ATG NewsChannel Original: The Post-Print Era, Part 2: Libraries Adjust to New Collections, Priorities & Methods

Nancy HertherBy Nancy K. Herther

(Part 2 of a 2 part article. Click to view part 1

If people see print libraries as anything but the ‘good old days,’ they only have to compare today’s presence of print and the need for bindery services with the past. In a 1976 article in Library Trends, author Matt Roberts noted that there were “200 or so library binders in the U.S. and Canada gross[ing] roughly $40 million per year, of which approximately $30 million is taken in by the fifty or so certified library binders.” This was perhaps the heyday of bookbinding, since in 1955 the industry grossed only $3 million. (p. 753, “The Library Binder,” Library Trends, April 1976, pp. 749-762.)

However, while the primacy of print and the heyday of library binders are in the past, all is not lost. Today, the printed page as an art seems to be rising in importance. And, for many, the print version of information is still preferred for deep reading or convenience. Still, the future promises change, major change in how information will be acquired and used. And…the paper industry along with printers will continue to do good business.

Changing Storage Needs

Libraries are increasingly looking beyond offsite storage to shared storage in which single or only a few copies of common resources are being maintained to offset the costs of storage of little-used materials, and especially those that are reliably available online. OCLC’s Constance Malpas predicted in 2011 that “within the next 5-10 years, focus of shared print archiving and service provision will shift to monographic collections; large scale service hubs will provide low-cost print management on a subscription basis; reducing local expenditure on print operations, releasing space for new uses and facilitating a redirection of library resources; enabling rationalization of aggregate print collection and renovation of library service portfolio. Mass digitization of retrospective print collections,” she concluded “will drive this transition.”

A 2013 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education noted that “too many print books plus new demands onOCLC-logo library real estate have spurred academic libraries to try a set of state and regional experiments to free up library space to suit modern learning styles and still make sure that somebody, somewhere hangs onto books that make up part of the intellectual record.” As publishing continues—and funding continues to tighten—we can expect more pressures on libraries and their print collections. OCLC, which has trademarked the “Sustainable Collection Services” label, provides links and more information on this development.

Cornell’s Binding Transitions

The good people at Cornell University Libraries (CUL), under the leadership of Associate University Librarian Oya Rieger, are providing us with a look at procedures and perspectives of how their bindery operations and services have changed in recent years. Cornell’s director of Collections, Kizer Walker, explains that “while we have shifted fairly aggressively (though certainly not comprehensively) over the past 10-15 years from print to electronic delivery for journal content, CUL’s approach to collecting books is decidedly hybrid in terms of format. In the humanities and qualitative social sciences, where monographic literature remains central, CUL purchases a wide core in print via an approval plan that covers U.S. university press output comprehensively and also supplies academic books in print from a very wide selection of English-language trade presses. Much of this content is duplicated in ebook formats that CUL provides largely via (relatively inexpensive) subscriptions with aggregators such as Ebrary (ProQuest) and EBSCO. Some of our new ebook content in these fields is also licensed on a perpetual access (‘purchase’) model. However, up to now we have not extensively embraced frontlist ebooks in the humanities and qualitative social sciences on perpetual access platforms such as JSTOR and Project MUSE.”

jstor_logo“When the MUSE and JSTOR ebook programs were launched,” Walter continues, “we explored options for reducing print acquisitions on our approval plan for publishers we could replace with perpetual access ebooks on these not-for-profit aggregators; our faculty in the affected disciplines advised that we continue acquiring the print. In a recent collections strategy document, we asserted that, at least in the humanities and social sciences, we would prioritize perpetual access licensing when we acquire ebooks as a substitute [his emphasis] for print, but as long as ebooks are viewed as a supplement [his emphasis] to the print version, we will consider (less stable, less expensive) subscription access. I would say we are in transition between these two views of ebooks (supplement to substitute), but I expect this will be an uneven process and may not have a neat resolution in the foreseeable future. We also maintain multiple print approval plans for non-English books; depending on the language/region of publication, ebook options may be less robust than for English-language materials. Since most of our non-English acquisitions are in the humanities and social sciences, many of the discipline-specific factors are similar to above.”

At CUL, Print & Electronic Co-Exist

“In the sciences,” Walker continues, “CUL, like other research libraries, has shifted much more pervasively to electronic delivery. Cornell’s Physical Sciences and Engineering libraries have had solely an electronic presence since the closure of both physical units in recent years; while print materials are stored remotely or elsewhere in the CUL system, electronic is strongly prioritized for new acquisitions. Book purchases in both print and electronic formats have waned as serials prices have escalated to consume most of the collections budget in these fields. Ebooks are the preferred format and, unlike in the humanities and social sciences, temporary, subscription access tends to be viewed as an acceptable (or necessary) substitute for print.”

CUL, Walker summarizes, “is committed to building a collection that meets the needs of Cornell faculty, students, and other researchers. We strive to tailor our collection practices to the needs of an extremely wide range specific academic disciplines, and up to now this dictates a hybrid approach to print and electronic formats. Here’s one indication of the diversity of faculty needs and expectations: In a 2014 survey of Cornell faculty (1,670 respondents), 54% reported that they do not use the Library’s print collections; 46% reported that they feel the Library’s print collections are adequate or more than adequate.”

