Oh No! Nobody Reads! Oh No! It's Too Cheap For Everyone To Read!

from the accessibility-is-a-good-thing dept

We recently wrote about how booksellers were freaking out over the "price war" between Amazon and Wal-Mart, whereby they're starting to offer certain books at a very cheap price to bring in more customers. The whole thing was a bit silly. Reader Robin Trehaeven alerts us to a fantastic opinion piece in the Library Journal by Barbara Fister, a librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College, in which she does a superb job mocking what she refers to as the "accessibility paradox" where those who are used to being gatekeepers to information at the same time as they're supposedly promoting the benefits of greater information, suddenly start whining when information really does get more accessible. This includes those booksellers:
I'm also taken aback by the horrified response of the book industry. I thought the big crisis was that nobody reads. Now it turns out the problem is that books are so popular with the masses they're being used as bait to draw in shoppers.

Come on, guys, get your story straight! Which is it?
But most of her brilliant sarcasm is directed at those in her own profession, who both work hard to get information for free, at the same time they complain about how the internet has made it so easy to route around librarians:
It strikes me that this issue is somewhat parallel to the love-hate relationship that many academic librarians have had with the Internet. Although our complicated relationship is improving, there are still some silly assumptions floating around. Oh no, our reference stats are down! Hurrah! People are able to find answers without our help. That's awesome! Anybody can publish on the web, unlike scholarly journals which are peer-reviewed. Fine, but don't tell me all peer-reviewed journal articles are shining examples of reason and academic brilliance. A lot of them are finely-sliced research rehashing the same findings, or are closely examined and exquisitely detailed trivia. Besides, there are plenty of examples of peer review failing in spectacular ways--and examples of wonderful peer-reviewed journals that were born free online.

But this is my favorite: Unlike information you find on the web, we pay for the information in our databases, and you get what you pay for. No, actually, with what you pay for you get a lot of junk that you don't even want, but you have no choice.

You want this journal? You have to subscribe to this pricey bundle. Either that, or you purchase one article at a time for your users, something more and more libraries are doing. You spend less, but the information never visits the library--it goes straight from the publisher to the desk of one user. All the library gets is the bill. Apart from failing on its merits, the argument that paid is better than free is self-contradicting. We can't tell students that purchased information is by definition better than free and, at the same time, beg faculty to recognize how broken the current system is and please, please, please make their work open access.
It's a great overall column, and nice to see a librarian lay the smackdown on hypocrisy within the bookselling and librarian worlds.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 18th, 2009 @ 12:59pm

    "Our professional roles will change, our relationship to our users and to the information they seek will evolve, but there is still a demand for high quality information and for assistance in learning how to make good choices."

    I think it's hilarious that I can go to the library and take out as many books and movies as I want.

    For free!

    I wonder how long this unsustainable business model can last?

     

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  2.  
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    DS, Nov 18th, 2009 @ 1:27pm

    Re:

    Well... not really for free. I helped foot the bill.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 18th, 2009 @ 1:36pm

    Re: Re:

    You gave money to my local library?!? How generous of you!

    Oh, you mean through taxation. Oh well, I suppose you're right on that point. Although I would rather have my tax dollars go to funding the freedom to gain knowledge than the freedom to blow up an Afghan wedding party.

     

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  4.  
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    Lisa (profile), Nov 18th, 2009 @ 1:43pm

    libraries obsolete = librarians obsolete

    ....and thus no need to fund them. That's likely the real issue here.

     

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  5.  
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    Sean VanSickle (profile), Nov 18th, 2009 @ 1:49pm

    Brilliant

    Brilliant insight by a member of the industry she criticizes. I wish everybody could be so self-observant.

     

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  6.  
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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Nov 18th, 2009 @ 1:52pm

    Re: libraries obsolete = librarians obsolete

    Yes, libraries are obsolete!!
    Because, everybody can afford books, and internet, and educational films, and specialty books that you may only need once in a while which are filled with information which has not yet made it's way to the web...

    Libraries, pfth! Off with their heads!!
    ( /sarcasm )

    As long as we have poor people (and we want to give them the opportunity to better themselves) then we really should continue to maintain libraries.

     

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  7.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Nov 18th, 2009 @ 1:52pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    "Although I would rather have my tax dollars go to funding the freedom to gain knowledge than the freedom to blow up an Afghan wedding party."

    You sir, are being extremely disengenous and short-changing the grand super awesomeness of our elected leaders. They are NOT using tax money to blow up an Afghan wedding, dammit.

    It's MANY weddings.

    Oh, and they do funeral services too....

    Pretty much anytime they can be sure kill some kids with their little video game weapons....

     

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  8.  
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    Lisa (profile), Nov 18th, 2009 @ 2:16pm

    Re: Re: libraries obsolete = librarians obsolete

    Perhaps I should have phrased that better, I meant that they are for the most part unnecessary since the internet can aid distribution in a big way, I didn't mean completely obsolete.

    Although, it still would likely mean less funding since there is such a large number of people who can access information online. After all, even those with cheap dial-up could access the books.

     

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  9.  
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    Jeff Scott, Nov 18th, 2009 @ 2:36pm

    Academic versus Public libraries

    Keep in mind that this article is discussing academic libraries versus public libraries.

    Also, most librarians are excited about how much the public can access for free and encourage it. Most are also frustrated with overpriced academic databases that provide information and articles that can be readily found online.

    Lastly, most librarians understand our role as a service. We provide books, information, and assistance where they would otherwise have to pay for it. Most people cannot afford to buy every book, every piece of information, or for the help and advice they need, but they can get it free from the library. (Yes this is tax supported, but the average person probably pays very little annually for their local library service).

     

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  10.  
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    Ben Franklin, Nov 18th, 2009 @ 2:41pm

    You slackjawed yokel

    Well, it's been working since Ben Franklin started the idea in the United States, so it's fair to say for a while.

    Libraries have been around for a looooooooooong time. It's NOT a business - it's a government service.

    Put down the GameBoy and go to the library and get free books...

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 18th, 2009 @ 2:42pm

    Re: Academic versus Public libraries

    I love libraries! Always have and I always will.

     

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  12.  
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    Your Friendly Neighborhood Librarian, Nov 18th, 2009 @ 3:12pm

    Re: You slackjawed yokel

    ... and DVDs and audiobooks and music CDs and puppets and toys...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
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    Jason Buberel (profile), Nov 18th, 2009 @ 6:36pm

    Re: Re: Re: libraries obsolete = librarians obsolete

    Lisa,

    If you want to gauge just how obsolete libraries have become in your community, try this experiment:

    Show up at the next city council meeting and demand that all library funding be withheld on the grounds that they have been rendered obsolete. Just remember to wear a bullet-proof vest when you do.

    Although people like me and you may not have set foot in a library since we were children, they are still seen as very useful and cost-effective (in terms of return on educational investment over the long term) resources in many communities.

     

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  14.  
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    Jason Buberel (profile), Nov 18th, 2009 @ 6:43pm

    Re: Brilliant

    Both academic and public librarians just need to understand where and how the provide value to their customers:

    Travel Agents: They once thought their only value was to enable access to the back-end ticketing and booking systems for air, hotel and car rental. Wrong.

    Real Estate Agents: Once thought that their only value was providing access to listing databases to help clients search for homes that are on the market. Wrong.

    Librarians: Need to think hard about where they can continue to provide value in a world where the access costs to books and other media is shrinking. A librarian who thinks that their only role is providing access to expensive books, they are on a path to extinction.

    Services like children's reading programs, puppet shows, and yes - free internet access for low income users - are all part of that value chain. The migration path librarians is all about focusing on where they add real value.

    I'm sure there are some smarties in that bunch who'll figure it out.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 18th, 2009 @ 6:53pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    maybe we should make bombs for abortions... then it wouldn't be such an issue anymore

     

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  16.  
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    Nick Coghlan (profile), Nov 19th, 2009 @ 5:23am

    Coincidentally apropos XKCD comic?

    Fine, but don't tell me all peer-reviewed journal articles are shining examples of reason and academic brilliance. A lot of them are finely-sliced research rehashing the same findings, or are closely examined and exquisitely detailed trivia.
    Academia vs business

    (Yes, I realise the comic is mostly about something else. The coincidence in reading this article and that comic within an hour of each still amuses me)

     

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  17.  
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    Overcast (profile), Nov 19th, 2009 @ 7:57am

    Come on, guys, get your story straight! Which is it?

    It's whichever will make them the most $$$ - they'll change it as necessary. Facts aren't important.

    I hate Wal-Mart with a passion - so it's Amazon, Barnes and Noble or another bookseller for me - but most of the books I read - I get from the library.

    I'm surprised they aren't bitching more about libraries yet.

     

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  18.  
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    Joseph, Nov 19th, 2009 @ 8:28am

    Actually publishers act more like the Gate keepers of Quality writing and Cultural pieces. Yes we will have more book , yes they will be cheaper and yes there will be more dribble. "...mocking what she refers to as the "accessibility paradox" where those who are used to being gatekeepers to information..." With more information it will be hard to find the quality pieces of work out there. "...at the same time as they're supposedly promoting the benefits of greater information..." For now yes, they are being used as bait to draw in shoppers, but if the publishers fall and the bookstores, then it will be Wall-mart and maybe Amazon who will pick what you can read. Then we will see who whines about the gatekeepers to information...of course that is if you even let this post go through *grin* Things are going to change but hopefully for the better and not the worst. I would love to see my local community bookstore survive and because I don't mind spending money on quality books and Wall-Mart is not about quality but quantity.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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