Re-Tooling Academic Libraries for the Digital Age:
Missions, Collections, Staffing

California Academic & Research Libraries
Third Annual Conference


Access for Ownership: Dubious Dichotomy, Dream Deferred

Alan Ritch, Collection Development Librarian
McHenry Library, University of California, Santa Cruz

The following essay is a reexamination of what I call the dubious dichotomy of access and ownership. The essay is in three parts: first, a short review of the long history of a dream deferred; second, a reminder of the enduring reality of geography and collection hierarchies; and, finally,some examples of actual cooperative access and ownership from the perspective of UC Santa Cruz, which has the smallest general library in the great UC system and the largest actual (as opposed to virtual) library in the Monterey Bay area.

History of a Dream Deferred.

First my brief history of an old dream. Erasmus, that most prolific sixteenth century word-monger, who vastly multiplied the libraries of his time with his own voluminous writings, in 1508 applauded his friend the prolific printer Aldus for transcending that privilege of princes --"the library contained within the walls of his own palace" -- [by] "building a library which knows no walls save those of the world itself." ("Festina lente" In Adages).

So the dream of universal access opposed to narrow ownership is at least as old as the printing press, and perhaps as old as the scriptorium. First access was multiplied by scribbling monks and then more efficiently by more movable types. Ownership was similarly multiplied, promiscuously enough to require the invention of the inhibiting laws of copyright. The princely libraries before the age of print were owned by abbots and aristocrats, who hoarded these artifacts and the ideas they sheltered. Access was controlled to protect papers and skin from the potential pollution of grubby fingers, and minds from the potential pollution of grubby ideas. But ideas, once set down by their authors or by the authorities who commissioned them, have always been co-owned by anyone with access and the ability to understand words committed to the parchment, paper or pixel page.

Public libraries opened up the books and gave the reader the dilemmas we now face as librarians. Do I want to add this book to my own library? Can I afford to buy it? Is there enough space on my shelves? Can I afford the inconvenience of visiting the library to use a book which does not circulate? Can I afford the time to wait for a book which has been loaned to someone else? These dilemmas now belong not just to every reader but to every librarian, confronted by the overwhelming growth in the numbers of ideas and their artifacts, their accelerated distribution and mass consumption, and the acquisitiveness and endless proliferation of scholars and centers of scholarship. They were the central problems of bibliographers long before the recent electronic transformations made access to new ideas potentially ubiquitous and the even more recent fiscal recession made ownership of everything of value increasingly implausible.

Global Access, Local Limits.

Owning everything worth owning is impossible: even for the richest private university libraries like Harvard or Stanford; even for the greatest public university libraries like UC Berkeley, or the even greater plain UC Library, if we ever truly unified our nine collections; even for great national depositories, in Washington, Paris and Boston Spa, the great virtual Research Libraries' collection in Palo Alto, and the even greater confluence of 17,000 libraries in Dublin, Ohio. The same search engines which globally expose their global contents also locally reveal their local limitations and lacunae.

The Durable Friction of Distance.

Now let me turn to the geography or landscape of access and ownership. Like most of you, I have on my desk at UCSC, a screen with several windows to the world of information. Unlike most of you I also have a window looking out on a screen of redwood trees, part of the great Santa Cruz Mountain forest which shields us from the suburbs of San Jose, Siliconia and San Francisco, and distances us from the libraries we want to be our branches: Stanford, our nearer neighbor, geographically close but culturally remote, and our big sister campuses at Berkeley and Davis. Reading the handsome flier for this conference, I was amused to find my name located at the Shields Library, which some of you must know is at Davis, which some of you must know is not even close to Santa Cruz. I do work very closely by phone and email with a couple of Davis denizens, in various cooperative collecting ventures. But there is a there there and their there is three or four hours away, depending on the traffic and the roadworks at Walnut Creek. And their books are at least a week away, if ILL runs smoothly.

If I seem even more didactic on the subject of geography than I was in my brief history lesson it's because geography was my academic training. I spent seven years atop the Earth Sciences building at Berkeley, overlooking the tree-screened Beaux Arts facade of the Doe Library. The present grander landscape now includes an ersatz sheep pasture which hides the throbbing heart of the UCB collections made more accessible than ever to Berkeley clientele. Is this the Aldine library without walls? Not really. Each year those collections are getting less accessible to me and my fellow slugs. They're still the same 75 miles away, give or take a seismic shrug. But it now takes at least 75 minutes longer to make the round trip than it did seventeen years ago, when first I moved through much lighter traffic from one bay area to another.

Access Paradoxes.

