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Magazines > ONLINE > May/June 2010
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Online Magazine

Vol. 34 No. 3 — May/June 2010

Ownership, Access, and Innovation
By Marydee Ojala
Editor • ONLINE

The ubiquity of the internet led inevitably to the rapid adoption of ebooks, ejournals, informational websites, and e-resources of every description. No longer tethered to shelves, or even hard drives, electronic information’s widespread availability creates a new level of perception about the chronic library debates of ownership versus access. Take ebooks for example, which David Stern discusses from the perspective of institutional and consortial purchasing starting on page 29. When I purchase a printed book, I can lend it, give it away, copy a few pages, or sell it at my discretion. But if I buy an ebook with DRM (digital rights management) insinuated into it, I am limited in what I can do. Ownership doesn’t necessarily equate to full access.

Traditional information providers, companies that have been in the online information space for decades, are finding their customers are perfectly happy with the smaller screens of mobile devices. As Joe Murphy tells us, in this issue’s cover story, even scholarly databases are appearing on a smartphone near you. But is it the full database? Often, it’s not. It could be a subset or a current awareness feed. The search capabilities may not be as full-blown as what you experience accessing bibliographic databases from a full-screen laptop or desktop computer.

Even when a library buys access to traditional bibliographic databases, the publications those databases contain can change. Most recently, Reed Business sold several of its publications, including Library Journal (to Media Source) and Publishers Weekly (to George Slowik) while other trade publications went to NewBay Media, Canon Communications, and Sandow Media. What happens to these publications with the change of ownership? Will they be included in library databases, available for research purposes? That depends entirely on the licensing agreements. Reed also decided to shutter 23 other titles. It’s obvious that these will no longer be added to databases, but the question of whether backfiles remain also depends on licensing.

Reed Business developed a search engine,, which was originally designed to search its own trade publications. It has now extended its reach to news, blogs, and supplier information. Will it still provide access to B2B titles Reed no longer owns? If the title decides to put its entire content, for free, on the web, as Library Journal does, then Zibb will continue to include it. Should a new owner establish a pay wall, something that is becoming fashionable with news organizations these days, then it’s likely that access will disappear.

I hope that innovations in search will cause the discussion of ownership versus access to fade as an important issue for library collections and for researchers. Transparency of government information and the adoption of Linked Data is an important step forward, as is the new generation of search exemplified by WestlawNext. It’s exciting to watch search being transformed and answers delivered by search engines and traditional databases becoming more intelligent.

Marydee Ojala is the editor of ONLINE. Comments? E-mail letters to the editor to

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