Academic libraries and publishers: Working together in support of the creation and dissemination of new research knowledge and innovation

Last month, we were delighted to host an event for our founder, Sara Miller McCune, to honour the academic library community. We had invited librarians, academics and senior university representatives from the UK and beyond to join us in celebrating the academic library, and to consider its future.

The reception came at the end of a day of themed meetings for SAGE: a committee meeting of our library advisory board, a key group that supports SAGE in guiding our understanding of the changing library environment; and a round table discussion on the future of libraries in an Open Access landscape, hosted jointly with the British Library. Events like this are key in enabling strong communication between libraries and SAGE, to ensure that we continue to provide the support and services needed. We will be sharing more from both these meetings soon.

We were delighted to have Dame Lynne Brindley, current CEO of the British Library, as our guest speaker at the reception. She has kindly provided us with a copy of her speech, which is below.

I am delighted to have been asked to this celebratory event tonight and to share a few reflections on the changing roles and relationships between publishers, academic and research libraries, in a fast moving global context – of technological innovation, of shifting research methods, of fragile business models, and of generational shifts in expectations affecting of all of us and our future roles.

But firstly a few words of welcome to the Reform Club which I have the honour to be a member of.  It was established in this clubhouse in 1841 following the Great Reform Act of 1832 and the political debate and progressive spirit of the Radicals and Whigs.  It was a centre for the new Liberal Party and has retained its traditional progressive spirit – with wide membership and lively programmes.  Some may be pleased to know that the outward appearance of the building has changed little:  I am delighted to recall that the Library we are gathered in was formed under the guidance of Sir Anthony Panizzi – club member and most distinguished Librarian of the age, being the Director of the British Museum Library.  Perhaps most famous is the Club’s association with Jules Vernes and Around the World in 80 days – it is the place where the idea of the journey was conceived and the famous bet made.  Phileas Fogg’s journey began and ended here.  So did Michael Palin’s televised reconstruction of the journey – but his journey ended on the steps or the Reform Club – his dress code being considered too casual for admittance!

But I digress!  I last addressed a SAGE audience like this in 2005 at the 40th anniversary party for the company. SAGE has grown from humble beginnings to a global success story, and importantly retains its independence under its founder and visionary Chair, Sara Miller McCune. The company retains a strong and enduring commitment to excellent scholarship, research and education.

Our roles – whether it is as academic or research librarian, or publisher, or scholar – or some combination – are already very different to those of just 10 years ago – yet I believe that our underpinning and shared values endure.  Ten years ago, Facebook and Twitter did not exist. Before 2000, there was no Wikipedia, and before 1995, incredibly, no Google. It is interesting to observe that Google and Apple are now showing many of the characteristics of mature digital companies – law suits on intellectual property, significant acquisition programmes and ongoing battles in the European courts!

Looking through this wider lens on the landscape, we are seeing battles for domination on a Titanic scale – global battles between aggregators, bandwidth suppliers, delivery platforms, packagers, device companies, content providers and so on – jockeying at boundaries, converging for competitive edge, and seeking ownership of the customer and their data – for that is where most new commercial value appears to be held.  This meta-landscape – bandwidth availability, device penetration, the impact of widespread connected TV – is the overarching environment, even for our specialist scholarly endeavours, given that this is the environment for peoples lives.

Where previously the outputs of scholarly endeavour would occupy library shelves, a book or journal can now be created digitally and  accessed digitally, tagged with metadata, made fully searchable, and interwoven and embedded alongside other multimedia – anytime, any place is the expectation and integration of content into researcher workflows, is moving apace.

As content becomes liberated from physical space this requires us to re-think the value of space – creating opportunities for new kinds of research collaboration, ideas generation across boundaries, and creative and entrepreneurial interactions – a chance for academic and other libraries to add new value, as for example in the SAGE funded the “Sussex Research Hive”, a collaboration space solely for researchers.

The need for re-conceptualisation and use of physical spaces is paralleled by the need to refresh our thinking about the importance of virtual spaces and collaboration in scholarly endeavour.  It is here that enabling developments in social media – Twitter, blogs, Facebook virtual communities and others – offer further potential to work together, building on both library experience and expertise (particularly in learning activities) and innovative approaches by key publishers including SAGE, reflecting global research communities and the expectation of creative engagement with scholarly communications.

