26 January 2010

serials subscription economics: or, monopolies, italics, and cannibalism

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , , at 10:31 pm by Andromeda

So the husband and I were talking yesterday about the new EBSCO monopoly on certain periodicals, after I read Dorothea Salo’s post on the matter (now BoingBoinged). And he was wondering, so really, what’s the issue here? What’s the appeal of these database vendors? And a BoingBoing commenter wonders, “the content providers have decided to sell their content through only one vendor…is that not their right?”

Salo addresses some of this in a follow-up post, but I want to as well — a scattershot Things What Might Not Be Apparent If You Are Not A Librarian post.

* One of the intriguing aspects of getting your journal access electronically is that it’s more like renting than owning. Different vendors may have rights to different date ranges of the back issues, and you may have any number of contractual limitations on your database access, and if you stop having a contract with a vendor, then no, you might not have access to the back issues you had access to yesterday. It’s not like a print collection, where you paid to buy the physical thing — and it came with limitations, like lack of fulltext search and the need for ever-increasing shelf space to store — but you *have* the thing until it falls to pieces, anyway, even if you cancel the subscription. You stop leasing your database access, you no longer have back issues. Now, maybe you get them through another vendor — if you have contracts with multiple vendors, and publishers have contracts with multiple vendors, then you may still have access through other means, albeit not necessarily to the same range of back issues or through the same interface or with the same features.

* But maybe you don’t have access through another vendor, and that’s the issue with the current EBSCO deal. If you want to have access to certain publications, you have to deal with EBSCO. And this connects with two other issues:

1) EBSCO, as a monopoly power, can set forth whatever crazy terms it wants. (“But if they’re too crazy you can just refuse,” I hear you saying. Yes, but see below.) For instance, maybe you just want to read Time, but they will only sell you Time in a package deal containing dozens of other titles such Injury and Abdominal Imaging and The Lady’s Magazine or Polite Companion for the Fair Sex and you really, honestly, do not care about these publications (all real EBSCO titles fyi), but you have to pay for them if you want Time.

2) Now replace Time with, say, Science or Nature or whatever the incredibly critical journal is that your patrons absolutely cannot live without. The current EBSCO monopoly is over popular press magazines, and I imagine it will be incredibly irritating to public libraries who can no longer afford (see below) to stock them, but if you are a university and your library cannot afford to stock the marquee journals for your top academic programs, this goes way beyond “irritating”. So take the current EBSCO deal as a harbinger of things to come, and you see why it’s worth setting up some barricades.

* I owe you one more “see below”, and that’s cost. Serials are very expensive. People have been cancelling print subscriptions to make way for them, sure, but they’ve also been scaling back their monograph acquisitions just to keep up with serials. Serials prices have escalated enormously and library budgets, well, haven’t. MIT spends seven million a year on serials — yes, they’re big, and yes, as a nearly-all-science institution they depend unusually heavily on them — but this should give you a sense of the absurdly large chunks of change involved.

The thing that should make this — from your perspective, from a patron perspective, not just a librarian perspective — a problem, the thing that should make this more than something to brush off as businesses-doing-business — is that monopoly power over access to key periodicals takes away a major chunk of libraries’ negotiating power, when their institutional contexts may not allow them not to say no to those periodicals, and when serials budgets are already cannibalizing everything in their path. What you will see, as a patron, is non-serials acquisitions and services being cut merely to maintain the status quo of subscriptions. And if that is not something you like, librarians are going to need to know that their institutions will back them up if they need to take scorched-earth negotiating positions with vendors.


25 January 2010

what Google ethnography and research oncology have in common

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 9:20 pm by Andromeda

Here, we have an ethnographer talking about why (outside of academic/elite contexts) Google is not widely adopted in China. (A variety of reasons: the Google name is hard to pronounce and spell in Chinese and there is not a widely accepted, Google-promoted canonical form; many, many users have their primary internet access through mobile technologies and are accustomed to an instant-messenger/Facebook-like paradigm, not an email/browser paradigm; Google is identified with a set of western values appealing to elites, but not appealing to the majority of the population, particularly in the presence of a heavily marketed, nativist alternative; Google hasn’t done a good job of outreach and market positioning vis-a-vis these difficulties.)

