Each year I make my professional pilgrimage to Charleston, South Carolina to attend the Charleston Conference. In its 35th year, the conference serves for many as an opportunity to take a yearly pulse on the world of scholarly publishing and the role libraries play in acquiring and disseminating the written word. It’s also a chance for librarians, publishers, consultants, and vendors of library materials to share and exchange ideas. The conference promotes harmony and growth as we seek out solutions in making content available to our users, ensuring our longevity as providers, and finding a common ground in which to do so. In our fellowship, our common purpose is to share our ideas with each other, encourage understanding and healthy debate. We know we are better together.
This year’s Charleston Conference had an upbeat vibe. We’re doing more interesting things, expanding our territories in the academy, as we’re finding newer ways to distribute content. Print collections are moving offsite, or being recycled, in favor of repurposing the library space for collaborative activities. The way our users interact with library materials is changing too. Although we still engage in some traditional activities, we’re using social media channels, marketing, and harnessing the power of library champions to expose our collections and services. As Jim O’Donnell pointed out in his session “Star Wars in the Library”, while we continue to grapple with what to do with our baby boomer book collections-materials too young to be in the public domain and too old to be digitized-there is still a sense of urgency to be good custodians and preserve published literature. On the flip side, we have the ability to offer large amounts of published work on demand in the digital environment. Our collections grow larger each year thanks to demand driven systems, the increase of Open Access publications, and successful indexing of our institutional repositories in our quest to become an information paradise. Although imperfect, we’re still sorting out the reasonable path to removing the barriers of digital rights management (DRM) for electronic textbooks. We’re still counting usage on our collections. We continue to be fascinated by how users use our subscribed content, and we continue to introduce new methods of counting the importance of a work. We want to know the impact the work and its author has on the discipline, while finding new ways to increase our role in helping to expose our institutional authors. We’re still trying to have it all, but instead of talking about publisher package deals, we’re talking about alternative means to acquiring content. We’re still seeking pricing models that allow us to provide content at the point of use that is fair and reasonable for all parties.
Librarians continue to talk about our place in the scholarly publishing continuum. We know where we’re headed, and it is a new season of opportunities for libraries and publishers to greet a new generation of users. We’re producing and disseminating new knowledge faster then ever before, and need special skills in text mining and data science to keep up. We need each other to distribute and preserve knowledge, we need diversity amongst our ranks, and a common understanding that subject content serves many masters. Some of us have completely digital operations, where others of us serve both a print and electronic master, but we can all agree that our physical library space has changed. Our traditional space welcomes new campus tenants as we push our stacks and accompanying print content to storage, and direct traffic to our online discovery systems. Some of us no longer call ourselves librarians, but use the term informationists, interactionists, and digital strategists to describe our work.
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