II've been toying with an idea about how most libraries are run on an outdated business model. Essentially libraries are run as if there was a scarcity of access to knowledge.

Historically, we can say that the predominate way for society to mass communicate bodies of knowledge was through the book. The book had several drawbacks, including cost and physical storage requirements. Even after the invention of the printing press, it still required a significant investment in capital to produce a book. There was tremendous risk involved for publishers in the form of unsold inventory so they had to devise a way to ensure that the material they were publishing was of high quality. The best way to do that was to rely on experts to write books.

Relying on experts in a field provides several economic benefits. They represent the highest concentration of knowledge on a subject in any one individual. This would make it easier for a publisher to identify a worthy author. Also, because they were experts, it made marketing the book easier. However, this had a negative effect of blocking out a significant portion of the population from sharing their knowledge. This wasn't done intentionally; it was done because it was not economically feasible to gather input from an entire society.

With the advent of Web 2.0, we can now say that the effective cost of communicating and storing knowledge among individuals is rapidly approaching zero. We have the costs of the servers and the software, but those are subsidized by ads. Just look to the right of this post. For most people, communicating and storing knowledge is nearly free.
I am not saying that there is no place for experts, but their monopoly is fading rapidly, so that soon, they will have a much smaller market share.

However, we still have a majority of librarians focusing on the old model of scarcity. They decry many sites because they are not "authoritative", and they constantly push databases because they contain "unique" content. Even when more and more quality sources are provided freely online, we still have librarians steering people to services that they pay for. For many of them, it’s no longer about the best sources; it’s about the best sources that libraries pay for. It’s all about convincing our potential customers that there is a scarcity, when many of them know that it’s not there. Think about this, how much do librarians rely on database content to facilitate their day to day jobs? For most of us, we rely on listservs and web sites.

I think the recent spinoff of ProQuest had a lot to do with getting it ready to be purchased. Within the next 3-5 years Google will purchase ProQuest, modify the interface to include ads, and then make it freely available. Once that happens, much of what we are building our current business model on will erode. Then what will we do? Should we focus on creating knowledge communities?

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Yes, Mark. You make some great points, and I agree that pushing library
users to library-purchased resources over the "best" source that would
most help them is clearly wrong. But, I think, to some degree, you are
setting up a straw man in terms of how librarians interact with the
free content on the Web and the content they for which they pay and
provide access. I would say that we are far past the point where most
librarians would steer people away from a free Web source. Some places
and people may do so, but not many.

I also think that the issue of cost is much more complex than to just
say that there is so much out there for free on the Web. As long as
there is a cost threshold for creating information, then information
creators will charge for that information, and the assumption that
advertisements based on Web traffic will be enough to support the
creation, distribution, and storage of information is not necessarily
going to be true.

For instance, in your ProQuest example, how much of the content does
ProQuest really own? If ProQuest opens up subscription databases for
free (via Google or others), will publishers pull content? Will
publishers, authors, and information creators like the idea of giving
ProQuest articles, images, and other content if the content is out
there for anyone?

I think that your underlying point about libraries building knowledge
communities and brining people together (virtually & face-to-face)
is right on target. But, why couldnt' we argue that libraries have had
it right from the beginning in that our business model has always been of free
information for all people? We've had it right for most of the 20th century.
And, the likelihood is that information literacy, cost, and access will continue
to be a obstacles for ourusers, and, therefore, our business model must continue.
There were two interesting points that I want to discuss further. First, you said "As long as
there is a cost threshold for creating information, then information creators will charge for that information." What is the cost threshold now? The point is that the threshold is rapidly diminishing. Just 15 years ago, it would have taken us several weeks to communicate like this. Or, we would have to attend a conference. Perhaps we could have used a listserv or BB. This seems to be so much more accessible.

Furthermore, what really needs to be published in a book or article format? Much of the scholarly communication process is built around the physical medium; right now we see an errosion of the system, particuarly in the form of OA journals. It's not to say that all this will go away immediately; we still have to deal with the tenure process, which is a heavy load to move. There are also labor costs associated with peer-review. Journals, and peer-reviewed journals specifically, will comprise a smaller and smaller portion of professional communication. Look what we are doing here, we are bypassing all traditional media. Many of these conversations are very valuable, probably more valuable than some of the peer-reviewed articles, which have less and less of an impact and the daily management of a library.

