22:3 (2007:09) 22nd Conference (2007): Strategy Session: Tumbling Dice: Publishers, Aggregators and ERM

August 31, 2007 at 6:30 pm | Posted in Conference Reports, Strategy Sessions | Leave a comment


Tumbling Dice: Publishers, Aggregators and ERM
Sandra Hurd, Director of Strategic Markets, Innovative Interfaces, Inc.; Kathy Klemperer, Library and Information Systems Consulting; Linda Miller, Library of Congress
Reported by Sanjeet Mann

At this information-packed session, a trio of speakers introduced current Electronic Data Interchange, EDI, metadata standards for describing electronic resources; discussed the workflow challenges that EDI aims to resolve; and offered examples of practical EDI implementation at the Library of Congress.

Sandy Hurd began the session by contrasting the serials business cycle before and after the introduction of EDI. Librarians, publishers and subscription agents continue to interact, and the basic tasks of ordering, invoicing, dispatching, claiming and responding to access problems are still relevant. However, maintaining access to remotely owned resources requires complex troubleshooting, license management and the collection and calculation of cost-per-use data. Hurd went on to discuss the new service; financial, contractual and management responsibilities of publishers and librarians; and offered a basic taxonomy of electronic resources.

Kathy Klemperer defined four types of metadata standards for e-resources management: encoding standards, XML, Z39; communication protocols, HTTP, FTP; content rules, COUNTER, AACR2; and metadata communication formats, ONIX, SUSHI, MARC21. She then delved into ONIX, a family of XML-based rules for communicating information about serials products and subscriber information. Klemperer then discussed two important metadata formats: Serial Online Holdings, SOH; which allows libraries to receive detailed coverage statements from content providers, and Serial Release Notification, SRN; which can alert libraries to upcoming new issues. Klemperer also described ONIX Publication Licenses, ONIX PL, and a new standard to encode useful licensing information so that it can be loaded directly into an ERMS. Finally, she addressed the role of EDI in promoting interoperable use statistics.  COUNTER provides a common definition of e-resource usage, and SUSHI is an XML-based standard that allows usage data to be automatically harvested. Klemperer emphasized that for these statistics to be reliable, publishers must support the generation of COUNTER- and SUSHI-compliant usage data.

Linda Miller underscored the need for a more robust implementation of these metadata formats. She noted that resistance from various parties is a larger obstacle to EDI than inherent technical limitations. Miller demonstrated several idiosyncrasies in the Library of Congress’s e-journal holdings enumeration that could be resolved by closer standards implementation.  According to Miller, the skill sets of future serialists should include license negotiation, file loading techniques, market knowledge, and understanding what makes MARC and authority records suitable for copying. Finally, Miller provided her own wish list for the future of EDI in which all vendors reported SUSHI-compliant use statistics; publication management systems, PAMs, adopted ONIX SOH to give complete holdings enumeration; and widespread use of ONIX PL allowed librarians to easily interpret license terms.


22:3 (2007:09) 22nd Conference (2007): Strategy Session: Cooperative Trends in Digital Archiving

August 31, 2007 at 6:12 pm | Posted in Conference Reports, Strategy Sessions | Leave a comment


Cooperative Trends in Digital Archiving: An Open Discussion
Eileen Fenton, Portico; Daviess Menefee, Elsevier; Marilyn Geller, Lesley University
Reported by Gail Julian

A librarian, a publisher, and an archive provider shared their perspectives on digital archiving.  Marilyn Geller focused on the library’s viewpoint.  Lesley University is an academic institution with 4500 FTE and several graduate programs.  To preserve print, they purchase archival quality books, bind journals, and retain journal backfiles.  Lesley is considering remote storage and is moving to electronic journal backfiles, for example JSTOR.  To preserve electronic, Lesley University has joined Portico.  Twenty-seven percent of their research level titles are in Portico.  Geller determined that Portico membership averaged $18.71 per title, per year, a small price to pay for the security provided.  Even after joining Portico, Geller still has concerns.  What happens if a “trigger event” occurs?  Who’s archiving aggregated databases?  What happens to content from small publishers and societies who do not participate in Portico or other ventures?  Geller also recalled the CLIR recommendations:  to encourage publishers to join archiving initiatives, for libraries to participate in at least one archiving program, press for more digital programs, and lobby archiving programs to work cooperatively.  For additional information, see CLIR pub 138, E-Journal Archiving Metes and Bounds:  A Survey of the Landscape, available at http://www.clir.org/pubs/abstract/pub138abst.html.

