The Academic Library Collections Enhancement Program (ALCEP) is a mechanism by which the State of Texas grants funds which can be used to acquire library resources necessary or useful to faculty and students in the UTSystem schools. ALCEP ballots are circulated annually to the UT academic library components, and the librarians examine the candidate items available for acquisition and vote on those which they think would benefit their campuses the most. The ballots are collected by UTSystem, examined, counted and then the wish list is compared with available funds. Needs and desires of different campuses have to be balanced, but the outcome is generally pretty good. This year, we at UTMB will benefit from the addition of The Web of Science Archive…1900-1964 . Web of Science is well known as the home of the premier citation tracking database,formerly known as The Science Citation Index, in addition to being a very good discovery tool for articles in the physical and social sciences. Now the Medical Library offers the full file of WoS, closing any gaps in coverage.
The wave of the future, right? No force can resist an idea whose time has come, right? No and No. That’s the score with e-books for course work, according to the attendees gathering for a discussion of whether and if so how digital books are penetrating the scholarly text book market. Perspective were shared by both librarians and academic publishers. Some highlights: academic publishers gain about 10% of their revenue from digital books. You do the math. Academic publishing houses, even big ones, are generally small potatoes compared to the commercial one, so spending a lot of the outfit’s resources on services aimed at 10% of the revenue base is not a good idea. Some technical issues still linger. One house for example specializes in translations of foreign language literature. And they produce facing-page editions: original on one side, translation on the opposing or facing page. This is hard to do in the current state of e-book technology. Publishers are having trouble with rights agreements. This is probably the biggest stumbling block. The other matters will yield to determined attack backed by enough resources. But before that happens, rights matters have to be smoothed out. Patron driven acquisition is a scheme being tried at some colleges, in which a portion of the resources budget is sequestered to use in buying access to those texts suggested by library users. The outcome is not clear. Some say yes, some say no.
It’s still early in the game. E-books have come a very long way in five years. Hang on. The movie isn’t over.
What happens when you put a fox in as boss of the hen house? Why, quite quickly, there are many fewer chickens around for you to worry about. Your new manager is ‘resolving’ complaints, problems and ‘issues’ in the simplest and most effective way. So, if there is, like, this private library see, and it, like needs a director, who should that be? Well, if you are in Italy, and the library is in Naples with its kind of ‘enlightened’ ideas about crime, you pick a guy with no particular qualifications outside of a rep as a loyal party man and ‘fixer’. The guy then proceeds to sell for personal benefit some of the rarities in the collection, which, by the way had never been completely catalogued. So, it’s a win/win, right? Who’s gonna know if a rare book is missing if there is no record that the place ever had it? Poifect, as Moe would say. The library in question is the Girolamini, andi its collections are well regarded by experts. But the director apparently had other ideas about what constitutes ‘value’. The public prosecutor’s office in Naples has control of the case and detectives are shifting through the paper trail to find out what happened. And it seems that as a sideline, this guy went into the forging business but got tripped up by an alert scholar in, are you ready for this, Georgia, as in state of. Gallileo’s book The Starry Messenger was the book in question. From Naples, to Georgia. My, what a world.
Paradise, in this case, is the campus of the University of Virginia, founded by one Thomas Jefferson. And the particular venue for the Rapture of Book Nerds is the university library, where the Rare Book School takes place each summer. Today’s Arts section of the New York Times has an article describing the course of study, and profiling some of the participants and faculty. It can be a pretty grueling five weeks. Not only is Charlottesville hot and muggy, but the work is demanding. Instructors are drawn from the country’s major research libraries, and the university library’s own collection of rarities is exploited to teach the students all about it: paper, ink, the kind of presses used, how the pages were laid out, printed, folded and cut. In short, the works. Many of the items used in the session are rare indeed, and all originated in the period when printing was manual labor in the strictest sense. Mechanized procedures didn’t come into use until the time of the steam engine. All those processes had their own techniques, and all left signatures, so to speak, about who did what and when. Most of the participants are in the biz: librarians, book dealers, antiquarians, etc. But, a few are dedicated buffs who do it out of pure love.
The Scholarly Kitchen features an interesting article on the impending closing of the University of Missouri Press. The post itself is good, and reprises some themes that have been recurrent themes on the Kitchen’s pages: content is expensive, publishing expertise matters, and it costs, etc. The Prexy out there is not an academic, but a business-type, and is finding things a bit different in academia. For one thing, people keep disagreeing with him, and for another people keep asking for reasons why he wants to do stuff. One of comments stems from a Press employee who frames the closing as a nasty part of a grubby campus politics vendetta. Financially, the Press is not in bad shape. And U of Mo officials refuse to discuss the costs of the exciting new publishing venture they plan to introduce to take the place of the Press. The local paper has been clobbering the administration, and an AAUP meeting is scheduled for tomorrow. Dang those peasants! Call out the Cossacks, as in Doctor Zhivago!
