False Alarm, There is no money crisis in libraries

Yesterday I posted, “The Well is Dry, What Can We Do?” to try to get librarians to stop lamenting over things we can never change like companies (for profit and non-profit) charging more and more for library resources and try to get us to start looking at things we can change like finding alternative funding, increasing institutional partnerships, or friending the hospital CEO.  (I don’t mean friending as in Facebook, I mean actually talking to him/her and getting your case heard.)   But apparently I was totally wrong, there is no money crisis.  Wow I do I have egg on my face.

I want to thank @re_johns for opening my eyes and directing me to “Uninformed, Unhinged, and Unfair — The Monbiot Rant,” a post by Kent Anderson, the CEO Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, responding to an article in the Guardian, “Academic Publishers Make Murdoch Look Like a Socialist.”     

Anderson says,

“But Monbiot seems ignorant of these economic realities — that scholarly articles are available at rock-bottom prices for the specialists who need them, the very core audience who Murdoch would charge the most. He even goes so far as to insinuate that astronomical journal prices account for tuition increases, when in fact the net expenditures of libraries have moved at a fraction of the pace of tuition hikes.”

“The fact is that librarians are intelligent players in the scholarly space who, working with publishers, have secured excellent, sustainable deals for their constituencies to resources that are almost all online now”

Well damn. I guess I was totally wrong when I said that many libraries face flat or reduced budgets. My bad. I guess being faced with reduced budget means I totally can afford each vendor’s price increase and not cut anything.  Whoa I feel so much better.  Once I am done with the library budget I will move to D.C. I hear they have some budgety type problems too. 

I don’t think everything librarians say about publishers and vendors is fair, and I think there are some publishers and vendors that understand our dollars are shrinking.  However, Anderson’s post really makes me feel like there are still some publishers that don’t freaking get it, we don’t have any more money!  A journal may be the best thing in the world but if a library can’t afford it, they can’t afford it.  The mere fact that a journal (or anybody’s product) is perceived as so uber essential that it is a basic need puts librarians even more in a bind because to us it feels like we’re making a choice between paying the gas bill or the electric bill.  We have long since done away with creature comforts, we are down to basic needs and some of us can’t pay for our basic needs.

Anderson’s post also makes it quite obvious that library vendors are not going to stop raising prices so we best stop ranting and start figuring out what we can do for ourselves. If the well is dry then we either have to dig deeper or find water elsewhere.

5 thoughts on “False Alarm, There is no money crisis in libraries”

  1. Hi Krafty,

    I never said libraries don’t face budget problems or money problems, only that their problems aren’t created by publishers as much as they are by university administrations that have other priorities despite having increased their financial positions tremendously over the past couple of decades. Supply is up, demand is up, so why libraries aren’t getting funded to keep up is a crisis aimed at publishers, but perhaps its better aimed at administrators. For example, how could a university’s overall revenues go up $150 million in 5 years, yet the library budget fall? That seems like an internal problem.

    I’m completely sympathetic, but there seems to be a bigger issue here than more publisher:librarian friction.

  2. It is an internal problem but our internal problem has gone external. I am not saying publishers alone created it, nor are librarians completely at fault. But the fact is if universities and hospitals don’t fund us we don’t buy.
    Perhaps publishers, vendors and librarians might want to work together to press the need for increased funding. Too many universities and hospitals view the library as non-revenue generating department. Our revenue is hidden, it is not immediately obvious like a department like cardiac surgery. There are no CPT codes to bill the patient.

    Often I have seen vendors and publishers sidestep the library to get administration to pay for the resource directly not through the library. Great, the company bypassed the library and found the money, but in the end this is not a long term solution. Adminstrations are not knowledgeable about these things and access to the product isn’t usually done correctly and contracts and license agreement end up messier than usual. Adminstration doesn’t know about OpenURL resolvers, IT doesn’t like opening up off campus access, and nobody even thinks about copyright and posting things on Blackboard or Intranets. I have seen where administrators buy two very expensive products that overlapp each other. I have seen where one adminstrator in one department buys a product and another in another department buys the same product when one site license would have been the most logical thing to do. Neither department new the other had the product.
    I have sat in meetings where administration set up access to a product and they had no idea about IP ranges to enable all campuses to access the product, nor did they realize that employees might want off campus access to the resource or how to set that up. The company may be willing to provide that stuff but they don’t know to do it unless they are asked and administration doesn’t know to ask.
    Additionally this method of securing funding (going around the library) just further adds to the downsizing of the library’s budget, exacerbating the problem for others in the long run.