Daviess Menefee from Elsevier discussed their efforts and rationale in participating in archiving initiatives.  As the conomic model shifts increasingly from print to electronic, libraries no longer archive journal content locally.  Publishers are expected to maintain content indefinitely and migrate that content as technology changes.  Menefee feels that STM publishers have a responsibility to maintain a permanent record of scholarship.  In 1999, Elsevier made a commitment to archiving and in 2001, participated in a Mellon planning grant.  Elsevier has four levels of redundancy:  publisher maintained archives, exterior archives such as OhioLink, customers worldwide who receive a copy of everything published, and contractual agreements with Portico, CLOCKSS, and the National Library of the Netherlands.  Elsevier is reaching compliance with the CLIR report.

Eileen Fenton, Executive Director of Portico, described their mission as preserving scholarly literature for future researchers.  Their focus is on peer-reviewed scholarly journals.  The titles are recommended by libraries and range from large commercial publishers to small scholarly presses.  Portico is concerned with intellectual content, not functionality.  Once a title has been placed in the archive, it cannot be removed.  Customers who support the archive will receive access should a “trigger event” occur.  The archive is funded by libraries and publishers and currently contains approximately 6000 titles.  Portico provides a script which compares local library holdings against Portico by means of the ISSN.

22:3 (2007:09) 22nd Conference (2007): Strategy Session: Academic Journal Publishing

August 31, 2007 at 4:45 pm | Posted in Conference Reports, Strategy Sessions | Leave a comment


Academic Journal Publishing
Peter Binfield, Journals Editorial Director, Sage Publishers; Zac Rolnik, now publishers; Kerry Cole, Head of Marketing and Sales, Portland Press; Cindy Brown, Production Manager, Medical Journals, Wiley-Blackwell
Reported by Jeanne M. Langendorfer

Peter Binfield spoke first about acquiring existing journals.  Publishers acquire journals to build more attractive sales packages, to improve the quality of content, to drive usage, to gain new readers, to break into new markets and to increase revenue.  Journals are acquired by temporarily assuming the contract for an existing journal, typically a society journal, or by outright purchasing of a title, usually from another publisher.  The prices paid range from one to six times their annual revenue.  Society titles often are leased for a set period of time, with the owner retaining editorial and content control.  Tools and services include online peer review software, author gateways, and author care communications.  Publishers produce these reports: usage data, financial, editorial, strategic, circulation, bibliographic data and revenues to other stakeholders. They maintain the integrity of the content by managing the peer review process, maintaining their online archive and checking for plagiarism and multiple publication.

Zac Rolnik described the process of launching a new journal.  Publishers network with potential authors by visiting campuses and attending conferences.  To discover topics that might lead to a new title, publishers monitor listservs, the news and the literature of the field; talk with their marketing, sales and customer service staff; conduct market surveys; and research underserved topics, new scholarly topics and new societies. Publishers find an editor-in-chief who is a research leader in the field, has good organizational skills, an established network and is willing to participate.  The editor might receive 2.5-10% of the royalties and a stipend up to $10,000.  Additional incentives include making an impact on and furthering research in their fields.  Usually, the publisher owns the journal.  The editorial board members are invited and should include researchers with a range of experience from around the world.

Cindy Brown described value-added publishing.  Services include: peer review systems customized for the client; adding digital object identifiers and XML for full-text search capability; copy editing, typesetting and proofing for errors; distributing pages electronically to authors; providing a proofing website and English-language editing services.  Brown presented in detail Wiley-Blackwell’s online early production workflow.  Author services and gateways allow authors to follow the article through the publishing process. Next, the steps taken by authors along with the services that publishers provide to the author at each of those steps were described.  Providing a digitized journal backfile for online access in perpetuity is highly desired by libraries.  There is a great demand on publishers to provide quality articles quickly and as economically and efficiently as possible.