The university press situation in the USA is very serious. By definition, U presses are in business to publish arcane and difficult books, which won’t be jostling Harry Potter or his like for the number one slot on the bestseller list. But they formed a vital function in helping specialized research on the journey into the scholarly record. Hard times have hit, and a ‘management’ philosophy now in which every ‘business unit’ has to succeed on its own, have made thing really tough for the presses. The ones worst off, in a sense, are those that are doing OK now, but which realize that they must invest in new equipment and people to deal with the digital age. No way that will happen on money-strapped campuses from San Diego out to Maine. So, they will go under, one by one. Today’s paper tells the story of the University of Missouri Press, which has been told by campus bosses that it must get along without its 400K subsidy, which it canopt do, and so must close. Add Moo U to the ranks of the departed.
Technology Review, an estimable and reliable publication, offers a rather long item on Robert Darnton’s plan to bring books to the world, lots of books, all of them ever published if possible. He wants to make these available at no charge to anyone, anyplace. TR surveys the landscape onto which he wants to plant his magnificent Tree of Knowledge to see how the land lies and what obstacles might stand in the way. Darnton is head librarian at Harvard and himself no mean scholar, having written, co-written or edited numerous explorations of the literary and cultural environment of the Old Regime and the Revolution in 18th century France. In these times of restriction, and even decline in higher education and scholarship generally, it’s hard to give his dream any decent odds. I don’t think the Smart Money in Vegas would back him. But the Smart Money would not have backed the movement to abolish slavery, or get votes for women or eradicate small pox. Aaim high, Bob! Aim high!
Henry Wellcome was an American, from the upper MidWest, who made his fortune in England, manufacturing and selling pharmaceutical products. In time, he became Sir Henry, since money talks in Britain quite as clearly and directly as it does over here, but perhaps with a gentler accent, and surely much, much more quietly. Anyway, Sir Henry decided to devote much of his fortune to collecting things, and one of the things he liked to collecting was books or other materials on the history of pharmacy and medicine. So the Wellcome Institute in London has a large collection of interesting and valuable items, most of which are securely locked away. But the Institute does offer exhibits, a number of them, and the current one is on the brain: what it is, what he have done to it in trying to understand it, what we know about the diseases found there and so on. The link goes to a satelllite site of The Ecnonmist ,called Prospero, from the wise magician in The Tempest, by some famous English guy. Judging from the picture, neurosurgery has come a long, long way.
A post on The Scholarly Kitchen muses about the ‘affordances’ of e-books for academic users. I think the word ‘affordances’ is being used in the sense of ‘features’ or ‘capabilities’, things your e-reader does or does not let you do with it. The writer wonders whether scholars have a different wish list of ‘affordances’ from those that would satisfy the general reader. And he reports some discussions with academic librarians who say their faculty is asking them to go slow with the shift to digital. It is not a scientific report in any sense, but a kind of ‘finger in the wind’, a suggestion that perhaps there is a serious case for some kinds of works for some kind of readers to continue in print. Being an academic librarian is tough; everybody wants something, but they don’t all want the same things, at least not all the time or want them to the same degree. Nothing new there, you say, correctly. It’s interesting to wonder if the move to digital, which seemed to be the One thing that everybody could unite on, may be moving too fast for some important segments of the library’s clientele.
The folks at The Scholarly Kitchen don’t shy away from dealing with the tough ones. In today’s post they pick up a real grenade which others are content to leave lying in the dirt.The point at issue is whether and how preservation of the scholarly literature can be accomplished, and whether it’s worth the trouble and expense to do this. The author reviews the Old Days, in which authors wrote, publishers published, libraries acquired and hung on to all kinds of things. And “libraries” here means big academic and research libraries: Yale, New York Public, Stanford, etc. Nobody expected publishers to keep copies of previously issued scholarly books or journals. That wasn’t their job, and in the information economy of those times, it wasn’t possible. In the digital era, some interesting things happened. Publishers issue their offerings in electronic format, and slowly, got into the preservation business because the database is their business asset. It’s what they are selling, so they have to keep it in shape. But at some point the problems of digital preservation over a long time span arise for publishers too. And the business asset starts becoming a cost sink. Preservation is the 5,000 ton multi-limber monster from Hell that people are not talking about. So various schemes in the good sense are being tried out to face up to challenges implied by long-term archiving. Today’s post asks us, before we get too far into technical detail, to think whether 100% capture and preservation of the scholarly literature is really worth doing. And, if it isn’t, how do we pick what doesn’t get kept. It;s been a truism in the library racket that a “preservationist’ mentality is part of the librarian’s mental furniture. Is it time to re-think this?