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Associations and InstitutionsAnnual 

64th IFLA Conference Logo

   64th IFLA General Conference
   August 16 - August 21, 1998


Code Number: 180-90-E
Division Number: -
Professional Group: Guest Lecture I
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 90.
Simultaneous Interpretation:   Yes

Library-Publisher Relations in the Next Millennium
A Cross-Bench Perspective

Jane Carr
Director, Public Affaires, British Library London, United Kingdom


When I joined the British Library in 1980, having worked for almost 10 years in commercial publishing, I had no personal sense of crossing a line or indeed that there was a line to cross. I had thought that I was moving from one part of a homogeneous book world into another, and it never occurred to me that both sectors might see me, in some ill-defined but strongly-held sense, as poacher turned gamekeeper.

The British Library as unified national library was then only 7 years old and still trying to establish its new national identity and role. I joined the Library to help with the development of its own publishing, which had previously been undertaken by the British Museum as one of the remaining vestiges of that pre-1973 existence of the historical collections as the British Museum Library. I assumed that publishing was a wholly natural thing for a Library to do - particularly one with such rich resources, so little known and appreciated and so ripe (in my view then as now) for wider access through publication.

This was of course the publisher in me - the strong feeling that I had found a treasure trove and that all I needed to do was to turn it in to print on paper (not a CD-ROM in sight then). I completely failed to understand or appreciate how much my librarian colleagues had already done to make the collections accessible or how difficult it was and is to exploit the treasure trove which is not, as I had thought, the collections but the combination of the collections and their interpreters - the librarians and curators.

With hindsight I believe that I was both extraordinarily naive in my assumptions but also fundamentally right in my view that publishers and librarians were and are part of the same company of what would then have been called book people and which now may be called the knowledge or information world. We care about, and are deeply committed to, many of the same things even if the outward manifestation of that commitment and concern are often different. The issues of difference tend to be the focus of debate and action while the commonly-held values and beliefs are often left un-spoken. One of the reasons for that is, I believe, that there is not sufficient respect or real understanding for the roles and expertise that each possesses - and as we all try to come to terms with what the new technologies will mean for our professions, there is surely a real opportunity to remember and value the roles and expertise which we already possess and can bring to this new table.

As I look forward then to the future of library-publisher relations, I hope that I will be able to articulate some of that commonality of interest as well as the areas of difference - and I should say at the outset that I am still sufficiently optimistic and sufficiently certain of the fundamental value to our users and readers of what we do to believe that, as we move into the digital age, we can overcome most of the differences and set those that remain in an appropriate context. In other words, I hope that we will not fall into the trap of repeating past rhetoric in the next millennium without learning the lessons.

New Library: The People's Network, the report of the Library and Information Commission in the United Kingdom which was published in July 1997 begins with a poem specially written by Ted Hughes in celebration of libraries of which this is the final verse:

There is not a publisher or librarian that I know who is not re-inspired by such a distillation of our fundamental beliefs, and who cannot see that this encapsulates the mutual dependence of publisher and librarian as the bridge between the creativity of the author and the need of the reader. We may forget it on a day to day basis, but it is, fundamentally, why we do what we do. It is in that spirit, therefore, that I begin this journey in to the future.

What are the key issues for us to consider?

I mentioned a few moments ago the report of the United Kingdom's Library and Information Commission, New Library: The People's Network. The significance of this report for me is not only that it sets out a vision of a national strategy for the provision of information in the digital age, but in its understanding that the provision of a telecommunications network which links public libraries or schools is not in itself enough to ensure that every child has equal access and opportunities. The real value will lie in the content - how it is gathered, how it is presented and how the consumer can be guided through it to gain the maximum from the experience. And that is precisely what publishers and librarians, at their best, do best. And I do not see that fundamental role changing in the next millennium - the media will change but not the need for the interpreter.

