1. Could you please begin by letting us know what your role at the University of Toronto has been that you’re now retiring from?
After 35 years at U of T I’m retiring from the role of Electronic Information Resources Co-ordinator. The background to this is that in the mid to late 1990s I made a shift from an administrative role to information technology services because this is when Academic Press came out with their model of selling e-journals to consortia. I was asked to put together a consortium in Ontario and at this point I became an electronic resources coordinator. My role was to be aware of what was going on in the emerging electronic sphere and to negotiate pricing and licenses. I didn’t have a budget of my own which was a bit frustrating at the time. Instead, I had to persuade collection development librarians from across the province to pool their resources. Also at that time, Elsevier were experimenting with TULIP, allowing libraries to locally load. We really embraced this idea at U of T and, after starting with around 200 journals, we’ve continued to this day with locally loading journals and books. I feel very fortunate I was given a wide scope in my work.
2. You’ve been a very strong advocate for e-books over the last ten years or more, speaking at many international conferences on the topic. Has the pace of books digitization and the adoption of ebooks matched what you hoped and expected to happen? Have there been any surprises?
I thought moving to e-books was going to be straightforward. To my surprise we had to go back to the beginning in many ways, revisiting many of the arguments about e-journals. At the beginning some librarians felt that e-journals were unnecessary, ie. people should come in to the library and use the journals that we had there. The same arguments came up in relation to e-books as for e-journals, eg. maybe they’d be needed in science but not in social science and the humanities. Then it was ‘maybe in social science, but not in the humanities’. People said the user doesn’t want them. However, we’ve proven over time people do want them. There were the same issues with e-journals in the early days.Perhaps if it had been more simple I may have got bored!
Our experience at the University of Toronto was quite different. While we found some titles we bought in e-form were not heavily used, there were many that we never had had in print which were heavily used electronically. In general, though, I’ve been quite surprised at how slow libraries have been in purchasing e-books. I viewed my job as trying to anticipate the information needs of users and satisfying those needs, making access as easy as possible. Clearly, for that, electronic is the way to go.
3. What is your view of the ‘Big Deal’, and how do you view Demand Driven Acquisition (DDA) as an alternative model?
We’re a big fan of the big deal at University of Toronto as we’d already bought so much content in print. However, I’ve also tried to take an evidence based approach for e-books. For example, we base our decisions on finding the books that are on course reading lists and the books which have multiple reservations in the library. Regarding DDA, it sounds good but I feel it’s us reneging on our responsibility. If we’re relying on DDA then we’re not talking enough to our users and finding out what they want. Our catalogues are bad but I still like to believe that users can find content without DDA. We’ve already got big deals with the top 20 publishers on our wish list so maybe DDA is appropriate for the next tranche. However, it’s tricky as some publishers don’t allow it or have the functionality.
4. What do you think are the most important success factors for libraries to engage and connect with their user communities?
This is something I think we should be doing a lot more of and thatI think will shape the future. I don’t think libraries spend enough time talking to researchers and graduate students. I may be being unfair but, from my experience, we don’t reach out to the community and say ‘now that we’ve provided you with this content, what are your information needs we’re not meeting?’ Something I’d started before leaving U of T was to set up an author event and I think there’s a lot of opportunity in this, for publishers and for libraries, and for the two to partner much more. For example, how can we, publishers and libraries, help graduate students to get published? How do we support them to get jobs as associate editors? I hope it’s the next big thing. It’s in everyone’s interests that people write well and edit well. Sometimes I think that you, as publishers, have a better relationship with our users than we do. Some reference desk librarians say they have a good relationship but a lot of researchers aren’t going into the libraries.
5. You’ve been a member of several Library Advisory Boards (including Wiley-Blackwell’s and OUP’s). Do you see these Boards as useful mechanisms for improving understanding and collaboration between librarians and publishers?
I used to think these LABs were just chances to travel but my view changed. I really do believe that being on the boards helped me and it helped them. When managed well they have great potential for covering the big future topics, such as text mining, big data clauses, author rights, etc. Conversations should start with advisory boards. My recommendation to publishers would be that you need to really work your advisory board members.
6. What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in libraries during the course of your career?
The switch from print to electronic is the big game changer of course. The basics of acquiring content, organizing it, and making it available still hold but access is a big change and it’s now much easier for researchers and grad students. It means they have more of a fighting chance the night before the essay is due. Our discovery tools are not there yet but they’re certainly better than our catalogues were.
7. As you leave the profession, what do you think are the greatest challenges that librarians are facing?
We need to talk to the users more. Librarians really are going to become irrelevant if we don’t understand and meet user needs better. If we satisfy their information needs then I believe the money will flow. Everybody wants to be more highly ranked and to do more research. There’s money there for research but libraries need to show why they should get the money. My advice would be to make yourself relevant. There are also some big issues looming on the horizon, such as text mining and big data. Visualizations may also be making a comeback. Librarians need to stay on top of and ahead of the curve on these issues.
8. What words of advice do you have for the librarians of the future?
Don’t be complacent. It works pretty well when people come to us, but we need to be out there more, interacting with our users, being aware of what’s going on in the world. Also, a bugbear of mine is that we call ourselves research libraries, but the one thing we don’t do is research. We can learn as much from our failures as from our successes. There should perhaps be more synergies with the library school.
9. What will you miss the most from your work?
I regret that I’m leaving at a time when more and more publishers and librarians are talking to our end users together. I’d like to be there to see the next big thing coming along.
10. What are your plans for enjoying your retirement?
I have a long list…I want to get more physically active, do yoga, relearn the piano (I haven’t played since I was 10 years old). I want to keep travelling and I have a list of books to get through. I’m also going to explore volunteering in my community, especially with older people. I won’t be bored!