ALCTS Pre-conference: Definitely Digital – Part 1

Definitely Digital: An Exploration of the Future of Knowledge on the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Association for Library Collections & Technical Services

Friday, January 19, 2007 — Grand Hyatt Seattle, Eliza Anderson Amphitheater

This preconference is the first event of the 50th anniversary of ALCTS. Information will be made available via the ALCTS website after the conference. It is co-sponsored by Amazon.com.

There were four speakers plus a panel discussion. My notes below give the major points from the four speakers, but I have not reported on the panel discussion, which covered the questions discussed in the pre-conference blog:
Digiblog, the ALCTS Blog.

First Speaker

James Hilton, “Scholarship in the Digital Age: Opportunities and Challenges”
VP & CIO, U of Virginia

He began by listing and explaining some assumptions about scholarly publishing. Publishing is a basic need of scholarship because it is how collaboration takes place. The publishing environment is changing, and a current assumption is, if it is not online, it will not be read. You can view this as a new dawn or “the perfect storm.”

Disruptive Forces

Disruptive Force #1: The emergence of the “pure property” view of ideas

Next he spoke about patents, noting that they were originally conceived as a way to encourage and share new ideas, but that now large corporations will patent methods of doing business. The problem, he says, is not that we have insufficient property protection or insufficient respect for new ideas, but that we are deploying new protections; we will soon be paralyzed by the “plethora of IP fences thrown up around ever smaller pieces of property.” How do you get innovation?

Today in academia, “job one” for faculty, researchers, and students is protecting their personal property. He has even heard of cases where students are asking their professors to sign non-disclosure statements.

Scholarly publishing should be a large and countervailing force to this mentality.

Disruptive Force #2 – Technology and unbundling.

Technology tends to unbundled activities that were formerly packaged together. For example, in banks you used to deal with tellers for many activities, but now internet banking has replaced them.

Education is a hugely bundled endeavor. The first unbundling will be that of content. We’re going to see unbundling of scholarship. We have a benign conspiracy that says the product of a thesis belongs to the lone author, but it takes a village to support authorship now. The current model will be reconfigured.

Universities bundle all costs by charging “tuition.” How do we think about unbundling monographs, articles? Should the cost be bundled with the distribution price?

Disruptive Force #3: Producer Push v. Demand Pull

Lectures are an example of “producer push.” But now it is more about “I want what I want, when I want it.” He contrasted university lectures with collaborative exploration.

He spoke about libraries and the “long tail,” and emphasized the need for broad, efficient access to public domain works. Universities and libraries see themselves as doing the “gate-ing” of resources, but this won’t work any longer.


We’re living in a world of abundance. It costs a lot to put in a large storage system, but the marginal cost of using it is zero. We are used to managing in scarcity, but we haven’t figured out how to manage the abundance. University presses are “code blue” and libraries should be at the center of solving the problems: we have an opportunity to drive a close alliance between the library & IT in support of teaching & research (scholarship). If what you’re doing doesn’t relate to teaching & research, you risk irrelevance. Libraries are at the center of this; they can help channel the expression of their communities. The library is at the geographic center of campus; the challenge is to remain at the virtual & active center.

Libraries have the opportunity to reduce costs and take control of scholarly publishing.

Second Speaker

Lorcan Dempsey, “Moving to the Network Level: Discovery and Disclosure”

The key points in this talk centered on how the network is re-writing user behavior, about workflow and attention, and the aggregation of supply and demand. The ways in which people use systems and services have changed; the URL is the currency, without which you cannot share.

A long time ago we thought about databases as the center of attention. Now it’s the workflow as the focus (CMS, IR, etc.) What we’re doing on our desktops is assembling resources and constructing a digital environment for ourselves.
Increasingly the focus of our relationship with the network is that of workflow. Tools and services are being rebundled in peoples lives in a variety of different ways, e.g. PictureAustralia uses Flickr to get into the flow of people who are managing their photos, so the chances of finding photos are higher. This site is now very popular and it is driving traffic back to PictureAustralia. We need to be where people are in the network.

For libraries the big issue is that it must build its services around user workflow. Libraries must disclose what they have in a variety of places. There is strong competition for the attention of network users.

Library resources are fragmented and have large delivery costs. There is small aggregation of supply, but large aggregation of demand. Libraries aggregate neither demand nor supply (though it is improving through metasearch and resolution). We have to think about how people discover things where they want them.

Increasingly people want to get directly into the article of interest through search engines, linkservers, and RSS readers & blogs. The burden on the publishers is to see how to make content available Users won’t come to your website, but will come in from their other workflow resources. We need to position resources so they are effectively used.

Common misperception is that people will use your website. This is fluff, it is in the way. People want to get in and get out (drive-in users) ; they are the majority, but these are not the people we pay attention to.

We need to make our data work harder; so much data lies unused. We need to integrate access to locally managed resources. He cited Endeca and North Carolina State University’s public catalog interface as an example of how this is being done.

He then demonstrated how OCLC’s Fiction Finder makes the data work harder. In addition, Libraries Australia also tries to increase discovery and availability.

He stressed that a focus on integrating discovery and delivery is becoming essential. By offering a syndicated discovery experience, you pass data off the another service to drive traffic back to your own, as for example in Google Book Search.

In summary:

  • The library website is not the front door
  • Connect multiple discovery environments to library fulfillment
  • Put library resources in the user’s workflow
  • Place library resources in places which aggregate demand