Magazine article American Libraries

Internet Librarian: Collecting the Invisible

Magazine article American Libraries

Internet Librarian: Collecting the Invisible

Article excerpt

I was in my office working on a journal article a while back, and needed a few publications for the literature review. I happily plunked around in a few databases, and found a couple of recent interesting-looking things--even more happily, available in full text--so I printed them out.

Nothing stunning about that scenario, to be sure, even though only a few scant years ago I would have had to go to the library to get the articles; before that I would have had to go do the searching myself. (Okay, I probably would have sent my research assistant; but you know what I mean.) The peculiar--and truly slothful--aspect of my little exercise was that the articles I wanted were in journals I subscribe to ... and were sitting four feet away from me on my bookshelf. I think in one case, I had a copy or two of the article already lying around somewhere, but I couldn't be bothered to look for it.

And why should I, with ready access right there at my fingertips? It's unlikely that I'm alone in my indolence, and this kind of behavior has been magnificently enabled by the massive increase in accessibility of all kinds of resources traditionally found in libraries.

However, while I owned the articles in my office, I didn't own the ones I printed out--until I printed them out. Still with me? The "access vs. ownership" conundrum, passionately discussed over the last decade or so, is now at least familiar, if not resolved.

We all know it's a trade-off: To provide this enhanced access, we have in many cases given up ownership in favor of licensing resources on a subscription basis or buying them by the drink. With traditional subscriptions, if you choose to stop subscribing, you get to keep whatever you got. Typically, under a licensing agreement, once the party's over, there's nothing to show for it other than printouts and happy memories.

Potential for frustration

There's a lot of potential for frustration in this domain: vendors or services that evaporate (not a "divine" thought at all), license agreements that change or quintuple their price or are just plain evil, service interruptions, and so on.

It occurs to me there might lurk here another more subtle and insidious source of frustration. With few exceptions, what we conceive of as our library collections today really aren't "ours" in the way we're used to thinking of them. Oh, sure, we've paid for them, and made some initial decisions, and tend them as best we can. …

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