June 30, 2005

My job in 10 years -- Collections

I've divided this part into a few distinct areas: books, journals, databases and other. Databases and other are coming next.

Books. Will I still be buying anything in print in 10 years? It'll be close, but I think so. I'm pretty sure that the stuff I buy in the History and Philosophy of Science will still mostly be real monographs, intended to be read from start to finish. That stuff will certainly be still available in print format. I may buy dual format, print & online, but there will still be print versions. Technical manuals for operating systems and programming languages and the like will mostly be online only, the Safari and Books24x7 model taking over that particular niche.

Two models I like a lot that I think will become much more important in the book world are the new Safari University system where profs can cobble together course textbooks from a wide variety of existing content modules. The other model is the Synthesis model from Morgan & Claypool, where we see medium length (ie 70-100 pages) essays on various topics in depth. This is what our students really need from us -- that kind of concentrated knowledge, that they can use to get up to speed on a particular topic fast. Getting that kind of concentrated dose will be a lot easier than pulling together information from a bunch of different web sources. The key to these two models is that print is secondary with online being the primary mode of delivery.

Who needs to read an 500 page book on classical mechanics or 20 books on signal processing? The real knowledge encapsulated in these books will be broken down, recombined and focused on specific needs. Break the 500 pages down into usable chunks, extract what's really interesting from the 20 different books to make one really good one -- the one fitted to a particular student's or course's needs. That's what I think I'll be buying for my scitech collection in 10 years. Reusable, interchangable content pieces that can be really focused on both broad and niche topics. I think that these content objects will be increasingly visual and interactive, constantly updated, perhaps with blog- or wiki-like feedback loops. I think that's what the net generation will want from their scitech "books." What will happen to the 10s of thousands of books currently on our shelves? A lot of them will stay there, a lot will go into fast retrieval storage locations. Availability online (ie. via Google Print) will probably decide each book's fate. In 10 years, I'll probably only be buying a couple of hundred real print books per year, maybe even less.

Another model that I think will become dominant is the kind that Knovel has, a big database of a lot of factual information, ie. chemistry and engineering tables. This data will still be very important for students and researchers to get quality information, but these kind of databases will make the most sense.

Journals. Will I be buying anything in print in 10 years? I suspect almost nothing. Perhaps I'll still get stuff like Scientific American and Wired in print becuase they're fun to flip through while sitting in the comfy chairs drinking a latte. As for scholarly publishing itself, looking into the crystal ball 10 years into the future is very murky. By then I suspect that virtually all journals will have abandoned the "issue" model and will be article-based. Probably many will be overlay journals, providing peer review services to articles in various eprint servers. For these, I'll pay a certain amount to cover the costs of peer review and the technical infrastructure for publishing and archiving. I imagine that the scholarly societies will be heavily into this model, somehow having figured out their business model for both publishing and non-publishing society activities. I'll still also pay more traditional subscription costs to the various commercial and society publishers, who I think will still be very active in 10 years. Those publishers will continue to publish their peer reviewed journals in 10 years from now. By that point, though, the net generation will start making their influence felt as scholars. I think that this will really begin the transformation of scholarly publishing in the 10 years after that.

The rise of blogs, wikis and other social software will start to have an important impact on scholarly publishing in the next 10 years. Important articles will start virtual conversations that will bounce back and forth. Conferences will probably see the same sort of transformations. While face-to-face networking will still be important, a lot of the true exchange of ideas will happen after the conference has ended. By then, we'll probably figure out a way for libraries to contribute to the infrastructure of this process, and that will be part of my job.

In conclusion, I think our biggest challenge in 10 years will be marketing to students the resources we do purchase -- convincing them that we have something to offer that beats what they can get for free online. It will have to be much better quality and at least as good convenience. Part of this challenge will even be getting any message in front of their eyeballs at all, getting some small piece of their attention. And I guess that leads into the Instruction section next.


Norma said...

Interesting predictions. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I've done some research and though I knew librarianship was a graying profession, I didn't realize to what extent. According to some pie charts I found, 25% of all librarians in Colorado (my area) will be retiring in 10 years. I am seriously considering going into Library & Information Science, but I am afraid that more than just the librarians themselves are graying. By many of your predictions, it seems that the whole concept of a library will change, if not disintigrate in places. So, 25% of librarians will be gone in 10 years, do you think that 25% of the library might be gone, too? In your experienced opinion, is it worth the struggle to get into the few slots they have available at the only ALA accredited LIS program around here? - Heather

John Dupuis said...

Heather, If you really want to be a librarian, go for it. Basically all occupations/professions will be undergoing a lot of change over the next 10 years, so I think people should just pick the one they're most suited for or and that have the most interest in and just make the best of it. There are certainly a lot of opportunities to make a difference in a profession when there's radical change happening -- if you think you might have something to offer, you should consider entering the profession.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, John,
That's fabulous, well-grounded advice.