The Library Zone Interviews Industry Leader Michael Mabe, CEO, International Association of STM Publishers.
From your perspective, what do you see as the greatest challenge facing librarians in the coming years? What should publishers be doing to help?
The biggest challenges we all face are the economy and consequences arising from the digital revolution.
The digital revolution has had consequences that were not foreseen. One example is digital documents and how they have affected business models and distribution as well as trust and authority issues. In a print world, the content is fixed and the document distributed in controlled quantities. In the digital world, one single document can serve the world: it can be reproduced infinitely, and its content is infinitely malleable, leading to trust and authority issues: is this the final version? Is it in fact what the author wrote?
For librarians, some of the unexpected challenges revolve around the shift from libraries being a place where people come to look at ‘things’ to potentially places where people go to meet, with the content off-site (it could be in someone’s server, just about anywhere). This affects processes and the type of staff needed. For example, the task of checking in journal issues has changed – from unpacking what arrives in the post box to checking on line for new issue arrivals. Additionally, University libraries are faced with a value challenge: if the content is virtual, why do we need a building? And perhaps, unfairly, why do we need people to look after it? Publishers face a similar misunderstanding: if there is now no printing, some will erroneously argue, what are publishers for?
Publishers face challenges from the digital revolution that affect their business models and how they are structured as businesses. Digital publishing gives them greater flexibility in some areas but they also need to standardize more in others.
The number of scholarly e-books has exploded in recent years. What do you think of this trend and what steps would you recommend to libraries to adapt?
Certainly embrace them! It is inevitable that scholarly information becomes digital. The sciences were the first to adapt, with arts, humanities and social sciences not far behind. Scholarly book publishing is very important in arts and humanities, more than journals, so we should see interesting developments in this area.
The majority model for e-books is a database approach which is not dissimilar to the way journal platforms work. It is not clear if that will be the dominant way forward, as everyone is feeling their way. Unexpected things could happen before a consensus on the best model is reached.
Scholarly e-journals are now an accepted part of journal publishing. In your opinion, which research areas have been impacted most and in what ways? What do you see as the major emerging trends that will influence e-journals in the next 5 years? How do you see these trends impacting libraries?
It’s hard to say what areas haven’t been impacted. Journals basically exist for authors to secure their ideas – to publish them and be rewarded for their work. That purpose doesn’t change with the digital format. While the e-journals do the same things as print, they can include extras – like supplementary data, experiments, video and other multimedia.
With digital technology becoming ubiquitous, we will see more types of media included in journal articles but it will be restricted to what’s relevant to the research work of the authors.
Social sciences and humanities make very interesting use of new digital opportunities, perhaps due to the way their research can relate closely with their written materials. Some trends that will influence journal content are in the area of collaboration. For example, economic researchers are leading the way with the use of WIKI’s to facilitate authoring collaborative journal articles.
Another recurring conference debate has been the increasing amount of research that is done online and not necessarily in the library building. With increased availability across many different devices, how do you see this continuing trend impacting the role of the library in the next five years -- how will libraries maintain their relevance?
It is a challenge to remain relevant, especially with the de-coupling of the content, browser and archive. In a print journal located in a library building, all three are in the same place. With electronic content, they are separated. The content may not be locally maintained, and the library is no longer the depository of all the content.
Another new challenge for the libraries is updating – both hardware and software need to be updated on a regular basis. For example, if your content was stored on a five and a half inch floppy, it wouldn’t be easy to access anymore.
On the positive side, libraries can now increase their reach and serve more users with a wider range of content, something they could not do easily in paper.
As for devices, one of the real challenges is interoperability of content – standards are important and content can’t be in a format that only works on one device. Fortunately, the standards have been quite open, for example, pdf and html can be used widely.
Librarians must keep abreast and involved in the standardization issues to make sure content can be read on the widest possible range of devices.
With limited resources, under budget pressure and facing an increased amount of online content, how do you see libraries best serving their customers? Will print books decline to make more digital resources available?
Libraries and publishers must respond to customer needs. As customers want increasing amounts of digital access, especially when working remotely, they will insist on digital content.
Potentially some approaches to e-books present a way to get more content to more people.
What strategies would you recommend to libraries to communicate the availability of all these new online resources?
Libraries should continue what they are doing, remembering that patrons may not want to view content as a collection, but rather search through everything efficiently to find what they need.
Provide clear, easy to use interfaces that are straightforward in approach. If you have the right content and patrons can find it, they will come. Search and findability are the keys.
In terms of digital content or delivery, what is the most interesting research project you have heard of recently and why should libraries take notice of it?
The idea behind the new company Deep Dyve – a short term rental or time share of materials at a very low price. After a certain time period, the content disappears. People could look at the content to see if they need to purchase a permanent copy for themselves for research or reference.
What books are you reading at the moment and are they in print or electronic form? If they are electronic, where did you get them and what device(s) are you reading them on?
I have just finished reading Mary Beard’s Pompeii, an excellent survey of our current understanding of the ancient town. All my leisure reading is in print. I can see how an e-reader might be ideal for traveling, but I have yet to find one that would satisfy me from an emotional point of view. I’ve recently built a library in my house, so perhaps that’s why I feel commitment to physical books! There is incredible utility in a paperback. No batteries, doesn’t matter if the sun’s shining on it and you can drop it and it will still work.