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60th IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 21-27, 1994

University Libraries and Scholarly Communication:
Implications of the Mellon Foundation Report

Duane E. Webster
Executive Director
Association of Research Libraries


I am pleased to be here today to introduce to you the Mellon Report on University Libraries and Scholarly Communication. I would like to thank the University Libraries Section for inviting me to participate in these discussions today.

In my comments this morning I want to highlight the key points of the Mellon Report and then suggest three strategies for future action. An outline of the report was distributed at the outset of our discussions to serve as a guide.

Let me start by saying I am pleased to note the continuing interest of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in libraries, scholarly communication, and the academic enterprise. The Foundation resulted from the consolidation in 1969 of the Old Dominion Foundation into the Avalon Foundation, with the name being changed to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. According to the original charter, the purpose o f the foundation is to "aid and promote such religious, charitable, scientific, library, and educational purposes as may be in the furtherance of the public welfare or tend to promote the well doing or well being of mankind."

As you can see, the Mellon Foundation is committed to continuing to support the evolution of research libraries, academia, and scholarly communication. With the publication of "University Libraries and Scholarly Communication," they have done a remarkable job of describing the library landscape as it appears today, it its collecting, operating, financial and electronic dimensions. Their involvement promises to support constructive innovation and development on behalf of all libraries in this country. I for one appreciate greatly their interest and dedication.

Much of the Mellon Study on academic libraries and scholarly communication is not surprising. We in the library community have been dealing with these problems for some time now and have invested considerable effort in promoting awareness in other communities and in finding constructive responses to challenges ahead. The importance of this study lies in the fact that an agency with the reputation and objective ness of the Mellon Foundation has made a determination that libraries are at a crossroads, something that we have known for some time. The old approaches to providing access to needed information are failing and radically different strategies must be developed in order to meet the needs of our rapidly evolving constituencies.

The Mellon Study closely examines trends of twenty four major US research libraries within the environment of a rapidly changing world of scholarly communication. These institutions were chosen for their range in size and mission and for the availability of high quality information covering a substantial period of years. They are described under four sub groupings based on institutional charact er, public or private, and size and age. The groupings are: private larger institutions (Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Princeton, Stanford, Yale); public larger institutions (Berkeley, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin); private smaller institutions (Boston, Georgetown, NYU, Northwestern, USC, Washington University in St. Louis); and finally, public smaller institutions (Florida , Iowa State, Maryland, Michigan State, Rutgers, and Washington State). ARL's database of library statistics is a main source of data used for the study and a wide array of other sources were drawn upon for information on scholarly publications, including the Higher Education General Information Survey, the Integrated Post secondary Education Data Systems and the R.R. Bowker Company. I have organized the highlights of the report into two groups: a set of concerns and a more optimistic set of opportunities.

First, let me note the elements of concern embodied in the Mellon Study. Librarians, faced with finite resources and rapidly inflating prices for scholarly information, are engaging in broad scale cancellation of serials titles. This has threatened the richness and diversity of research collections, as library after library is forced to cancel expensive and unique titles.

This conclusion of shrinking resources combined with expanding demands contradict a commonly held assumption that libraries have enjoyed strong financial support since college and university budgets grew markedly in the 1960's. What is not widely known however, is that the 1970's to mid 1980's saw a sharp decline in this rate of support. There is evidence of modest recovery since the mid 80's i nprivate institutions, but little evidence of persistent recovery in public institutions. The report shows that expenses for academic libraries as a proportion of university educational and general expenses rose to high of nearly 3.9 per cent in 1979 before dropping to 3 per cent in 1990. The 1980's were, and 1990's are, difficult times for higher education, and the evidence cited here suggests that retrenchment is particularly harsh on libraries. Universities reduced the proportion of their overall budgets dedicated to libraries over the past 12 years, even as thelibraries struggle to computerize their operations and recruit anddevelop a competent and diverse staff.

At the same time that resources are becoming scarcer, the cost of materials is rising dramatically. The average cost of a serial subscription has increased over 400 percent over the last 15 years (as compared with the CPI which went up 180 percent). The annual rate of increase in the cost of serials is upwards of 11 per cent annually. Only the cost of medical benefits on campus exceeds this ra te of increase. It is interesting to note that the portion of library budgets spent on salaries declined from 62 percent in 1963 to 52 percent in 1991, while the portion spent on operating expenditures including technology rose from 6 percent to 14 per cent. The portion of the budget spent on materials and binding remained at about 35 per cent during the period.

There are myriad factors contributing to the sharp and continuing increase in cost of scholarly information. There are more scholars, working in more academic specialities, producing (with the encouragement of a system that has historically rewarded publication) more articles than ever before. There is a trend toward concentrating scholarly publishing in the for profit sector. Especially in the sciences, the area experiencing the most rapid price escalation, where a handful of commercial publishers are responsible for the majority of scholarly publishing.