Kerry Cole offered a sales and marketing view of academic journal publishing.  Marketing is “…an organizational function and a set of processes for creating, communicating and delivering value to customers and for managing customer relationships in ways that benefit the organization and its stakeholders…” (American Marketing Association).  Cole described Portland Press as a publishing subsidiary of the Biochemical Society, which publishes five journals and three electronic products.  It is based in the UK, and has five staff, two of whom handle marketing and two of whom have sales and licensing responsibilities.  In the print world, prior to 1995, one person handled marketing and there was no sales staff. Customers were authors, subscribers, editors, and subscription agents.  With the onset of e-journals, librarians also became customers.  To learn their customers’ needs and the best ways to help them, the publisher attended conferences worldwide, ran focus groups, and visited and surveyed customers worldwide. Then they created marketing materials, improved their online journal platforms and account administration, offered consortial and package purchasing and addressed licensing issues.

22:3 (2007:09) 22nd Conference (2007): Strategy Session: It Takes a Community: Early Lessons and Accomplishments of CLOCKSS

August 31, 2007 at 4:25 pm | Posted in Conference Reports, Strategy Sessions | Leave a comment


It Takes a Community: Early Lessons and Accomplishments of CLOCKSS
Victoria Reich, CLOCKSS Initiative, LOCKSS Program, Stanford University Libraries
Reported by Valerie Bross

Vicki Reich presented a compelling argument for e-resource preservation, and, more specifically, for the use of LOCKSS and CLOCKSS. (http://www.lockss.org)

Developed in 1999-2002, LOCKSS (Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe), provides a technology for libraries working as a community to cooperatively ensure access to selected materials for future generations. Currently, 200 LOCKSS boxes are saving publications of 200 publishers. The publications cover a range of e-resources—e-serials, e-books, blogs, e-theses/dissertations, government e-documents, and websites—in a variety of formats (images, video, text, software, pdf, xml).

You, too, can do it—along with six of your friends. The myth of digital preservation is that it takes a highly technical staff, using an extremely expensive and complex setup. Apparently, this is not true of LOCKSS, which can run on low-cost PCs. The key is multiplicity. LOCKSS works on the premise that the more libraries that preserve the same resources, the better the probability of survival.

The first step is to set up the LOCKSS server, a task that Vicki assured the audience is easy to do. The next step is to gain LOCKSS permission from a publisher. Third, one must prepare the LOCKSS box to collect and preserve the desired publication(s).  The LOCKSS software will then periodically poll the publisher site and draw in new content. LOCKSS will also check preserved files against the same content in independently-administered collections, to repair any files that get corrupted.

Begun in 2006, CLOCKSS builds on the success of LOCKSS.  CLOCKSS, or Controlled LOCKSS, is a private LOCKSS network. The CLOCKSS mission is to ensure access to published scholarly content over time. Seven libraries and eleven publishers are currently cooperating on this initiative. A major difference between CLOCKSS and other preservation initiatives is the concept that the content could be freely available to all under certain conditions, called “trigger events.” An example of such a trigger event would be when a title is no longer being published and no publisher has responsibility or is providing access.

During its first year of operation, CLOCKSS has earned considerable recognition, achieving the 2007 ALCTS Outstanding Collaboration Award.

22:3 (2007:09) 22nd Conference (2007): Strategy Session: Alternative Career Paths for those with an M.L.S.

August 31, 2007 at 3:52 pm | Posted in Conference Reports, Strategy Sessions | Leave a comment


Hitting the Trifecta: Alternative Career Paths for Those with an M.L.S.
Anne McKee, Beverley Geer, Michael Markwith, Steve Oberg, Bob Schatz, and Christine Stamison
Reported by Lisa C. Gomes

This panel presentation featured six people, representing five alternate careers ranging from consortia to vendors.  Anne McKee first spoke about her role within the Greater Western Library Alliance, noting that she bridges the gap between the research libraries that are part of the consortium and vendors.  Ms. McKee emphasized that her M.L.S. provides her the advantage of being familiar with library jargon.  There are differences between the consortium and a traditional library that require more work on her part.  For instance, she telecommutes and it is more difficult to stay abreast of the current trends within the industry.
Bob Schatz talked next about his experience as a book jobber with Coutts Information Services.  Mr. Schatz noted that it is easy to get a job as a bookseller with an M.L.S.  His experience is quite transferable because the work that he does spans several areas within a traditional library: part cataloging, part administration, and part systems.  However, his measure of success is based on profit.

