The keynote address was presented by Jenica Rogers, Director of Libraries at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Potsdam, who opened with a stirring call to action by librarians. She set the tone by saying that she was speaking to and on behalf of librarians, not publishers or vendors. She began by noting that libraries were never warehouses for information, but they are part of a larger environment surrounded by synthesis and action. The power of libraries lies not in passivity but our action.
How our system works: we buy stuff, but we have been compelled to spend a lot of time on collection development and operating the system. The “how” of our work keeps changing. We now have entirely new models for buying resources. We commit resources to vendors to buy products because “that’s how the system works”. But the system is not working as it formerly did. For example, Jenica publicly stated in 2012 that SUNY Potsdam would cease buying the American Chemical Society’s bundled journal package. Why was this so groundbreaking? Why was it brave to say that was not in the best interest of her users? Why was it newsworthy? She asked some of her colleagues about this process. Some librarians said that we have been in an untenable situation for a long time; others said that they find themselves like a deer in the headlights, stunned by how fast changes are happening. We are better than the status quo, and deer dazed by headlights have a very short life expectancy. We must acknowledge that the path we are on is not very cheerful for libraries. We cannot let publishers set terms and control the market; if we do, we will be like the deer. So the system must work better, and it is time to reclaim our rights.
What are our rights?
- Respect. We have millions of dollars of purchasing power. We are not supplicants, but paying customers. We want clear communications from vendors and responsive replies to our contacts.
- Transparency. Make library policies available. Share how you spend your budget dollars. We want the right to demand transparency in pricing negotiations. Stop signing non-disclosure agreements. You are the customer and have the right to transparency; if the vendor will not agree, appeal to your campus legal department. We are fostering disobedience of Freedom of Information laws by signing NDAs. How is this in our best interests? You are being pitted against the rest of your library community. Maybe by working with transparency we could do a better job with our library community. If we cannot share information, we cannot work together effectively.
- Free markets. We like to believe we can take our business elsewhere. But researchers know who publishes the major journal in their topic, so we must deal with that publisher. It is not always possible to buy alternative content, but we can choose which consortium to work with, which subscription agent, etc. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had the freedom to choose what we want to buy from whom we want to buy it?
- Fair and appropriate pricing. This should not be hard! We are subject to a 5 to 10% price increase despite the rate of inflation currently being about 2%. Why are publishers’ prices outstripping the rest of the economy? Is it to much to ask that prices be applied across all libraries?
- Public speech. Why is it heroic to talk about purchasing terms in public? Vendors say that it is disrespectful to talk about them in public. They are happy to talk one-on-one but not if we blog about their practices. We are allowed to have voices and opinions and do those things in public; don’t let anyone silence you!
But rights are not free. We also have responsibilities.
We must reframe our assumptions. We have the Big Deals because we keep buying them. Reconsider your assumptions about what is appropriate and what works. Is more actually better? Are consortial deals that were negotiated without our knowledge helpful?
Know what your boundaries are. It is very easy to keep doing what you have been doing. This does not allow for any comprehensive reviews. What are the impacts of each offer on our collections? Do you know what those impacts are? Have you thought about what is appropriate? Even though you hate the deal, will you sign it? What are your most important goals? What is in the best interests of your institution? When you know that, what you will accept? We all must make choices and compromises. You must know what you will accept.
Stop agreeing to abuse. Do not agree to abusive terms. Do not accept the equivalent of candy from the vendors and then break the law. The Copyright Clearance Center takes money from libraries and then uses it to influence legislation against them. That is abusive and we should stop it.
Pay attention. Do you know the terms of your license agreement, even those negotiated by the state library? Are you paying the same as your neighbor? Awareness of these matters very much.
Use our voices. Demand the freedom to speak, and then use it! Be willing to talk to vendors, faculty, users, and each other. And when a vendor treats you well, tell them directly, and say it in public.
Take action. Do something. No one will solve these problems for us! We must be agents of action. Find something more creative and more accountable than what we have been offered up to now. We must look out for libraries. It is our job! We deserve better than to look like deer in the headlights. We are more than purchasing agents. We are librarians and information professionals. We are smart, creative, passionate, and dedicated. We are also stubborn. We can be influential and powerful but only if we choose to demand our rights and exercise our responsibilities.
Don Hawkins blogs about conferences for Information Today and Against The Grain. He also maintains the Conference Calendar on the Information Today website and is the Editor of Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage, published by Information Today in 2013, and Co-Editor of Public Knowledge: Access and Benefits, published by Information Today in 2016. He received his Ph.D. degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and has worked in the information industry for over 45 years.