As far as ProQuest, they do not need to own the content. As soon as you can demonstrate that opening access will generate more money because of ad revenues, all the content owners will jump in to get a piece of the action. When a source is open, it can easily be integrated into many other services, which means more usage, more traffic, and more revenues. Anyone who works in Distance Education knows that the current model does not meet our needs. The market is ripe for the picking. A move like that would probably sink half of the industry. Almost all small libraries would drop paid subscriptions to other sources for instances when there was overlap.

And I would whole heartedly disagree about free information for all people. Nothing is free. We are about hiding costs. Most "open" libraries are funded by tax dollars. You take money from some to give to others. That's not free. People notice, and that is why libraries are constantly facing budget crunches.
Have you watched EPIC 2014? (http://www.robinsloan.com/epic/ ) It's aimed at the publishing industry, but any librarian who watches it will see implications to libraries. Do we become the place where those few interested in the NYT in print come to read? Or do we become the guides and "editors" within EPIC?

We used to guide people to "good" stuff (with varying definitions in different eras) by selection, so that only the "good" stuff was readily available. That simply doesn't work anymore. We need a new purpose. Personally I move for teaching "information literacy" (or whatever you choose to call it), being research consultants, and, for some time at least, smoothing the transition from the old models to the new, by being a place that people can come for print, digital, and guidance.

Be sure to read Alma Swan's article "Open Access and the Progress of Science" in the May-June 2007 issue of American Scientist (http://www.americanscientist.org/template/AssetDetail/assetid/55131 ) and How Google Books is changing academic research (http://landscape.blogspot.com/2007/03/how-google-books-is-changing-...) by Jo Guldi.
Thank you. I've read the one article and I will watch the presentation in a bit.
I don't see how scholarly communication is bound by media. The processes at the heart of the scholarly enterprise such as peer review, formal methodologies, controled studies, etc. have not been greatly altered regarless of format. Perhaps we could say that there is more variety in terms of the rise of blogs, prepublished manuscripts, podcasts, and some other forms. The impact of Web 2.0 may drastically change how scholarship is conducted, but it appears that this will be a slow process. You are correct that communications such as our present exchange are occuring in scholarly communities more regularly and, surely, they will have some impact. But, what would it mean to cite our conversation about Web 2.0? What we are doing right now isn't much different than letters written between colleagues in the 1800s. Our exchange is happening much faster, and it is open for more people to read, but epistemologically, this isn't really that new. I agree that peer-review and formal methodological forms may make up smaller portions of the larger scholarly communication, but I would also argue that the value added by peer review and scholarly methods is not easily replaced by forums such as this or by listserves. (These forums may help vet and identify these formal information pieces?) So, yes, change is coming, but I think that traditional forms of "authority" will not dissappear.

But, to go back to the threshold idea, I don't know if I totally agree that the cost threshold is diminishing rapidly. In some ways yes, very much, but in others not so much. Access and distribution costs are dimishing, but much has not changed in terms of the costs behind the creation of the information and the need for profit from that information. Plus, as the information cacophony grows, the need to advertise your own information grows, which adds cost.

In terms of scholarship, some disciplines are making more and more available open source, but these are largely specialized communities that are propped up by academe, so the funding is largley public. I don't think that most open access journals are supported using advertising. Writers and publishers revolted against the Google booksearch, but the idea of selling more books by limitting access has allowed it to continue.

