Monthly Archives: February 2012

Access principle on Google’s terms

The British Library has reached a deal with search engine Google to have thousands of pages from one of the world’s biggest collections of historic books, pamphlets and periodicals scanned and made available on the internet.  The project involves about 250,000 rare texts dating back to the 18th Century.

It will take a few years to complete the project and Google will cover the cost of digitization. After the project is completed, it will allow readers to view, search and copy the out-of-copyright works at no charge on both the library and Google books websites.

I find it interesting that the library chief executive, Dame Lynne Brindley, justifies the project on the basis of the core library principles saying that the scheme is an extension of the ambition of the library’s predecessors in the 19th Century to provide access to knowledge to everyone: “The way of doing it then was to buy books from the entire world and to make them available in reading rooms […] We believe that we are building on this proud tradition of giving access to anyone, anywhere and at any time. […] Our aim is to provide perpetual access to this historical material, and we hope that our collections coupled with Google’s know-how will enable us to achieve this aim.”  Google’s Director of external relations, Peter Barron, agrees: “What’s powerful about the technology available to us today isn’t just its ability to preserve history and culture for posterity, but also its ability to bring it to life in new ways.” (quoted from:

I am thinking what benefit it is for the British Library to have its out of print collection scanned and available from their website if it’s going to be available through Google anyway. Then I am thinking for how long access from Google will be free… Will it be free only as long as people remember that certain out of print texts are also available from the British Library website while other texts are available from other libraries’ websites? And for how long will people actually bother accessing individual libraries’ websites if everything will be available from Google, and for how long will it be economically feasible to even maintain these websites. What will be the use of the British Library and other libraries in time when out of print texts will be accessed online through Google and electronic versions of new books will be downloaded to individual readers?

And I think about the access principle that is apparently the guiding principle behind this digitization project… In the end, it will be the few in Google and such that will hold the key to human knowledge and culture and they will provide access on their terms. There is already an unfortunate precedent for this project at the British Library. They have had already digitised a large part of their newspaper collection in partnership with JISC, and few years later made it available behind a paywall: If they have closed access to their digitised newspapers, what assurance there is that they will not do the same with this new project?

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Media intellectual: a shift in scholarship?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Slovenian philosopher and intellectual provocateur, Slavoj Žižek, is perhaps the most controversial yet popular public intellectual in the world.  Called “the world’s hippest philosopher” and a “media intellectual” in today’s Telegraph, Žižek is a cross between guru and gadfly, sage and showman, a contemporary public intellectual whose important work is mostly performed in public, via the various media. His  ‘live’ performance of philosophy teaching, go well beyond the static page and are not limited only to the  screen, or blog but also happen in packed open to the public seminars and are published in a variety of internet sources, such as YouTube and social networks.  Žižek’s combining of radicality and accessibility through the strategic use of interviews and public performances as popular media vehicles for the dissemination of his thought and the popularity and renown he has earned through this, indicates, to my mind, a shift in scholarship in at least some fields of the humanities, not only merely from print to digital but all the way to all available online media formats.  Like Socrates on the agora,  Žižek distributes his thought on the Internet bypassing paywalled Blackboards and other such. His case is the proof that the relationship between the free social media for mass knowledge distribution and scholarship does exist.  What effects does and will it have on academia, the univerasality of education? What effects does it have on libraries? How do we respond to this?

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The End of Academic Library Circulation?

I came across the article below quite by accident, having spend almost all of my entire professional life working mainly in the circulation department that I lead: delivering the service, training new library school students and thinking relentlessly of ways how to deliver a better service at the circulation desk and in the libraries as institutions.  Throughout all these years I was also constantly upgrading my skills by taking courses (in library science and technology) and was always able to perform the most advanced library tasks that kept changing as the libraries and information landscape changed.   I just never got the chance to do it as my main job duty.   I was always drawn to action and it was busy at the desk…..

from ACRL Tech Connect

What Library Circulation Data Shows

Unless current patterns change, by 2020 university libraries will no longer have circulation desks. This claim may seem hyperbolic if you’ve been observing your library, or even if you’ve been glancing over ACRL or National Center for Education Statistics data. If you have been looking at the data, you might be familiar with a pattern that looks like this:

total circulationThis chart shows total circulation for academic libraries, and while there’s a decline it certainly doesn’t look like it will hit zero anytime soon, definitely not in just 8 years. But there is a problem with this data and this perspective on library statistics.  When we talk about “total circulation” we’re talking about a property of the library, we’re not really thinking about users.

Here’s another set of data that you need to look at to really understand circulation:
fall enrollmentsAcademic enrollment has been rising rapidly.  This means more students, which in turns means greater circulation.  So if total circulation has been dropping despite an increase in users then something else must be going on.  So rather than asking the question “How many items does my library circulate?” we need to alter that to “How many items does the average student checkout?”

Here is that data:

circulation per student

This chart shows the upper/lower quartiles and median for circulation per FTE student.  As you can see this data shows a much more dramatic drop in the circulation of library materials. Rising student populations hide this fact.


But 2020? Can I be serious?  The simple linear regression model in the charts is probably a good predictor of 2012, but not necessarily 2020. Hitting zero without flattening out seems pretty unlikely. However, it is worth noting the circulation per user in the lower quartile for less than 4 year colleges reached 1.1 in 2010. If you’re averaging around 1 item per user, every user that takes out 2 items means there’s another who has checked out 0.

