Monash University Library Annual Report 1998

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In 1998, the greatest challenge faced by the Library was to ensure its continued ability to support the core teaching and research program of the University in the face of the very sharp fall in the Australian dollar which had a severe impact on the Library's acquisitions budget and resulted in forced cancellations of nearly $800,000 worth of serials. Recognising that the underlying crisis must be tackled on a national and international basis, the Library has embarked on a number of initiatives to ensure that academic staff and researchers will continue to have access to the information resources that they require to support their teaching and research. The initiatives undertaken so far include the following:

  • establishing a mechanism to share information resources with the University of Melbourne under the umbrella of the Monash-Melbourne protocol. A major project will be launched in 1999 to explore the feasibility of using the MEADS system developed at Monash as a vehicle for creating a "virtual collection of serials" in specific disciplines which would be of interest to academics and researchers in both institutions
  • through the exchange of serial cancellation lists with other Victorian university libraries, ensure as far as possible that the same titles are not cancelled
  • rationalising duplication of titles across all the Monash campuses
  • at the national level, cooperating with the Academies and other university libraries to draw national attention to the crisis faced by research libraries in Australia
  • negotiating with DETYA through CAUL for funding to pilot the establishment of a network of disciplined-based Cooperative Information Centres
  • jointly with other Victorian universities negotiating bulk purchasing deals with vendors
  • at the national level, participating in consortium negotiations to get better deals from suppliers of electronic information resources
  • collaborating with the "Big Eight" universities to develop strategies to deal with the problem

To solve the problem, some long-term strategies must be developed, and it is not even clear that these strategies will work. As Mobley has stated:

Commercial sci-tech publishers have been identified as the villains in the serials crisis. However, dispassionate observations over a number of years would suggest that the current crisis is a result of many villains including the accusers themselves. The situation did not arise solely as a result of changing pricing policies of the last few years. The "sins of the past" coupled with the myopia of not looking outside the ivied walls of academe provided the foundation for the current crisis. Mobley, E.R. "Ruminations on the sci-tech serials crisis" Issues in science and technology librarianship Fall 1998.

Part of the problem is closely connected with the culture of scholarly communication, which requires academic staff to publish in order to be promoted or be given tenure. They in turn surrender their intellectual property rights to large commercial publishers, who through mergers and takeovers, have become virtual monopolies, and are thus in a position to sell this scholarship back to the scholarly community at almost any price, and impose restrictions on use in the electronic environment. The problem can not be solved by libraries alone. It is increasingly recognised that all sectors of the research higher education community - governments, scholars, librarians, university administrators and scholarly societies must explore ways to create a new market for scholarly information that "preserves the low prices necessary to the successful maintenance of the modern academic enterprise."

In 1998, the Library also took steps to re-align its strategic plans to those of the Monash Plan and the Learning and Teaching Operational Plan. This was achieved through developing a number of new strategies, including the restructuring of the Library so that the entire library system and not merely a single unit would have responsibility for servicing the varying needs of distance education as well as on campus students in a range of learning environments, the initiation of discussions with faculties and academic staff to introduce formal information literacy programs in the curriculum, the creation of the Virtual Librarian web site which would allow remote staff and students to gain information seeking skills, the establishment of the Audio-on-Demand Project to make remote access to taped lectures possible, and the establishment of appropriate platforms for the delivery of electronic information services.

The largest project (in terms of expenditure and staff involvement) managed by the Library in 1998 was the replacement of the obsolete PALS library management system with the state of the art web based Voyager library system. The challenge was to implement this system with the minimal disruption to existing Library services. That this was achieved is a tribute to the skills and dedication of the Library staff involved.

The changeover to a faculty based organisational structure and the establishment of an infrastructure to support the University's emphasis on flexible learning. Whilst it is never easy to navigate uncharted waters, the restructure along faculty lines was necessary to enable the Library to provide a quality information service in line with the University's key goals for learning, teaching and research. Thanks to the excellent work by a Working Party chaired by the Associate University Librarian, the Library was able by the end of the year, to convert its site-based professional information services staff into nine faculty-based teams to provide academic support services across all the campuses. The formula for the Library materials budget was also changed from a site-based budget to a faculty based allocation.

During the year, General Library Committee undertook a major review of its terms of reference and membership and also agreed to a major change in the user committee structure to reflect the Library's move to streamline communication and consultation processes along faculty lines. Thus, from 1999, the six user committees will be reduced to three, viz. the Library Advisory Committee for Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine; the Library Advisory Committee for Humanities and Social Sciences; and the Law Library Advisory Committee.

When the University established its seventh campus in Malaysia, the Library was asked to provide some initial support and advice, and the Associate University Librarian was given responsibility for the coordination of library matters with the Monash University Sunway Campus Malaysia (MUSM). An Interim Plan has been agreed upon, and arrangements have been made to facilitate access by MUSM staff and students to the Library's electronic resources and for some assistance in document delivery support of MUSM postgraduates and academics.

The new Library buildings at Peninsula and Gippsland campuses became operational at the start of the 1998 academic year. Due in large part to the Library staff at both campuses, the planning and move of the collections to the new buildings were carried out without serious problems. Work on extensions to the Hargrave Library and the Berwick Library proceeded and both extensions are expected to be completed early in 1999.

In every respect, 1998 has been an extremely challenging year, and through all the challenges, the Library has not faltered in its drive to improve its support of the strategic directions of the University through a number of initiatives, but always anchored firmly on the foundations of the virtual library service. The move to give less prominence to space and site represents quite a radical transformation in the thinking of librarians, whose services have traditionally been associated with a building. The challenge has been to change the contemporary thinking about space among users as much as librarians to one that represents the dichotomy between physical space and the evolving "cyberspace". In that respect, Monash Library has been in the forefront in pushing for this philosophical change and evolution.

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