Are you being served? – ALPSP Conference

“The big deal is the best thing since sliced bread” Dirk Haank, CEO of Springer Science and Business Media

Haank made these comments in the January 2011 issue of Information Today but after attending the ALPSP  ‘Are you being served?’  conference a few weeks ago it appears that many from the library and publishing world would challenge this remark.

My understanding of big deals is perhaps limited compared to others. To give some context I work as a Serials Librarian and have done for just over a year and my predominant focus has been print subscriptions. The post has now relocated to the eLibrary team and now I am attempting to inhabit two worlds. I have not been involved in the setting up of any big deals for my institution but my awareness of their restrictiveness came from completing my first renewals process last summer when I had to inform some Collection Management colleagues they were unable to cancel certain titles because they formed part of a big deal package. Nick Lewis (Library Director at UEA)  one of the speakers described it as “irresponsible”  to continue to sign these big deals because of their lack of flexibility and that libraries and publishers need to work together to develop new business models. This idea was echoed by Chris Bennett (OUP) who suggested that deals need to move away from being linked to print subscriptions and this is one of the problems I have come across.

Big deals were brought up periodically throughout the course of the conference but it wasn’t the main focus. Instead it was ‘shared services’, looking at how librarians, publishers and intermediaries can work together to make services sustainable in what are difficult and challenging times.

There are a number of interpretations of shared services but JISC (2008) has defined it as:

“Institutions cooperating in the development and delivery of services, so sharing skills and knowledge, perhaps with commercial participation”

Louise Jones from Leicester University gave an interesting talk about the considerations that need to be given when addressing shared services including “What shared services should be developed?” and “Who do you collaborate with?” as there may be various options:  Locally  Vs. Regionally Vs. Nationally Vs Internationally Vs. Other sectors.

There were also talks on some examples of shared services with updates on the following projects:

SCONUL shared services; KBART ;  & JUSP .

 What was apparent was that for shared services to be successful there needs to a culture of collaboration and the system needs to be supported by all levels of the institution.

Sharing services also raises concerns about how a library maintains its ‘brand’ and reputation.Marketing libraries is something which needs to be developed and it was suggested that perhaps we need to draw on the experience and expertise in the publishing world to help build the library brand.Another potential threat to shared services is the competitive advantage that will become more prominent as universities charge higher fees – could this mean that institutions pull away from shared services and lead to fragmentation? Anne Rossiter (SCONUL) suggested that to minimise this we need to be clear about what services we are sharing (ie tasks which are duplicated or repetitive) and clear about where there would be local differentiation, thus helping with the brand recognition. 

 Another key theme throughout the day was about how we can add value and Return on Investment (ROI). Ann Lawson (EBSCO) looked at it from the subscription agent point of view outlining their role in adding value through, for example, outsourcing basics, providing better licensing terms, making more content available. Whilst Carol Tenopir (University of Tennessee)  condensed nearly 30 years of research and experience into a 30 minute slot! Carol’s research focus has been to look at how to measure the value of academic libraries through implicit, explicit and derived (ROI) measures, thus providing evidence that library collections contribute to income generation such as research grants. Carol is now involved with JISC  & 6  UK institutions to conduct similar research here and the findings should be collated Summer 2011 so it will be interesting to see the outcome.

All in all it was a full programme, giving me the opportunity to see how shared services are developing.