What’s Happening Here?

Rather than waste too much time trying to predict a future we’ll live in in less than a decade, let’s explore the more interesting question: “What’s happening here?”

By far the number one hypothesis I get when I show people this data is “Clearly this is just because of the rise of e-journals and e-books”. This hypothesis is reasonable: What has happened is simply that users have switched from print to electronic. This data represents a shift in media, nothing more.

But there are 2 very large problems with this hypothesis.

First, print journal circulation is not universal among academic libraries. In the cases where there is no print journal circulation the effect of e-journals would not be present in circulation data. However, I don’t have information to point out exactly how many academic libraries did circulate print journals. Maybe the effect of e-journals on just the libraries that do circulate serials could effect the data for everyone. The data we have already shown resolves this issue. Libraries that did circulate serials would have higher circulation per user than those that did not. By showing different quartiles we can address this discrepancy in the data between libraries that did and did not circulate journals. If you look at the data you’ll see that indeed the upper quartile does seem to have a higher rate of decline, but not enough to validate this hypothesis. The median and lower quartiles also experience this shift, so something else must be at work.

Second, e-books were not largely adopted until the mid 2000s, yet the decline preceding 2000 is at least as steep as after. If you look at the chart below you’ll notice that ebook acquisition rates did not exceed print until 2010:

ebooks vs printEbooks, of course, do have an effect on usage, but they’re not the primary factor in this change.

So clearly we must reject the hypothesis that this is merely a media shift. Certainly the shift from print to electronic has had some effect, but it is not the sole cause. If it’s not a shift in media, the most reasonable explanation is that it’s a shift in user behavior.  Students are simply not using books (in any format) as much as they used to.

What is Causing this Shift in User Behavior?

The next question is what is the cause of this shift.

I think the most simple answer is the web. 1996 is the first data point showing a drop in circulation. Of course the web was quite small then, but AOL and Yahoo! were already around, and the Internet Archive had been founded.  If you think back to a pre-web time, pretty much anything you needed to know more about required a trip to the library and checking out a book.

The most important thing to take away is that, regardless of cause, user behavior has changed and by all data points is still changing.  In the end, the greatest question is how will academic libraries adapt?  It is clear that the answer is not as simple as a transition to a new media. To survive, librarians must find the answer before we have enough data to prove these predictions.

If you enjoyed exploring this data please check out Library Data and follow @librarydata on twitter.

Data Source:

About our guest author: Will Kurt is a software engineer at Articulate Global, pursuing his masters in computer science at the University of Nevada, Reno and is a former librarian. He holds an MLIS from Simmons College and has worked in various roles in public, private and special libraries at organizations such as: MIT, BBN Technologies and the University of Nevada, Reno. He has written and presented on a range of topics including: play, user interfaces, functional programming and data

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People who Love Books at Academy Awards

“The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” is one of five animated short films that will be considered for outstanding film achievements of 2011 in the 84th Academy Awards ®.  The ceremony will take place on February 26, 2012.

Inspired, in equal measures, by Hurricane Katrina, Mary Poppins, Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz, and a love for books, “Morris Lessmore” is a story of people who devote their lives to books and books who return the favor. Morris Lessmore is a poignant, humorous allegory about the curative powers of story. Using a variety of techniques (miniatures, computer animation, 2D animation) award winning author/ illustrator William Joyce and Co-director Brandon Oldenburg present a new narrative experience that harkens back to silent films and M-G-M Technicolor musicals. “Morris Lessmore” is old fashioned and cutting edge at the same time, just like book lovers are.  Enjoy the fifteen minutes celebration of reading and caring for books!

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Floating Thought

We cannot have good libraries until we first have good librarians — properly educated, professionally recognized, and fairly rewarded.”
Herbert S. White  (Library Journal column, 15 November 1999, pp. 44-45)

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Mansueto Library at the University of Chicago

I was researching how modern research libraries are built in the last five years and came across this gem – the new Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, which opened May 16, 2011.

It houses cutting-edge facilities for preservation and digitization of physical books, as well as a high-density underground storage system with the capacity to hold 3.5 million volume equivalents.  The beautiful elliptical dome of the Mansueto Library’s Grand Reading Room is on the prime central location on campus and provides an inviting space for rigorous scholarship in an array of fields.

So this academic library is the heart of the university; however, books are stored in the basement. Then again, they are retrieved at such high speed that they can be accessed quicker than books that are shelved in open stacks.  I would also imagine that the problems with mis-shelved books are eliminated by the RFID technology.  Another thought floating in my mind is: for how long this expensive storage system will be used.  Will libraries keep physical books, or is this done only temporarily to accommodate the copyright laws?

And finally, the glass dome brings to mind scenes from science fiction movies, while the long wooden tables and simple chairs look like the ones I saw in Collegium Maius at the Jagiellonian University where Copernicus studied – conducive to collaborative learning and sharing ideas.   They seem to signal a movement away from the solitude and the isolation of carrels towards collaborative learning and knowledge generation in the common gathering place, a center of intellectual, artistic, spiritual and political life of the university.  In Copernicus’ time, the students and the professors gathered, ate at such tables and discussed ideas.  The classroom was, in fact, a kind of library with very few books that allowed food and drink and talking.  Out of that came De revolutionibus orbium celestium that began the scientific revolution.  This informal teaching and learning where discussion and questioning were encouraged, produced the bold statement that the universe is not what it seems but a subject that human mind should and can explain. 

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