I have become increasingly distressed at the seemingly hostile attitudes publishers display towards libraries. Rather than viewing us as a distribution partner who increase demand from the general public for their products, and who coordinate access for researchers to their publications, they now view us as competitors who take away their business. I don’t know if this attitude has always been there but simply masked by the First Sale Doctrine which doesn’t apply in the world of licensed online resources, or if it is a new phenomena borne out of digital change and a tough economy.
Publishers seem to be scrambling to create new business models in the digital age, and libraries are bearing the brunt of their ‘flailing about’. From archaic interlibrary loan agreements* that force libraries to print, scan, and resend journal articles that are already online, to prohibiting libraries from purchasing first run movies when they are first released, there is nearly a war against libraries and the services that we provide. Five of the six large publishers of popular books refuse to participate in public library ebook collections, denying public library patrons ebooks from their public libraries, and shutting libraries off from this important service. One publisher even pulled their ebooks out of extant library collections without warning. Of course, every year libaries are hit with outrageous journal cost increases than often run 2-3 times the rate of inflation.
To be fair there are publishers we work with who do understand and work with library needs such as multiple concurrent users and interlibrary loans, and who price their products fairly. Some publishers even froze prices for one or more years during the economic recession. But these publishers seem to be in the minority these days.
I’m excited to see the growing awareness about this issue from faculty and researchers, and to see their reaction to a recent blog post and online petition to refuse to publish or peer review in Elsevier journals until they change draconian practices of exorbitant prices, mandatory bundling, and support of SOPA, PIPA, and WRA. The response has been so overwhelming that Elsevier felt the need to officially respond to the criticisms.
I appreciate the need for publishers to provide the coordination and peer review for quality academic research. Organizing and hosting this information online with metadata for improved access requires expertise. I feel it is important for libraries and the academic community to pay fair prices for this service. However, publishers need to once again work with academic communities to find new sustainable models of publication that enable libraries to continue to provide cutting-edge services in an increasingly digital environment, while providing publishers with reasonable profit margins.
I call on publishers to join libraries in the modern digital age. We may at times be referred to as “radical militant librarians“, but we promise to play nice!
*Licensing agreement from a major publisher: “The Licensee may not engage in any form of competitive activity by delivering to any other institution copies of articles from XXX. The electronic version may not be used for inter-library loan, but printed out copies may be used to this purpose.”