    So we are at the point that we are at. Libraries have no money. Institutions aren’t funding them and we are cutting products.

  3. I’ll put in a plug for the work being done by the Chicago Collaborative, as well as for the efforts made by the Society for Scholarly Publishing (with which Kent is very involved) as examples where librarians and publishers are trying to figure out how to work more closely together to address issues that are having a major impact on both our spheres. But there is still too little of this going on.

    My major complaint with the OA advocacy as practiced and promoted by SPARC is that it has created a climate in which people take things like Monbiot’s rant seriously. It has driven a wedge between the librarian and publisher spheres at just the point in time when we need more communication.

    I spend more time talking with publishers than most librarians and it is true that many people in that world (possibly most sales reps) are still operating on the mode that “librarians always say they are broke, but they always come up with the money.” Until there are broad patterns of cancellations, particularly among the ARL libraries, publishers will continue to believe that, because it has worked for them so far. Most people in publishing actually have very little good understanding of how libraries operate and how decisions are made.

    The same is true of librarians, of course. You’d think that we’d spend more time trying to actually understand the business of the people that we spend most of our money on so that we could be more effective negotiators. But we don’t. Instead, we parrot lines (as Monbiot does) that publishers don’t really add anything of value, but then apparently are happy to see PLoS charging nearly $3000 per article for their flagship journals. If it is somehow “wrong” for publisher X to charge anything for their subscriptions because “publishers don’t add anything of value” why should we be promoting things like PLoS? The cognitive dissonance galls me.

    We are at a point in history where there is tremendous potential to increase the availability and usefulness of scientific knowledge. But unless librarians are seriously willing to become educated about publishing and to work with publishers as partners, we’re squandering that potential.

  4. As always Scott you have so eloquently explained things better than I could ever hope to, thank you. I would love for more collaborative work to be done with publishers to help with the state of things. Librarians do need to become more educated about publishing (including myself) but I think ultimately we are in charge of our own destiny and we need to start looking at better ways to get money and our budgets up. We need to be creative. Unfortunately I think we are way behind the eight ball on this one. We probably should have been doing this sort of stuff when budgets were good. We should have been more proactive that way we would have been better prepared to deal with the lean times. But as my mom used to say when I was a kid, “Could’ve, would’ve, should’ve…doesn’t matter, it’s done. Now how are you going to fix it.?” Hoepfully people can think of a lot of ways and share them.

  5. I wanted to raise another aspect of the contractual relationships between libraries and resources. I am not a medical librarian, but I follow this blog because I like learning about library resources to improve my ability to use them in my academic and clinical work. Our library has a specific database that I need as part of its EBSCO subscription, so that is my only way to search this database. Some of my searches return fairly large numbers of articles and it is very cumbersome to review them all within EBSCO itself, placing desired references one by one into a saved folder for later download. EBSCO also has a feature for saving larger numbers of records in which the file download request goes to their servers and then the user receives a link by email of a zipped file that is supposed to contain the citations. Unfortunately, this file turns out to be totally empty more than half of the time. This has paralyzed my ability to do my academic work. I have been having emails with them for almost 2 months about this but they now say that fixing this problem is an “enhancement request” and they have no idea when it might be addressed. I think most people would view being able to download a file of retrieved database citations as an expected feature of such a program. But they do not seem to see this broken functionality as a problem, which seems rather unconscionable to me. Our library staff are excellent and are aware of the situation but don’t seem to have any leverage either. And once a library or group of libraries is locked into a contract with a particular database provider, they aren’t likely to spend tons of money to get an overlapping resource, even if the first resource doesn’t work. Krafty made a number of good points about the way that knowledge of the nuances of contracts, publishing, etc. is crucial to maintaining well functioning libraries. So I just wanted to raise my experiences as an example of Caveat Emptor, at least with this particular database provider.

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