Lawrence H. Pitts
Those of you who work with faculty know they possess a healthy amount of enlightened self-interest in addition to their dedication to society’s interests. Faculty want it all, and they want it now-whether it’s a book, journal, or art collection-and they’d like not to walk too far to find it. Some seem to like going to libraries simply to stroke books, and when we talk about changes on the horizon, some get a teary-eyed look. The changing economics of libraries are unfamiliar to many faculty members. The faculty do not fully appreciate the new realities, but they can be taught. They see library lists every year with journals crossed off, and even though they sometimes bargain them back on, they can see the trends.
It amazes me that when we as faculty publish something, we sign away our rights to publishers and then buy our research back at a fairly hefty price. Many faculty members do not realize that after a period of time one can put the research back into the public domain. This is a feature they never think about-they are too busy doing their next paper. The faculty truly are interested in the widest possible dissemination of their intellectual product. They are excited about what they are doing and want people to know about it. Yet today the distribution of many journals is declining because they’re getting more expensive. So the distribution of much faculty work is becoming more limited. And that is also something many faculty members do not fully appreciate.
People don’t like change. Faculty are familiar and comfortable with current publishing arrangements. But the realities are inescapable. California’s state budget is a disaster. In the face of a $35-billion deficit, which is more than the budgets of most countries, budget cuts are a reality, and so is the rising cost of print material. Fortunately, new technology has arrived in the last decade. We have the opportunity to reduce the pain we would experience if we continue to do things as we have in the past.
Organizations such as the Council on Library and Information Resources will help us master what we need to do to move forward in this terrible crunch between rising costs and falling budgets. There are clearly issues to sort out: how to protect scientific organizations, professional societies, and the university presses. We still need publishers, and they somehow must make enough money to stay in business, so finding the right business models will be a challenge.
There may be resistance to change from publishers. But the University of California faculty make up about 10 percent of Elsevier’s editorial boards, and if they turned to electronic publishing, it would send a powerful message. The universities and university librarians also might resist change. Libraries are ranked in part, for example, according to the number of volumes owned. How do you deal with a system in which not all of the nine (soon to be ten) campuses can have collections the size of Berkeley or UCLA? If the faculty at all campuses can get all the books they want, very quickly, what does it matter if the book resides at their campus or not? We are embarking on a series of exploratory meetings with the faculty and librarians to discuss how to move forward. Oddly, the bad budget situation may be auspicious, because without it, things would move a lot slower. We may ultimately benefit from these lean times.
I am sure that changes will take place in other segments of the library sciences and information resources world as well. Public libraries, for example, must be under intense budgetary pressures. It is an interesting time. Technology gives us wonderful opportunities-I greatly look forward to seeing how we change in the years to come.