The Acquisitions Culture Wars.
THE CONFLICT ON COLLEGE AND UNIVERSITY CAMPUSES about the role of print and digital resources in the library of the future resembles in many ways the so-called culture wars made famous in the political rhetoric of the 1980s and 1990s. The conflict mirrors the broader debate over the role of computer and related technologies in society and, more specifically, the future of the book and print culture in the information age. Librarians have paid insufficient attention to the political and rhetorical dimensions of this conflict and are viewed by some vocal and articulate faculty members as having betrayed the fundamental mission of the library. Effective communication and dialogue with all sectors of the academic community, but especially those maintaining a strong loyalty to the book, will be essential over the years ahead as hybrid print and digital libraries uneasily coexist and place even greater pressure on budgets already stretched to the maximum.
The so-called culture wars have become a standard topic in recent American political discourse. The conflict on college and university campuses about the role of print and digital resources in the library of the future resembles in many ways the culture wars made famous in the political rhetoric of the 1980s and 1990s. The conflict here termed "the acquisitions culture wars" resembles the one imputed to American society at large in several ways. These culture wars seem to reflect deep divisions in values. They are arguments at least in part about how money should be spent to achieve a public good. And they are marked by an emotional take-no-prisoners rhetoric that tends to stifle dialogue rather than encourage it. Librarians, especially those concerned with collection development, must pay due attention to the underlying concerns revealed by this conflict if they are to meet successfully the challenge of reinventing libraries in the twenty-first century. By suggesting that libraries need to be reinvented, I am in effect taking sides in the debate, as I suspect most librarians have done, either implicitly or explicitly. One of librarians' many collective tasks for the future will be clarifying both to themselves and their constituencies-especially those who do not share basic assumptions--why they are acting as they do.
The acquisitions culture wars can be seen as regional hostilities, perhaps little more than a skirmish, in a more global struggle about technology and its effects on human society. A seemingly unbridgeable gulf separates the extremes--i.e., those who see computer technology, or perhaps the whole range of twentieth-century communications technologies (from telephones and television to the Internet), as a transforming and largely positive experience for humanity and those who see it as a death knell for civilization. Somewhere in the middle are those who view the effects as radically transforming and inevitable. Some within this group have misgivings about the consequences while others take a cautiously optimistic stance. A few insist that the changes are superficial only (or if they acknowledge that profound changes are afoot, attribute them to other causes) and assume that there will be no break in continuity. This is a position easier to maintain in the academy than in the case of the broader effects of technology where the evidence of change is almost impossible to ignore.
A lively tradition of cultural criticism has emerged to represent every possible point of view within this controversy and to explain what society should do to resist, accelerate, or steer the changes underway. It would be impossible to describe and analyze all points of view at play on these issues and folly to identify one of them as absolutely correct. Even so, it may be instructive to sample the range of views and the passion which characterize the proponents' expression of those views in order to provide a context for the discussion that follows. In the end, the focus will turn to the dilemma of collection development and management in the academic library, though the observations offered may have some relevance for other kinds of libraries.
A conversation reported in Harper's entitled "What are We doing On-line?" (Barlow, Birkets, Kelly, & Slouka, 1995) nicely encapsulates the polarities. At the beginning, John Perry Barlow quotes himself:
I have said on numerous occasions, and I still believe, that with the development of the Internet, and with the increasing pervasiveness of communication between networked computers, we are in the middle of the most transforming technological event since the capture of fire. I used to think that it was just the biggest thing since Gutenberg, but now I think you have to go back farther. (p. 36)
One of his interlocutors in that article, Sven Birkerts (1994), expresses in his book The Gutenberg Elegies the fear of those who view this technology with suspicion and alarm:
My core fear is that we are, as a culture, as a species, becoming shallower; that we have turned from depth--from the Judeo-Christian premise of unfathomable mystery--and are adapting ourselves to the ersatz security of a vast lateral connectedness. That we are giving up on wisdom, the struggle for which has for millennia been central to the very idea of culture, and that we are pledging instead to a faith in the web. (p. 228)
Barlow hastens to add that he is not convinced the transformation will prove beneficial in all of its effects, though he is on the whole optimistic about the liberating, democratizing, and community-building effects of networked communications. Birkerts has very little hope that the technology juggernaut can be stopped and is profoundly gloomy about its effects on culture. The final words of The Gutenberg Elegies are "Refuse it" (p. 229).