Why not use interlibrary loan, instead of driving to the source? Because that route too is too congested. Attempts to improve the turnaround time for ILL requests are ironically impeded by the success of the system -- the MELVYL system that is. We've made almost everything in the UC libraries theoretically accessible to every UC library user. Recently at UCSC we've also added a service called "SLUG express," a name which inadvertently captures the performance paradox. SLUG express allows our most demanding users (faculty and graduate students) to make ILL orders electronically with an easy interface between the MELVYL search and the request to borrow. Recently Professor X, with a couple of keystrokes turned a search into a request for over a hundred items, thereby contributing to a deluge of demand that rushes into the bottleneck of physical handling and traffic jams both literal and metaphoric. Bibliographic access and the ease of ordering may well be increasing turnaround time, perhaps the most important measure of physical access.

Another impediment to access is selective availability. If I'm a scholar researching the Garifuna of Belize, I find 24 books at UC -- not bad, only one at UCSC -- not good, most at UCB -- not bad, most of them in the cloistered Bancroft Library -- very bad! Because now I have to join that other deluge on Interstate 880, to get to the Fremont BART station, the closest reliable parking to the Berkeley campus!

Why not try the WWWeb? There are 10 hits on Garifuna (is there a word so obscure that it doesn't web something?), none scholarly, most personal chats on trips to Guatemala and the Carib coast, some like Janet Planet's beautifully woven African Music page so well connected as to be almost impossible to escape. The wonderful WWWeb is free for all and a free for all. It costs nothing but the price of admission, your mind, which could be working on more productive professional pursuits. Free of bibliographic control and editorial oversight, it still has less in common with a virtual library or virtual classroom than a virtual flea market or call-in show.

Sharing the Bibliographic Wealth.

So let's turn to some real cooperative ventures relevant to our topic. Ownership matters. But it's increasingly hard to define. UCSC has shared ownership of the greatest public university library in the world. We have a stronger stake in our sister campus in San Diego 500 miles away than we do in our public library in downtown Santa Cruz. We remotely store, cancel and withdraw, based on what we find in MELVYL's UC holdings, not on what we find in OCLC at more local libraries. Here are some examples of unified UC library initiatives which sacrifice the convenience of local access for the economies of reduced acquisition.

Shared collection and purchase (SCAP) programs allowed us to pool our resources to buy expensive items. This used to mean primary research materials, often microform. Now most SCAP funds, over a million dollars, are devoted to the central acquisition or consortial licensing of about thirty electronic databases, equitably accessible throughout the system. They include: indexes and abstracts; the full text of about a thousand periodicals; and the OCLC and RLIN union catalogs, which reveal the growing number of resources that UC can no longer afford to own. There are dozens of other databases which, if loaded or licensed centrally, could save us lots of local time and clumsy network infrastructure, but which we are also regrettably beyond our collective means.

MINISCAP funds are less formally and predictably budgeted. They are negotiated annually by the UC CDOs on the UC CDC (the nine Collection Development Officers serving on the Collection Development Committee). The annual MINISCAP kitty adds up to about $100,000. Campus contributions are based on shares in the total UC collections budget. This modest enterprise affords unequal benefits to the campus where the shared resource is located.

Remote Ownership, Shared Costs.

UC also contributes a quarter of a million SCAP dollars a year to the Center for Research Libraries that theoretical safety net which saves the rest of the US from having to buy Norwegian newspapers and Dutch dissertations "just in case" (to borrow the TQM cliche) we need them. That depository on the prairies is hard to evaluate and even harder to compare with the heavily used MELVYL databases accessible at every UC workstation and, with appropriate passwording, from anywhere in the world. CRL expands all our collections and obviates the need for arcane purchases. The databases turn UC's own collections inside out by making visible their previously hidden contents.

The databases used to be loaded centrally in Oakland. With the application of Z39.50 protocols this central loading is increasingly uncommon. We're content to let OCLC and RLG own the data which we lease, along with enough ports, for our hundreds of thousands of potential users. How many is "enough" for this multitude? Remarkably, about 20 ports seem adequate, since only a small percentage of our users want to use World Cat at the same time. There are some turnaways. We have to tolerate them, just as we tolerate holds as virtual queues for our print collections and literal queues at the reference desk, because we can't afford to provide instant service at the busiest times.

The OCLC suite is about to be expanded, by MLA, Sociofile, a music index and an index for nurses. Most of these are locally owned in print format. Most are also held electronically in the form of CD-ROMs significantly more expensive, more flexibly retrievable, but still confined to single stations or clumsy LANs with more costly licensing fees. Every campus, big and small, has paid roughly the same for the same resource. This pricing pattern puts a disproportionate burden on the smaller campuses, a burden which can be redistributed more equitably by UC-wide licensing agreements with cost shares related to the size of the collection budgets. This new structure promises equal access to every member of the larger UC community however large or small its campus constituency, the price no longer related to artifacts but now a function of potential market size.

Sharing the Bibliographic Poverty.

