I felt I had a very productive conference at ALA Annual this year. Once again, the conversations with vendors were the best part. I stayed very busy and came home exhausted.
I’m currently on two ALCTS committees-the Acquisitions Section Technology Committee and the ALCTS Task Force on Transforming Collections. The Transforming Collections meeting was covered on the American Libraries ALA Membership Blog [http://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/ala-members-blog/new-transforming-collections-task-force-outcomes]. As the report says, the task force “is interested in reexamining how we define collections and approach collection management in the future.” I also attended (and served as a volunteer at) the “ALCTS 101″ session Friday night. Rather than have a representative from each Section speak to the whole group, the meeting was set up as “speed networking”; each Section had a table, and participants would choose a table and sit there and talk with the Section rep and others at the table for 5 minutes, then move to another table. I met lots of people and thought the speed networking worked very well.
Most of the regular sessions I attended were somewhat disappointing. I found that the descriptions often didn’t quite match the content. For example, I really looked forward to a session called “Implementing and Managing Webscale Discovery Services: Implications for E-Resources Librarians,” but it ended up being just another “here’s the decision process we went through, and this is the decision we made” presentation.
One session that started out disappointing but got better was called “Getting on Track with Tenure.” This panel discussion started as a discussion of pros/cons of faculty status for librarians, but did include (as advertised) some tips for the research/publication/advancement process. Some examples:
- create a coherent research record (what is your area of specialty?);
- don’t let Service get in the way of Research;
- identify your best setting (time/place/atmosphere) for research, and build it into your schedule;
- have benchmarks, map out where you want to be in ___ years;
- own your research, but be open to criticism;
- read more of the research published in your field;
- don’t compare yourself to others (expectations can be very different);
- don’t wait!
The Publisher-Vendor-Library Relations Interest Group was the last session I attended, though I wish it had been the first. It was a very good, frank discussion of specific challenges that all players in the e-book market are facing. The three panelists were from YBP, Project MUSE, and the Univ. of North Texas Library. Michael Zeoli (YBP) said that only 20% of approval titles are available simultaneously in print & as e-books, even fewer are available for demand-driven acquisition, and fewer still for consortial purchase. He spoke about the proliferation of e-book platforms, and how even when publishers do make e-books available through aggregators (EBL, ebrary, etc.), they often sell different titles through different aggregators. He also showed data that backlist e-book titles are seeing high use.
Melanie Schaffner, from Project MUSE, described some of the challenges of their venture to offer e-books from various university presses on the Project MUSE platform: getting timely & consistent metadata from publishers; dividing content into subject-based collections (granularity of subject areas, what number of titles in a collection is appropriate, etc.); how to price a subject collection; and institutional customization (most existing Project MUSE customers subscribe to all their journal content, so the platform isn’t currently set up for customized collections).
Beth Avery (Univ. of N. Texas) presented 41 “theses” (she said she was tempted to nail them to the door) of problems with the e-book market. The overarching idea was that now, while the simultaneous print & electronic availability is at 20%, is a great opportunity; we should work with suppliers now to shape the market, not wait until we get to 85-100% saturation. A few other highlights:
- What is the unit of transaction? Our users deal in articles/chapters, but publishers/vendors/libraries deal in journals/books;
- archiving – How long will publishers keep an e-book in inventory? How compatible will file formats be in 10, 20, 50, 100 years?;
- How do we assess the vendor we’re working with? What do we measure? Should university accounting & legal offices fit into the assessment of a vendor? How?
I also attended a few presentations sponsored by vendors. EBSCO sponsored a luncheon specifically targeting e-resource management, but it was essentially a (too) long sales pitch. But other presentations on specific new products were well worth the time. I got a lot of information about the forthcoming E-books on Project MUSE product, and I’m fairly excited to see it roll out. It won’t be perfect, but I think the vision they have is looking in the right direction; for example, while initially the e-books must be bought in collections, by 2013 they hope to be able to offer purchase of individual titles through book vendors like YBP. Commenting on the many issues that must still be worked out, the Director of Project MUSE remarked, “this is 1998 all over again.” I also attended a session on Thomson’s upcoming Book Citation Index on the Web of Science. This will be analogous to their familiar journal citation products, but users will be able to search citations from books, journals, and conference proceedings simultaneously. They expect to have over 30,000 books indexed by the Dec. 2011 launch, and add about 10,000 per year. I do expect it will be a valuable product, but my thought upon leaving the presentation was, “Well, that’s a few more databases we’ll have to cancel to cover the cost…”
My time in the exhibits was more piecemeal than last year, so I didn’t have as much time to wander and explore new products. But I did make a list ahead of time of the vendors I wanted to be sure to talk to, and I felt that my time there was well spent (I ran into two BYU colleagues who were there with an Exhibits Only registration, something I might consider in the future). I had some good conversations with reps at the EBSCO, Overdrive, 3M, Springer, and Palgrave Macmillan booths about their respective e-book platforms and purchase models. I tried to explain why the single-user/unlimited-user dichotomy does not serve us well, and urged all of them to explore other models. I received the usual push-back from Springer when I brought up single-title purchasing (they claimed they wouldn’t be able to make money that way – hmph!). But Steve O’Dell from EBSCO told me that they are developing an e-book option where a library could buy a single “copy” of an e-book, but then lease more “copies” short-term if they knew, for example, that a class was going to need to use it. I also spoke with Drew Watson, product manager for EBL; it’s nice to deal with a company that is still small enough that I could tell Drew “this is a question that came up” and have him make a note and say “I should be able to fix that.”