It was suggested earlier that the acquisitions culture wars are a regional skirmish in a much larger struggle about the place of digital technology in culture. The conflict also manifests itself on campus as a debate about the place of digital technology in higher education, especially its role in teaching and learning. In his book The Electronic Word, Richard Lanham (1993) argues that an even more fundamental disagreement lies behind the conflict. He sees the rise of digital text and electronic communications as both the driving force and most apparent manifestation of a major shift reflecting one of the most essential dichotomies in western thought--that between philosophy and rhetoric. "The deepest debates about TV, about the decline of the book, about the computer as Big Brother or little one, are usually variations on the long-standing debate between the rhetoricians and the philosophers. Since the premises of the two camps differ radically, the contenders always talk past each other" (p. 203). The rise of a new digitally-based cultural construct, which Lanham references metaphorically as the electronic word, represents a resurgence of the rhetorical paideia which "for most of western history, ... shaped the basic curriculum that taught people how to read, write and think" (p. 53). In Lanham's view, "electronic text enfranchises the oral/rhetorical/ dramatistic/semiological world in the same way that print did its literate/ philosophical/positivist opposite" (p. 214). While he fears that most humanists are "natural Luddites" who will resist the potential offered by the electronic word, he attempts on their behalf to answer what he views as the key question facing the arts and humanities in the academy: What are they good for? His answer involves repositioning a technology-based rhetoric at the heart of humanistic education. Lanham's thesis, superficially presented here, is cited not as an argument for investing in the digital library, although it could perhaps be used in that way, but rather to demonstrate how deep-seated and fundamental the issues dividing the opposing viewpoints can be. Librarians, accustomed to seeking pragmatic solutions to real-world problems, try to work toward consensus and compromise among members of groups who disagree with one another. When the argument is about the use of resources, they tend to balance the allocation of resources for each priority. The nature of this disagreement may in the end be so profound that compromise becomes impossible.
Perhaps librarians can blame it all on Nicholson Baker. His persuasive articles in the New Yorker, first on the elimination of card catalogs in American research libraries (Baker, 1994), then on weeding at the San Francisco Public Library (Baker, 1996), lent an articulate and widely-heard voice to the feelings of many academics that something was amiss in libraries. He identified the culprits unmistakably as librarians themselves, librarians who no longer felt the deep love of books that characterized their predecessors and were hypnotized by the glittering new world of digital technology. As Baker put it in his 1994 article on card catalogs, "one of the odder features of this national paroxysm of shortsightedness and anti-intellectualism ... is that it isn't the result of wicked forces outside the library walls.... The villains, instead, are smart, well-meaning library administrators, quite certain that they are only doing what is right for their institutions" (pp. 64-65). Although Baker was talking about card catalogs and their digital surrogates, some would apply his judgment to the struggle between print and electronic resources, between books and databases.
Baker's irresistible tirades reflect a not uncommon view on many campuses that librarians, with their ever-increasing focus on the emerging world of digital information, have lost touch with their mission and turned their backs on the book and book culture characteristic of Western scholarship since before Gutenberg. This view is far from universal and may in fact be held by a relatively small number of individuals, mostly in humanistic disciplines with a strong focus on reading the texts of the past. Like Baker, however, they tend to be intelligent, articulate, and tenacious. Their opinions often carry weight on campus, and librarians ignore them at their peril. Even if the perceptions and assumptions embodied in Baker's prose had limited validity, and those who espouse them were crackpots, librarians would have to take them seriously as commonly, deeply held views of libraries among an important constituency. Since even a diehard partisan of the digital future would have to admit that some of their concerns are well-grounded and justified, librarians must be ready to respond to the substance of the complaint.
To characterize this as a split between humanistic and scientific disciplines--C. P. Snow's "two cultures"--oversimplifies a complex and shifting reality. There is some truth to the assumption that scientists accept the concept of digital exchange of research information more readily than their humanist colleagues. Primarily concerned with current information, many scientists are more willing to embrace digital technology as an efficient and convenient way to deliver such information. Still, a fault line does seem to run between scientific and humanistic disciplines, with social scientists falling sometimes on one side, sometimes on the other, of this divide. In general, those on the traditionalist side of the fault line tend to have a deep concern with the past, either as historians in the usual sense or as scholars concerned with cultural history.
