Monash University Library Annual Report 1996

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In 1996, there were many developments which are a source of pride. But there were also developments which are a source for concern.

1.1 Achievements

The Library's most notable achievements were related to its strategy to develop virtual library services. Over the last few years, the Library has endeavoured to construct a model of the virtual library which will allow users to access both analogue and digital materials wherever they are located. The terms 'electronic', 'digital' and 'virtual' are frequently used synonymously, but the Monash model of the virtual library service is not merely electronic or digital. It is used to describe a system that provides to users transparent access to a range of services and information resources wherever these are located. In that sense the service is 'virtual' to the user, because both the analogue and digital resources need not be held locally.

In 1996, the Library continued to add to the range of virtual library services, including:

  • the provision of access to additional electronic bibliographic and full text databases, specifically in the areas of psychology, engineering, medicine and business
  • the live implementation of the electronic reserve system at Berwick
  • the Legal Information Online project
  • pilot experimental projects in Audio on Demand and Video on Demand
  • active involvement in Web developments and the creation of subject gateways via the web pages of the various branch libraries
  • success in developing the 'launcher' software which will permit Web access to the CD-ROM network
  • the development of the electronic document delivery system
  • the MEADS (Monash Electronic Access and Delivery of Serials) trial to facilitate unmediated electronic ordering and journal article delivery from those specialised journals that have been cancelled
  • the student docking station project involving the Law Library and the Computer Centre to allow direct student access to the campus network from their laptop computers
  • the provision of multimedia workstations for Internet access.

In many ways the Library's virtual library service developments will provide the teaching and research infrastructure to support the University's plans for more flexible delivery of educational programs in the 'new learning environment'. But there are large costs involved, and with the continual decline in the Library's operating budget, it will become more and more difficult for the Library to continue to pioneer many of these developments.

Although the Library is committed to the concept of a virtual library service which includes traditional as well as new media, and the strategy is to combine the two as best befits the variant needs and wishes of academic staff and students, it continued to buy and process 45,000 printed items in 1996, thus belying fears that it is abandoning traditional scholarship. Other highlights in 1996 were related to the Library's quality assurance activities, its success in ensuring that its architectural briefs were successfully translated into functional building plans for the Gippsland and Peninsula campus libraries and its successful staff training programs.

1.2 Concerns

The developments which continued to be a source of concern related to the unrelenting rise in the cost of books and periodicals, which, coupled with a shrinking budget in real terms have made it increasingly difficult for the Library to meet the demands of the students, teachers and researchers. The demand for library services continued to grow unabated - a consequence of the expansion in teaching and research programs and a substantial growth in student numbers. The most striking growth in demand, which had a critical impact on the Library budget because of its high labour and other costs, was in document delivery. The improved electronic document delivery system which reduced turnaround time of normal transactions from up to two months to less than ten days led to an explosive growth in demand - more than 60% for interlibrary loans and 45% for intercampus loans. This unprecedented growth has forced the Library to consider imposing a quota in 1997 to cap demand, and this step will undoubtedly be an unpopular move.

Realising trends predicted earlier, 1996 also saw a remarkable growth in electronic publishing. There was considerable activity among commercial publishers, universities, scholarly societies, software companies and individuals to create electronic publications - mostly for distribution either using the Internet and other proprietary networks or CD-ROMs. In the scholarly (and especially the scholarly journal) arena, much of the scholarly information continued to be digitised forms of print publications. The number of purely electronic journals which are peer reviewed increased considerably. For example, of the 1695 electronic journals listed in the ARL Directory of electronic journals and newsletters, 1996, 517 were said to be peer reviewed. This contrasts with the situation in 1991 when only 110 electronic journals were peer reviewed. Indeed, it has been predicted that by the year 2000, almost all science, technology and medical journals will be available online.

Of course, while much information remains available solely in analogue form, moving analogue information like printed books and journals will not be easy or cheap since it is labour intensive. The ideal situation would be one where all materials were available in electronic form, but this is unlikely to happen. Print will not be completely replaced by electronic formats, and the fact that more than one million print titles continue to be published every year means that print, and especially the monographs and other materials required to support undergraduate teaching, will continue to co-exist with electronic publications in the foreseeable future.

The fact that the Library will have to continue to handle both print and electronic formats creates its own set of problems. A few of these are:

  • Firstly, the Library will have to continue to maintain at great cost and expense what are essentially parallel libraries - one based on print and one on electronic formats. The costs are not only in the area of staffing required for project management and to serve and train end users, but also in the continuing spiralling costs of monographs and periodicals, in the need to pay expensive licence fees for usage, in setting up and installing new systems, in acquiring the appropriate hardware, and so on. In the past few years, the Library has been fortunate in that it has been able to gain access to other sources of funding such as Quality funds, Open Learning funds, and Research Infrastructure funds. Many of these sources are likely to be diminished or disappear in the next few years.
  • Secondly, the Library's current experience seems to indicate that electronic access will add a new layer of costs rather than save money. This is because the traditional scholarly publishers like Elsevier, Springer and Academic Press have been quick to protect their markets by also moving into electronic publishing. But many of their publications continue to be merely electronic versions of scholarly print journals. Such publishers, not surprisingly, do not see electronic publications so much as a replacement of print, but as an additional source of revenue; and they have priced their publications accordingly. Many publishers of key scholarly journals will only allow access to their electronic editions if the print subscription is continued. While some provide free access if the print subscription is maintained, many usually charge a premium of up to 30% of the cost of the print subscription, as well as imposing all kinds of restrictions on access, eg from a single IP address, a single building, a single campus, or a limited number of simultaneous users. Not all publishers are so predatory in their pricing behaviour, but most are. The one saving grace is that the World Wide Web provides an easy means of publishing electronically with minimal capital investment, and may eventually provide traditional scholarly publishers with new competition - which might in turn lead to a reduction in the cost of access.
  • Thirdly, one of the consequences of the move to electronic access is that we no longer have control or ownership of the materials for which we pay large sums of money. Most of the electronic products that we acquire are actually leased or licensed for use. This means that when we cease to pay the licensing or leasing fees, we also cease to have access. Thus, in contrast with the past, we can no longer guarantee permanent access to scholarly information in the future.
  • Finally, even though digital information resources will extend the reach of the University in a number of areas, print will continue to be a major information resource in several disciplines, at least in the foreseeable future. One should not underestimate the cost of providing access to analogue materials to remote staff and students. In the flexible learning environment envisaged, staff and students may be located anywhere, and it is likely that the specific print resources that they want will be located somewhere else. The costs of delivering these analogue materials can be prohibitive.

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