Libraries, Vendors and the Economy
Yesterday I attended my first meeting with the New England Journal of Medicine Library Advisory Board and it was very interesting. We discussed a lot of issues such as the future of medical journals, libraries, technology, and users/readers.
One of the more interesting discussions centered around the future and the transition of libraries becoming more than just repositories holding books and journals (printed matter) and the transition of journals to something more than just the printed hard copy.
This transition has been happening for some time but the economy and tightening of budgets has expedited this process. It has forced all of us to evaluate our ideas about our purchases, services, and roles. Do we really want buy print journals anymore when it costs so much in personnel time and salary to check them in, process them, and claim them. There is also the cost of binding and the cost of housing them. Keeping them on your shelves has a cost, because that space could always be put to use in other and possibly better ways. Printed material isn't the only resource facing scrutiny, databases, ILS, and other online resources must prove their worth as our role changes. Questions like, "Why are we paying for $ a database when we can get it free or cheaper from another company," are taken seriously. One librarian made the comment that libraries that have focused on and built themselves as large repositories could possibly have a lot of problems coming. Because the focus is turning away from the resources within the library and turning even more to the amount and the type of user services provided. Librarians have always provided services, but outreach is even more important now. Services gets you out of your library, gets you and your library noticed and better illustrates your value to the institution than a collection of books, journals and databases does. As libraries begin to increase the type and number of services they still need some resources. But librarians are now more focused on what resources support their services in the most economical way. This might mean that certain sacred cow resources and collections might be cut to keep other more useful or profitable resources.
Obviously this impacts vendors considerably, those hurt by the economy as well as those who have made profits despite the down turn. Just like the large repository institutions facing some very tough issues, I have got to think that the larger vendors are going to be in for some interesting times. Elsevier, Springer, Wolters Kluwer, EBSCO, etc. all are fairly big companies within publishing and library world. They each have various diverse subsidiaries. For example, did you know EBSCO also makes fishing lures? Some vendors have other non library and publishing interests, such as EBSCO, others do not.
There are vendors that are not as diverse and are still very heavy in the publishing and library world. These companies may find themselves in the same boat as libraries. This might get especially interesting when the subdivisions or subsidiaries of the parent company do not communicate. If they don't communicate well then they may not have created a plan as to how the subsidiaries can work together instead of against each other. For example, a significant increase in journal prices might not only cause a library to cut journal subscriptions but it might also impact the textbook division because the library may not also buy as many textbooks in order to afford the journals they didn't cut.
This happens with the purchase of databases. If a needed database becomes too expensive yet is critical to the mission of the library/institution the library usually offsets these costs by cutting other databases, journals, and textbooks. For example, if EBSCO significantly raised the price of CINAHL (which cannot be purchased elsewhere), many libraries who need CINAHL may end up cutting their journal titles (which would impact EBSCO if they were also that library's subscription agent) or quite possibly drop full text Medline in lieu of PubMed.
We are sort of used to seeing this happen with journal collections. For example, if you decide to purchase the online full text of LWW titles and cancel the print, it will cost more to get the online title. If you subscribe to a publisher's collection of titles you might be able to drop a few titles but you are obligated to spend the same amount of money on titles, essentially switching out or trading or titles. However, this method is viewed more as punitive measure among libraries and a preventive measure within the subsidiary, it usually only helps that division not the whole company.
Times could be difficult for these big companies. The reason I think this is that many libraries have already made quite extensive cuts in publications. The scuttlebutt around the library world is that libraries will be faced with even more budget cuts next year and quite possibly into 2011. Three years worth of cuts makes me think that nothing will be safe.
Therefore it is probably more essential than ever that large library vendors with subsidiaries increase their communication and partnership efforts so that they can work together. Because if one division increases their prices significantly they could be cutting the nose off despite the face of the overall company. Yeah that division is pulling down big profits but the other divisions suffer and the overall company suffers. When large companies buy out competitors and assimilate them, there will be some growing pains and communications issues. Once the dust has settled some companies have done a better job than others at communication, letting the left hand know what the right hand is doing. Some companies have not done so well and the subsidiaries appear to be completely independent of the larger corporation. These are the companies that will have problems.
Of course this is just all just my own speculation generated by a very interesting discussion about the economy speeding up the transformation libraries and journals. The examples I provided were just examples showing how almost everything is tied together. How the price a company's product can impact and directly influence (consciously or unconsciously) whether their other products are bought or cut. In this economy it is essential that we all investigate options.