established that information literacy is (or ought to be) a concern of faculty members from every discipline. It is a key area, where both faculty and librarians can work together to insure their continued relevance (and interdependence) in the research university of the twenty-first century. I hope that a member of the senior faculty can be persuaded to take up leadership on this issue.
Since this is my final report as Library Committee chair, I will take the liberty of offering some general reflections on the challenges that lie ahead. As we move ever farther into the "information age", the role of research libraries is rapidly changing. If the Library Committee is to remain relevant, it must follow suit. Astute librarians, like Jim Cogswell and his talented team, recognize that this transition to the "information age" holds great opportunities and dangers for their institutions and their profession. As information becomes increasingly central to the productivity and profitability of capitalist society, huge multi-national corporations have suddenly discovered that vast profits are to be made on the once-marginal terrain where libraries and librarians work. No longer mere curators of archived information, librarians are now finding themselves thrust into the front line, as defenders of public access and advocates of the public good. Though vastly outmatched in wealth and resources, librarians have now found themselves with a new and vitally urgent mission to make sure that information in every form (print/digital, public/private) becomes available to every academic researcher, and every citizen who wants to know. I believe that the Library Committee needs to follow the librarians in recognizing that the world is changing, and that it risks irrelevance unless it is prepared to rethink its role.
1) In the past, the work of this Committee was largely reactive, and intermittently oppositional. It served as a sounding board for the Library Director, and followed his/her agenda, while occasionally serving as a lightning rod for faculty anger when journals were cancelled as a result of periodic budget cuts. As I hope all my annual reports have made clear, the Library Committee of the future will have to play a much more active and directly consultative role in helping to shape the research library of the twenty-first century.
2) On the part of faculty, this will mean working more closely with the library staff, understanding the complexity of the world in which they operate, and appreciating their constraints and concerns. Faculty will have to stop viewing library administrators as potentially sinister adversaries, lying in wait to cancel one's favorite journal. We will have to recognize them as the talented professionals that they are. The library administration, in turn, will have to bring faculty representatives more fully into their confidence, and offer them a more genuinely collaborative voice. Speaking personally, I have always found Jim Cogswell to be very receptive to engaging interested faculty in the work of the library, so long as they are capable of transcending their own immediate private interests, and of considering the interests of the library as a whole.
In AY 2004-5, we saw one particularly dramatic example of how this can work, when the publishing conglomerate Wiley attempted to foist a huge increase in subscription costs on all the major midwestern university libraries. Notwithstanding the enormity of the forces arrayed against them, the research librarians valiantly banded together and ultimately forced this corporate giant to back down. Why did Wiley submit in this case? Perhaps someday the answer will be found in their corporate archives, when these pass into the librarians care. I can only offer one small anecdote, which might shed a tiny light on this outcome. Throughout this entire drama, Jim Cogswell kept me fully apprized of events as they were unfolding. I felt obliged to warn one particular faculty member, who had felt blindsided by previous cancellations, that a further round of cuts might soon be underway. Thus informed of the Library's predicament, this individual sought out the Wiley representative at a scholarly convention, and made it clear that he would stop using Wiley materials in his classroom, if the publisher did not mend its extortionate ways. If even a few faculty members at various institutions made similar comments, I’m sure it would have had some impact on Wiley’s decision.
The model of faculty-librarian collaboration illustrated by this anecdote requires several elements to make it work. In addition to an open-minded and advice-receptive Library Director (like Jim Cogswell), it requires a Library Committee Chair with the time and energy to stay abreast of a multitude of complex issues on diverse fronts, where the devil is always in the details. Most importantly, it requires a cadre of concerned and informed faculty members -- both on and off the Library Committee -- who are ready to go to bat for the Library. Since the full Library Committee cannot deal with the intricacies of every issue, the more effective it is, the more necessary it will become to build on the subcommittee structure that I initiated in AY 2003-4. Though the specific issues may change, a flexible structure along these lines will make it possible to delegate work on specific problems to motivated and informed groups, which can work with individual librarians, and deal with complex issues far more efficiently and effectively than the Committee as a whole. These subcommittees however must then report back periodically to the larger Library Committee for action and debate, to make sure that everyone is informed, and everyone has the chance to weigh in on the major issues.