And here, we have an oncologist blogging about how he doesn’t (any longer) need to use particular library services, and ways proactive and tech-savvy librarians could insert themselves into his workflow, helping him while raising their profile. The thing I really liked about this post is that it’s an outside perspective on what the information workflow looks like — I think it’s too easy to just see our own parts of a workflow (and there’s a lot of information workflow in a library), but the library-external parts are where the new opportunities for relevance are. It’s a good reminder of the importance of having good relationships with your patrons and seeing things from their perspective, seeing where the needs are instead of hypothesizing about what they might be.

I read this article first, closed the tab, read a dozen more tabs (oh, eventful week, how you have destroyed my tab-reading flow), got to the one about China, and thought, hey, this is the same thing. Here, too, Google has its set of habits and expectations, and is finding itself irrelevant in a population which has a very non-complementary set of habits and expectations.

I’m looking forward to being a liaison between the library and…some outside, whatever it is. Seeing that outside’s perspective. Is this some sick, twisted aspiration — will it all just be herding cats? Still. There are reasons for the tagline Across Divided Networks.

23 January 2010

ebook strategy

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 2:00 pm by Andromeda

Helpful thinking on ebook purchase strategy, from the Letters page of The Economist:

SIR — One of your readers urged us to “remember the lesson of Betamax video” when considering which e-book reader to buy. One of the factors in the demise of Betamax was the availability of pornographic movies on VHS.

I bought a Kindle. Perhaps I should have waited to see on which e-book reader Hugh Hefner and Larry Flynt choose to distribute their magazines.

Gabriel Nell

19 January 2010

Battledecks, part deux

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 1:18 pm by Andromeda

The Unquiet Librarian (who deals with digital now-and-beyond in some pretty cool ways) has the complete Battledecks throwdown. Thanks again for taping that! It’s less painful seeing myself on video than I had feared ;).

18 January 2010

ALA Midwinter 2010, part 2: fame and glory, endings, beginnings

Posted in Uncategorized tagged at 4:13 pm by Andromeda

First off, ALA Midwinter’s pretty much over — they’re rolling up the Networking Uncommons projection screen, Twitter’s jammed with people at the airport, nothing going on but some committee meetings. And I kinda want to cry.

I’d been looking forward, in an abstract way, to professional networking, but last week was packed with so many highs and lows, emotions pulling in all different directions, I didn’t really have it in me to build up a good wave of excitement.

And then Friday, still figuring out how to navigate the schedule, but things picked up with the LITA happy hour, great company, food, booze, and Saturday I was getting the hang of things some more, and then Sunday, oh my god, Sunday.

8am to see Atul Gawande (read everything he’s ever written; you won’t regret it), cut through the exhibit floor to grab coffee and get waylaid by a robot on my way to a resume critique, then off to the Top Tech Trends panel where we twittered til we broke it, OCLC developer network luncheon with all sorts of inspiring ideas for how to tap into their huge pile of tasty tasty data (the API looks easy! I can do that!), the awesomely themed Set Sail for Fail with its surprise Battledecks (see below), then met up with Jason Price from the Claremont consortium libraries who kindly made some time for me, Claremont alum (got back $3.50ish in coffee from the $100K I gave them, plus some great advice on the academic job market), then off to a panel I couldn’t even parse because my brain was full, then the blog salon, more good people, crackers, cheese, then crashing the Elsevier party…

Thirteen and a half straight hours of infodump and social contact high. Love it. Love it. @pcsweeney, @buffyjhamilton, @JanieH, @LibrarianJP (Jersey ftw!), @OCLCdevnet, @bohyunkim, @artficlinanity, @gluejar (you know you’ve picked the fun events where the cool peeps will be if you keep running into @gluejar), @andrewkpace, @libraryfuture, @wawoodworthDon Lemke, Jason Price, all you other people I don’t have on Twitter or who were lost in the weekend’s blur…Thanks so much. I knew librarians would be easy to talk to. I didn’t know I’d feel that at home with you all. (Nor did I know how much librarians like to drink. Which may have helped with the talking.)

@pcsweeney, I promise you I’ll think about how to swing the logistics for Annual, because I am heading into some serious withdrawal right now.

