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Peter Brantley's presentation

Notes on
"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.

Anecdote:
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).

SELECTED POINTS
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.

 

Jan 16, 2008 | Categories: Speaker Presentations | jkupersm

1 comment

Comment from: Thomas Lord [Visitor] Email
Thomas LordSimplify cataloging. Users don't care about all our detailed metadata, "so get over it."

That is a mistaken analysis. His reasoning seems to be that this is implied by statistics about declining usage. In marketing and product design theory we learn, though, that such inferences are unreliable. It may well be the case that "simplifying cataloging" (in a cavalier matter, not the incremental improvements that happen all the time) would accelerate, not diminish declining usage. Also, of course, the value of libraries is realized on a much longer time scale than the trends he is tracking. Continuity of cataloging practices over decades is, on its face, part of what makes today's libraries valuable. Also, though expert researchers may be just a minority of users, the social value of the leverage afforded them by, for example, a robust inter-library loan system is enormous.

The opposite is plausibly more likely to be true, in the business theories: Cataloging is one of the key differentiators of libraries. Rather than diminishing it, the challenge is arguably to enhance it's scope, capability, and "user interface".

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."


That is again naive on business grounds. Google "sucks at change" at least as much as any library. There is no such fundamental rule on the Internet. Rather, Google "tries stuff" at such a high rate because they have more money than they know what to do with. They've effectively implemented a "brain drain" with that cash -- diminishing innovation by potential competitors. They "try stuff" because they don't have any good ideas about how to keep spending as fast as they do. That isn't inexpensive innovation -- quite the opposite.

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.

From my observations, there's nothing there to take out without harming the core "differentiators" of libraries. Oh, of course, every institution has its inefficiences and "everyone knows" that this or that sub-unit is just wasting time but those problems are at the scale of peanuts. The problems Peter is talking about are no excuse to start hacking and slaying at these organizations -- there's plenty to lose with a misplaced cut and almost nothing to gain in terms of freeing up meaningful money.

Corporate partnerships are very dangerous, of course. It is awfully easy for the product plans of this or that firm to, through social and nepotistic pressure, be interpreted as a "new kind of library science".

All of that said, I'm sure there are financially and logistically lightweight steps that libraries can take but aren't for reasons of not knowing about the options and not having staff to work on those options. He's not pointing in an entirely wrong direction. But it sounds from this account like he's ready to toss baby with bath-water and send out invitations to corruption-of-mission.

-t
01/16/08 @ 13:45