I subscribe to a number of library forums, and I was interested to read an invitation to contribute in a recent post. This sounds like an interesting initiative, I thought, so I looked at the proposal in a bit more detail. I was surprised with what I discovered. The call was for contributions to the “E-Resource Round Up” column for the Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship (JERL). To encourage library professionals to contribute, the editors state “This could be an ideal opportunity for you to report on programs that may benefit others in our profession”. They helpfully provided some suggestions for what to write about, including “vendor activities and upcoming events”. Plus, there was a gentle reminder that “contributions should not be published elsewhere”. When I went to the website for this journal, it was available to subscribers only. I was invited to purchase the current issue, as an individual subscriber, at a cost of £122, or just the one article for £25. This is, after all, content about libraries created by library professionals as part of their working practice – being sold back to them, or in my case, as I declined the subscription offer, completely unavailable.
What makes this story all the more powerful is that this invitation to contribute is happening at the same time as a vast and at times bad-tempered debate about the role of the academic, the library and the publisher. The debate has centred on what appears to be the paradox that academics create content for free, and publishers then sell access to that content back to them; libraries are in the centre of this debate as the purchasing agency that makes the academic content available. Much of the debate has focused on Elsevier’s role in providing academic content and the terms on which they provide this content. At the same time, we have librarians creating their own content and then donating it to a publication that then sells that content back to libraries! Am I the only person to find this exchange not only unequal but unnecessary? There are after all plenty of groups that exchange information very effectively between librarians – and do it for nothing. I worked for five years as a volunteer as part of one of them the UK Electronic Information Group (UKeiG), which publishes information to the community without payment, and there are several other similar periodicals for the exchange of views within the profession, such as D-Lib Magazine, that are freely accessible. Why then would libraries pay to read information they themselves have generated? And please tell me, why should contributions not be published elsewhere? Do libraries believe that information important enough to be delivered to their peers should be provided only by purchase and only through one publication?
Joe Esposito (to whom I am indebted for the title of this post) reminded everyone recently during the Elsevier debate that publishers are not altruistic; the idea of a library community was in many ways mythical. Publishers sell content, and libraries buy content. What he didn’t point out is how libraries are at times, as here, the most effective purchasers of the very content they themselves create.