Glib economic simplification and the attendant rhetoric of virtual libraries without walls appeal strongly to administrators who rarely visit real libraries with real walls. Unfortunately, our collections and the so-called "scholarly marketplace" which feeds and uses them, and the publishing market-place which feeds on and abuses them, remain stubbornly artifactual in their structure and content. And the vast majority of us remain stubbornly artifactual in our research behaviors and reading preferences. This is an increasingly expensive habit in the poverty-stricken public sector which is incapable of sustaining it, much less of indulging the even more expensive electronic habit which has long promised to replace it.

Thirty years ago, when UC increased by 50 % the number of its campuses, it invented the core collections of 75,000 volumes called Books for College Libraries, the minimum needed for the new general libraries at Irvine, Santa Cruz and San Diego. A ten-year plan for library development prescribed 3 million volumes each for the two great research libraries in Berkeley and Los Angeles, half a million each for the second tier at Davis Riverside and Santa Barbara, and 75,000 each for the three new general campuses. This hierarchy has shifted, as the libraries have grown at different rates. Even Santa Cruz, the smallest general library in the system has well over a million volumes. Our growth was informed by a generously endowed appreciation of local academic, cultural and regional distinctiveness. We acquired about 40,000 volumes a year, new serials whenever they were needed, even purchased a few manuscript collections whenever they caught the fancy of our fanciful head of special collections. Now we acquire about 30,000 volumes annually, add no new serials, and cancel many, some with continuous runs back to the last century. For distinctiveness we rely on occasional adventitious gifts.

From Collection Development to Collection Defense.

UC used to be able to afford several hundred thousand journals, annually expanded by dozens of new scholarly serials as new fields emerged in the boom of sixties and seventies. The bust of the eighties changed all that at all our campuses. Even little Santa Cruz has cut over half a million dollars worth of serials in order to pay for the rest and is able to buy a third fewer volumes, than it did ten years ago. Berkeley's crisis has evidently been even more painful, because so much of its wealth has had to be invested in retrospective conversion of its monumental catalogs (to the horror of that eloquent but tiresome voyeur of our scene, Nicholson Baker) and in the maintenance of home-grown electronic systems.

At campuses big and small, both ownership and access have been profoundly compromized during the last decade, and our coping strategies have been modest at best. Unable to afford the constructive work of true collection development, we have had to spend more time than ever on the desperate work of collection defense, grimly pruning our approval plans and protecting the rare and endangered species on our serials lists. This puts a heavy burden on the old, large campuses. Almost no endangered serials are in the small collections. The larger the collection the longer the list of uniquely held titles, obscure underused resources which would be top cancellation candidates in the absence of systemwide consortial commitments to protect them. And large libraries are at least as eager as their small dependents to protect the core collections on which their primary constituencies depend.

A Reductive Monoculture.

Most bibliographers and their colleagues on the teaching and research faculty agree on the core resources in their fields. During the last lean, mean decade, we have had to whittle back our cores first to an irreducible minimum, and then back to an inadequate nucleus which serves the needs of neither graduate research programs nor undergraduate instruction. The ideal of complementary collection development implicit in the access-ownership dichotomy depends on sustainable variety, on growth beyond this reductive monoculture. The efficiencies of approval plans, in which selection and even processing decisions are delegated to bibliographers in Contoocook and Oxford, and our inability to buy rare and unique materials, are melting our differences down into drab homogeneity. Complementarity depends on "Ben and Jerry" chunkiness, not plain vanilla collections which increasingly resemble each other.

We slugs are shamelessly dependent on our sister campuses and embarrassingly incapable of contributing much uniqueness to the commonwealth, although our modest size actually allows relatively nimble performance: more probable availability and fewer delivery delays (UCSC is a net lender to most of its sister campuses). We can cancel serials because our northern neighbors keep them, but when Berkeley slashes its serials list, we grumble about the loss of standards at the so-called flagship campus.

Neither Access Nor Ownership.

Reciprocally, we also grumble about the new information order at Fort Ord, joking warily about a Munitzian dump replacing munition dumps on the dunes, expecting information and service vacuums to suck our resources across the Bay, or underserved hordes to roam north on Highway 1, in search of common reference tools at the nearest research library, ours. So far, we haven't seen that trend. But we have lost one of our best librarians, Steve Watkins, Mr. Infoslug, to CSUMB. As one third of their professional staff, he's one of three people running a library which doesn't quite exist. Their original goal, imposed by Long Beach, was access instead of ownership, a substitution impossible to sustain, even in our wonderful web windowed world.

Let me conclude with an elaboration of this pessisimism. However we cope with the current crisis, comparing cost per use for printed artifacts with cost per items delivered electronically or physically from Berkeley or Denver or Philadelphia, we still need more funds from our sponsors the electorate, and more flexibility from our faculty friends who preserve the empires of Elsevier and Academic Press by continuing to send manuscripts to the most expensive journals and then demanding that we buy them back. Without more funds and flexibility, neither access nor ownership is within our means, and the Aldine library without walls conceived by Erasmus in 1508 will remain a dream deferred into the third millenium.

Alan Ritch, McHenry Library, UC Santa Cruz

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