The views here ascribed to some humanities faculty also reflect a deep ambivalence among librarians themselves. Nearly all academic librarians view at least some electronic information as useful and valuable, even if often overpriced and over hyped. Nevertheless, the everyday work of many librarians remains closely connected with resources that are mainly in print and to disciplines which view the book as central to their teaching and research. These librarians sometimes feel themselves marginalized and undervalued as attention and rewards go to colleagues more closely engaged with new technologies. This sense of alienation occurs even though 85 to 90 percent of the acquisitions budget of most research libraries still goes for traditional print resources.
At one level, the argument is simply about money and priorities for spending it and about professional energy, yet another scarce resource.The cost of many' digital products reaches staggering levels. This cost includes both the price paid for the information itself and the added costs of delivering it. In most cases, a corresponding savings for books and journals does not compensate for this high cost. The resulting squeeze has put a serious new strain on budgets already stunned by the high rate of inflation for scientific journals. Many faculty who value the book are convinced that the perceived reduction in new books on the shelves results directly from diverting money to fund new digital resources. This suspicion is not unwarranted since few libraries have seen substantial new funds to support electronic resources.
At the same time, the single most powerful factor in reducing the intake of new monographs has been the shift of resources to shore up serials budgets for scientific disciplines. The Association of Research Libraries statistics tell the story (Kyrillidou, Green, & Blixrud, 1999). An increase of 152 percent in expenditures for journals from 1986 to 1998, compared with an increase of 33 percent in expenditures for monographs, coupled with a decrease in volumes purchased of 7 percent for journals and 25 percent for books (p. 9). Inflationary increases in the cost of scientific journals have consumed the lion's share of increases to library budgets for more than a decade. Because science faculties have also borne the brunt of repeated serials cancellations during that same period, their public travail has to some degree masked the effects of this shift in the balance of fiscal resources. The new investment required to buy and deliver electronic resources thus adds insult to injury, with at least one major psychological difference. For the serials crisis, it was easy to blame the evil empire of greedy, commercial, generally offshore, publishers. Librarians, with good reason, encouraged this finger-pointing. On the other hand, librarians themselves are more typically to blame for large expenditures on digital resources since most are new resources (or new forms of old resources) acquired by decisions made within library walls, often with limited faculty involvement.
The arguments made by those unhappiest about the current state of affairs run along various lines, but the emotional responses share some common characteristics. All partake of sorrow and grief over what is perceived to be lost or slipping away, anxiety and fear about an unknown and unwanted future and, not infrequently, anger at those seen as complicit in the change. Librarians sometimes talk about the late twentieth-century to the present as a time of transition from a predominantly print world for the exchange of scholarly information to one in which most, if not all, such information is published or disseminated in digital form. The notion of a transition may be reassuring, at least to librarians, because it suggests that the upheavals and uncertainties of the present may someday end in a new stability. Although many futurists, both librarians and scholars, have imagined a utopian vision of this brave new world of scholarly communication--not to mention a few dystopian ones--no one really knows what kind of stable system, if any, might lie at the end of this period of transition.
The simplistic model of a transition, with print at one end and digital at the other, tends to enrage scholars whose lives have been spent reading, studying, analyzing, explicating, and creating the written word and are accustomed to seeing those words on paper. Their discontent stems from a number of causes. As suggested earlier, the reality of the late 1990s does not altogether jibe with the claims of imminent revolutionary change at least not one in which the book and journal in familiar paper form disappear. Libraries still spend enormous sums on print (or its microform surrogates), close to 90 percent at most research libraries in 1998. Publishers are still issuing new books in large numbers, even if it has become more difficult to find a publisher for scholarly books in many fields. Relatively few print journals have ceased to appear in paper form, though many are rushing into simultaneous electronic versions. Most promotion and tenure committees still expect the usual number of articles in the right journals or a monograph published by the right publisher. In many fields, with the exception of some key indexes, what exists in electronic form has not yet become indispensable to the work of the individual scholar but serves primarily to lubricate the workings of the invisible college.