My central point here is that, as we enter ever further into the information era, the issues faced by research libraries are growing ever more technical and interdependent. At the same time, a series of novel forces have emerged from the outside to put pressure on libraries that they did not formerly face. 1) The monopolistic multi-national corporations that now dominate academic publishing represent formidable obstacles to achieving cost-control. 2) The predilections and priorities of wealthy donors are increasingly shaping the direction of cash-starved libraries. 3) The cost-cutting, cost-accounting mentality that has descended on higher education measures efficiency by crude statistics on student use. It thereby transforms students from potential scholars into ‘happy customers’, who must be lured in the door by opulent surroundings and advertising methods. 4) The imperatives of maintaining staff morale in the face of stringent budget constraints can sometimes divert funds away from acquisitions.
Each of these four pressures represents an imperative interest to which the library administration must respond. In this increasingly crowded political and economic environment, I believe that the Library Committee can play an indispensable role. This role is simply to represent the interests of the committed scholar or researcher who is (or should be) the main constituency of a Research I university library. Once upon a time, in a simpler era, serving the needs of this constituency was the goal of the public university library tout court. Today, it represents only one of several competing agendas that are at work. In a world where librarians face many alternative pressures, they need a strong, well-informed interest group to encourage (if necessary cajole) them to do the things that their own better judgment ought already to incline them to do. I will conclude by enumerating five areas in which the Library Committee of the future might profitably work.
1) Recruiting student participation. The absence of serious and sustained student (especially graduate student) input was the biggest failure of my term. We have little real sense of how students actually use the library and its resources. Absent the voice of serious student researchers – who probably share the concerns of faculty in their disciplines – ‘the student’ is too easily reduced to the status of a passive consumer who needs to be lured into the library by expensive furniture and other such incentives, which may draw scarce resources away from research.
2) Information literacy: By tackling this absolutely critical and fast-breaking set of issues that go to the very core of the university’s teaching mission, the Library Committee can help bring students, faculty and librarians together, and insure its own (and the Library’s) continued relevance for the higher education of the future. For a definition of "information literacy" see my Report for AY2003-4, and the discussion under #5, below.
3) In the sciences; containing costs: Even when budget cuts are not immediately imminent, the Library Committee has a responsibility for keeping abreast of the unfolding crisis in scholarly communication. It has an important role to play in educating scientists about the nature of this crisis, and in convincing them to use their leverage against price gouging publishers. When scientists are properly educated on these matters, they will understand the value of cutting out (or at least reducing the role of) these superfluous middlemen, who simply sell back to the recipients of academic knowledge the very knowledge that they and their colleagues have themselves produced.
4) In the humanities; managing the transition from print to digital: Someday the library will be completely paperless, but that time is decades – if not centuries – away. In the meantime, the vast stores of print materials constitute the tools of the humanist’s laboratory. In a time when space is at a premium, it is inevitable that the less utilized of these materials will be shipped out to remote storage facilities. The Library Committee however needs to keep an ever-vigilant eye on the way in which these decisions are made. This involves i) Clear procedures for targeting materials scheduled for removal. ii) Insuring that storage facilities remain in reasonable proximity to Ellis, and that retrieval can be guaranteed in a timely way. iii) Helping to educate the public on the vast stores of knowledge and information that the MU (and UM) libraries have at their disposal.
5) Public Access: If there is a single theme that runs through this report (and its predecessors) it is the unique role of the MU Libraries (and the MU Library Committee) in realizing the goal -- and defending the achievement -- of public access to the vast stores of information, knowledge, understanding and analysis that many centuries of relatively disinterested research and scholarship have produced. Of necessity, my concerns have been primarily local – focusing on the needs of students and faculty on the Columbia campus. Due to our flagship aspirations, our land grant responsibilities, our extension resources, and our status as Missouri’s only public research university however, we have a special obligation to all the citizens of Missouri along these lines. Moreover, for obvious political reasons, it is in our interest that the general public should have a better appreciation of our resources and understanding of our mission, in this era of fiscal stringency. I believe that the Library (and Library Committee) has an important role to play in the work of public outreach, which might be approached from several different directions.
