Vendors, libraries and change

So the latest hubbub over in the LSW FriendFeed room is all about database vendors and how libraries (and librarians) respond to them…Steve Lawson has written about it on his blog, See Also…, and received some FriendFeed comments as well.  (All of which started with Meredith Farkas and Sarah Houghton-Jan aka Librarian in Black)

This issue – how vendors treat their library customers, and what libraries & librarians should do about it – is one I’ve seen several times in the recent past.  Attending the Electronic Resources & Libraries conference this year, there was a lot of discussion about the costs of individual journals and how they’ve continued to skyrocket.  And what can we do about it?  And what about databases?  The prices for those keep rising and vendors keep making exclusive deals that mean that if we want to keep the same content we’ve had we have to pay more for more databases.  Which, at least for my library, puts us over a barrel.  We can’t afford to just add a new subscription every time the database vendors decide to change or remove content.  This is why my library doesn’t have a subscription to the newspaper of record in our town.  We can’t afford the price for the exclusive content.  We do receive it on microfilm, and can use the newspaper’s search function on their website, but that only goes back about 10 years.

So what *can* we do about it?  In the FriendFeed discussions, there’s been suggestions of voting with our feet – don’t use the vendors that do this sort of thing.  Okay.  But will the vendors notice?  There’s also been suggestions of getting the major consortias involved.  Have the member libraries let the consortias know that they’re not happy with certain vendors and would not like to deal with them.  This could make a dent.  As could the suggestions of creating some kind of list of unacceptable license clauses (I’d love to see this, personally, and think that it fits in with the other licensing standardization projects that are happening).

One other suggestion is to tell the patrons – the true database customers – why they can’t access the things they want and have them complain to the vendors.  I’m not sure that would work so well, as I’m not sure that enough patrons would actually complain.  I can imagine that academic libraries could get faculty to complain, but I’m not sure public libraries would have the same luck.

All of these issues – e-resource costs, vendor attitudes, etc. – are wrapped up in a larger issue, in my thinking.  The entire publishing industry, at least for academic publishing, is either broken or breaking.  It’s been this way for a long time, but it seems that more and more people are starting to realize it.  Not including the vendors themselves, who seem to want to hold on to the old way of doing things as long as they can, much like the RIAA and movie industry have.  It hasn’t worked so well for them.  We’ll see if it will work for the academic publishing industry.  There are some major changes that have to happen in faculty tenure and promotion before there can be too many other changes in academic publishing.  The real question is – who’s going to change first?

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