Susan Rosenblatt (1999) describes the dilemma facing libraries in straightforward terms, although the situation she describes in the future tense is already at hand:
Futurists and creative thinkers articulate exciting visions of the fully networked library's benefits to teaching, scholarship, and the public-service mission of universities.... As this transformed scholarly information environment develops, those who depend on the traditional library of print and place may feel threatened by the prospect that the university might allocate scarce resources to technological wizardry rather than to core library resources and services supporting research and teaching. The library may be caught in the middle of an acrimonious debate: accused by some of Ludditry, unresponsive to new needs and unwilling to invest in technology; chastised by others for diverting resources from collections and traditional reference services. (pp. 31-32)
At one level, the argument is about the future of the book (and, by extension, the library) in intellectual and cultural life. This is the point at which these arguments resonate most closely with those advanced by Lanham (1993), Birkerts (1994), and Bolter (1991), for whom the future of libraries is a peripheral issue. The argument for the book runs along these lines. Despite the usefulness of electronic information in some circumstances, it can never substitute for the book as a medium for apprehending written text of any complexity or subtlety. Gertrude Himmelfarb (1997), who incidentally is much friendlier to computerized catalogs than Nicholson Baker, puts it this way:
With the physical volume in our hand, we are necessarily aware of the substantiality, the reality of the work, the text as it is, as Milton or Rousseau wrote it and meant us to read it.... Moreover, each page of the book--in the case of a difficult work, each line of the page--has a distinctness, a hard reality of its own. Holding the book in hand, open at that page, it is easy to concentrate the mind upon it, to linger over it, mull over it, take as long as necessary to try to understand and appreciate it. (pp. 203-04)
Many have noted with irony how versatile the codex can be as a medium for conveying information and contrast it with the retrograde computer screen, closely resembling the cumbersome scroll replaced by the codex early in the first millennium. Aside from whatever technological advantages the book has, at least for the moment, in comparison to the computer screen, one of the key arguments is based on the book's perceived superiority as a medium for reading, and on the crucial importance of reading to the maintenance of cultural values. Another argument associates computers with data and information and books with knowledge and wisdom. Michael Gorman (1994) expressed this view in an essay appearing in the politically conservative journal Chronicles:
We forget at our peril that there are higher "goods of the mind" (a phrase coined by Mortimer Adler) than information (they are--in ascending order--knowledge, understanding, and wisdom). Unfortunately for the seers of the Information Age, those goods are not amenable to electronic transmission. Leaving aside the very real issues of copyright and authority of texts, the fact remains that the book--print on paper--is unrivaled for the sustained reading of texts that alone leads to knowledge and understanding. (p. 21, emphasis mine)
Walt Crawford and Gorman (1995), in their often polemical Future Libraries: Dreams, Madness & Reality, assert "that libraries are not wholly or even primarily about information [emphasis theirs]. They are about the preservation, dissemination, and use of recorded knowledge in whatever form it may come ... so that humankind may become more knowledgeable; through knowledge reach understanding; and, as an ultimate goal, achieve wisdom" (p. 5). Everyone admits that computers possess an unparalleled ability to store, retrieve, and manipulate information. But, so the argument goes, nothing has replaced the book as a vehicle for communicating the accumulated knowledge that leads to understanding and wisdom. This can be a powerful and persuasive argument, especially for anyone who has lived among books most of their lives. In one sense, the futurists have left themselves vulnerable by the persistent use of the word "information" in their own rhetoric. For most humanists, the word "information" does not begin to convey what libraries are in the business of providing. Most would also bristle at Jay Bolter's (1991) assertion about the future of the book:
The printed book, therefore, seems destined to move to the margin of our literate culture.... This shift from print to the computer does not mean the end of literacy. What will be lost is not literacy itself, but the literacy of print, for electronic technology offers us a new kind of book and new ways to write and read. (p. 2)
If Crawford and Gorman argue passionately for continuity and incremental change, Patricia Battin and Brian Hawkins (1998), editors of The Mirage of Continuity: Reconfiguring Academic Information Resources for the 21st Century, suggest that the expectation of continuity is illusory, and that a significant disjuncture with the past is imminent or already in process:
But with the rise of a society based on the knowledge worker, we are now experiencing a different kind of change. It is no longer incremental. It is no longer even exponential. It is discontinuous and transformational. Tranformational change occurs when something comes about that is so radical it alters the basic performance of daily activities. When simple change becomes transforming change, the desire for continuity becomes a dysfunctional mirage. (p. 4)
They believe that the greatest barriers to necessary change are the organizational and financial structures of contemporary higher education in America. But it is their basic assumption of transformational change, and the disrupted link to the past, that the traditionalist would call into question.
