Concerted Thought, Collaborative Action (v.2)

We posted our white paper “Concerted Thought, Collective Action, and the Future of the Print Record” for review in December and received a number of comments both publicly and in personal correspondence. With this post, we would like to thank everyone who read the document, invite additional readers to comment, and issue a slightly revised text that responds to some of the comments we have received.

To our readers, our proposal raised questions about costs, policy, and governance; the potentially competing interests of colleges and universities; and the need for technical infrastructure. Readers also had other practical questions about how our proposal would work, especially given geography, existing alliances, and long-time library traditions. There are also issues of access to collections to contend with, including the ways library collections are built and maintained and the varied preferences and habits of readers. And of course there are the many institutions and organizations working in the field and their distinctive priorities and sources of funding. Recognizing the many devils to be confronted in these details, we respond here to a few strategic questions and leave such tactical matters for later discussion as we engage the academic community and align our work with that of potential partners.

Reader comments brought to our attention that the title and introductory material of our December paper created confusion about the focus of our work and its relationship to other projects and organizations committed to preserving print materials. We have therefore revised the title of the paper and the introductory section to clarify our focus and describe better the scope of our work. Our original title, and indeed the name of our working group, suggested a much broader scope of work than our project in fact has. “Print Record” connotes a range of materials from journals and newspapers to books to government publications and ephemera and anything else published on paper and held in libraries. In that our focus is on monographs, our title and initial paragraphs obscured our focus and prompted readers to expect more from our proposal than the document provided.

The new title highlights our focus on a “collaborative future for access to print monographs,” and a revised Summary and first footnote state more clearly the relationship of our work to that of others and our particular interest in general, circulating holdings of 19th and 20th-century books–the volumes that occupy the vast bulk of library space and, unlike volumes that qualify for special collections status, are liable to management by withdrawal or in partnership with other libraries. We note that successful and growing programs for collaborating on the preservation of print journals have been established for decades thanks to the Center for Research Libraries and, more recently, such groups as Western Regional Storage Trust and Scholars Trust, as well as the Rosemont Group discussion, convened to explore tying the work of these groups together. Although we mentioned in passing the work of such consortia as Eastern Academic Scholars’ Trust that are collaborating on the preservation of monographs, and of OCLC’s Research Library Partnership on the composition and distribution of print holdings in the U.S. and elsewhere, we inadvertently created the impression of claiming a novelty for our approach when in fact several groups have laid the groundwork for our own.

We hope to continue the many conversations implicit in our proposal, but a few further points for now:

First, a couple of comments suggested that our working group reach out to include specific other organizations that might reasonably be involved. We are open to working with any group or organization who feel their interests overlap with our own or have suggestions for the best way to develop, test, implement, or refine the national collaboration we propose. For example, Ian Bogus (University of Pennsylvania) and colleagues in the community of preservationists interested in at-scale preservation of books wrote us about the possibilities for collaborating. Jacob Nadal, Executive Director of ReCAP, has joined our group, and we are in the process of extending invitations to others.

Second, readers of our paper asked about the roles of digitized text in our plan and, some thought, an inappropriate emphasis on digitized text. At the same time, others reminded us of the need to increase access for all readers, not only scholars and students, to the accumulated knowledge housed in libraries; to promote a coordinated approach to the digitization of texts; to offer spaces and services for using volumes on site wherever books are housed; and to create metadata and discovery mechanisms so that scholars can more easily identify and locate editions and copy variants.

We readily agree that digitized text is not the answer to all questions of access to published knowledge for all readers, and nothing in our proposal suggests that libraries should remove print books wholesale in favor of digital surrogates. We note, however, that many and in some instances novel use cases for monographs are satisfied by digitized text, and we are very much in favor of the several projects under way for open access publishing of new scholarly monographs. We also note that HathiTrust is expanding access to many texts by investigating their copyright status and creating a shared library of monographs in parallel with their digital archive. Our proposal therefore proceeds from two related assumptions: first, that digitization of text is an important preservation and access strategy and a program for preserving print can and should be coupled with a program for systematically digitizing text; second, libraries’ efforts should center on preserving print in an orderly way for future readers by federating, as the shared print movement has done thus far, local library collection management in order to ensure the ongoing availability of the maximum number of printed works.

As a final point, we note that many questions arise about the roles and identities of the current and new organizations or partnerships our proposal potentially involves. Many organizations now have a stake in this business of collaborative collection management and have done work that could readily evolve into the national collaboration we envision. If nothing else, we hope our proposal will help to catalyze the discussion among current shared print projects for monographs about how local and state/regional projects might knit together into a national program.

Again, please be in touch with individual members of the working group or comment here if you have ideas about how best to pursue a national program for the preservation of print monographs.

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2 thoughts on “Concerted Thought, Collaborative Action (v.2)

  1. I would like to see more about preservation, and specifically conservation treatments, explored further; the CLIR report of 2001 demonstrates the cost of conservation to be significantly less than standard digitization costs and includes this as an important aspect of print materials that show a number of significance aspects for the printed record, many of which need to be determined locally. I would like to ask the question of rather how to better incorporate conservation activities into existing staff models, workflows and procedures, as well as into the budget, since many of the books deemed “non-rare” will become our rare books of the future, and current methods of treatment are limited. There is much we are set to lose through our routine bindery procedures and general collections conservation. How can we as librarians now take into account the best possible approaches to treatments of paper-based materials in this current age? How can be best train and prepare individuals for this profession, as most is not based on MS in Conservation, rather than also having an MLS or MLIS? Should we not be more concerned with these aspects of future collections for scholars and researchers? Will the printed record not be exponentially more important in a few decades??

    1. Belated thanks for your comment, Beth Morris. The work of preservationists is integral to ours, and we will discuss your suggestions. Jake Nadal is one of our members, and we have been in touch with Ian Bogus and his group who are following up on this meeting in Philly in Jan 2014, “Climatic Differences in Library Material Storage Conditions.”

      Our group have gone on hiatus for several months as we await developments among some of our members. We will continue our work, however, and plan to regroup later this year.

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