Also a factor is the existence of an imperfect market, which is profoundly affected by what economists call "inelastic demand" for research resources by scholars. Faculty expectations for comprehensive holdings of relevant titles continues to escalate the tension between limited resources and unlimited information needs. The study concludes that pressures on the acquisitions budgets will cause various research libraries to look more and more alike overtime, as each ceases to purchase the more esoteric publications and chooses rather to be sure that essential, core collection items are secured. Such actions have threatened the richness and diversity of research collections, as library after library is forced to c ancel expensive and unique titles.

The traditional research library mission of creating and maintaining large self sufficient collections for their users is, therefore, in jeopardy. There are, however, many elements of optimism contained in the report, most of them relate to the potential of technology. Libraries are engaged in a period of tumultuous change, as the computer revolution redefines scholarly publishing and transforms the library from a central repository of printed materials to a gateway forgaining electronic access to information.

The emergence and use of information technology is this century's most significant development affecting scholarly communication. Libraries are using technology to improve the management of scholarly information and especially to strengthen and speed access to scholarly information not held locally. Two of the most promising trends in information technology affecting scholarship are: end user computing and connectivity. One key finding of the Mellon Study is the exploding use among researchers of electronic networks. The response to the emergence of this network mediated scholarship is the promotion of policies that protect open and equitable access to research resources. These activities have concentrated on securing global connectivity, performing conversions of print sources to machine readable forms, undertaking the software engineering of full text delivery systems for on line materials, and collaborating with the computer industry to develop computing and communication technology to meet specialized research needs.

This rapid emergence and development of electronic information technologies makes it possible to envision radically different ways of organizing the collections and services the library has traditionally provided. While libraries approach a crisis point in financing collection development, these new technologies offer possible ways to mitigate costs and revolutionize ways to access information.

Because we are experiencing the dawn of a new age in information creation and retrieval it is imperative that we educate ourselves, and our colleagues, within the library community and out, about how best to ensure that intellectual property continues to be available in a variety of formats. The ease with which electronic material can be duplicated and retransmitted means that whatever controls the publisher places and seeks to enforce on users, whether by copyright of licensing agreements, can be circumvented with ease. The need to control will compete with demand for wide and easy access to material. Now is the time to develop ways of constructing university intellectual property policies to pro actively retain rights in a way that ensures its best management for all users in the library community.

This redefinition must occur with the full knowledge and leadership of the scholarly community. A multitude of forces contribute to this new future. I will now examine these forces of change, as well as alternative ways to shape the library of the future. Let me now turn to the implications of the Mellon Report and next steps needed. The conclusions of the Study highlight that:

1. The myriad issues facing the library are broader than the library itself. The so called library problem is really a problem of a scholarly communication. This problem is characterized by an increasing volume of informational resources, increasing costs for that information, limited financial resources for building collections and unlimited needs and expectations of users. Academic librarians are caught in a vise. On the one hand is the users insatiable appetite for information, which exceeds any current capacity to fund and store materials physically at any one university. On the other hand is limited funding, which just cannot support the traditional model of ownership of information. This dilemma can only be addressed if the academic community is willing to engage in serious discussions designed to reconceptualize the roles of authors, publishers, libraries, and users.

2. University policies and management of intellectual property need to be rethought. Ownership of intellectual property and the practices and laws that govern it, are critical to everything that we can envision about the future of scholarly communication. These policies must be restructured to become conduits to change, not impediments to it. It is imperative that we understand how university intellectual property policies could be constructed retain rights that ensure that information is managed to benefit all users in the university community.

3. A new partnership needs to be developed between librarians and scholars. The pressures at work today are precipitating a major transformation in the fundamental character of research libraries everywhere. This transformation should be guided not by happenstance, but by well developed, long term strategies purposefully conceived to assure equitable access to information. The access required to support teaching, learning, and research. For example, in order to maintain strong North American access to comprehensive collections of research materials an interinstitutional coordinated response is necessary. Therefore, the concept of a distributed national electronic library needs to be more fully developed. This development can only be done successfully through redefining the traditional partnership between scholars and librarian s.

To summarize, the message from the recent landmark report on scholarly communication and research libraries by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is well supported and very clear: libraries will remain central to the management of scholarly communication around the globe for the foreseeable future. The pressures at work within the scholarly communication process are precipitating a transformation in the character of research libraries. The traditional mission of the academic research library is in jeopardy. The print based comprehensive collection cannot be sustained. The necessary transformation must be guided by well-developed, long-term strategies conceived to assure equitable access to information, which is required to further the development of knowledge and learning.