One of the most striking (and most positive) changes that have occurred over the past fifteen years has been the growth of Library consortia such as Merlin and Mobius, together with the electronic technology of cataloguing and retrieval that enables individual patrons to draw on the collective holdings of all participating institutions. In effect, the libraries are becoming less freestanding institutions than interconnected webs of complementary holdings, which can (at least in principle) serve their patrons better by pooling their resources. Speaking personally, nothing has made a bigger difference to my own research, since the early 1990s, than the possibility of drawing on the holdings of the SLU and Washington University libraries. In theory, there is no reason why this extraordinary access -- to seventeen million volumes through Mobius -- is not available to every citizen of the state of Missouri.
Absent an instructional network that could teach ordinary Missourians how to use these resources, few Missourians will avail themselves of these opportunities for research and self-education, nor will they be able to evaluate and integrate the information that they might find. The advent of the internet has suddenly opened up a universe of information to ordinary people, but they lack the means of assessing its reliability and processing its meaning. In other words, the same challenges of promoting information literacy that face MU in educating its students, should extend to its larger public educational mission as well. Just as the Library has an important role to play in teaching students how to use its databases and bibliographic gateways to gain access to reliable, scientifically accurate, peer reviewed knowledge and information, it should be able to extend this education to every citizen of the state. The problem is finding a vehicle for such public education.
This is where MU’s land-grant legacy and extension resources might come in. For MU Extension has such an infrastructure of public outreach already in place. Indeed, it has a branch office in each of Missouri's 114 counties. My sense however is that the Library and Extension have never really developed a close working relationship, or a realization of how they might be beneficial to one another. Yet, if my argument has any validity, Extension could be used to publicize and promote public access to (and use of) the Library’s massive holdings, while the Library could help to provide Extension with a new mission in the public dissemination of information literacy. Perhaps the Library Committee could take on the job of bringing these two campus entities together, so that they might begin to explore how they might combine their forces and resources synergistically. Given the importance of information literacy to public education and democratic citizenship in the age of the internet and radio talk show, such an initiative would be as significant and portentous as any that an MU committee could undertake.Appendix A: Guidelines for Handling all Changes in Journal Subscription and Service
The Task-Force on Faculty Communication and Consultation has met twice, the second time with Jim Cogswell (Library Director) and Mary Ryan (Head Librarian, Reference Services) in attendance. At our second meting, it was agreed that, henceforth, all changes in journal subscription and service should be treated in the same manner as the older and more familiar circumstance of journal cancellation. The following specific procedures were affirmed:
1) If the Journal Cost Management Committee (or any similar internal Library Staff Committee) should be reconstituted, the MU Library Committee will be informed of this development, and will be apprized of any consequent policy change.
2) If any specific changes are planned with regard to a given subscription involving i) a shift from print to e-format, ii) a shift from e-format to print, or iii) a shift from subscription to document delivery, the relevant liaison librarian will notify the relevant departmental Library representative(s) in as timely a manner as possible.
3) Library Director Cogswell and Library Committee Chair Koditschek will work as quickly as possible to establish a Library Committee website, on which relevant reports and announcements can be posted, and individual users will be able to offer comments or complaints.
4) The Task-Force recognizes that the only long-term solution to the crisis in journal costs lies in the hands of individual faculty members, who are the producers of knowledge. So long as we continue to publish our work in journals that charge exorbitant prices, and restrict public access, the crisis will continue.
5) This Task-Force, or some equivalent Library Committee subcommittee will continue to monitor the problem of publisher monopoly on a permanent basis. It will also monitor the campaign for open access, and consider what MU can do to advance this goal.
Theodore Koditschek, Chair (08-05)