As in the New Library report, we start with the needs of the consumer - what will readers need and how will those needs impact on the development of publishing and of librarianship? We read for pleasure, we read for information and in pursuit of knowledge, we read to find jobs, to improve ourselves, to explore and test ideas, to search and to research, to escape, to be entertained and amused, to try to understand the society and the culture of which we are a part. Those needs will not change in the next millennium, but how we respond to them will. Until now, the conventional structure of the book trade - even after the advent of television - has provided a complex supply chain of print on paper - from author, through publisher to bookshop or library and finally to the reader. Sections of the supply chain have changed a little over time - with the emergence of book clubs and other mail order operations for example - but only now is there a serious challenge to the need for the chain, only now are we asking what value the intermediaries between the author and the reader can add.

In the academic world there are many who question whether academic research needs any intermediaries when it can be transmitted so quickly and so widely without the editing, peer review and the ultimate formality of the designed and finished publication, or without the selection, the cataloguing, the storage and the access which the librarian provides. In 1993 the Follett Report in the United Kingdom described the Virtual Librarian (and, in the following paragraph, the publisher as well):

'The role of the University Librarian had changed. Once it had been a stock character part, the very image of scholarly exactitude, ever open to trade influence for tradition, a relic of the institution's past and uninvolved with its future. Now, the reformist's cry of 'access not holdings' had worked right through the information chain. Publishers had abandoned their warehouses - they too could adopt just in time management: their role was now in packaging, marketing and brokering. The actual storage of knowledge - the articles, texts, interactive experiences - had been passed back to its creators in the universities and elsewhere, to be retrieved, reformatted into the house style, and delivered to whoever ordered it. So the Library had gradually picked up both ends of the chain: managing the University's backlist and negotiating its sale and delivery world-wide'

For me as publisher - and perhaps for many of us as librarians - that vision of all information appearing on my screen in a single house style, regardless of what it contains or what it is trying to convey, is more Orwellian totalitarianism than an information utopia. But within it, as subsequent work through the electonic libraries and other programmes has shown, are many positive and exciting messages.

Most of us in librarianship wonder how on earth we are going to manage to keep storing and cataloguing and making accessible the ever-increasing volumes of print on paper let alone invest in the storage and delivery and preservation infrastructure for the burgeoning - but frighteningly diverse - ouput of information in electronic form. If a significant proportion of that output can be switched into on-demand systems which require no physical storage, then the energies of both publisher and librarian can also switch to the more creative aspects of what they now do. Both publisher and librarian will have to be much more responsive to the consumer, more proactive, more adaptive. But librarians will also need to learn the skills of the successful publisher who anticipates demand as well as responding to it. There will certainly be a merging of roles in that new environment, but I would also expect that there might be a merging of structures as well. As a publisher I do not find that threatening - how could I? I joined the Library to publish after all.

How much may this change the work that we now do - and where are the areas in which publishers and librarians can work best together? The role of the acquisitions librarian will certainly change in this environment, as will the cataloguer's. The acquisitions librarian will need to retain a wide knowledge of published and un-published information but will no longer need to purchase and store it; the cataloguer will concentrate purely on access. And the publisher may at last play a responsible role in the provision of bibliographic information. Both the former acquisitions librarian and the former cataloguer will become much more directly involved with their users and will feed the resultant market research back to the publisher or author in order to inform the decision on what to publish and when. In that role the librarian will become not just an intermediary and guide for the user but could also be much more actively involved in marketing in the widest sense- in the process which identifies demand and responds to it in appropriate ways.

And what of the public librarian. I tried to envisage the virtual public librarian's day and came up with something like this:

This more proactive role for the publisher and librarian seems particularly significant when we consider the issues so crucial to us all - of education and lifelong learning, of literacy and equality of access, of ensuring that our cultural identity is recorded and preserved in order that it can inform the future as well as throw light on the past. The more the librarian and the publisher can be jointly and directly involved in the delivery of services which will produce real results in these areas, the more can be achieved. There have already been significant example of collaboration between museums and libraries and publishers to give access to cultural and educational materials. I hope these prove to be only the tip of an iceberg and that many more will follow.