The first subscription vendor that spoke was Christine Stamison from Swets.  Ms. Stamison explained that her  customers view her as a trusted advisor because of her experience as a librarian.  However, there are some distinct differences working as a vendor.  Many business factors affect her work environment, such as mergers and the need to meet quotas.  She expressed that there is never a dull moment and if you have the gift of gab you would probably be successful. 

The next presenter was Steve Oberg, who spoke of his experience at Endeavor, where he created the specs for products, including the searching and taxonomy used by the systems.  Mr. Oberg acknowledged that while he is not responsible for managing a print collection, his M.L.S. allowed him to appreciate how information is organized.  He advised it is never a good idea to return to an old job, but instead to use that job to build and clearly articulate a record of accomplishment that you can include at the top of your resume. 

Beverley Geer from Sage Publications gave her perspective as a publisher.  She began by encouraging the audience to find something they do well, do it, and then grow to love it!  If you are considering a career switch, Ms. Geer suggested that you stay involved with your professional organizations, volunteer for committee work, and seek out a mentor.  She also suggested that you approach your job from the standpoint that you are educating your customers, not selling to them. 

The final panelist was Michael Markwith from WT Cox Subscriptions.  Mr. Markwith said that it is all about the people — the goal is to educate.  It is important to be passionate about your position and transform that passion into commitment for libraries. 

Questions and comments highlighted some final thoughts about working outside a traditional library environment.  It is a business mindset with a different vocabulary.  Often deadlines are more firm with the goal of coming in under budget.  You must be self-motivated and able to take rejection.  Even with these pressures, librarians employed by vendors are still extremely loyal to libraries and strive to keep up their professional involvement and personal relationships with librarians. 

22:3 (2007:09) 22nd Conference (2007): Strategy Session: From Tech Services to Leadership

August 31, 2007 at 3:32 pm | Posted in Conference Reports, Strategy Sessions | Leave a comment


From Tech Services to Leadership
Anne E. McKee, Greater Western Library Alliance, Moderator; Joyce Ogburn, University of Utah; Karen Calhoun, Cornell University; Carol Pitts Diedrichs, University of Kentucky
Reported by Rosemary LaSala

The session “From Tech Services to Leadership,” moderated by Anne E. McKee from the Greater Western Library Alliance, was well attended and began with the promise of active participation and discussion.  The speakers, Joyce Ogburn, Director of Marriot Library at the University of Utah, Karen Calhoun, Assistant University Librarian for Technical Services at Cornell University, and Carol Pitts Diedrichs, Dean of Libraries at the University of Kentucky began the discussion by focusing on two aspects:  what leadership is and what it encompasses; and how technical service librarians can rise to be leaders in their fields.  All of the speakers have varied backgrounds and many of them have been NASIG and ALA board members.  The presenters’ talents encompass the profession as a whole and their expertise is what helps determine their varied styles of leadership.
The speakers had many ideas for success as leaders and the majority of their ideas were the same. “What is leadership and what does it encompass?” requires many different steps and ideals.  The main themes all the speakers discussed were the importance of honesty, integrity, and the ability to listen.  Some of their ideas for success were:

  • Build a coalition; recruit followers that you can help develop to become good leaders in the future.
  • Find and adopt good models, steal liberally and share the credit.
  • Strive to say yes.
  • If you are not sure why you are doing something, ask yourself why. Remember you have an impact on your organization and your staff.
  • Have a vision, dream big.
  • Remember no mistake is ever final.
  • Always be honest, lead with integrity, and be fair. 
  • Seek to influence rather than command.
  • Have some fun.
  • No leader is an island, no one does anything alone, and everything is a group process.
  • Leadership is not about power.
  • Leadership and management are not the same.
  • Be flexible.
  • Look for common ground if you’re having difficulty working with different areas of your organization.
  • Making good things happen is extremely rewarding.
  • Listen to the dissident voice, do not be defensive.
  • Do not accept the status quo.
  • Be able to talk one-on-one to someone.
  • Adjust and manage your style to people’s issues.
  • Learn to say you can’t talk about a subject now but when you can you will.

