by Barbara Quint
There's an old saying in the world of nonprofit organizations, "Do
good and do well." The most desirable outcome in any
situation is to be able to do the right thing AND make
a profit or at least a living while doing
it. To make this happy dream come true, however, one
must first and foremost keep one's eyes peeled for
the opportunity to achieve the optimum, the best, the
most desirable consequence. Depressing reality has
a fine track record when it comes to catching up with
people. You don't need to speed that encounter. Instead,
if and when it comes, let it find you gazing through
your binoculars, searching hopefully for good luck,
good timing, and strategic opportunities. And if you
need a stick as well as a carrot to motivate a concentrated
search for good fortune, think of how grim life would
become if someone else finds, too late, what you missed
and blaringly blames the failure on you.
Let's look for that strategic opportunity. Today,
solutions to problems seem automatically to emerge
at global levels. Economies of scale join with the
fluidity of digital technologies to create worldwide
healings. What else can explain the success of free
Web searching tools, the explosion of free Internet-based
sources? Now imagine how much more could be achieved
if we added even a little steady money to the process.
All libraries begin as purchasing consortia. Acquisition
of expensive material whether the expense stems
from the price of its acquisition or the cost of creating
it demands careful budgeting. The acquisition
or creation of access tools to maximize the use of
the expensive material further adds to the expense.
Librarians see themselves as custodians of not just
resources for their clients, but of budgets that generate
But what if we look at the problem from another angle?
Try to imagine the most desirable outcome. In the best
and kindest of all imaginable worlds, what would constitute
the most desirable outcome for information professionals?
Well, clearly, universal access to universally accessible,
high-quality data. Every user a CEO! Every user a university
dean! Every user the mayor! Every user getting the
best information every time, every question.
Well, of course, that's impossible within today's
budget constraints. Good heavens! You'd have to offer
quality online service round the clock 24 hours
a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year (366 in leap
year). No one could afford ... hmm. Well, you'd have
to have authoritative, high-quality material. The ordinary
college or public library collection wouldn't do. You'd
need the combined research libraries of the largest
... hmm. Well, the price for universal access would
have to be free. Someone would have to find some way
of delivering the material without charging the user
a cent and we know that's imp ... hmm.
See! Miracles can happen, here in the Third Millennium.
Now let's try to see if we can accelerate the miraculous.
Wouldn't you love to see scholarly information made
available and accessible to all? No library budget
today can absorb the cost of providing every possible
journal and book offline or on that institutional
clienteles might need. And while costs continue to
grow, budgets continue to decline. So things are not
good and getting worse when you look at library budgets
from the view of a purchasing consortium.
But look around. Clients think things are getting
better as Google and Yahoo! and, soon, MSN continue
to deluge them with "good enough" data. And more quality
information is heading their way as the open access
movement continues to march across the scholarly landscape.
But trouble lies ahead, trouble that information professionals
can see clearly, even though some open access advocates
appear blind to it. Sooner or later, as open access
encroaches upon scholarly publishing, commercial publishers
will start to contract their operations, concentrating
on the more profitable, better-selling titles and shutting
down smaller, niche-oriented titles. In itself, this
is not troubling, because the content will continue
to appear in open access repositories, though someone
needs to make doubly sure of this. The problem arises
from the loss of editors and a structured peer-review
process and the loss of continuity in access tools
linking the past with the present. Besides such medium-
and long-range problems, we also have the present burden
of making sure that the repositories and archives for
open access content are as robust as we can make them.
In other words, dear reader, open access will need
money and I mean smart money money spent for
the right tools and the right people with the right
goals in mind. Sounds like library budget money to
me! But where is the profit to our institutions? How
can a purchasing consortium justify its existence when
it produces a free good for people who do not belong
to the consortium's constituency? How can you succeed
as a bartender with a policy of "Drinks on the House"?
Depends on what you define as success. Remember,
your clientele drink in that bar, too. In fact, if
we're talking the corner Google, it's their regular
watering hole. If it costs no more to buy booze for
all than to buy booze for the A-list, what the heck?
In this case, however, a clear-eyed look-around will
show that the only way to get your clientele all they
want and need is to open access to all. Open access
offers the only serious challenge to the stranglehold
scholarly society publishers have had on library budgets
How can we accelerate change in the right direction?
Tithe. Set aside a portion of each year's library budget
to support the future you want instead of the present
you're stuck with. As Rick Johnson, executive director
of SPARC, urged, " Invest in change, not in an unhappy
status quo." How? There must be lots of ways. Johnson
suggested that libraries might want to adopt a scholarly
society or local resource. Offer to digitize their
data on the condition that it goes open access. Work
with JSTOR. Peter Suber of Open Access newsletter fame
suggested that JSTOR might negotiate with publishers
to at least open older material in archives to open
access, promoting the idea as representing no loss
of revenue while promoting the brand name of journals
for current subscriptions. Or maybe you and some colleagues
could get together and buy out an abstracting megabase
fallen on hard times. Whatever you do, make sure Google
Scholar and Yahoo! Search and MSN and whomever else
you can think of see that the material has been freed
by librarians using their budgets to break down barriers
and their professional judgment to target quality sources.
In case you think this idea would never fly, a major
test of the concept begins July 1. This is the date
OCLC has set for libraries participating in its Open
WorldCat experiment with Google, Yahoo!, and other
partners. After July 1, all OCLC member libraries who
want to stay in the Open WorldCat project will have
to subscribe to FirstSearch. In other words, to keep
Google-using patrons able to find books in a library's
own collection, libraries will have to pay for a system
that lets nonpatrons find books in their system, too.
And why not? After all, does your library have a policy
of calling security just because a walk-in nonconstituent
uses your card catalog? Of course, only interlibrary
loan could actually let aliens check out a book, but
then how long before someone starts to set up some
instant, digitized ILL system? Oooooo. Instant ...
digitized ... ILL. Wouldn't that be sweet thinking
as a recipient?
Books available to one and all. Journal articles
available to one and all. Quality content everywhere
available to one and all. And to make it happen, we
should all extract one from our all and plunk it down
in our budgeting for a better future. Let's stop considering
outside users as expensive budget busters and start
considering them as our new invisible clienteles.
Barbara Quint's e-mail
address is firstname.lastname@example.org.