1) Rick thanks for taking the time to talk to Wiley-Blackwell’s Publishing News. We should start by finding out about your library and your role.
The Marriott Library is the main research library for the University of Utah. I oversee collection development, serial and monographic acquisitions, cataloging and metadata services, preservation, facilities management, security, and the scholarly communications program here (including USpace, our institutional repository).
2) How have they changed in the last five years?
I came to the University of Utah in 2007, when the library was in the process of a thoroughgoing reorganization, as well as an even more thorough physical renovation. So I arrived at a time of real upheaval, but I think all of the changes have been for the better. Our building, which for many years was a dreary sort of brutalist concrete pile, is now bright and sunny and filled with wonderful workspaces that our students and faculty absolutely love to use, and our organizational structure has also changed quite significantly.
3) What budgetary issues have you faced in the last 18 months and how did you respond? What is the outlook?
In fiscal 2010 we sustained a 9% budget cut, which forced us to lay off staff, cut our monographs budget by 27%, and cut our serials budget by 3%.
Things stabilized somewhat in fiscal 2011, but we are now in the initial stages of planning for an additional 2% budget cut for the coming fiscal year.
4) What do you see as the outlook more generally?
To be perfectly honest, the outlook is grim. The State of Utah is not doing nearly as badly as some (notably Nevada, our neighbor to the west, where the higher-education system is teetering on the brink of literal bankruptcy), but it is clear that the old days of reasonably generous funding and expansive collecting policies are over and are unlikely to return in the foreseeable future — if ever. Even if the economy were to bounce back strongly sometime soon, there will be abiding skepticism about the efficiencies of traditional librarianship. That skepticism is a bell that can’t be un-rung.
5) A major feature of library purchasing over the last decade has been the Big Deal. What are your thoughts on its up- and down-sides? Has it worked for you?
It has worked in the sense that it has given us access to highly valuable content at a very low per-unit price. On the other hand, it has also tied up an enormous percentage of our budget in materials that are less valuable to our users than others would be, and the ongoing expense is unsustainable. So really, it’s not so much a question of whether the Big Deal is a good deal; by most measures, it clearly is an excellent deal. The question is whether we can afford to keep taking advantage of it. And the answer to that question is no.
6) How do you see the Big Deal evolving and what other types of business models do you see as likely to develop?
I see the Big Deal evolving into the Tiny Deal. It simply doesn’t make sense to acquire journal articles in large batches based on speculation about patrons’ future needs. What makes sense is to acquire those articles that are needed, in the moment that need becomes apparent to the library user. I see us moving towards a model whereby patrons can search everything and the library pays only for what is actually downloaded. But a model has to be more than rational to succeed; it also has to be economically sustainable, and how to make the Tiny Deal sustainable is a very difficult question because libraries simply can’t afford to pay what publishers believe (in many cases rightly) their content is worth on a per-article basis.
7) We’re focusing on journals in this interview, what about other formats, e.g., books, both in print and online?
The printed book remains what it has always been: an excellent tool for extended linear reading, and a rather terrible tool for targeted research.
In ARL libraries, the use of printed books has been plummeting quite steadily for the last 15 years. Research libraries are, therefore, moving quickly towards e-book formats, while public libraries continue to see very strong demand for printed books. None of this is to say that the printed book is dead in research libraries; only that it is being shunted aside for certain purposes as better tools have emerged to serve those purposes, and those purposes tend to be where the action is in research libraries.
8) And what about mobile access to the services you provide; is demand growing? What do you think your patrons want?
We tend to tell ourselves that our patrons want everything online, but I don’t think that’s strictly true. What they want is everything — now — and they want to get it without a struggle. This seems to me like a completely reasonable expectation, and I think it’s my job as a librarian to meet it.
As it so happens, the best way to give patrons what they want — now — and without a struggle is, in most cases, to make it available online. But we need to be careful not to mistake the gadgetry for the service. The service is instant and effortless access; the gadgetry that helps us best provide that service is constantly changing.
9) We haven’t mentioned Open Access, either its potential role in scholarly communication, or the role librarians may play – would you care to comment?
I think OA will continue to grow in importance, but I remain skeptical that it will become the default environment for scholarly publication, at least not without a sea change in the traditional structure of promotion and tenure in higher education. Other sorts of “openness” are becoming increasingly interesting, however. We have yet to realize the full potential of wikis, for example; there is so much expertise scattered so broadly around the world, and so much of it is wasted. Wikis have the potential to harness it with a high degree of efficiency. Creative Commons licensing is also showing lots of promise, I think.
10) Finally, what do you think a “typical” university library will be doing in five years’ time?
In five years’ time, I think a combination of the Google Book corpus, Hathi Trust, and advances in local print-on-demand technology will have rendered most research libraries’ print collections largely irrelevant. Those libraries will still be collecting print very selectively, and mostly by patron-driven means, but they will be focusing on providing just-in-time access to online resources and curating unique and locally-significant materials.