Expectations of the scholarly community around access are massively changing and those expectations are high. However this same community is waiting for the law, notably around copyright to catch up.  How many more reviews of copyright must be commissioned? In the UK the recent Hargreaves report, which at least had the decency to make less than a dozen recommendations, is being ferociously debated from opposing sides.  Surely libraries and publishers ought to be able to compromise and reach common cause at least on some of the objectives: on long term digital preservation; on sensible approaches to the handling of orphan works; on extended collective licensing and on a pragmatic approach to the proposed Digital Copyright Exchange and out of commerce materials? Yet I am not entirely optimistic.

The challenges facing academic libraries are well known to this audience. Libraries have an urgent need to reassess their value to the ‘customer’ – and I do not apologise for that term in the context of massive changes in the higher education landscape, at least in the UK, to understand and articulate their value in a fluid, complex and fast changing value chain, where student (or perhaps students’ parents) is king, research is global, and research funding will be concentrated only on the best.

Cutting libraries in a recession is like cutting hospitals in a plague”, a now famous quote by Eleanor Crumblehulme on Twitter. I caution only that decision making is rarely rational and libraries and publishers have an urgent and continuing need to demonstrate their new value – after all we are certainly in a recession and both libraries and hospitals are being cut.

Today’s SAGE event on the future for libraries in an open access  landscape which took place at the British Library – and may I say we were delighted to host it and be able to participate  – I hope enabled a reflective and practical discussion around these complex issues. Debate around OA – all flavours – is vigorous and emotional. This is very evident in the social sciences and humanities, where little or no funding exists to support moves to newer and more open business models. We must acknowledge that there have of course, been some significant moves of late on the part of publishers towards more open models and this is not just in the world of STM. In this regard, we note SAGE’s moves in this direction, notably in 2011 launching the first broad-based OA journal in Social Science – SAGE Open.

I cannot leave this theme without mentioning data heavy research – big science, big social science, and increasingly data heavy humanities research.  Research methods now the norm in many STM areas are moving across the disciplines and offer the opportunity to research new questions.  I urge libraries to articulate what role they might play in this field and publishers not to lock down possibilities for data and text mining in a too defensive a stance.

My personal concern is to ensure that different stakeholders in the scholarly communication process do not end up in such polarised positions that there is no rowing back – taking oppositional stances and being unwilling to engage with the consequences for each other of the major changes we are all experiencing, and not thinking through the unintended consequences of change. None of us can afford a ‘dialogue of the deaf’, nor should we tolerate ‘decibel decision making’ at Government level, driven through lobbying tactics and power.

The reality is that we are all navigating a complex and socially important activity, the activity of generating and disseminating new knowledge, through a major and long-term transition. This poses challenges for all of the parties involved in that activity.    We will have a higher chance of success if the various parties in this process are genuinely motivated by a desire to achieve the optimal outcome for all, and are seriously interested in understanding the impacts of changes on all parts of the scholarly communication process. In this spirit, we await the recommendations of Dame Janet Finch’s Group on Access to Published Research Findings due out in June.

Of particular concern to us at the BL are ‘unattached researchers’, so-called citizen scholars, citizen scientists, the intellectually curious – who wish to have access to published research findings. Their needs and rights to access to information – traditionally widely provided for through public libraries, inter-lending and document supply services – need further joint attention if we are to avoid a democratic deficit.

How should we be working together? Participation in cross-party events, meetings and working parties; willingness to think more outside the box and explore relationships with new partners; willingness to countenance new business models; fostering open dialogue, transparency and trust. Let us continue to put more emphasis on working on areas we can agree on, rather than stressing what divides us at this time of rapid change in the scholarly eco-system.   Publishers need to unbundle their costs and product base and more transparently help libraries and academics understand their key areas of value.  But most importantly we all need to be willing to take action – try out a new pricing model, be creative together in the way in which material is communicated, etc.

I would like to end by thanking SAGE for facilitating today’s international workshop and to thank them on behalf of all of us present for generously hosting tonight’s event in such convivial surroundings to enable the continuation of conversations and networking.

Let me propose a toast:

To working together in support of the creation and dissemination of new research knowledge and innovation:

  • Publishers and academic libraries
  • Academic libraries and Publishers

 To view more pictures of the event, visit

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