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The 2012 North Carolina Serials Conference took place on March 16, 2012 at the Friday Center in Chapel Hill. The theme for this year’s conference was “Déjà Vu: All Over Again: Familiar Problems, New Solutions”, and in the serials corner of Library Land this is often the case. As more libraries have made the transition from print to electronic, the process to find new and stable workflows has been an ongoing concern. As a testament to their resilience, however, libraries have integrated new lines of thought to manage continuing resources. Three of these ideas stood out to me during the day’s events.

Flexibility is still important. One of the most interesting sessions I attended examined the parallels between journal publishers and the music industry. When Napster became a dominant technology in the late 1990s, users were able to (albeit illegally) swap songs through online file sharing. The RIAA moved to shut down the technology, but the concept was successfully incorporated in to Apple’s iTunes platform several years later and the record industry was changed forever. Journal publishers have reached a similar crossroads, as users have begun to focus on journal articles to support their research rather than reading an entire journal. The speaker made the case that publishers should recognize this change and adapt to the needs of their users, which the music industry was unable to do effectively. The question of access to the content over the container continues.

The Big Deal is no longer the only solution. For almost twenty years, libraries have purchased electronic journal packages that included former print subscriptions as well as journals that they could not have afforded previously. The Big Deal, as it came to be known, was an opportunity for many libraries to greatly increase the numbers of journals for their users to access. However, as journal costs have escalated and library budgets have remained stagnant, libraries have reexamined these packages and decided that they are no longer feasible and withdrawn from them. Some have even returned to the a la carte approach, where journal subscriptions are purchased on a title-by-title basis rather than as a bundle. Regardless of the approach, it has become clear that a re-evaluation is in order. Numerous options such as pay-per-view and demand driven acquisition may take hold in the world of journal publishing, changing both publishing and collecting as a whole.

Ebooks, ebooks, ebooks. The final vision session was from Kevin Guthrie, President of Ithaka (providers of library services like JSTOR), and he spoke about “Will Books Be Different?” Books, he argued, would take a similar path as print journals into the electronic environment but with a few key differences. Ebook readers, such as the Kindle and Nook, will expand into a manageable form of delivery for a variety of users and their needs. Google and Amazon will expand into the market of being long term providers of ebooks, but they will be faced with the needs of preservation and access that have become part of the manageability of electronic journals. He also made three additional points:

  • With ebooks as a whole, libraries are still ahead of a majority of their users: where some users still have a cautious viewpoint of them, libraries have gone forward with offering access.
  • Publishers are still adapting their services: in terms of maintenance and a solid business model, publishers have seen ebooks as a work in progress.
  • Just like electronic journals, universal adoption cannot be expected: some areas of study will be slower to adopt ebooks on a large scale, but as service and technology improve the tipping pint may be reached.

In all, this year’s Serials Conference was a stimulating for ideas and concepts. As librarians attempt to provide the best service for their patrons, it’s always interesting how the new can be viewed by- and not necessarily against- what has gone before.