Robert Bovenschulte asked Ann Wolpert if he could conclude from her remarks that she might roughly divide all library deals into three categories: good deals, acceptable deals, and bad deals. He was curious to understand better the interplay of forces within the university when a library accepts a bad deal.
Ann Wolpert noted that there are different flavors of bad deals. Some of them have to do with the cost of the deal, and some of them have to do with the terms and conditions of use that come with the deal. A bad deal for a university is a deal that over time consistently favors the needs and interests of one group within the university over others. Part of the political risk that the scientific community runs right now, and where there is push-back in the university environment, is around the constant percentage increase in demand to support the scientific and technical literature out of a finite amount of money. At the end of the day, someone on the campus gets shortchanged as a consequence of the need to constantly feed a set of growing expectations about the payout from university library budgets in support of scientific and technical literature.
From the standpoint of the university, ultimately the groups that are shortchanged will have their time in the spotlight. Disciplines cycle through favor. Around the turn of the last century it was mechanical engineering then civil engineering and then physics; right now it happens to be the biological sciences. But as a practical matter, sometime they will cycle out too, and something else will replace them. Libraries struggle to maintain a balance on their campuses from the expenditure point of view between and among the disciplines. The potential for long-term damage is there, because one cannot buy a book that is not available anymore.
The other worry that universities have is about the terms that licenses about who can use material and under what conditions. That sometimes disadvantages parts of the campus. A library can afford to license for a limited number of users or for one subset of its community, which disadvantages those who cannot easily get to use it. Those licenses cannot be networked, or they can only be networked within a particular subset of buildings on campus. So these are the kinds of complications that libraries did not have 10 or 15 years ago, which they now confront on a regular basis.
Gordon Neavill, of Wayne State University, noted that one of the problems in the digital environment is that the economic link between current and retrospective information is broken. In the print environment, almost all the information that libraries bought was acquired because it was current. It was then simply retained and became valuable retrospective information. In the electronic environment, we pay once for current information, then we probably have to pay all over again, at a fairly high cost, to capture the same information for very important, but low-level, retrospective uses. In the case of electronic databases, snapshots are made, but fewer people will use the retrospective information than need the current information. To some extent, these retrospective costs can be shared. He asked if electronic systems can be designed to minimize the additional cost required to retain them for retrospective purposes.
Ann Wolpert said that there are two ways to think about that. When only one format existed, it served a variety of needs: the current information dissemination, the near-term research requirement, and the long-term archiving requirement. In the digital environment, people want to use the digital materials for the sake of convenience and productivity, but there are difficulties with that, in that the electronic material does not perfectly mirror what came out in print. We heard previously that a third of the use of the Reed Elsevier titles was for nonarticle material. So there is a lot of information in print publications that is not in electronic collections of journals.
The other way to think about the electronic environment is that there are presumably costs associated with buying the retrospective collection on an annual basis. If a library had a choice of buying one year's worth at a time in terms of budget, it could do that and stop. But in the electronic environment, a library has to buy the current year plus the archive in many instances over and over again. Certainly that is the model for reference books. If a library had limited funds, it bought a scientific and technical