It occurs to me that since publishers are assuming physical control over much that librarians call collections, then publishers should be adopting many of the professional and ethical standards of librarianship. Think about it: the materials we offer through our e-collectons are, for the most part, physically controlled by the publisher. Librarians are only licensing access to the materials. Our role in the care and feeding of those materials is diminished.
Therefore, I think it is appropriate that we ask publishers and vendors to embrace some of the ideas that we hold dear:
- Preservation: this has started to happen with some archiving projects like Lockss, Clockss, and Portico, but even those really sprang from the minds of librarians. Many a publisher still exhibits little concern beyond the front list (books OR journals). If publishers are going to maintain perpetual control over electronic products, then “out of print” should be a phrase that passes into oblivion. Our collections need to be available forever or something like it. Needless to say, the tasks of refreshing and migrating digital collections fall on the publisher too.
- Intellectual Freedom: this too hovers around the margins of publishing ethics, while never entering the center. Users of electronic collections need to be safe from prying eyes. If I am otherwise a licensed user of the product, it’s nobody’s damned business what I read or view. Don’t be sellin’ my behavior off to some other commercial entity! At least not without my permission. And don’t cough it up to the first government fishing expedition the comes down the road. One word: warrant. Think Yahoo resistance not telecom rolling over and dying on this issue. Publishers obviously have commercial interests that libraries don’t share, but intellectual freedom trumps everything for the librarian. It ought to be pretty important for publishers too.
- Metadata: the organization and description of physical collections fell completely on the librarian (except a little CIP here and there). Publishers, however, have almost complete control over the organization of digital collections. They need to offer metadata options and, therefore, flexibility to their licensees. Librarians can still do some cataloging of digital collections, adding the appropriate metadata to the OPAC, but the OPAC isn’t always the primary mode of access to these materials. Effective discovery of information will rely on rich and thorough metadata. Publishers need to be helpers in this process, not barriers.
- Customer Service Mentality: hey, the publisher’s responsibility doesn’t end anymore once we pay the invoice. Publisher service representatives are the reference librarians to our questions. That reference help needs to be offered willingly, happily, eagerly. It also needs to be thorough, confidential (see intellectual freedom above), and available more than just 9 to 5 Eastern Standard Time. It would be great if they could end each service call with, “Did that answer your question? Please come back if that information doesn’t serve your needs.”
I think those are small things to ask of publishers, with huge import to the users of our digital collections. Maybe we should begin asking publishers about these things when they make that sales visit. Hell, maybe there is a place for some of this in the license agreement itself. There may be some cost involved, but I’m hoping publishers and vendors might embrace these standards as their own without tacking on a “service charge” to the price. Just a thought.