My short answer: It's too damn expensive to check out everything that's
available for free to see if it's worth selecting for inclusion, and
library's (at least as I see them) are supposed to be curated, not
My long answer:
The most obvious issue is that the OPAC is traditionally a listing of
"holdings," and free ebooks aren't "held" in any sense that helps
disambiguate them from any other random text on the Internet. Certainly the
fact that someone bothered to transform it into ebook form isn't indicative
of anything. Not everything that's available can be cataloged. I see "stuff
we paid for" not as an arbitrary bias, but simply as a very, very useful way
to define the borders of the library.
"Free" is a very recent phenomenon, but it just adds more complexity to the
existing problem of deciding what publications are within the library's
scope. Library collections are curated, and that curation mission is not
simply a side effect of limited funds. The filtering process that goes into
deciding what a library will hold is itself an incredibly valuable aspect of
Up until very recently, the most important pre-purchase filter was the fact
that some publisher thought she could make some money by printing text on
paper, and by doing so also allocated resources to edit/typeset/etc. For a
traditionally-published work, we know that real person(s), with relatively
transparent goals, has already read it and decided it was worth the gamble
to sink some fixed costs into the project. It certainly wasn't a perfect
filter, but anyone who claims it didn't add enormous information to the
system is being disingenuous.
Now that (e)publishing and (e)printing costs have nosedived toward $0.00,
that filter is breaking. Even print-on-paper costs have been reduced
enormously. But going through the slush pile, doing market research,
filtering, editing, marketing -- these things all cost money, and for the
moment the traditional publishing houses still do them better and more
efficiently than anyone else. And they expect to be paid for their work, and
There's a tendency in the library world, I think, to dismiss the value of
non-academic professionals and assume random people or librarians can just
do the work (see also: web-site development, usability studies, graphic
design, instructional design and development), but successful publishers are
incredibly good at what they do, and the value they add shouldn't be
dismissed (although their business practices should certainly be under
Of course, I'm not differentiating free (no money) and free (CC0). One can
imagine models where the functions of the publishing house move to a
work-for-hire model and the final content is released CC0, but it's not
clear who's going to pay them for their time.
On Thu, May 19, 2011 at 8:04 AM, Andreas Orphanides <
[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> On 5/19/2011 7:36 AM, Mike Taylor wrote:
>> I dunno. How do you assess the whole realm of proprietary stuff?
>> Wouldn't the same approach work for free stuff?
>> -- Mike.
> A fair question. I think there's maybe at least two parts: marketing and
> Marketing is of course not ideal, and likely counterproductive on a number
> of measures, but at least when a product is marketed you get sales demos.
> Even if they are designed to make a product or collection look as good as
> possible, it still gives you some sense of scale, quality, content, etc.
> I think bundling is probably more important. It's a challenge in the
> free-stuff realm, but for open access products where there is bundling (for
> instance, Directory of Open Access Journals) I think you are likely to see
> wider adoption.
> Bundling can of course be both good (lower management cost) and bad
> (potentially diluting collection quality for your target audience). But when
> there isn't any bundling, which is true for a whole lot of free stuff,
> you've got to locally gather a million little bits into a collection.
> I guess what's really happening in the bundling case, at least for free
> content, is that collection and quality management activities are being
> "outsourced" to a third party. This is probably why DOAJ gets decent
> adoption. But of course, this still requires SOME group to be willing to
> perform these activities, and for the content/package to remain free, they
> either have to get some kind of outside funding (e.g., donations) or be
> willing to volunteer their services.
Library Systems Programmer
University of Michigan Library