To dismiss the traditionalist perspective as technophobia would be shortsighted and counterproductive. Even the most futuristically oriented librarians have learned to temper their rhetoric about the digital nirvana and acknowledge the continuing utility of the book. Many librarians would respond to arguments about the superiority and continued primacy of books in two ways. First, they might observe that a great deal of library use does not involve extended engagement with a single text, the kind of engagement leading to knowledge and understanding as envisioned by Himmelfarb and Gorman, but rather involves mining the available resources for particular bits of information. For this kind of use, electronic information, even when presented on a display unfriendly to the eyes, has numerous advantages over a codex. Second, external events beyond anyone's control--the marketplace for information and publications, the culture at large--are moving inexorably and irresistibly toward networked electronic dissemination of information. In this marketplace, there seems to be little chance that the specialized scholarly monograph or the traditional academic journal can survive in its current state.
One of the greatest challenges facing collection management librarians for the foreseeable future is the rhetorical, political, and financial problem of dealing with a hybrid and rapidly evolving digital and print environment. This environment forces librarians to invest in and prepare for a digital future while maintaining collections and services based on a predominantly print world. Most libraries seem to be improvising strategies to deal with the shifting terrain. In general, decisions are being made through the use of the budget without consciously re-examining the merits of the polarized positions described earlier. To suggest that the conflict has rhetorical and political elements is not meant to imply that the underlying issues are somehow unreal and merely matters of improving public relations. Nevertheless, one of the greatest failures of librarians as they grapple with these problems has been to pay insufficient attention to the views of those whose loyalties to the book remain unshaken.
The lack of attention comes in part because the financial dimension of the challenge is so overwhelming. Collection development librarians are forced by circumstance to focus on the fiscal challenge of dealing with a dual system. Every day they face the quandary of managing a budget which, already inadequate to meet the demand for both books and journals, must now pay for electronic resources frequently costing into five figures annually. Most collection management librarians--administrators and individual selectors alike--are probably convinced that they must invest aggressively in the digital future of scholarly communication. For nearly all libraries, the only source for this investment is the already beleaguered acquisitions budget. While most librarians take as an article of faith that the future of much scholarly communication will be inevitably digital and will require substantial investment, their belief in the inevitable certainty and imminence of this future is not always shared by others in the academy.
The conviction that investment in a digital future must be made, and made now, arises from a nexus of intertwining factors. One, to be sure, is the demand for such resources from various constituencies, including both faculty and students. But other motives are also at work. These include a fear of marginalization, the belief that other providers, whether on campus or off, will step in to provide these resources if the library does not. The conviction also stems from a desire to influence how the digital marketplace develops and from support of publishers and projects that seem to move the emerging system in the right direction. Underlying all of these motives is librarians' understanding that scholarly information in electronic form offers distinct advantages to its counterpart in paper, and that it can better meet the needs of present and future scholars. Baker (1994) would probably add another motive--the desire of librarians, and especially library administrators, to distance themselves from the unappealing popular image of the librarian and "the quasi-clerical associations that surround traditional librarianship" (p. 78).
The fiscal challenge has taken up much of the energy of collection managers for good reason. Few libraries have the resources to meet all the needs of their users for print resources, much less to cover the costs of acquiring and delivering a broad range of electronic materials. The extraordinary cost and seemingly irrational pricing of much commercially produced digital information exacerbates the effect. In many instances these costs bear little relation to any known reality--certainly not to the more familiar reality of pricing in the print world, nor to the capacity of library acquisitions budgets to absorb them. Yet librarians, driven by demand, expected demand, and the convictions described earlier, often acquiesce in paying the high prices being asked.
Many electronic resources in the humanities provide a digital version of something the library already owns in print or microform. If access is provided via the Internet, the library must often pay an annual fee rather than the one-time price required to purchase an expensive microform set, for example. The fee is due annually even though little, if any, additional material will enrich the database in future years. Most electronic resources, of course, have the characteristics more typical of a subscription--ongoing access to a frequently updated database for an annual fee.
