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"What Rupert might tell the DLF: Why libraries are like
newspapers, and how we avoid lining the pet cage"
presented January 15, 2008
by Peter Brantley, Executive Director, Digital Library Federation
All quotes are approximate, but pretty close.
Corrections welcome, just add a comment.
EMI Records recently held a focus group in London, asking several teenagers to comment on their music preferences. When the session was over, they invited the teens to take away music CD's for free. None of the teens took any CD's. One of the EMI executives commented, "That was the moment when we realized the game was completely up."
This talk will discuss what has happened to the newspaper industry, analogous trends in research libraries, and what libraries can and should do to meet these challenges.
WHAT WE CAN LEARN
FROM THE NEWSPAPER INDUSTRY
Newspapers are like libraries; their mission includes a focus on the public good.
Newspaper ad revenues are plummeting as print advertising is moving online. All major newspaper groups lost ad revenue, up to 9%, from 2006 to 2007. Online ad spending growing 4 times faster than conventional.
But it's hard to make money on online advertising. Even a website with built-in advertising tie-ins (e.g., automobile industry sites) would need 2.5 billioh page views/year to generate $50 million in revenue. If the Wall Street Journal went totally free online, they would need to increase traffic 12 times to offset the loss of print ad revenue.
Strategic challenge for newspapers is not just cutting costs or increasing online ad revenue, but how to use the Internet to operate and compete in new ways.
Creative responses: A New York Times reporter quit to start her own news site. When Jane (a fashion magazine) shut down, the editor went to Yahoo to establish a "cultural channel".
WHAT ABOUT LIBRARIES?
"When you have a technology as engrossing as the Internet, you're going to have winners and losers." - Eric Schmidt, Google CEO
Declines in many research library statistics over the past few years: Library of Congress reading room visits, ARL reference and circulation statistics, all show similar downward trends.
PB: "If you carry this out to the end, what a library will be in the future is pretty small."
Possible solutions and approaches:
New spaces, Internet media centers - appealing to users.
Outsource redundancies (e.g., serials management and database contracting to campus business unit).
Simplify cataloging. Users don't care about all our detailed metadata, "so get over it."
Ongoing library roles:
(1) Making information publicly accessible
(2) Preserving a record of the past
To get these done, libraries must do things differently.
"Help put education in the hands of those who are learning." (focus on students)
"Assist scientists in the discovery of our world." (This requires outreach, expertise for hard sciences, "high touch" for soft sciences)
Need a new sensitivity to data and how to use data.
This may require breaking out of the library and creating a whole new unit on campus "because libraries suck at change".
"Google gets a fundamental rule of the Internet: trying stuff is cheaper than deciding whether to try it."
"We need to work beyond ourselves. We need to perturb the university." (in policies, organization, funding paths).
FROM Q/A SESSION
This kind of data unit should be "more than an executive director and a half time secretary." It might require roughly 5 FTE, maybe $500K/year.
We may have to fund this effort by taking it out of the hide of existing units (library, IT). Google is not a likely partner, companies like Sun and Microsoft might be.
One strategy is to create pilot projects that, once off the ground and successful, just have to be funded.
Skills needed: diversity of skills including information management and creating desirable, attractive user experience.
[Recalling the point made about newspapers] Our mission should not be just to regain the usage we've lost.