LIS 855: Reading Journal Week 6

Reading list:

  1. Christine Fischer (2006) Electronic Journal Pricing: A Variety of Models. Against the Grain 18.3 (2006): 18-22.
  2. Donald W. King and Carol Tenopir (2008) “8.6 Reasons Why Journal Subscription Prices Spiraled Upward” part of Chapter 8 in (Jeffrey K. MacKie-Mason, Wendy Pradt Lougee Eds) Economics and Usage of Digital Libraries: Byting the Bullet. Ann Arbor, MI: Scholarly Publishing Office, University of Michigan Library
  3. Frazier, K. (2001). “The Librarian’s Dilemma: Contemplating the Costs of the ‘Big Deal.’” D-Lib Magazine, 7(3).
  4. Zac Rolnik (2009) “Big Deal = Good Deal?” The Serials Librarian. Vol 57 No. 3 pp 194-198.
  5. Ricky D. Best (2009) “Is the Big Deal Dead?” The Serials Librarian, Vol 57 No 4, pp 353-363.
  6. Astle, D.& Hamaker, C. (1988). Journal Publishing: Pricing and Structural Issues in the 1930s and the 1980s. Advances in Serials Management, 2, 1-36.
  7. Norman Oder (6/10/2010) UC Libraries, Nature Publishing Group in Heated Dispute Over Pricing; Boycott Possible. Library Journal.
  8. Susanne Clement (2008) “Skills for Effective Participation in Consortia: Preparing for Collaborating and Collaboration” in Mark Jacobs (Ed) Electronic Resource Librarianship and Management of Digital Information: Emerging Professional Roles, Binghamton NY: Hayworth, pp 191-204.

Ahhh, the age-old questions of librarianship.  It’s nice in my hoary days of third-year SLIS-dom to be reminded of the heady first-semester days of LIS 450, where we examined the major philosophical tussles that librarians have engaged in since time immemorial.

Here’s the one that I think underlies the major debates over the Big Deal: the “we reserve the right to select” versus the “availability encourages discovery” approaches to collection management.  Ken Frazier’s landmark 2001 opinion piece stands firmly in the “we reserve the right to select” camp.  He denounces the Big Deals that bundle “weaker” journal titles with “stronger” titles, as he claims that these deals force libraries to purchase a bunch of useless chaff.  Fischer, however, notes in her general guide to electronic journal pricing that it’s important when evaluating your electronic collections to look at usage statistics.  Sometimes, she says, a “peripheral” title may actually be getting more use than you think.  Rolnik’s 2009 follow-up piece to Frazier’s makes this very issue the first of three major factors he incites his readers to consider when choosing whether or not to go for the Big Deal.

Funny isn’t it, how efficiency sometimes comes at the expense of diversity and sometimes comes advocating diversity instead.  The classic rage against the hegemony of subject headings famously championed by Sanford Berman pitted convenience and efficiency against diversity: the use of codified subject headings made it difficult or even impossible to classify and therefore find information objects that sat easily in no category.  The system was (is?) biased against cultural minorities, the subjects too little represented or too category-defying to get their own subject heading.  The convenience of finding most things came at the expense of being able to find uncommon, little-championed things.

With the Big Deal, however, the opposite seems to be true.  Getting the most desired items at a convenient price comes attached with the “catch” of having to get less desired items with them at a tiny bit more money.

Now I feel like our profession’s values are all mixed up.  If you’re rooting for independence and not letting the big dogs win, shouldn’t you be advocating for both reserving the right to select and giving lesser-known titles the benefit of the doubt (a.k.a. “availability encourages discovery”)?  Maybe when Frazier was championing the right to select he wanted the right not only for major-league items but also for underdog items as well–certainly very plausible, although his decision to categorize titles as “strong” versus “weak” was not encouraging.  What did he mean by “weak”, exactly?  Less established, less idolized, less…something else?

Anyway, I’m not sure in the first place that subject heading classification actually makes it harder to discover marginal items.  Oftentimes someone may know the kind of subject matter they’re interested in, but, being novices at the subject, may not know the official preferred terminology for it, so they start searching with the related mainstream terms they do know.  Therefore wouldn’t classifying marginal items under the most appropriate mainstream subject headings actually make it easier for them to be discovered by newcomers to the topic?  Veterans of a marginal subject may wish they had a special handy-dandy subject heading to go straight to for all the relevant items on that marginal subject, but then the argument against subject headings as an obstacle to true discovery of a subject is not so viable anymore.  Discovery of new items on a subject by someone already steeped in that subject may be frustrating with hegemonic mainstream-inclined subject headings, but discovery of anything on a subject by a novice may be easier.

The financial trickery of the Big Deal is not something I condone, but I could go either way on the content of the package itself.  Insofar as the two are separable, I guess, which I guess they aren’t…

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