Friday, December 3, 2010

Robert Darnton The Library: Three Jeremiads from the NY Review of Books, Dec. 23, 2010

The Library: Three Jeremiads from the NY Review of Books, Dec. 23, 2010

Excellent piece on the crises in research libraries. It's all about money and the lack of it for research libraries.

3 Jeremiads, 3 problems

1st: Monographs and scholarship
" ... a vicious circle: the escalation in the price of periodicals forces libraries to cut back on their purchase of monographs; the drop in the demand for monographs makes university presses reduce their publication of them; and the difficulty in getting them published creates barriers to careers among graduate students."

"Another rule of thumb used to prevail among the better university presses. They could count on research libraries purchasing about eight hundred copies of any new monograph. By 2000 that figure had fallen to three or four hundred, often less, and not enough in most cases to cover production costs. Therefore, the presses abandoned subjects like colonial Latin America and Africa."

2nd: Journals
"A few years later, “sustainability” had become a buzz word, and the inflationary spiral of journal prices had continued unabated. In 2007 I became director of the Harvard University Library, a strategic position from which to take the full measure of the business constraints on academic life. Although economic conditions had worsened, the faculty’s understanding of them had not improved."

"How many professors in chemistry can give you even a ballpark estimate of the cost of a year’s subscription to Tetrahedron (currently $39,082)?"

"At Harvard we developed a new model. By a unanimous vote on February 12, 2008, professors in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences bound themselves to deposit all of their future scholarly articles in an open-access repository to be established by the library and also granted the university permission to distribute them."

3rd: Google Books
"The fundamental incompatibility of purpose between libraries and Google Book Search might be mitigated if Google could offer libraries access to its digitized database of books on reasonable terms. But the terms are embodied in a 368-page document known as the “settlement,” which is meant to resolve another conflict: the suit brought against Google by authors and publishers for alleged infringement of their copyrights."

"Despite its enormous complexity, the settlement comes down to an agreement about how to divide a pie—the profits to be produced by Google Book Search: 37 percent will go to Google, 63 percent to the authors and publishers. And the libraries? They are not partners to the agreement, but many of them have provided, free of charge, the books that Google has digitized. They are being asked to buy back access to those books along with those of their sister libraries, in digitized form, for an “institutional subscription” price, which could escalate as disastrously as the price of journals."

"... my happy ending: a National Digital Library—or a Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), as some prefer to call it."