The A.D. White Library within Uris Library at Cornell

A.D. White Library within Uris Library at Cornell

CUL’s Approach to Curation

Michelle Paolillo, CUL’s Lead, Digital Curation Services, Digital Scholarship & Preservation Services believes that “cultural–’digital preservation’ needs to become part of our shared understanding. Just as all library staff have a basic awareness of the basics of what is helpful or threatening to a physical copy of a book, we need to gain awareness in what helps or hinders the longevity of electronic resources. In the realm of the physical, all staff realize the part they play in maintaining the physical collection, from proper shelving, handling, etc., to disaster response. The part may be small, or large, but every part is important.”

“Likewise,” she continues, “with digital objects, there are parts that many sectors of the institution can play, and that awareness can assist the even adoption of this work: appraisal technique, capturing complete structured metadata at the time of accessioning and/or creation, preferred formats and the transformation of files to those if needed, awareness of master/derivative files, etc. Digital preservation itself is an evolving field, and as strategies and best practices have emerged, Cornell has begun to address these growing needs by creating the unit that I now lead, Digital Curation Services. Our job is, in part, to raise the awareness of our colleagues as to the problems, solutions and the part they play in the preservation of CUL’s digital assets.”

CUL—Binding Versus Intentional Access

Walker explains that “56.3% of materials budget expenditures were for electronic materials in 2011/12 (… my guess is that it is around 60% now).” Barbara Berger Eden, the recently retired CUL Director of Pressing booksPreservation notes, that CUL has “never done binding in house (just stiffening), commercial binding continues (and has always been outsourced). We continue to do basic book repair on any volume that has circulated and upon return is noted as damaged. The work is supervised by a staff member in Conservation and students are trained to do the repair.”

Director of CUL Library Technical Services, Jim LeBlanc, reports that “we have received good service overall from commercial vendors over the years. However, as smaller, local binderies go out of business the turnaround time for commercial binding increases as libraries must switch to vendors that may be located hundreds of miles away. This increase in turnaround time is especially true for items which require rush processing.”

Resources present issues as well as opportunities, Paolillo explains. “Obviously, technical problems require technical solutions, but I really see technology as a resource issue: someone has to develop it, and someone has to manage it. There is a spectrum of models: completely outsourced services, cloud services, commercial software run in house, open sourced software in the cloud, open source in house, etc. The many models make it difficult to accurately capture costs both in the short term, and next to impossible to predict over the long term. Yet long term planning is predicated on accurate predictions that allow an institution to predict costs. For this reason, I tend to favor inter-institutional efforts for repositories. The cost models can be proven over time, remain rational and steady, and allow the local institution to plan effectively. For us, HathiTrust has been a model that works very well for both preservation and delivery of our digital books.”

An Ending or Room For All?

Author Neil Gaiman, in a recent British lecture, noted that: “I do not believe that all books will or should books-1082949_1280migrate onto screens: as Douglas Adams once pointed out to me, more than 20 years before the Kindle turned up, a physical book is like a shark. Sharks are old: there were sharks in the ocean before the dinosaurs. And the reason there are still sharks around is that sharks are better at being sharks than anything else is. Physical books are tough, hard to destroy, bath-resistant, solar-operated, feel good in your hand: they are good at being books, and there will always be a place for them. They belong in libraries, just as libraries have already become places you can go to get access to ebooks, and audiobooks and DVDs and web content.”

In our rush to information on-demand, in-hand, everywhere, anytime, we have perhaps forgotten theunderlying value of reading and print. In their book The Myth of the Paperless Office (MIT Press, 2003), researchers Abigail Sellen and Richard Harper provide a cognitive/anthropological assessment of the use of paper in organizations finding that with the adoption of email, organizations began using 40% more paper than before email—noting that when you make something easier to do, people do more of it. The printed page, they noted, still offers unique ways to use, organize, and share information—and perhaps more importantly, your thoughts—even in this increasingly computerized world.

“The academic library of the future will still provide its users with access to scholarly material. It will continue to provide curricular and research support to students and faculty,” notes University of Denver associate dean Michael Levine-Clark. ”But the collection will be a very different thing. Instead of being material that is either owned or leased by the library, the collection will be anything that the library can reasonably expect to deliver to students or faculty. Collection development will be the process of managing access to and delivery of a broad range of content through strong discovery systems. At the same time, libraries will reemphasize special collections, carefully building and curating collections in key areas of strength. These two strands will work together to provide users with the broadest and deepest collections possible.”


The future of libraries—especially academic research libraries—has been the subject of many conferences, research centers, foundation grants, and articles throughout the professional literature. The Association of Research Libraries released their final report on strategic thinking on the academic library in 2033. Their core statement takes the mission of academic libraries in very new directions and relationships between content and users: “In 2033, the research library will have shifted from its role as a knowledge service provider within the university to become a collaborative partner within a rich and diverse learning and research ecosystem.”

Perhaps we are seeing a major transformation, only time will tell. Even if there were no online alternatives, libraries are bursting at the seams with the increasing amounts of information, great literature, and new discoveries and ideas. A world without print books would be the end of wonderfully designed children’s books, gorgeous pop-up books by artists such as Robert Sabuda, and art books that bring the world’s art to life for everyman. In such a big wide world, surely there is room for it all.

Nancy K. Herther is librarian for American Studies, Anthropology and Sociology at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities campus.

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