Oh. Right. Battledecks. (People do keep asking.)

Battledecks! aka powerpoint karaoke. You get a topic, you get a deck of 15 unfamiliar slides, you get 5 minutes to give a talk on that topic with the slides — you see them for the first time during the talk. Be lucid, be engaging, sound like you planned it, don’t go over.

I should back up for a moment and say my major goal for ALA Midwinter was building myself a professional network, getting my name out there.

And Battledecks plays straight into two things for me: one, I need to say yes to more crazy experiences, and two, five years of middle school teaching experience. Babbling like I meant it without a lesson plan? Hell yeah I know how to do that.

So I did.

Observe my glorious victory (shared with librarianbyday). Heck, while you’re at it, observe my actual presentation. (Apparently it was livestreaming, which I am darn glad I did not know, or the adrenalin/blind panic might have flipped over from “good” to “bad”…) I got tweeted by people with bunches of followers.

In re that goal of mine: This was a triumph. I’m making a note here: HUGE SUCCESS. It’s hard to overstate my satisfaction.

You know, it’s not that far to DC.

16 January 2010

ALA Midwinter 2010

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 11:32 am by Andromeda

Not a lot of blogging this weekend — brain being eaten by assimilating the thick with secret code meeting schedule. And, quite possibly, liver being eaten by networking opportunities — it turns out librarians like to party. (Punting an informative-sounding panel for the LITA happy hour last night? Excellent idea. Drinking on big name Andrew Pace‘s tab (thanks again!), decamping afterward with brand new pals to the private dining room with lots of attention from the executive chef, due to aforesaid pal’s excellent party-planning skills? A high point of the conference.)

All my conference thoughts are ending up on Twitter. In iambic meter because, hey, why not. (Sometimes I cheat trochaically. So sue me.)

google autocomplete tells us the true nature of libraries?

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 4:53 pm by Andromeda

A librarian plays with Google’s autocomplete feature. Hilarity ensues.

(FWIW, if I type “andromeda is”, it autocompletes to “andromeda israel”. If I type “andromeda is “, it has no suggestions at all. Apparently I’m…nothing?)

9 January 2010


Posted in Uncategorized tagged at 9:41 am by Andromeda

Check it out! I’m on Twitter now. See the nice little widget? –>

@ThatAndromeda. Roleplay accordingly, folks.

7 January 2010

structure of open source community

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , at 11:00 am by Andromeda

So my husband (a software engineer) and I talk a lot about this library stuff, duh, and it’s useful for exposing underlying assumptions that differ between these two fields of information geekery…

One of the things I’ve been thinking about is the structure of open source development communities. I’ve run Linux (albeit no more) and a lot of my friends are the kinds of codemonkeys who will merrily write a script when the world doesn’t do something they want it to do. I’m used to thinking of open-source development as people encountering things that are personally bothersome and fixing those themselves, when the software in question is something computer geeks use — Linux, Apache, funky lightweight apps to do whatever, et cetera.

But the assumptions in my head about how Koha and Evergreen and OPALS are developed are, I realize, different. I think of integrated library system development and I think of a small number of coders — from library consortia, academe, and ILS support companies — contributing to the codebase; I think of the vast majority of (potential) users as simply not having the ability to do that. In other words, I think of there being some latency and information loss in the communication between user and developer in a way there’s not with, say, Linux (where user and developer are the same person). In fact I imagine it must go both ways — that developers are not necessarily embedded in a library context (e.g. if they work for support companies) and therefore may not be heavy users of the system, and may not be developing that sort of intuition for the workflow imposed by the system.

Am I right? Am I wrong? Because I really have no idea, and it’s fun to use the blog as a way to learn things. (Thank you to all my lovely commenters who have pitched in on this. 🙂

It seems to me the nature of an open source development community, and the possibilities for the software, must be interestingly different depending on how greatly the user and developer communities overlap, but I do not really know how (aside from the suddenly crucially central role of support companies in the low-overlap case). Certainly, though, the idea that if software is broken or stupid you cannot just write something to fix it is a paradigm shift for software engineers, but not for librarians, which does complicate some of these conversations.

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