Leadership can be messy; there are times that you will feel resistance.  Always remember that there is value in every point of view.  In an organization, it is vital to know your staff and their personal styles.  You must understand what they are saying and be willing to listen and compromise.  A leader must be willing to be the first one in a messy situation to take responsibility for a mistake.  Furthermore, a good leader needs to accept help from people whom he or she has trusted with responsibility.

The second point the speakers discussed was what technical services has taught them individually about leadership.  All of the presenters spoke about the changes in technical services that have occurred over the last twenty years.  Leaders must find ways to accomplish the goals of their organizations with less money, constant change, tension from employees, and an understanding that one must delegate and be prepared to meet resistance.  A leader must recognize that to emerge successfully after all these changes, one must understand that these changes are difficult for support staff as well.  The help and willingness of the support staff to change is an integral part of success.  Technical service is a team-based approach; they deal with internal and external stakeholders.  Collaboration is the hallmark of technical services.       
Leadership takes energy and passion; you must find your own ways to recharge yourself.  Everyone spends so much time at work that it is important to understand that there needs to be a balance between life and work.  Individuals who are in leadership positions need to remember that it is not about themselves, but the organizations that employ them.  During this session one could understand that the speakers embraced this reality as an integral part in their roles as leaders, individuals, co-workers, women, and team players.

22:3 (2007:09) 22nd Conference (2007): Strategy Session: How Does Digitization Affect Scholarship?

August 31, 2007 at 2:04 pm | Posted in Conference Reports, Strategy Sessions | Leave a comment


How Does Digitization Affect Scholarship?
Roger C. Schonfeld, Ithaka
Reported by Buddy Pennington

Roger C. Shonfeld of Ithaka gave an insightful glimpse into the preliminary results of a research study assessing the impact of digitization on scholarly research.  The ongoing study involves impacts on citation rates for three disciplines including economics, history and biological sciences.  Roger reported that the study has conclusively shown an impact on citation rates for economics.  The study has not progressed to the point where conclusions could be drawn for the disciplines of history and biological sciences.

Scholarly publishing can be viewed as a two-sided market where journal publishers serve as an intermediary between authors and readers.  A national faculty survey conducted in 2006 highlighted the differences between authors and readers in terms of what they value most in an academic journal.  When asked what authors look for when choosing a journal to publish their research, wide circulation was the most important criterion.  That is to say that journal impact matters most to authors.  So how has journal impact changed with the recent increase in journal digitization?

The Ithaka study involved examining the citations to 100 journals for each of the three disciplines within Thomson’s ISI citation databases.  The years examined included 1980 to 2005.  Regression analysis was used to determine correlations between digitization and changes in citations to the selected journals for these disciplines. 

Preliminary results on the impact of backfile digitization, using a sample set of journal volumes from 1956-1968, indicated that there is a relationship between digitization and an increase in citations to those backfile journals.  Inbound citations increased from 7% to 17% after digitization, and the study demonstrated that this impact grows steadily over time.  Different channels or platforms had different effects.  For one platform, the increase was in the 3%-15% range while it was 8%-18% for another platform. 

Preliminary results on the impact of digitization of current issues, using a sample set of journal volumes from 1995-2005, showed a significant effect.  However, the results were more complicated than the backfile data and require additional analysis before they can be reported with any degree of confidence.  Roger did note that the publisher is not always the optimal distribution channel in terms of citation impact and that longer embargo periods decrease the citation impact for that particular platform or channel. 

Roger concluded by stating that Ithaka will continue with the research project in order to assess any statistical variation between the disciplines.  He would also like to look at whether the year of publication matters in terms of digitization’s impact on citation rates.  Is the relative impact greater for older materials? 

22:3 (2007:09) 22nd Conference (2007): Strategy Session: Institutional Identifiers in the Journal Supply Chain: What’s Good, What’s Bad, What’s Missing

August 31, 2007 at 1:45 pm | Posted in Conference Reports, Strategy Sessions | Leave a comment


Institutional Identifiers in the Journal Supply Chain
What’s Good, What’s Bad, What’s Missing

Don Chvatal, President, Ringgold, Inc.
Reported by Carol Green

Don Chvatal began the presentation with a definition of the journal supply chain.  Publishers, distributors, ILS and ERMS vendors, subscription software vendors, subscription agents, online hosting services, institutional subscribers and individual users are all participants in the supply chain.  Complex relationships exist among the participants and as a result, the journal supply chain is often disorganized and inefficient.

