Tag Archives: publishing

The Paperless Dorm Room

It’s always good to start the day with a good laugh.

Joseph Storch has an idea (behind the Chronicle’s pay wall) to deal with textbook piracy – have all publishers put their books on a common electronic platform and let the colleges negotiate a subscription on behalf of students and dole out royalties to publishers based on use. Students will be fine with it because online is where students are at, and if a few students insist on printing content, well, even so “the system could save considerable paper.” And publishers might even start creating some digital content to supplement textbooks. What a concept!

Evidently Mr. Storch, an assistant counsel in the State University of New York’s Office of University Counsel, knows something about intellectual property law, but hasn’t paid much attention to the textbook industry and the masses of expensive online content they bundle with books, or to how students prefer to read. I don’t know about your students, but at our college most students print any online content that they want to read with care. Like most of us, they hate reading long texts on screen and even those suffering from ecological guilt prefer reading, marking up, and (if they’re on the ball) bringing their materials to class so they can refer to it. Professors want students to refer to texts under discussion, but are not universally delighted to face a classroom full of students with their noses buried in laptops. Not all students have laptops. Not all classrooms have wireless access to handle all those laptops at once. (I won’t even touch on the silliness of an ecological argument that landfills full of printed textbooks are a bigger problem than landfills overflowing with electronic junk, heavy metals and all.)

I applaud any attempt to improve the situation for students who have to spend so much on textbooks, but solutions should be proffered with some rudimentary research done beforehand. Libraries have subscribed to bundled electronic content on behalf of students for a long time, and while it means more content is accessible, it doesn’t make it cheaper – nor does it mean students will use more content. And so far, having all content through one platform may be the dream of some of our ambitious vendors, but it’s not likely to happen – or save anybody money.

I also had to laugh that he mentions Harvard Business Review – the outfit smart enough (or should I say greedy enough?) to have licenses with their content bundled into library databases spell out that it cannot be used for courses. For that, you pay more.

[Whoops – as Steven points out in the comments, I read that wrong. It’s Harvard Law Review. I did notice something else, though, that I hadn’t before – the copyright statements on full-text articles in Academic Search Premier vary from publication to publication, and a lot of them specify articles can be downloaded “for personal use.” It makes me wonder if that’s to wriggle out of use of these articles in courses, with links in syllabi or e-reserves systems. But that’s a paranoia for another day . . .]

A cheaper solution? Nice thought, but I doubt it.

Getting Your Ideas Out There First

Academic librarians are generally not competitive types. If we were we’d probably have gone to business school. But that competitive spirit may show up when it comes to presentations and publications. Getting a paper or panel accepted for ACRL’s 14th National Conference in Seattle was certainly a highly competitive process with just a twenty percent acceptance rate. Another arena in which we compete is getting our articles and books published. That’s why I found the article in this week’s Chronicle about authors racing to publish books on the same topic of interest. We don’t talk about this much in our academic librarian conversations but I hazard a guess that it is something many of us have experienced. As we write our papers or books on our original ideas we wonder if there is someone else out there who’ll get their manuscript – on our idea – to an editor before we do.

I know I certainly had this in the back of mind as I worked my way through the book I was writing in 2006 that was published in 2007. I believed it was an original topic – for our profession at least. I certainly knew of no other articles written or presentations on the same topic. Yet I really had no way of knowing if someone else out there was writing about the same topic. While I had been thinking during the writing process about starting a blog on the same topic – which is becoming a more accepted way to begin getting your ideas out there and to get comments and feedback while writing – it also struck me as a way to claim my stake to this whole area of study (new for librarianship at least). Think of it as a pre-emptive strike. Of course, that would probably not mean all that much if someone else had published a book on the same topic before my own (by the way, co-authored with John Shank). It turns out I had little to worry about. Only just recently have I noticed a few bloggers mentioning the application of design to the librarians’ work process or the idea of the library user experience. Unlike the batch of competing books about Web 2.0, this book about design has pretty much had the field to itself.

That said, I’m open to more librarians thinking and writing about design thinking. The more librarians that begin conversations about it the more librarians who will think about these ideas more seriously – which is what I hoped to accomplish in the first place. Still, unlike the authors profiled in the Chronicle article, I’m glad that I didn’t experience discovering another author writing a similar book at the same time. No one likes to appear competitive, but when it happens to you it can be pretty distressing.

Now, if your challenge is more specific to problems encountered in trying to write about your ideas then you should give some thought to a good idea discussed in another article in the same issue of the Chronicle. Get yourself a personal writing coach. That’s right. The next time you need help getting started or getting over your writing block, ring up your coach and let him or her help to figure out why you are having trouble – and more importantly get you writing again. Impossible you say. You could never afford it. Well, you may actually be able to get some help for free. Were you aware that the ACRL College Library Section offers a program called “Your Research Coach“. The program, run by the Section’s Research Committee, will connect aspiring writers and presenters with more experienced colleagues (they are actually called “coaches”) who can help with idea formation, methodology, research strategies, etc. Sometimes just talking over a writing hurdle can be a big help. I participate as a coach and I know I’ve been able to help a few folks just by listening to their ideas and then sharing some advice or steering them in a certain direction. The only requirement is that you need to be an ACRL member.

Cheaper by the .pdf, but still . . .

SUNY press has announced an initiative to sell .pdf files of new books for only $20.00 for a title that costs $75.00 in hardcover. And you can browse the first two pages of every chapter absolutely free! What a daring initiative!

Sorry, but I’m undewhelmed. I totally support the mission of university presses, but it’s really hard to imagine that the industry will be transformed by giving readers the amazing opportunity to shell out twenty bucks for a computer file 258 pages long. Twenty bucks is more than the price of most trade paperbacks outside academia – and you have to print it yourself. I realize, we write for a tiny niche audience, but still – if this is the revolution, wake me up later, would you?

And you can see a whole two pages of each chapter? This is progress? The National Academies Press has pretty well proven that free full text browsing is good for sales. And they seem to sell trade paper copies immediately for a price close to the .pdf price. If I were publishing with a university press, I’d want my book affordable on its release, not a year later, and not just as a .pdf.

I realize there are significant costs involved, but this seems so wrongheaded to me. No wonder so many libraries are getting involved in publishing. Maybe our nutty fascination with access is just the counterweight to this kind of innovation the system needs.

Academic Newswire‘s e-mail announcement calls this groundbreaking. Exactly what kind of ground are we talking about?

death's head

photo courtesy of Queen Roly.