Deanna Marcum on the Future of the Print Record

Each of the panelists on our roundtable will present a few opening remarks before we turn to discussion. I’ve asked them each for a teaser, which I’ll post over the next several days. First up, Deanna Marcum, managing director of Ithaka S+R.

In 1994, the Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of the Print Record called for the establishment of a network of depositories for housing and providing access to materials discarded by libraries. To many librarians, this sounded like the San Francisco library of unpublishable books in Richard Brautigan’s novel, The Abortion. Manuscripts brought to this library would never be read, but they would be recorded, shelved, and cherished.

I was associated with the Commission on Preservation and Access in 1994, and we were deeply engaged in a massive microfilming effort to preserve at least 3 million scholarly monographs that were at risk of being lost forever because they were printed on acidic paper. We thought we were engaged in a noble preservation effort, and were dismayed to learn that our work was one of the motivating factors for the Ad Hoc Committee. Librarians thought scholars didn’t understand the preservation imperative. Scholars were equally sure that librarians did not understand their research need.

Now, we are looking at this issue again, this time in a very different environment. The digital future is here, not coming. Scholarly resources are being created digitally and they pose their own special preservation challenges. But many of the books needed for humanistic study were printed on paper. While tremendous progress has been made over the past 20 years in creating improved storage and preservation environments at many large research libraries, today these libraries face unprecedented pressure to reduce the campus space occupied by these very collections. With the development of HathiTrust, many libraries are seriously considering not only shifting vast quantities of collections off campus, but even beginning to withdraw from those book collections systematically. The beginnings of a print preservation network for journals has been created through the work of WEST, CRL, and many others, but today we are not very much closer to having a repository or a network of repositories for ensuring access to print books than we were in 1994.

Libraries are funded by their local institutions, but scholars need national and international solutions to their research needs. The conversations called for in the 2014 “Future of the Print Record” Working Group is a good start, but what we must have is new thinking about the broad-scale support that is needed for scholarly resources. The divide between librarians and scholars that was so evident in 1994 must be bridged, for libraries that do not support scholarship are meaningless. The discussions among scholars, librarians, and administrators that we are calling for in our statement will include serious considerations of national and international governance and funding models and new support structures for the scholarly enterprise.

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