In January 2006, the British Library, HighWire Press, HighWire affiliated publishers, Ringgold, and Swets launched the Journal Supply Chain Efficiency Improvement, JSCEI, pilot project.  The goal was to create an institutional identifier that could be used in the supply chain from start to finish, thereby improving communication between publishers, agents, service providers, libraries, and users.  Standard use of an institutional identifier could help alleviate a number of problems associated with ordering/renewals, missing issues, loss of electronic access, and difficulty setting up initial access.  Chvatal talked in depth about other goals of the JSCEIP pilot, how institutional identifiers work, Ringgold’s Identify database, and Ringgold’s involvement with the project.

What’s good?  The use of institutional identifiers can lead to customer service improvements, for example, faster e-access activations and simplified pricing.  XML messaging can be used to enhance communication between participants.  Due to its success, the JSCEI project is being extended into 2007.

What’s bad and what’s missing?  Few systems exist to support the exchange of information between parties and there is a lack of working models for information exchange.  International standards and definitions need to be developed for institutional metadata.  Currently there is a lack of participation by ILS and ERMS vendors as well as libraries.

The pilot expansion will focus on weaknesses in the journal supply chain.  Fixing the chain requires participation from all parties.  Some of the things we as information professionals can do are to use the Identify database to maintain local information, provide constructive feedback, support NISO/input to standards, and encourage ILS and ERMS vendors to support the use of institutional identifiers.

See http://www.journalsupplychain.org/ and http://www.ringgold.com/.

22:3 (2007:09) 22nd Conference (2007): Strategy Session: What’s Different about the Social Sciences? Why One Size Doesn’t Fit All

August 31, 2007 at 1:31 pm | Posted in Conference Reports, Strategy Sessions | Leave a comment


What’s Different about the Social Sciences?  Why One Size Doesn’t Fit All
Leo Walford, SAGE Publications
Reported by Mary Bailey

One size doesn’t fit all, especially when looking at professors, researchers and journal publishers in the social sciences vs. the hard sciences.  Walford researched the common themes and differences between how journals are used and why.  He stated that it is hard to define what the social sciences are and that they change over time; even universities do not agree on what the social sciences or humanities are, except that neither is part of the hard science field and that these researchers work differently.

Researchers in the science, medical and technology fields want the most current, up-to-the-minute facts immediately, preferably in an electronic (instant) format.   Those in the social sciences want yesterday’s information.  They are willing to read it in any form available, including brown and brittle primary materials from a dusty attic. The date of the material is important only in relation to the subject. There is little need for publishing speed.

Due to the type of research and subject matters, editors and publishers are more involved in social science journals.  The editors and publishers of science journals may have less understanding of the material being researched or published. The information needs to be available as quickly as possible and peer review is extremely important.  In the social sciences, the editors and publishers become more engaged in the subject matter and the boundary lines between the editor, publisher and authors are harder to define. There is more discussion about moral issues and copyright because everyone is more involved.

Publishing revenue sources for social science titles are more restricted.  Academic libraries are the primary purchasers unlike the science fields where firms or companies need the same information.

Another area to consider is how the journals themselves differ.  An analysis of citations in science journals shows 90% of all citations refer to other science journals.  In the social sciences, more than half of the citations refer to materials outside the social science journal literature, thus lowering the impact factor for social science journals.

Walford created graphs to illustrate usage of the different types of journals.  For science titles, 60% of use is within the first year of publishing.  Social science titles are opposite, thus creating a much longer shelf life. 

Other areas of difference include pricing since social science titles require less technology and are cheaper to produce.  How relevant that becomes in the world of package deals is still to be decided.   There are also some questions about open access and social science titles. Since science titles are in high use early in their shelf life, open access is fine after a certain time.  However, for social science titles, 75% of their usage is after six months, so social science publishers are less willing to engage in open access because the economics are different.  Of the four to six thousand social science journal titles available, only about eight hundred are open access.

In conclusion, Walford stated the social science journals are different. They are a vibrant, vital part of the scholarly endeavor, enriching society and disseminating knowledge, and that the social sciences’ users, researchers and publishers all need the library. 

