[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Rethinking "Collections" and Selection in the PostGutenberg Age

Dr. Harnad has asked that his message be forwarded to liblicense-l.
The Moderators

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 15 Jan 2002 00:21:37 +0000 (GMT)
From: Stevan Harnad <harnad@cogprints.soton.ac.uk>
To: jisc-dner@JISCMAIL.AC.UK, september98-forum@amsci-forum.amsci.org
Cc: Lib Serials list <serialst@LIST.UVM.EDU>, liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu,
     Ann Okerson <ann.okerson@yale.edu>
Subject: Rethinking "Collections" and Selection in the PostGutenberg Age

Join the debate at: http://www.text-e.org
on "Libraries in the Digital Age" (Grunberg et al. 2002)

Below is my own commentary -- SH

Rethinking "Collections" and Selection in the PostGutenberg Age

Stevan Harnad

Librarians, in virtue of their profession (ex officio, so to speak), are
being propelled toward the digital future even faster than their users.
Yet they are still not seeing far enough, hence not thinking radically
enough. They are still thinking in terms of incoming "collections," a
Gutenberg, object-based view, updating only their notion of the medium of
the collection (papers, CD-ROM, online). I think this is short-sighted.
What is needed is a PostGutenberg, bit-based view, of distributed access
rather than local acquisitions.

There will still be some selection, but there will no longer be
collection. Digital "holdings" will be distributed worldwide, more like
the current "interlibrary loan" model, but for all "inventory" (which will
only be virtual) and not just for those works that are not "owned"! In
other words, there will be site-licensing and/or pay-per-view for
accessing the bits, which will not be held in a local "collection,"
particularly (though sometimes it might be easier or faster to store some
bits locally).

Yes, there will be some selection and taste exercised in designing the
local license agreements, because no library will be able to afford
limitless access to all bits for all its users (and, n.b.! we are only
speaking of non-give-away bits now: I will return to the special case of
give-away bits shortly). But these will only be default options, because,
as is true with interlibrary loan today, in principle, despite the limits
of a library's specific, selected holdings, today's user can, by special
dispensation and intervention, usually get a hold of unheld works too. (A
digital library, by the way, is largely a consortium of users, giving the
users greater access than if they had to pay for it individually.)

There will be only two exceptions to this. One will be the analog
collection, which will be the digital library's counterpart of today's
"rare book collection." (The Gutenberg book is merely the extension of the
erstwhile rare book, into the PostGutenberg age.)

The second exception will be a more dramatic departure from what libraries
are used to doing, yet they are undoubtedly the best place and qualified
to do it right: Research institutional libraries (e.g., most university
libraries) will not only be CONSUMERS of the global distributed bits, they
will also be PROVIDERS, in the special case of the give-away literature:
The refereed research output of their own researchers will be stored and
made accessible as an OUTGOING collection, through interoperable
institutional self-archiving (see my own target essay in this symposium:
http://www.text-e.org/debats/index.cfm?conftext_ID=7 )

In exchange for providing online access to this outgoing collection for
free, libraries and their institutions will gain free incoming access to
the full contents of all the refereed periodicals they currently have to
pay for (dearly), because those will be the contents of all the other
institutions' outgoing refereed research collections. And 70-90% of the
annual windfall savings on the former serials expenditures for this
give-away refereed research will then be available to be spent on the
licences for the much larger non-give-away corpus (while 10-30% will need
to be redirected to paying the journals for refereeing the instition's
annual outgoing collection).

(To a certain extent, this distributed self-archiving model will also
apply to esoteric outgoing manuscripts that never sought nor would have
found an access-fee-based market.)

I close with some of the skywritten quote/commenting without which such a
skywriting exchange would be incomplete:

EQUIPE BPI: "[In Libraries in the Digital Age] in what way could the
traditional functions of public reading establishments - i.e. selecting,
acquiring and processing documents, making them available to the public,
conserving them or withdrawing them from collections - be transformed, and
with what consequences?"

