08 November 2011

Charleston Conference, Part 4

Friday morning started with an executives' roundtable, bringing together speakers from libraries and publishing. T. Scott Plutchak, director of the Lister Hill health sciences library at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, Paul Courant, Dean of Libraries, University of Michigan, and H. Frederick Dylla, CEO, American Insitute of Physics engaged in a platform discussion about the blurring boundaries between publishing and libraries, including contributions, comments and questions from the audience. This was followed by a conversation between Anne Kenney, University Librarian of Cornell and Kevin Guthrie, President of ITHAKA, facilitated by Greg Tananbaum of Anianet and ScholarNext. They discussed the major challenges for library collections and for publishers, including preservation issues, alumni access to electronic resources and how university presses and scholarly society publishers can work more closely with libraries.

I passed over the opportunity to hear a discussion of the legal issues concerning libraries (the final morning plenary session) - I thought this would probably have a very specific focus on the American legal context. My presentation was due to be one of the next lively lunch sessions and I thought I might find somewhere to look over my notes. Instead, I took a stroll around beautiful Charleston, which certainly helped me to feel less nervous. I'll blog about my presentation separately later.

The first of the concurrent afternoon sessions I attended was titled Triage in a digital age. I missed the first part of the session (wrapping things up after my own presentation) but I was interested in particular in the problem based approaches to staff technical services training. This included working through technical services problem scenarios, inviting to staff to suggest solutions and then being able to review their individual approaches with a mentor.

After this session, I went to another concurrent session presented by my supervisor Sheila Corrall of the University of Sheffield and Mike Sweet, Credo Reference about resource discovery systems and their potential role in promoting information literacy. This discussed the pros and cons of the concept of a "one stop information shop" and some of the different ways in which library content can be made more accessible to users in its most relevant context. For example, LibGuides enables the integration of library resources within user workflows. Integrating Credo Reference resources within web scale discovery systems will enable users to locate relevant, reliable reference information about topics entered in their searches, with these results displayed at the top of result lists.

The afternoon plenary session featured discussion about the future of online newspapers. The session was facilitated by Frederick Zarndt, CEO, Global Connexions and all three speakers - Deborah Cheney, Head, News and Microforms Library, Penn State, Chuck Palsho, President, Media Services, NewsBank, and Chris Cowan, VP Publishing, ProQuest - outlined the major challenges facing newspapers as technology creates more minute-by-minute news, less original reporting and community facilitation by news organisations. I was struck that all three felt that paywall models would prevail - I'm not sure whether this seems as convincing an argument in the UK context, where News International's experience of pay walls seems to have met with mixed results and where so much quality news content is freely available from the BBC. The Guardian's business model also suggests that there may be a future for free web-based news content provided by major newspapers, although this also supports the idea of news sites as facilitators of communities - I'm consistently impressed by the content in the Guardian's Social enterprise network, for example. Chris Cowan gave the full quotation from Stewart Brand (1984) - putting a famous phrase in its proper context:
On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.
The full quotation and more of the story of the phrase is available here.

Derek Law of the University of Strathclyde gave a very impressive summary of the conference so far - all the more impressive by being videocast from Scotland. A couple of really big take home messages from his comments were that librarians have perhaps got out of the habit of collective action - and need to rediscover that with some urgency, and that - although nothing is really free - free at the point of use for customers is crucial.

The final Friday concurrent session I attended looked at new economic models for e-books. Michael Porter from Library Renewal spoke about this project for developing new e-content models starting at the grassroots and guided by librarians. Eric Hellman of Gluejar spoke about the Gluejar project to use a funding model from US National Public Radio to enable individuals to fund open access to individual titles. Although it's an intriguing idea, it seems to be very much in the early stages of development, without much testing. I don't think any existing e-book vendors would move away from their existing sales models because of it, although it may help some self-published materials to reach a wider audience.

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