The second and last day of the Oberlin Group of 17 meeting last Friday was even more productive than the first:
Digital humanities: Bryn Mawr, Amherst and Middlebury are partnering with several research universities on a joint CLIR/NITLE experiment in scholarly digital publishing. Anvil Academic is a digital, non-profit publisher of scholarly works in the humanities. From CLIR’s announcement: “The jointly developed title production system [i.e., Anvil] will be available for use by both organizations’ members, who will be able to use Anvil Academic to publish under their own imprints, contributing nothing more than editorial work. … It will take advantage of digital technology, particularly portable electronic reading/writing devices, to disseminate both traditionally conceived scholarship (such as articles and monographs) and innovative forms of argument that make use of the full range of digital tools available to the contemporary scholar.”
The term ‘digital humanities’ may be useful in some conversations, but in an environment that is increasingly interdisciplinary the term is too restrictive. ‘Digital scholarship’ is inclusive of not only work within a discipline or division, but interdisciplinary work as well.
What suite of services do faculty and students need from libraries and IT departments to support digital scholarship? The preservation and long-term access to digital works are two that spring to mind. Could this be done collaboratively to share expertise and save money? The Oberlin Group will continue to explore the possibilities of shared digital storage and access.
Next generation library system: The integrated library systems that most libraries now use have been updated and expanded, but they are still basically online versions of a card catalog. The online catalog provides efficient access to books and other single items in a variety of formats, but it is not effective for finding and getting to the entire range of scholarly resources.
The Kuali OLE (Open Library Environment) Project, funded by several large research institutions and by a grant from the Mellon Foundation, is working to develop an academic library system that manages and delivers the full range of intellectual content. The emphasis is on a system that will provide efficient, comprehensive access, that can be linked to other campus systems, and that can be searched in combination with similar systems on other campuses. The schools in the Oberlin Group will be keeping an eye on this project – it may be the future of the library catalog!
Journal prices: For several decades journal subscription prices have increased an average of 6% – 8% a year. The situation with electronic journals is much more complicated because of some publishers’ complex pricing structures and practices such as ‘bundling’ large numbers of journals into a single subscription. When possible and cost-effective, some libraries are switching to a ‘pay-per-view’ option, in which the library pays only for the articles that are viewed by their patrons. In recent years, the ‘pay-per-view’ cost has gone up steeply.
Some large research libraries and library consortia have boyotted publishers whose pricing practices seem predatory. But how to determine which practices are in fact predatory? Publishers do add value with the peer-review process and in developing, updating and maintaining systems for finding and accessing articles online. Is it possible to develop a metric for measuring the ‘reasonableness’ of journal prices? And how to have the conversation about journal prices with faculty? Many faculty are outraged about the cost of scholarly journals, but would be reluctant to lose access to the articles within them.
The full Oberlin Group will be talking more about this in its fall 2012 meeting at Vassar College and Bard College.
Stanford is piloting an innovative system, SIPX, to provide course materials via a print/publish-on-demand system that includes paying for copyright.
Weeding: I described Wesleyan’s weeding project, which is just completing its first year. Although Wesleyan has done a number of projects to withdraw additional copies of books and bound volumes of journals now available electronically, this is the first time in 40 or so years we have withdrawn the last copies of selected books in our collection. Wesleyan students and faculty are very concerned that they will have reduced access to books that are not yet in a usable electronic form. We have spent several months in an intensive campus conversation about this and about how libraries are changing. Despite the delay in the project, this has been a valuable examination of the role of the library in an increasingly electronic scholarly environment.
There was some question about the efficiency of spending so much time talking to faculty and students about weeding when in 10 or 20 years most scholarly work is going to be fully digital. Why not just move books into a storage facility and then quietly withdraw them when electronic books are as usable as electronic journal articles are now? It is a good question and might be a workable solution on some campuses. But it does mean spending a significant amount of money on creating and maintaining a storage facility (or paying to put materials in someone else’s facility), and then paying to provide access to the stored materials. This is money that could be used to create new study areas and improve library services.
The conversation we’ve been having at Wesleyan, however difficult at times, has given us a chance to talk about how libraries have changed. Academic libraries are powerfully iconic to many faculty and students. The library, and particularly the collection, is an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual values of the scholarly enterprise. This expression of faith in learning and reason is not in itself unreasonable or without value. The trick is to develop a similarly powerful symbol of academic values in a scholarly environment with fewer and fewer tangible resources. The library can and should be a part of this, but how?
Records management: Some of us have campus records management policies in place for print materials, but far fewer of us have tackled the management of electronic records. Mount Holyoke has developed an in-house system for harvesting electronic records from some of their administrative offices, which has many of us intrigued! Ravi Ravishanker will talk with NERCOMP about having a workshop on records management. Ideally the workshop would feature presentations by people who have developed comprehensive records management policies and processes in a liberal arts environment—or if no one has yet done this, presentations to explore the technical and other issues that must be resolved in a comprehensive records management process.
The Oberlin Group and Group of 17 meetings are the most instructive and useful meetings I attend all year–and the most fun! Thanks to Mike Roy, Terry Simpkins and everyone from Middlebury College for their hospitality and for sharing their beautiful campus with us. It was a great way to start the summer.