This Week in LIS - 27 September 2013

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Headline of the Week: More New Access Models for Information 

The “Digitization of Everything” (DoE) is impacting many structures within academia.  It is one of the disruptors President Tiede has identified and around which faculty are having conversations. The Board of Regents will take on the disruptors in workshop mode this October.

Not the least affected structures by DoE are libraries. Library leaders are thoughtfully and carefully managing a transition from a world of scarce physical information to a world with so much digital information available at the end of search boxes, that it demands a whole new level of information literacy to manage it. Although the technologies and business models will change quickly, our five generations of patrons (from the young children of our faculty and staff using the curriculum library,  through the youngest, middling, and most senior faculty to our emeriti faculty) will change their approach to library usage over time if/as they discover value and merit in the elements of change.

Preus library is home to approximately 1/3 of a million physical volumes. The last two transactions for eBooks added almost 200,000 volumes. There usage is small and growing as generations of students and faculty consider their utility. There are projects underway, including HathiTrust and Google Books, which hold 10 and 30 million digitized volumes, respectively. Further, many new works are “born” digital and will never be published in a physical form by a traditional publisher.

DoE is also driving dynamics in business models. Libraries buy physical things to share.  This is essential for large collections of valuable physical things. Libraries also license digital collections in order to provide access; that is our current model. 

We are seeing new models emerge for digital “materials”. Consider three new models. You may recall Oyster was announced a few weeks ago. This is a Netflix like model for digital books. Individuals subscribe for approximately $10/month and have access to 100,000 books (the collection is not focused on scholarly books at this time). I can download, 5 at a time onto my mobile device (iPhone only at this time). The unique value produced is access from anywhere there is either a cellular data or wireless Internet connection. The business model is individual subscription.

At Preus we have a JSTOR subscription we provide for the members of the Luther community. It provides access to digital scholarly articles. Although eBooks are much less popular, digital articles are very popular. In fact JSTOR is so popular as a source for scholarly articles students are sometimes unaware that that there are many other sources of scholarly articles beyond JSTOR.  Generally one gets access to JSTOR when part of a higher education community.  When one graduates, retires or otherwise leaves an academic community, one no longer has access. For some life-long learners this is frustrating.

This week JSTOR announced an offer for individuals to subscribe to JSTOR content. It will be interesting to see how many life-long learners and researchers, not associated with a campus library that provides JSTOR access, will be interested in personally subscribing. The offering provides digitized scholarly material to individuals.

Going the other direction from library provided access is a third interesting model.  The Los Angeles Public Library is offering to its patrons a Netflix/Hulu like service called Hoopla for streaming digitized TV and movie content to patron homes. To access the collection all one needs is a LAPD library card and a device that can receive and play a digital video stream.  Here we see a library offering a sharable collection that would generally be something one would access with an individual subscription.

Aggregated services would seem to me to be most efficient enabling scale, scope and reach across very large populations making that “long tail” idea work and amortizing costs across many, many users. For each library to negotiate its own access contract separately seems an unlikely long term model.  However libraries provide services well beyond access to materials and historically they do provide structure for re-allocating financial resources providing broader and more equal access for the communities they serve.

As various business models for access to digitized and digital materials emerge and prices and costs are considered our challenge is to leverage them thoughtfully, balancing the use of our library resources with the needs and usage models of all our patrons. As we collectively navigate these changes we have to be open to change and experimentation. Along the way we will need to communicate more and as well as more intentionally to navigate together the library changes.

Suggested Reading/Viewing/Listening:

Headline of the Week: Oyster - Netflix for Books?

JSTOR Tries Individual Subscription Service for Researchers

L.A. Library's New Free, Netflix-Like Services, Explained


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LIS Blog Highlights from the Week

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Notes from LIS Council

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This Week in LIS is published most Fridays by Paul Mattson, Executive Director of LIS at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

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