Back to the FutureCast: publishing and content abundance

June 29th, 2011 by Merrilee

This is the third in a series summarizing our recent meeting FutureCast: Shaping Research Libraries in a Networked Age. You may also wish to refer to previous postings.

Brian O’Leary from Magellan Media Partners was our second keynote speaker, addressing the FutureS of publishing. (Brian has thoughtfully posted his own series of blog posts on ideas presented in this talk.)

Brian couched his remarks as more about possibility than fate, and said that we’re not talking about “a wide bottomed boat” but a flotilla of vessels, all traveling at different speeds towards their various destinations. The chief failure of traditional publishers is that they are focused on the information container (think codex), and are missing opportunities around content distribution. In order to succeed in a new information economy, digital publishing needs to focus on context and should make containers a secondary consideration.

The challenge is not just being digital, but being demonstratively relevant to customers. Disruptors, who focus on access and tools that help support discovery without the distraction of the container, will be more successful. In an era where discovery and remix are paramount, Brian put forth the challenge, “Open your API, or someone else will.” He further warned, “Piracy is the consequence of a bad API”– those who expect and need access will make their own way if necessary. (As a side note, an example this sort of need-based API for the Trove Australian Newspapers Database was contributed to the discussion via Twitter.)

But it’s more than just about creating tools for discovery, it’s doing more with the content, which needs to be deeply and consistently tagged — otherwise it can’t be found and used. We also need to be thinking about tools that allow using to use context to manage abundant content.

An excellent response panel followed up with some thoughts on the impact on the research library.

Steve Bosch, from University of Arizona said that library processes and workflows are container based and will need to change: “We’ve been in denial about that.” Flat, title-level metadata will not cut it for network level discovery and reuse. The good news is that libraries are highly trusted by our customers to provide context.

Barbara Dewey, Dean, University Libraries and Scholarly Communications, at Pennsylvania State University represented the viewpoint of an institution that has “three ships in the flotilla:” a library serving 23 campuses; the PSU Press; and a new office of scholarly publishing. At PSU, they are asking the question, “Are we partners in content creation, or just consumers?”

Patricia Steel, Dean of Libraries at University of Maryland asked, how can libraries deliver “delight” and “user happiness”? At Maryland, the institutional repository is shifting from a more “traditional” model to one that collects and contains more grey literature and additional contextual sources. Is there a potential role for libraries in supplying and creating open textbooks?

In a spirited exchange, collection development was first deemed “doomed” then downgraded to “dead,” and there was a call for a shift from traditional collection development to resource management. In an era of constrained resources, a risk to libraries is that the “best” content will be replaced by “good enough” content.

If you have the time to watch the recorded video for this session, I highly recommend it. Although Brian’s remarks were framed as recommendations for the publishing industry, there’s a good deal in that’s applicable to libraries as well. Brian’s presentation (which you can see in the video) is highly engaging both in terms of content and graphical elements, and more nuanced than I can present here. The ensuing discussion is both interesting and provocative. Our thanks to all.

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One Response to “Back to the FutureCast: publishing and content abundance”

  1. Brian O'Leary Says:

    I appreciate the opportunity that OCLC Research gave me to speak, and I have to commend everyone involved for the feedback and conversation that followed my presentation. It’s rare to receive so much constructive commentary in real time. It was an honor.