Most of these "traditional" functions will become defunct (at the
individual library level), apart from the selection of the licensing
options and the preservation of the outgoing collection. (There will also
be some distributed mirroring, backups, etc., for the global collections,
across institutions.)

EQUIPE BPI: "One cannot leaf through an electronic document or easily
recognize its quality."

Every feature of analog "leafing" can be simulated digitally (right down
to the V-Book, q.v.). But the nuclear navigational and analytic powers of
digital "leafing" will eclipse most of those capabilities anyway. (I'll
choose "grepping" over "gripping" any day!)

EQUIPE BPI: "The electronic document seems volatile and difficult to

We'll get used to this PostGutenberg fact of life soon enough. It is
really a blessing in the disguise of a violated tradition. The fact that
digital documents can be readily revised and updated and interlinked is a
pure advantage, with no loss whatsoever, because versions can be
identified and tracked as formally and compulsively as we desire. (Let us
not hold new intellectual powers at arms length in the service erstwhile
intellectual limitations and their associated dysfunctional habits! After
all, intellectual glut could be managed by outlawing further increases in
intellectual production, or taxing excess output at unaffordably high

EQUIPE BPI: "How is one supposed to monitor what is being made available
to readers when they are being offered open access to Internet? How is it
possible to exercise one's professional expertise, which starts with a
motivated, qualified and coherent selection? How, above all, is one to
prevent the user from being buried under an avalanche of information, far
from the safe paths so carefully kept by the librarian?"

Don't try to salvage obsolete Gutenberg responsibilities. Be happy they
are no longer pertinent! Digital monitoring and analysis is infinitely
more powerful, sensitive and efficient than anything one could have dreamt
of in the Gutenberg age. (Usage could in principle be tracked right down
to the last bit.) The free internet collections are irrelevant (although
navigational aids are welcome from any source, including digital
librarians.) Selectivity need only be exercised in making the licensing
agreements, and that can be done pretty much the old way (based on what
your library can afford and what your users need). And the digital medium
will breed more and more powerful means of managing its embarras de
richesses -- ne vous en faites pas!

EQUIPE BPI: "faced with this excess of information, professional advice
will become more and more indispensable, not only in order to locate
relevant information, but also, and above all, to establish defined and
lively collections."

Collections are a red herring! But navigational and classificational help
are always welcome.

EQUIPE BPI: "One can easily understand that every document or every access
to paid information should be analysed and that, budgets being limited,
there is an obligation to make choices. But what happens when the
immaterial is also free...?"

Less to worry about. (But not all of it will be free. Worry about the
non-give-away portion! And do your part with your own institution's
give-away output to ensure that, by the Golden Rule, access to THAT
portion is at last freed!)

EQUIPE BPI: "subscribing to an on-line periodical means paying access
rights which can be terminated with the end of the subscription or the
disappearance of the title or even that of the publisher. In the past,
when confronted with such a situation, the library remained owner of the
collections it had accumulated throughout its subscription. What is the
current state of affairs?"

Vide supra. Institutional self-archiving will free access to this
anomalous (because give-away) literature and will thereby make this
question moot. (For non-give-away serials, licensing agreements can cover
local storage and re-use rights, short- and long-term. This is not a big
enough market for anyone to waste time worrying about. The big one is the
refereed research serials corpus, and that will be taken care of by the
self-archived outgoing institutional collections, plus suitable
distributed mirroring, backup, and preservation arrangements among the

EQUIPE BPI: "[Virtual library?] there is nothing to prevent us from
imagining that in the future, distance readers, as long as they have
headsets with cathode screens or sensory gloves, will be able to enter
into spaces of the library reconstituted in 3D, stroll among the shelves
and during their perambulations happen upon a book, open it, leaf through
it, put it down or check it out by downloading it on the latest e-book
model with electronic ink. Perhaps, in this scenario we will be able to
speak of a virtual visit to a virtual library."

See the earlier discussion of V-Books:

People won't want to "perambulate he shelves" -- just to navigate the

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing free
access to the refereed journal literature online is available at the
American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01):


You may join the list at the amsci site.

Discussion can be posted to: