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.