Libraries as gatekeepers (and bill-paying proxies)

Almost there!  And then I can talk about TEI, which actually seems like fun.  Or not, which seems like even more fun. I’m not linking to any papers this time; let me know in the comments if I’m plagiarizing, and I’ll fix it.

Instead of quotes, I have anecdotes.

Anecdote 1. An idea from someone who might prefer anonymity: Instead of calling something “free”, like “free story time” or “free movies to checkout” or “free staples in the stapler”, libraries should start calling them “subsidized”.  As in “story time subsidized by taxpayers” or “movies subsidized by your tuition” or “staples ‘subsidized’ by the history department when they weren’t looking”.  Because it’s not free; heck, it’s not even usually free to the people we’re telling it’s free, because they’re (some of) the same ones who subsidized it first.  In fact, the same someone suggested placing a “normally $___, but thanks to ____, $0” sticker on everything.  “This article is normally $29 to print out, but thanks to the XSU library budget coming from your tuition, $0”.  That way, when we lose our subsidies and have to remove access or start charging directly, everyone says “Sorry about your subsidy loss,” instead of “Why are you ripping us off by charging for free stuff?”

Anecdote 2: A university library once asked their departments to give each of the department’s journals a letter grade: 1/4 A, 1/4 B, 1/4 C, and 1/4 D.  Then the library took its budget shortfall and translated it into cut-off access, starting at D.  In a fit of metadata awkwardness, the library had indeed, years ago, assigned each of its serials to one and only one university department.  As you can see, if a journal was kind of important to more than one department, it got the same grade as if it were kind of important to one (hopefully the right one, because I pity the journal who got assigned to the wrong place).  And not all journals got onto the list; publishers make bundle deals for a reason.  And there was that supreme awkwardness when the department responsible for Nature gave it a D; which translated into “I dare you to remove this.”

How does this link back to the previous articles?  DOIs are paid for by publishers, who pass the cost on to those who pay for scientific journals: academic libraries.  ISBNs are paid for by publishers, who pass the cost on to those who pay for books and e-books, among whom are libraries.  If we want our linked data and our bibliographic IDs and our discoverable metadata, money will be paid, and a portion (possibly sizable) of that will come from libraries.  And if the departments or the public want to say “all you do is pay bills.  I can do that for my own stuff!” then, as we can see above, we run into the question of what is “yours.”

Oh, and I heard faculty members got into actual fights over the journal grading. So let’s not pretend that “departments” or any portion of the public ever act as a unit.

But anyways, no one should ever have to figure out how to split the bill for this journal or this book or this catalog system or this link resolver or this story time.  No one should get shut out of information access for not having their portion of the bill.  No one should have to have their access and the ease of said access (or lack thereof, because the ability to give access is the ability to hinder or remove it) in the hands of someone who isn’t listening to everyone who uses it.  We work with people to figure out which information to get, how to get it, pay the bills, then make metadata to make sure the information gets back to the people. And that’s why we’re learning about metadata in LS566; because without it, access is severely hindered, either by lack of data or overdose of junk data.  No, even more than it already is.

Libraries as gatekeepers (and bill-paying proxies)

4 thoughts on “Libraries as gatekeepers (and bill-paying proxies)

  1. In defense of the one journal-one dept system, I will say that splitting costs among multiple funds is a something of a nightmare from the accounting side, and few ILS systems handle it gracefully. It’s also one of those policies where once you’ve begun, it’s hard to know where to stop. How many departments would you split Nature, Science, or PNAS across? Of course, if you’re putting those on the chopping block, you’re in all kinds of trouble. The best part of this? Turns out when you look at actual usage data, faculty are notoriously bad at identifying the “best” journals!


    1. What if I said, in this case, that journal funding was from a central fund that never got divided? BOOK funding was divided, because faculty determined book purchases, but journal funding was not divided. But enough collection development stuff 🙂 I would note that faculty have a very distinct view of “best” journals, as each of their “best” journals may be used once a month by them and possibly only them, and tends to be skewed towards the journals they get published in. But again, a very non-metadata, but important question for academic libraries is “who are your patrons?”


  2. I find these “let’s peer under the hood” discussions especially interesting! In the past, people took libraries for granted AND they gladly paid for them through taxes and tuition. Now, it’s important to let our users peer under the hood to see how hard we work 😉 and to see all of the resource complexities that we deal with (and have to pay for….).


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