3B: Reflection on Readings

This weeks readings took us out of the history, evolution, and future of reference librarians and smack dab into the middle of my comfort zone. There is economics, there is legal research, there is negotiations, and voila! there is my entire undergraduate focus all contained within this wonderful chapter in our textbook. The chapter examines the acquisition of electronic resources. It’s many complexities hit on each of my background studies in in philosophy, politics, and economics. While I knew there would eventually be some place they showed up, if only because I have learned to appreciate an interdisciplinary approach and gained valuable knowledge of research processes. I did not realize there was a function in every library that would draw on each of these specializations in tern. I may be entirely too thrilled that the research of, negotiations for, and acquisition of materials is a function that reference librarians can preform.

First, there are many economic considerations in the process of determining an acceptable price for the electronic resources. The librarian must take into account not only budgets, but serious economic considerations such as price elasticity, inflation, and long term equilibrium. This is especially true in the case of multi year contracts. eResource pricing is said to be very elastic in the chapter. This means that the demand for a certain eResource is very responsive to a change in price; if the price goes up significantly, demand will decrease by a large margin as well. Without multi year contracts, which lock in a certain price, a change in price could make the resource prohibitively expensive. Even if the librarian in charge was tracking inflation rates to predict future prices and adjusting budgets accordingly, any budget increase does not usually keep up with inflation rates. In addition, tracking inflation would be difficult and time consuming. The best way to deal with the elasticity problem is multi-year contracts. This does not mean they are the best solution to other problems related to eResource acquisition. A librarian would have to examine additional economic considerations to make a final decision.

Second, there are a variety of political considerations that pop up in both the consortium and negotiation aspects. The negotiation of eResource license terms almost mirrors negotiations over international treaty terms. In both cases, each party has an ideal outcome that is usually incompatible; one exporting country wants completely open trade to make their goods more competitive internationally, while another advocates for protectionist policies that keep domestically produced goods competitive with the imports. Much like negotiations over eResources, they usually meet in the middle. Given each party is of equal power, neither party gets their ideal outcome, but settle on an outcome somewhere in the middle. However, parties are usually not equal. It is unclear how the  power hierarchy plays out  in the case of libraries versus the vendor. I would also be interested in seeing how the consortium would affect such a hierarchy. In the pure system where all libraries always purchase, it seems like it would skew the bargaining power in the libraries favor. However, the opt-in system would diminish the credibility of that power as the consortium can no longer make any guarantees.

The final, philosophical, considerations, could also be deemed the ethical considerations and stem from the political considerations of policy. Many of the policies associated with both eResource pricing and licensing seem to stem from a desire to protect the libraries interest. For example, the Shared Electronic Resource Understanding (SERU) eliminates the license requirements of eResources. This would very much reduce the burden on librarians, as it would very much streamline the process. Lacking additional research, it is unclear if only librarians must adopt it, if only publishers must adopt, or if both are necessary for SERU to have its positive effect. While ideally policy would make the vendor and library equal partners in a negotiation, the lack of transparency will constantly hinder this process. Or is that ideal at all? Some would argue that ethically, the library, who is an entity with the goal of increasing accessibility to resources, should have more bargaining power than the vendor. Alternatively, some would say that those who maintain, create, and add to eResources deserve to be properly compensated. In this case, one would argue that policy should favor vendors.

As you can probably tell, each of the three disciplines sheds a slightly different light on the topics of acquiring and negotiating for electronic resources. Economics is concerned with the budgetary aspects of pricing and long run predictions of affordability. Politics bring the negotiation of licenses to the forefront of the discussion. And finally, philosophy takes a step back and examines what should be the ideal process for these acquisition processes. Each plays off another, and a reference librarian charged with the tasks discussed in these chapter will have to be well versed in these tactics to reach the optimal outcome. It is exciting to me that each of the skills I honed over the past four years in my undergraduate degree, have a direct impact on library processes. Not only could I be suited for academic libraries or specific subject area reference, but a role that is available in all libraries.



3 thoughts on “3B: Reflection on Readings

  1. SERU does seem like it would simplify the e-resource negotiation terrain quite a lot. It would save time and expense on both sides, but it would give publishers less control over the way they regulate access and structure their pricing/profits, which is a significant disincentive for adoption on their part. I thought an interesting element of the discussion (I can’t remember if it was Kristin or Shevon who mentioned it, oops) was the point that publishers must continue to publish several journals that, taken on their own, are in the red. They must do so for political reasons and, if you want to be more charitable, reasons of preserving diversity of knowledge. However, this gives them even more incentive to bundle and package their subscription “products” in obtuse and overlapping ways to make the math work out in their favor and cover these sunk costs.


  2. It’s insights like these that make me really grateful LIS is made up of individuals from a variety of backgrounds. I often times find myself taking the flower child route and wonder why we can’t all just get along and share, while forgetting the practicalities. I must say I would think things skew in the vendors’ favor in that they are the one’s with the power in that they hold the product that libraries want. I think when Karen came and talked to our class though, she said larger libraries were able to stand up to vendors to negotiate cost sometimes but this seems only to be the case with larger libraries and possibly consortiums.


  3. See I never would have thought to think of eResource contracts as international treaty negotiations, but I’m so glad you have the economics background to make those insights and connections! Echoing Sarah’s comment, the fact that our cohort is made up of individuals from varied backgrounds means that our sharing of information will be that much more valuable as our different way of looking at things will expand how someone else has been looking at things. To go back to the treaty comment, it made me think of the ways in which trade agreements in history (especially between the United States and less powerful countries in Latin America) were very one-sided and greatly helped one country at the expense of the other. As you mentioned, it would be interesting to consider the power dynamics of the contract negotiations between libraries and vendors. Do vendors have the upper hand against libraries? Or can libraries stake their claim in a way that gives them a more favorable outcome? I guess I’ll have to find that out in SI 620!


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