Some three years ago, we began in the British Library to publish a series of CD-ROMs which bring historical material in our collections into the schoolroom. It is, possibly, an example of the way that publishers and librarians will be able - in the next millennium - to work more effectively togther in the course of access and education. And we learned some important lessons on how the publisher/librarian roles will need to change:

Publishers and librarians also share with educators a common fear, I suspect, that if all information in the next millennium is transferred via the computer or television screen, and if the volumes of information continue to expand as they already have through the medium of the Internet, then we and future generations will lose the desire or the ability for sustained concentration, for sustained reading and the pleasure that can bring. What happens then to the novel, or indeed to any form of prose longer than a few words? What happens to our ability to learn and to understand? If 'New Library' means anything, then it must mean still greater collaboration between educators, librariand and publishers. And if lifelong learning means anything then it means - and will increasingly mean - increased and shared roles and responsibility for both the publisher and the librarian.

But is there a future for the book in printed form? And for how long? In our Workshop exhibition gallery in the new British Library building at St Pancras (an exhibition designed to tell the story of communication in an interactive way) we have a computer-screen display which asks visitors to record their views on the future of the book. The average consumer view so far is that we have another 50 years to go which means that most people going through our galleries still expect books to be available to them for most of the rest of their lives. That presents a continuing opportunity and reassurance to those general publishers who have watched a small number of their fellows stray into the world of electromic and multimedia publishing and have also watched most of them as quickly retreat from it. For general publishers, the Internet is not a publishing medium. For the more adventurous of them, it is an increasingly effective promotional medium, but it also feels like a threat. The arrival of amazon.com and other Internet bookshops point to the realities of global access. But they also point to the end of a central element in the current structure of general publishing. Everyone knows about the enormous advances that publishers allegedly pay their best selling authors - what finances the advances in large part is the ability to make immediate rights sales to different markets or territories. In very simple terms, what finances the advance if there are no territorial rights? That is a very real dilemma for today's general publisher, and it is why it will continue to be a major debate for some time - that is until we publishers have worked out how to make money out of the Internet.

Which of course brings me to the question of price - or I would prefer to say cost - and brings me dangerously close - but not, you may be relieved to know, into - the murky waters of copyright and intellectual property rights. For publishers cost and therefore price, is an essential element in every decision - it has to be. I may be being unjust, but I think that it is only recently that librarians have begun to realise what that really means for the publisher. For the librarian the published price will always seem too high - whether it is for a scientific journal or for a paperback - or, in digital terms, for a vast full-text CD-ROM or an audio CD - because consumer demand and expectation of a library will always exceed the available resource. For the publisher price is a delicate balance between the costs of production and the size of the potential market.

Electronic publication will not change that essential difference - but it may mean that some unnecessary or duplicate elements in the supply chain can be eliminated and that the total available resource can thus increase - if we are prepared to work together. Although it has to be said that the publisher in me is still on the same side as Gordon Graham, Logos' publisher and an acadenic publisher through all his working life, to whom the remark 'Never confuse the free flow of information with the flow of free information' is attributed.

To me, it often appears that most of the divisions between publishers and librarians have not been about copyright itself but about who pays. If we can begin to work togther on the question of who pays in the next millennium, then we may progress far further than we do over the lines of copyright legislation.

I offer only one final point on the issue of intellectual proerty rights and on the vexed and vexing issue of the extent to which both publisher and library interests can be reconciled. Over the years we have fought many battles over the ground of library privilege, over photocopying, over inter-library lending, over legal deposit - and have reached some effective compromise solutions. Compromise - like that issue of cost, of who pays - is not very glamorous or revolutionary, but is what takes most societies forward. So I hope that at the least we don't waste years before achieving the compromises and at the best that the division between the 'different'parts of the book trade of the past is irrevocably blurred.