The fundamental problem is the absence of any readily demonstrable connection between the cost of the information and its value or of an acknowledged method of assessing the benefit in relation to the cost. How does a collection management librarian decide if an index that costs $1,000 per year in print is worth $5,000 when delivered over the Web for up to five simultaneous users? Is the value of anytime anywhere access worth the additional $4,000 annually? Or the ability to use Boolean techniques to search for keywords in abstracts, titles, or full-text? These questions are not easy to answer and most libraries seem to answer them subjectively on the basis of user demand or resource quality and by a quick look at what peer institutions are doing. Nevertheless, when the library subscribes to the Web version of such an index, someone has clearly decided that the cost-benefit ratio justifies the price. It does not require sophisticated mathematical skills to conclude that the decision to invest an extra $4,000 in this index may result in the failure to acquire a hundred or so new books or some number of new journal subscriptions. A user who sees little added value in the electronic version of this index, a user whose primary loyalty remains to print, might conclude from this decision, when added to a string of similar ones, that the library has lost its sense of direction.
The fiscal challenge of living in this hybrid environment presents nearly insurmountable problems, problems that will require enormous effort to overcome. Many librarians believe that only wrenching changes in the system of publishing scientific information, through massive expansion and duplication of projects like SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition), can save the current system from collapse. The effort to address these interrelated problems--the duality of the print and digital environment and the mandate to reinvent a more affordable system of scientific publishing--demands much of the intellectual energy of collection librarians--at least when they can focus on global issues rather than the minutiae of everyday responsibilities. In this pressurized context, investment in various manifestations of the digital future is typically viewed unreflectingly as a good thing. This is not to say that collection development librarians fail to assess the pros and cons of the digital information they buy, or that they invest carelessly. But the underlying assumption is that useful products are worth the price if the library can afford it. What librarians have in many cases failed to do is to convince our faculties--especially those most attuned to the culture of the book--that the investment is important, much less vital to the future of the library. Even most book-oriented faculty will in fact admit the utility of digital information in some circumstances. But they are reluctant to see further reduction in the availability of print information at the expense of electronic and remain skeptical that a digital revolution will fundamentally transform scholarship as so many predict.
It was suggested earlier that this situation has fiscal, rhetorical, and political elements. Librarians have grappled--without much success--with the economic and systemic side of the issue because this approach seems key to solving the problem. Except when controversy flares up, however, less attention has been paid to the serious misgivings among many faculty about the current direction of the academic library. Whether librarians can address these concerns to the satisfaction of the discontented, or simply reach a mutually informed understanding, is open to question.
Rosenblatt (1999) characterized the debate as acrimonious. The bitterness of expression sometimes encountered serves as a barometer of the importance attached to the outcome. A closer look at the language in which the debate is cast reveals the depth of feeling present. Of the authors cited here, Crawford and Gorman (1995) offer some of the most colorful language, using terms like "technolust" and "technojunkies" to describe those mesmerized by new technologies. Their chapter on "Enemies of the Library" (pp. 104-13) identifies "suicidal" librarians as one kind of enemy and "new barbarians" who care only about facts--information--as another. While a fulminating rage frequently distinguishes their prose, others use language that is more redolent of nostalgia and loss. Birkerts (1994, pp. 128-30 ff.) admits to "a great feeling of loss" and fear and sees the "all-electronic future" bringing about such undesirable changes as "language erosion," "flattening of historical perspectives," and "the waning of the private self."
If librarians, especially collection development librarians, are caught in the middle of an acrimonious debate, what strategies should they adopt to respond? It seems clear that faculty at many large institutions, having acquiesced in the transfer of collection development to librarians in the 1960s and 1970s, have begun to have second thoughts. Their renewed interest in acquisitions does not mean that they want to resume responsibility for title by title book selection. But there are some indications that faculty feel a renewed need to exert an influence on the direction of library collections and the allocation of resources to develop them. Librarians sometimes regard this interest with suspicion and concern: suspicion that faculty want mostly to ensure that their own needs are supported, and concern that most faculty do not have the time or inclination to participate in the process effectively. On the other hand, this interest presents a real opportunity to capture faculty attention--always a scarce commodity--and increase awareness of the issues affecting library collections. I would argue that the effort to take part in this dialogue--whether it comes about because of faculty-initiated concerns over acquisitions (often driven by cancellations) or emerges from library initiatives--needs to assume a higher priority than it has to date.
