trouble with lemons-to-lemonade advice is that it assumes everyone getting
the advice has a ladder and the will to climb a tree. Actually, the ladder
is optional. If you can find a long stick, you can swing at the lemon-laden
branches until they drop their golden load. If you have athletic ability,
you can clamber up the tree and knock the lemons off. If you're really
athletic, you can leap for a low-hanging branch and swing your way from
limb to limb. But even if you're earthbound in a wheelchair, you can buy
an ax from a hardware e-commerce site and chop the tree down till the lemons
come within reach.
The will makes
the way. All you really need is the vision of the possibilities, the desire
to attain them, and the will to make them happen. Thirst is all when it
comes to lemonade.
All of which brings
us to this month's editorial. If one reads the daily paper or listens to
the nightly news, it would seem we are all hip-deep in lemons. The on-again-off-again
recession, the 9-11 crisis, the war against terrorism, the collapse of
the "New Economy," the "dot-gone" era — enough negative developments to
"depress a goat," as they used to say. But when it comes to the economic
and e-commerce downturn, this observer can see lemonade in our future.
What have all of
us information professionals and librarians been complaining about for
the last 5 or 6 years? Web developments, right? Not the fact of the Web,
not the revolutionizing potential, not all the yummy good information it
had brought within online reach. But we have complained and whined and
sometimes howled about the way the changes have occurred. They were too
fast, too sloppy, too commercially motivated, too expensive, too myopic
in strategy, too hyped in marketing, too casual by half in implementation.
In summary, they were too unprofessional — and the profession they ignored
was ours. They didn't heed our warnings. They didn't meet our standards.
They didn't serve all our clients. They didn't provide a stable base for
the services promised. While we loved the Net and its Web, we still came
to each search session with an "Oh, no!" waiting on our lips for another
Web transgression. Not that it would do any good, because in the roar of
the dot-com economy, nobody listened to us.
Well, the roar
has become a whisper. Many, if not most, of the dot-coms are dot-gones.
Sobriety has returned to the world of information, along with a sense of
reality and an appreciation of prudence. As the glow of the dot-coms has
dimmed, the steady beam of the dot-govs, dot-orgs, and dot-edus can again
be seen in all its glory. The staff we trained on HTML coding for a library
Web site who left us after a mere 6 months, lured by some dot-com waving
stock options, has come limping back, meek and humble. Not only that, they
have brought along a pile of resumés from Web-compatible ex-colleagues.
Managers who would only look at revolutionary concepts with dot-com potential
written all over them are now asking for solid, reliable, fundable, feasible
innovations. Time to reach into the bottom of our desk drawers and pull
out the proposals they turned down before.
In other words,
our prayer has been answered. We asked the world to slow down so we could
climb aboard and it has.
So now what? Well,
now we climb aboard and start steering. Because if we don't, then everyone
will know that our complaints were just so much hot air, that we failed
to be heard because we really had nothing to say, that we have no viable
alternatives to offer. If we as a profession want to take our place in
the new Web universe, now is the time to do so. Now or Never.
The Web slowdown
is not the only prayer of librarians that the gods have answered. How long,
oh Lord, how long have academic librarians cried to heaven for vengeance
to smite commercial scholarly publishers and their extortionate pricing?
How long have they bemoaned the resistance of scholars to information technologies
that could rescue library budgets and, at the same time, create an environment
offering better, faster, cheaper alternatives to the current practices
of scholarly communication? Well, the Day of Redemption has risen at last.
Read this month's cover story by Myer Kutz, "The Scholars'
Rebellion Against Scholarly Publishing Practices: Varmus, Vitek, and Venting."
Finally, scholars themselves — AKA authors and readers — have begun rebelling
against the high prices and resistance to open digital access of commercial
publishers. New alternative electronic publishing opportunities have arisen.
Major funding agencies have joined the fight. The balance is shifting in
our favor — finally.
But a shiny, new
future does not come without a price. And the price is Will — commitment,
dedication, and — most of all — Action, Action NOW. More scholars must
join the fray. The scholars already in the field need support and succor.
Alternative publications need widespread marketing and distribution. More
effort and resources are needed for archiving as well as the building of
access tools. Advanced post-Boolean software could help increase access
to the new data. Managements at academic institutions, from the president
to departmental deans to the head of university presses, need full education
in the issues and prodding to take supportive actions. Librarians on-site
are in a unique position to fill these needs.
This is the best
chance librarians will ever have to break the chains that have bound them
and their budgets. No one knows better than the wise information professional
how inevitable the final victory of the Web is. It's not a question of
"if," but of "when." The only other question is, "Who?" Who will step up
and help to create a better process of scholarly communication? Who will
do the hard work and take the risks? Who will put their money where their
If academic librarians
do not step up to pay that price and right now, they could find themselves
blocked out of that future and perhaps of any future at all. Think about
the future — 5 years or even 10 years ahead. Scholarship will have largely
moved to the Web. Publishers will see their profits dwindling and their
futures threatened. What will they do as their world goes digital?
They will start
looking for new revenue models to replace the ones that no longer work.
If history is any judge, they will start looking to divert someone else's
money to their advantage.
would seem a logical option. The next thing you know, we will see a consortium
of publishers — with publications all linked through PILA's Xref — approaching
a college president with an offer to provide a complete digital archive,
an archive that constitutes a library in and of itself ("Sign here and
all your troubles are over."). They may even have accrediting agencies
pre-clear their master digital collection as satisfying library-focused
accreditation standards ("Subscribe with us and that's one less accreditation
committee visit to worry about."). Where is the president to get the money
for this wonderful, one-stop, virtual library in a box? By closing down
existing physical libraries, of course, and diverting their budgets to
the publisher-sponsored products. For a few dollars more, the publisher
might even provide a virtual reference desk service staffed by "headset
librarians" to cover any interactive public service needs still remaining.
What's that I hear
you saying? "Oh, they wouldn't do that. We've worked together for years."
Well, the emerging standard practice for commercial publishers' Web sites
involves giving away bibliographic citations and, usually, abstracts to
attract customers ("Search for free. Pay for use."). How do you think the
secondary publishers with their abstracting and indexing services feel
about that? For years, they have provided the tools that guide researchers
to the output of publishers. But when push came to shove...publishers started
to shove them over.
And speaking of
"shoving over," there's another problem posed for academic librarians who
just sit and watch the war from the sidelines. The spoils of war go to
the visible victors. Despite the fact that academic librarians have been
struggling with commercial scholarly publishers for years, if the laurels
for victory are awarded to the rebelling scholars, they will get the loot.
Already, a leader among the rebel forces has been quoted as looking forward
to all the research staff he can hire with the money recovered from overpriced
subscription payments. That's research staff not library staff, research
budgets not library budgets.
Act now. Read the
Kutz article, particularly the sidebar on what librarians can do. Follow
its advice. Follow its leads. And ACT — Now or Never.