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November 05, 2007

Why university libraries should promote OA resources more than paid–for resources

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The 2007 survey of Open Access Resources has finally been published as SPEC Kit 300 (SP300) by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL). A four-page Executive Summary is freely available.

It would make sense for libraries to make promotion of OA resources to teaching staff a priority, but most (75%) of the respondent libraries are not promoting OA resources any differently than other resources, with several respondents saying they promote paid resources more than OA resources. According to the summary, “OA resources have a lower priority in general and libraries have a hard enough time getting patrons to use paid resources”.

Why this focus on promoting paid-for resources? If resources are not used, their subscription cannot be justified and the library’s budget could be reduced accordingly, would be the obvious answer. Nevertheless this defensive rationale could be short-sighted.

The more OA resources that libraries can provide for researchers in addition to any paid subscriptions, the richer the library’s resource provision in support of research and therefore, the more added value the library is providing to the research mission of the institution. This ARL survey does a good job of describing the library work associated with providing such added value through OA resources.

Let us now speculate that the more popular OA resources become among academics, both as authors and readers, the greater the proportion of OA journals in their recommended readings for students, and therefore the less the pressure on library budgets to keep up with escalating journal subscription prices and the more money left to buy print monographs for researchers and text books for students.

In the UK at least, a large proportion of the library budget typically goes into buying multiple copies of undergraduate key-text books, copies which are never enough to satiate students’ assumptions about their library’s stock.

Why not make consultation with faculty about particular OA resources a priority of liaison?

If libraries are caught in a vicious circle of promoting paid-for resources to academics, the academics then including these resources in reading lists, and then the library not being able to afford resourcing those reading lists, whose fault is it?

October 01, 2007

Wiki reading lists

Writing about web page

We have been considering the use of wiki functionality for building reading lists between academics and librarians.

Something like PBwiki would do the job. I wonder which other wiki applications, ideally hosted and free, might be out there which could do the job as well.

Both the academic and the librarian should receive and instant email alert of any edits made by either of them, and the email alert should quote the text that has been added or deleted. The wiki should also allow switching of access permissions between public-view and editors-only.

A wiki page for each module can be used to which both the academic and the library have access permissions. The academic can paste references on this page as and when he or she identifies them, potentially throughout the year but perhaps most likely in the summer. Every such change generates an email alert containing the addition to the wiki page. The library can check these as and when posted. Once checked the library edits the wiki page to add either a link to an existent subscription or library holdings catalogue record, or to a digital scan, or to a free web version, or to a catalogue record for the order, or a note to advise it is out of print, or any other relevant comment. Updates on student numbers for the module could also be posted on the wiki page.

A reading list is primarily a printable document intended for students. There is no need to use it as an order form for library resources. The bottle-neck workflow by which academics finish their reading list documents by a date and forward them to the library for checking and ordering is a document centric approach presenting known problems.

It would be much preferable if reading lists could be built up in a tentative way as an iterative, incremental dialogue between each academic and the library. The communication process between academics and the library could be improved by using wiki functionality:
- Treating references singly as opposed to bundled in lists.
- Dealing with them as and when identified by academics without having to wait for a definitive list.
- Feeding back to the academic timely information about availability and alternatives.
- Giving academics the lead time to make a choice informed with the librarians’ knowledge of information resourcing.

Although wiki functionality seems most efficient, alternative technologies could also serve the same purpose, e.g. a common closed web page with notification. Unfortunately Google Docs does not appear to notify of edits, otherwise it would have been enough.

Nevertheless, there are various practical considerations to take into account for a scaleable implementation beyond a small pilot. Ideally the technology should make things easier for both the academics and the library, but in practice making it too easy to submit references may overwhelm the library with submissions.

We would probably have to try on a small scale and fine-tune the process first. It would be nice to hear about any reading list wikis elsewhere.

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