The task of raising awareness about the issues and engaging in dialogue about the proper response should become (if it is not already) a significant responsibility for every collection development administrator, and probably of every collection development librarian, for some time to come. How to communicate the issues clearly and unambiguously is a daunting problem, in part because of the difficulty of getting and keeping the attention of faculty and other key players, in part because the issues themselves are complex and without clearly agreed-upon solutions. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that the task is ongoing and long-term, for two reasons. First, the composition of the audience is always changing, as faculty come and go, and even those who have heard the message once become distracted and assume the problem has gone away. Second, the time frame required to engineer the kinds of changes desired is likely to extend far into the future. The goals of such a communications effort cannot be accomplished by one brochure, one Web page, or one set of meetings. Framing the message and then getting the message across--repeatedly-will demand time and effort over an extended period. The emergence in the last several years of librarians whose brief is defined as "scholarly communication" in some form suggests that research libraries are beginning to respond to this need. The most effective response will be one that acknowledges and respects the seriousness of the underlying concerns.
Even with a strong commitment to getting the library's message across, major obstacles will remain, besides the depth of emotion of some in the audience and the inattentiveness of others. Chief among them will be uncertainty on the part of the messenger about the message itself. Given the uncertainties of the current situation and the powerful external forces at work, librarians' ideas about the future and how to get there have not achieved the kind of clarity and consensus allowing for a simple, easily communicated message.
The challenge will be communicating the uncertainty itself as a major element of the message while presenting a compelling case for investment in an electronic future and offering assurances that librarians are still committed to the values libraries embody in the minds of many humanists. With the focus of most humanist faculty on collections as the heart of the library, and the familiar cliche that the library is the heart of the university, collection management librarians can play a central role in the ongoing dialogue. Their allegiance to the collection, though perhaps under some suspicion, lends them a credibility that other library staff may lack. At the same time, they are well positioned to have immediate experience of the pathologies of the current system of scholarly communication and to speak with feeling on its effects. Collection development serves as a mediator between the external world of scholarly information and the campus community which both produces and uses the information. Its practitioners often share in the culture of both the disciplines they support and the library that employs them. This position should be used to advantage in mediating the conflicts of the acquisitions culture wars.
Baker, N. (1994). Discards. The New Yorker, 70(7), 64-86.
Baker, N. (1996). The author vs. the library. The New Yorker, 72(31), 50-62.
Barlow, J. P.; Birkerts, S.; Kelly, K.; & Slouka, M. (1995). Forum: What are we doing on-line? [article based upon a discussion]. Harper's Magazine, 291(1743), 35-46.
Battin, P., & Hawkins, B. L. (1998). Setting the stage: Evolution, revolution or collapse? In B. L. Hawkins & P. Battin (Eds.), The mirage of continuity: Reconfiguring academic information resources for the 21st century (pp. 3-12). Washington, DC: Council on Library and Information Resources and Association of American Universities.
Birkerts, S. (1994). The Gutenberg elegies: The fate of reading in an electronic age. Boston: Faber and Faber.
Bolter, J. D. (1991). Writing space: The computer, hypertext, and the history of writing. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Crawford, W., & Gorman, M. (1995). Future libraries: Dreams, madness & reality. Chicago: American Library Association.
Gorman, M. (1994). Technovandals and the future of libraries. Chronicles, 18(9), 20-22.
Himmelfarb, G. (1997). Revolution in the library. American Scholar, 66(2), 197-204.
Kyrillidou, M.; Green, J.; & Blixrud, J. C. (Eds.). (1999). ARL statistics 1997-98. Washington, DC: Association of Research Libraries.
Lanham, R. A. (1993). The electronic word: Democracy, technology, and the arts. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Rosenblatt, S. (1999). Information technology investments in research libraries. Educom Review, 34(4), 28-32, 44-46.
Edward Shreeves, Collections and Information Resources, University of Iowa Libraries, 100 Main Library, Iowa City, IA 52242
EDWARD SHREEVES has been Director for Collections and Information Resources at the University of Iowa Libraries since 1989. He is the author of several articles and book reviews, including "Is there a Future for Cooperative Collection Development in the Digital Age?" which appeared in the winter, 1997 issue of Library Trends. He served recently as Chair of the Collection Management and Development Section of the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services.
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|Date:||Mar 22, 2000|
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