Monday, February 3, 2014

One content silo removed at the recent ALA Conference in Philadelphia. But we're not done.

I returned from the ALA Mid-Winter Conference in Philadelphia feeling like the profession had made progress in dissolving one content silo and had signs for hope in dissolving another.  Those feelings were based on a couple of announcements that happened right before or during the conference:
  • ProQuest and Ex Libris cooperate to improve research workflows.  I’ve been one of many in the profession calling for content neutrality, i.e the freedom to use various content databases with the access/discovery tool of the library’s choice.  Many have been very critical of the major aggregators that refuse to do this and whose actions lock libraries into content silos or, at the very least, make it extremely difficult for libraries to use the discovery tool of their choice, with the content of their choice.   So now, it's important that we praise a change in that approach by one of the biggest aggregators, ProQuest, because they’ve entered into an agreement with Ex Libris to make a large number of databases, and the associated full-text of those databases available for indexing as part of Primo Central.   This is a big step forward for those libraries that use Primo (over 2,000 libraries world-wide) and who are also customers of ProQuest content.  It’s important for customers of ProQuest and Ex Libris to let those companies know how strongly we support the progress made because obviously, we’re not done yet.  Ebsco EDS content remains available to Ex Libris and ProQuest customers only through a set of API's that provide limited functionality.  And ProQuest content is not yet available to Ebsco EDS customers. While those strategies might make some sense on some business board room whiteboard, when combined with the realities in the world of libraries and education, it results in a strategy that is contrary to many of the core values of those professions. However, even at Ebsco we might be seeing a sign there will be change. 
  • Ebsco gets a new CEO. Tim Collins, a longtime part of the Ebsco management team, is moving into the CEO post.  This is very encouraging news.  While no one will diminish the impressive corporate record of F. Dixon Brooke, his leadership often created a firm that behaved in ways that were viewed as overly aggressive, and even arrogant, in the field of librarianship.  On the other hand, I’ve known Tim Collins for many years and have always been deeply impressed by him.  He’s very smart, capable and extremely personable.   Most important, he listens closely to customers.  With this kind of management moving into place at the highest level of the company, I have high hopes that we’ll see EBSCO make some very important and positive tweaks in how it is run.  Making the EBSCO content, and associated full-text, work more fully with other discovery interfaces would be an excellent step in that direction.  The final ingredient needed here is you.  As librarians in the field you need to make your voices heard on this issue.  I feel confident Tim will listen, but only if there is something to hear.  So, now is the time to start speaking up.
Frequently librarians under-estimate the power they have when they speak in unison to their suppliers.  Yet, when they do exercise that power changes can and frequently do result.  "United we stand, divided we fall".  So speak up -- together -- and make your voices heard.  Write or call the CEO's of all the companies mentioned above and share your thoughts on this issue

Librarians need to be able to choose their content AND their discovery interfaces from a wide variety of suppliers.  A big stride forward has been made. But there’s still a lot more ground to cover.