You are right that someone must first demonstrate that ad revenues will generate enough money to support open source. In so many circumstances, this already works and in many it does not, and may never. If something like ProQuest made access free, why would information creators use ProQuest? Why wouldnt' they just use their own sites that would be searchable via Google, and place Google ads on them? ProQuest has an interest in not letting this content be free, and if Google bought ProQuest, then ProQuest itself may just evaporate as the content is removed. The key with online advertising is to drive traffic to your site. Thus, you wouldn't ever give content away, because you are driving traffic to other sites. Sure, ProQuest could pay info creators, but why not cut out the middleman and keep more of the profit? Newspapers and other publishers have been trying for years to make online advertising as profitable as print advertising, and they haven't quite made it. The fact that Google ads (or other ads) do not allow many major publications to be totally open access shows that we are not quite there. Maybe someday, but I am skeptical. It would be very nice, but I think that the information landscape will continue to be quite diverse with more informal forms of info (such as this discussion) and formal forms of info.

As for the "free info" thing: Sure. Nothing is free, and yes, tax dollars, or tuition, or endowments, or some revenue stream supports libraries. But why? I would say that any community (whether municipal, academic, business, etc) gains from the value that libraries add. We are largely splitting hairs with our debate about open access, but I think we agree on the point that libraries must continute bringing people together & creating intellectural space and community. This must happen online and face to face. This has been and should be our business. It is up to us to show our value as more information is available for free online. I would still argue that we will be spending money for information that is not available to our users, because there will still be much to purchase.
When you said "But, to go back to the threshold idea, I don't know if I totally agree that the cost threshold is diminishing rapidly. In some ways yes, very much, but in others ways not so much. Access and distribution costs are demising, but much has not changed in terms of the costs behind the creation of the information and the need for profit from that information."

Here is the issue I have with that; the creator's of knowledge do not profit from it. The publishing industry is almost entirely separate from the producers, and lives off of free labor. Their entire market presence is based off of distribution, which can now be done effectively without significant capital investment. And for the most part, libraries have built themselves up around the publishing industry, first as a warehouse and steady purchaser of their goods, and now as a steady licensor for their proprietary goods. Right now I get the impression that our business model is similar to a record store's model. There will always be some demand for it, but overall, it just doesn't make that much sense.

"Why would information creators use ProQuest [if it were free]?"
The more something is open, the more others incorporate it into their site's content. This drastically increases exposure, and for the Internet, exposure equals money. So while the distributed model diminishes revenue from any one entity, it results in increased revenue from many sources.

"I would still argue that we will be spending money for information that is not available to our users, because there will still be much to purchase."

I agree, and academic libraries seem to do this well. I also think that every community could benefit from libraries, but too many librarians are focused on creating an artificial demand by basing their existence on proprietary information, which fails to serve the community.
"If something like ProQuest made access free, why would information creators use ProQuest?"

Just to throw a small monkeywrench in (I don't really disagree with you), think about ERIC (or AGRICOLA). ERIC data is created by the US Dept of Education, and there have been free interfaces for it for years, including the current eric.ed.gov. Yet many libraries, including mine, don't link to ERIC on the web, we link to ERIC via EBSCO or FirstSearch or any of the other companies that have imposed their interface onto the essentially free data. We don't necessarily pay extra for it, since it's usually included in a package, but we emphasize it over the free resource. Why?

Familiarity? ("Students know how to search in EBSCOhost.") Control? (We pay them, so we have at least an illusion of control over it.) Extras? (EBSCO works with our link resolver.) I'm not sure.

There is something to be said for an improved interface. Also, purchasing ERIC in a platform made it easier to connect students to the full-text in 1 click. Is the trend to buy advanced interfaces for ERIC decreasing now that link resolvers are more popular? It would be interesting to see that.
Mark, I agree with you. A perfect example is that my delicious website, del.icio.us/bridgeslibrary, was named one of five top business resources in an email newsletter from Information Advisor. I appreciate the honor, but at the same time find it odd that more librarians are not trying to organize and synthesize free information on the web for their patrons. Again, I think it goes to the high concentration on promoting the databases we pay for. However, I think the librarian of the future is going to be the "go to" person when people need information fast...but there is so much out there, they just don't know where to get it and become overwhelmed...
I see this synthesis of free information as the way to go. I have toyed with punting the idea to my boss here; we could save a lot by looking at and promoting free resources.
As for physical libraries, the community aspect is key. A place as haven, exemplar etc.



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