In her published remarks at the Spring 2005 Depository Library Council meeting, Superintendent of Documents (SuDoc) Judy Russell made this statement towards the end of her remarks:
We will continue working with you on an orderly, but accelerated, transition to a digital FDLP. This will continue to cause depository librarians to transform themselves from managers of collections into managers of electronic services, a trend in libraries that is not limited to government documents.
Ms. Russell is right that parts of librarianship are forcing librarians “to transform themselves from managers of collections into managers of electronic services.” This is especially true in serials. But this seeming throwaway line hides a lot of potentially difficult issues that the Government Printing Office (GPO) MUST address while developing plans for the future.
A major trend in serials is moving away from physical collections of journals to subscriptions to massive “big deal” aggregations. In many ways this is a boon to libraries everywhere. For example, Alaska has a statewide EBSCOhost license that gives even the smallest village library access to over 8,000 full text journals, magazines and full text books. Without such a license, no library could afford a fraction of what EBSCOhost can offer. EBSCOhost is really cool and if you don’t have it already, you should ask for a trial.
These subscriptions have a trade-off. The subscription is for ACCESS to the massive journal collection ONLY. If the State of Alaska weren’t able to afford EBSCOhost next year, libraries across the state would lose their backfiles as well as current journals. If EBSCO went bankrupt, the same result.
Another problem with electronic journal aggregations is that the content is fluid. A journal that is available in a database this year might not be available next year. The backfiles may or may not remain available, depending on the database vendor’s agreement with the publisher. If you want to assure permanent access to a journal run, you need to keep it yourself or be part of a preservation alliance like JSTOR. Of course, once you do that, you’ve moved away from being a service provider to being a collection manager. As it should be if you want to preserve a long term record.
While the vageries of pricing, budgets and publisher contracts are inconvenient in the private sector, they could lead to the loss of no-fee, permanent public access to fully functional taxpayer funded government information if conducted by the government.
Which is why we at Free Government Information see the future of government information as a distributed one where libraries take a leading role in preserving and providing access to government information over the Internet and beyond.
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