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Magazines > Searcher > January 2004
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Vol. 12 No. 1 — January 2004
Encyclopedia of the Future: Vol. 12, "L"... "Library, THE"
by Barbara Quint
Editor, Searcher Magazine

"...By the early years of the 21st century, the forces of technology began to press the information professional community to re-examine the basic infrastructure of service to clients and to consider centralizing national and international library resources. Commercial vendors, such as scholarly publishers and database aggregators, led the way in technological developments in digitization and centralized distribution. However, academic librarians, operating the richest of the libraries in terms of resources, took over the lead from vendors with new initiatives in archiving scholarly communication. [For perspective on these exciting times, we suggest you read primary documents from the period, particularly those concerning the critical moment in the history of what has come to be called 'The Scholars' Rebellion.' See Paula J. Hane's 'NewsBreak: Cornell and Other University Libraries to Cancel Elsevier Titles,']

"Strategically, victory over the print-based business models and players must have seemed almost inevitable once librarians, long angered by scholarly publisher pricing policies, allied with faculty, indignant over the inhibited distribution that the same pricing policies imposed on their authored works. Ironically, the high prices themselves created an additional peril for commercial publishers when revenue-hungry university administrators and funding source executives began to press authors to transfer copyright to their institutions, particularly electronic re-distribution rights [See vol. 20: 'T'... 'Tasini Case.']. The ensuing excising of publisher digital collections made vendor offerings appear unreliable at the very moment that commercial sources were attempting to install digital collections as authoritative, efficient replacements for print collections.

"Most commercial publishers failed to realize their peril in time. By alienating both the faculty, who supplied (wrote) and consumed (read) the material being published, as well as the librarians whose budgets paid for the material, commercial publishers triggered a battle they could not win. With the technological environment of easily accessible Web publications in place, competitive alternatives to high subscription costs proliferated. Soon even giant publishers fell by the wayside as their print-based revenue models failed. [For a history of what occurred to non-scholarly publishers during the same time period, see 'Trade Press' in volume 20 and 'General Press' in vol. 7: 'G.']

"The rising momentum of what came to be called 'open-source publishing' led funding institutions to support the measures needed to assure quality, such as peer-review mechanisms, archiving threads of discussion attached to articles, guaranteed inclusion of multimedia elements in documents, etc. Archiving authoritative copies of scholarship fell to librarians in keeping with their traditional role with print. Large research libraries converted budgets formerly spent on subscriptions into purchase funds for hardware and software supporting their new digital repository roles. Smaller academic libraries joined into consortia, merging their library acquisition funds into 'subscriptions' for digital access to the network of repository collections.

"The significance of the emergence of a shared universal pool of scholarship — coming to be known as 'THE Library' — was confirmed when college and university accrediting agencies declared that access to THE Library would satisfy accrediting requirements for on-campus library collection. Within less than 5 years of this development, each of the major accrediting agencies had made access to THE Library mandatory for accreditation of any institution of higher learning. At the same time, the accrediting agencies imposed new requirements for transmission of information skills that necessitated each academic department having on-site librarians available to train students and staff in the principles and techniques of information gathering and organization.

"As colleges and universities switched to THE Library, a new generation of knowledge workers trained and taught in these institutions came into the workforce expecting to continue receiving information from THE Library. Indeed, they expected all serious information gathering to come from similar types of information services. [For information on 'THE Library TWO,' see below.]

Meanwhile commercial publishers scrambled for new roles to play. [See vol. 4, 'D'... 'Downsizing.']

"Expanding its role as the leading information gateway for Internet users everywhere, the search engine Google opened a new category node for 'THE Library' on its Spartan home page. Working with leading library associations and an editorial board of information professionals, Google identified sources on the basis of strict quality criteria that included proprietary ('invisible Web') material. This quality-bound node allowed Google to initiate user-based payment mechanisms for the first time, a development that triggered a financial coup which led to its later purchase of Microsoft. [For further details, see vol. 1, 'A' ... 'Acquisitions.']

"With the launch of THE Library node on Google, publishers and vendors scrambled to conform to the new access requirements imposed by librarian-led Google. Trade press and general press also joined the rush, although the same problems with pricing issues that scholarly publishers faced in working with librarians managing THE Library did not plague the trade and general press. Nonetheless, the standard of comprehensiveness imposed for archive certification and entry into THE Library did require trade and general press to solve the extensive omissions problems resulting from the Tasini decision.

"So what did library vendors do in this difficult and challenging period? Some switched their resources and energies to solving new problems and contributing to THE Library, supporting librarians in their struggles with recalcitrant publishers. Some attempted to compete by launching 'wannabe' THE Library services of their own. [See vol. 22, 'V'... 'Vendors,' sidebar entitled 'Where Are They Now?'] Still others 'cashed in' their operations and moved into unrelated fields. For example, three major traditional online players moved back into the fields from which they originally came — aerospace, paper products, and gelatinous film stock. Staff from library vendors sought employment from their former clients, as the field of librarianship experienced one of the fastest salary growths in recent economic history...."

Barbara Quint's e-mail address is
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