22:3 (2007:09) 22nd Conference (2007): Strategy Session: Column People

August 31, 2007 at 12:53 pm | Posted in Conference Reports, Strategy Sessions | Leave a comment


Column People: What’s their Future in a World of Blogs? The Role of Columnists in Academic Journals
Allan Scherlen, Collection Development Librarian, Appalachian State University and a columnist for Serials Review; Bob Nardini, Head Bibliographer, Coutts Information Services and a columnist for Against the Grain
Reported by Stephen Headley

After presenting some discussion questions for the session, Scherlen opened the session by asking the audience if they were currently blogging or at least regularly read blogs. A sizable portion of the audience responded that they were involved with blogs. He then asked how many people followed one or more columns. Fewer people responded to that question.

Scherlen laid a foundation for comparing and contrasting columns and blogs and for discussing the intersection and mutual influence of the two forms by defining them and outlining their histories. The majority of columns generally share a number of features including: written with a “single voice, topic focused, periodic, editorial filter, writer hired or selected, and part of a larger publication.” He noted the variants, such as travel, gossip and book review columns. Scherlen outlined the long history of columns, which can be traced back at least to periodical commentaries from the early 1700s.

He then offered two definitions of blogs from recent writings on the subject. One of these was from Mark Tremayne’s Blogging, Citizenship and the Future of Media. It stated, “Blogs are distinguished from other websites in their dynamism, reverse chronological presentation and dominant use of the first person.” He then shared studies of blog users which found that, of the more than 80 million blogs, most were by single authors and contained personal information about them. A brief history of blogs was provided, starting with 1997 when the term “weblog” was coined, through the development of political blogs, to May 2007 when it was estimated that there are more than 81 million blogs.

 A comparison of blogs versus columns was presented next.  Scherlen listed the following similarities, noting that there are many exceptions to these general distinctions: they both have a personal voice with an opinion or analysis; both can have “substantial readership”; and either can be well written and considered “good journalism.” The differences were more numerous. Blogs generally are more informal, “diary-like,” and can have miscellaneous related content, whereas columns are usually topic focused. They have frequent updates and accumulate posts, whereas columns are periodic and less frequent and consist of “single stand-alone piece(s).” The author of a blog can be anyone who can write whatever they please as compared to a columnist who is hired or selected and whose work must pass through an “editorial filter.” Many blogs contain links to their archives or other blogs, whereas columns do not usually have links to archives or other columns. Most blogs have a way to include readers’ comments and are open access, while traditional columns do not provide a direct way to submit readers’ input and many have “subscription barriers.”

Scherlen concluded his part of the presentation by posing the question, “Are the boundaries between traditional publishing and new online expression blurring?” He contends that blogs are having a significant impact on mainstream media. More and more users are questioning mainstream media while blogs are receiving increased credibility. At the same time, mainstream media are taking on features of blogs and embracing them in some way. For example, having links that ask for readers’ comments, hiring bloggers, and having their own journalists create their own blogs. Columnists are increasingly recognizing that their readers are aware of major blogs and are actually citing those blogs.

Nardini opened his part of the session by stating that bloggers and their readers comprise a “subculture,” while columns and even prominent columnists do not. He followed with his differences between blogs and columns. Bloggers do not have the structure and pressure that columnists have and columnists do not have the independence of bloggers. He said that blogs have more of a “sense of community” for readers because of their personal content. As an example, he offered that many librarians’ blogs seek to break the stereotype of the uptight, shushing librarian. On the other hand, columnists and their readers do not have any kind of interaction. Furthermore, columnists are more traditional than bloggers, “ketchup not salsa.”  Nardini added that columnists offered a point of view, a certain attitude, and distinctive individual styles more readily than blogs, which show a certain sameness in attitude and style. He illustrated his points by referring to the recent death of famous columnist Molly Ivins. He talked about his admiration for her work and the reverence for her that was displayed upon her death.

Following Nardini’s presentation, Scherlen and Nardini posed some questions for the audience to think about and respond to.  Is there room for both columnists and bloggers in the media and publishing world? Are there any reviewing or indexing sources for blogs? Should librarians be leading people through the blogosphere? Several people from the audience defended the content of blogs and their quality. Others cited the convenience and easy access of blogs as reasons for why they read them.

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