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Harvard University Library Notes / September 2006 / No. 1333
Interview: Laura C. Wood
Laura C. Wood was appointed librarian of the Harvard Divinity School's Andover-Harvard Theological Library on June 15, 2004. Wood came to Harvard from Emory University's Candler School of Theology, where she served as periodicals and technical services librarian for the Pitts Theology Library. Before arriving at Emory, Wood received a master's degree in information from the University of Michigan. She also has a master's degree in religion from Yale Divinity School, an MBA from Emory, and a BA from Mount Holyoke College. As a member of Harvard's University Library Council, Wood chairs the Digital Acquisitions and Collections Committee (DACC). She was interviewed for Library Notes on August 11.
LN What's the current focus in DACC?
LCW The committee is focused on how we can collectively acquire digital materials—electronic resources, electronic journals, and, more recently, electronic books. As formats are developed and made available in the marketplace, they cause shifts in DACC's focus. We're driven in large part by what is available, and that's changing all the time.
LN Who is represented on DACC?
LCW In addition to the faculty libraries and staff from OIS, DACC also includes some key staff from Harvard's science libraries.
LN DACC had its genesis in 1998 with the Library Digital Initiative (LDI), which of course was—and is—University-wide in its scope and meant to create an infrastructure for digital materials that will last, that is robust, that can respond to the continuing changes in the digital world. Given that context, the changes in DACC since 1998 must be enormous.
LCW Our charge is no longer seen as something new. DACC's work is understood as an ongoing operational activity. DACC's role is primarily that of policy- and decision-making for actual acquisition and purchasing decisions—financial commitments to resources so that we can decide whether or not to provide access to a resource.
LN We listed 615 e-resources when LDI and DACC began. Today we offer access to about 22,000 e-journals and hundreds of other e-resources. How can DACC keep up with this rate of growth?
LCW The growth is very challenging, and it doesn't always translate into linear changes to the workflow. We need to keep asking, "How will we scale this program as more and more resources become available?" It's important to me to think about how we spend our time and why it can take so long to do what we do. Ongoing negotiations, licensing, and an enormous amount of administrative work rests with the staff at OIS. They handle a wide variety of resources and continually help us understand the new models for purchasing resources. And the work goes on and on from there.
DACC and OIS work together to keep a flexible system—and an efficient system!—in place for digital acquisitions. It's increasingly necessary to involve more people in the various library units who are able to evaluate these resources and pursue the acquisition of them as opposed to having all of these resources funnel through one or two individuals.
One of the things that's constantly evolving is the business model for buying and selling electronic goods. Even when the resource itself doesn't change, the way we interact with vendors, the way a resource is priced, and the way we might share the cost of that resource continues to change—in some cases on an annual basis.
With Blackwell, for example, we had been paying for a print subscription and then acquiring electronic access by paying a surcharge. Online access was an added option for us. This past year, Blackwell chose what the industry now calls a "flip model." Now, the base price of our subscription covers our electronic access, and we pay a surcharge if we want to have a print copy on the shelf.
LN DACC recently made the decision to discontinue access to ebrary's Academic Complete collection of e-books. What insights can you give us into that decision?
LCW I think the decision to cancel ebrary is a wonderful example of DACC's stewardship program at work. In making the ebrary decision, we were able to involve a wide variety of librarians through the stewardship program and also through COERS [the Committee on Electronic Resources and Services]. COERS is an essential collaborator with DACC. They regularly and frequently bring resources to our attention and provide us with the essential evaluative information that we need to make an effective decision about access. Both the stewards of ebrary and all of the members of COERS were involved in evaluating ebrary so that DACC could receive more information than we would have had on our own. We're always looking for ways to get the input that we need from other constituents. We depend very heavily on COERS to assist us and they do a stellar job.
LN Can you share any of the input that you got on ebrary from COERS and the stewards?
LCW Ebrary is a very interesting collection in that it has a breadth that is very valuable. But this is a collection that we purchased in bulk as opposed to selecting titles for which there was a specific need. The essential feedback was this: while there were certainly titles that got heavy use, the overall ebrary collection simply wasn't a core resource.
LN Does this relate at all to Harvard's decision in 2004 to discontinue bulk purchases from Elsevier?
LCW That's a great comparison. At Harvard, our collection development librarians are very discriminating, making sure that we're buying exactly the right resources. When we buy bundled products, we accept what someone else says the right resources are—and we're not always comfortable with that decision. Depending on how publishers develop their business models, it remains to be seen whether we'll see more collective bundles or whether we'll see more flexibility to allow us to buy individual titles, to be more discerning, to get specific content that we're really looking for. Depending on what becomes available to us, it may challenge our priorities for how we spend our resources and which materials we end up acquiring or licensing.
LN Are we continuing to talk with ebrary about other models?
LCW We're in preliminary discussions with ebrary about an option that would allow us to select particular titles—so that we could, in fact, choose the content that was the most valuable and still provide the features that we know our end users appreciated about ebrary's Academic Complete: remote access, full text searching, and the flexibility to work with titles in electronic format.
LN Are we looking at programs that offer perpetual access to e-books? As opposed to annual licensing fees?
LCW There are growing interests in archival rights and in perpetual access to licensed content. Librarians have been working very hard on this issue collectively and collaboratively, and it's making a difference, because we are seeing increased options offered by our vendors.
But there's another issue, too. We're still a paper society and still need to be able to read off the printed page. We don't like to read on the screen for very long. That is changing a little, but it's not changing a lot.
With e-books, this is a particularly troubling area, as vendors often place what users regard as unreasonable restrictions on printing. It's a hard place for the publishers, it's a hard place for the libraries, and many of the vendors are stuck in the middle. So, we'll need to keep working on that issue somehow.