Disserving the Global Information Community


Rock Island, IL

It’s worse than you think.

The National Federation of Advanced Information Services (NFAIS) has announced a “webinar” on “e-Books and the Future of University Presses: Key Findings from a Three-Year Study.”

Here is the first sentence of the announcement:

“There is a tremendous drive in the academic library environment to reshape content and service models to deploy technologies in ways that more effectively and efficiently serve the user at the point of information need.”

Now despair is nothing to trifle with (even if it is brought on by nothing more than a butchered and meaningless sentence), which is why our own literary tradition has sometimes represented despair as a giant. Never mind that the tradition has also given us many stupid giants. The point is that giants are strong no matter how stupid they may be. Despair is no field mouse.

So if you were able to read past “webinar” and right on through “key findings from a three-year study” about the “future of university presses” (apparently researchers can travel in time now), certainly by “deploy technologies” or “point of information need” you were drawing a warm bath and digging through the vanity for your razor blades.

But your cup of despair isn’t full yet. The announcement continues:

“One of the hottest topics for libraries in this regard is e-books. This is also an area of rapid development across the publishing industry – with activity to standardize file formats, a proliferation of dedicated devices, and the transformation of purchasing and copyright practices originally developed for print books.”

Libraries have hot topics? Hot topics? I can see how “dedicated devices” might move the staid and stern ladies who guard our most revered halls of silence, but it takes more imagination than I’ve got to envision one library talking hot topics with another.

“For libraries, there are associated issues in terms of both constrained purchasing budgets and the expanding popularity of patron driven selection.”

I’ve done some reading in my day, but I confess that after a certain number of prepositional phrases in succession I tend to lose the thread, especially when the thread ends with “expanding popularity of patron[-]driven selection.” Are there “patrons” “at the point of information need”? And have their library cards been replaced by information need cards? Will these cards confuse the paramedics looking for organ donation cards at the scene of an accident? Because I want any medic who’s treating me to be more clear-minded than the writer of this announcement—and certainly more clever than all those who would transform our libraries into flea-markets of “information.”

“Publishers in a university press environment also face these new challenges. At a time when print sales are declining, how should e-books be integrated into production and distribution to demonstrate the ongoing value of a university press in support of academic research?”

Pray, what is the thing that supports “academic research” in this sentence?

Ah, never mind. The bathwater is so warm, so warm. Sail on, silver girl. Sail on by.

“Rising interest in the creation of cooperative branded consortia for purposes of distributing scholarly monographs is evident as several such initiatives that have emerged. . . . The 60 presses that are joining the University Press eBook Consortium (UPeC) are focused on satisfying the needs of the scholarly community as they move forward in selecting a platform and planning their collections.”

Not to be impertinent, but the needs of the scholarly community may have more to do with rescuing the language of Shakespeare and the Authorized Version from the NFAIS, or with securing large quantities of readily available scotch, than with moving “forward” (it’s always “forward, isn’t it?) “in selecting a platform and planning their collection.”

Well, we might as well know what the “key findings” of this study of the future include (or should that be “included”? Or “will include”?):

Strategic vision
Academic library budget developments
Research about library eBook adoption
Patron Driven Selection
Current trends
New and evolving standards
Academic publishing in trends
Exploring technology driven efficiencies in workflow and production
Determining core competencies: what stays in-house
Expanding service partner options
Service level agreements
New business models

Too bad for those of us for whom vision isn’t “strategic,” or who aren’t much into “current trends” or new and evolving standards (surely a contradiction in terms) or workflows. Tough titty for those of us who like old books and think they might serve as a corrective to much of what is wrong here.

I was alerted to this must-see (see? attend? listen in on? how does one participate?) “webinar” by a buddy of mine who works at a university press. He writes:

“I get more and more things, or non-things I’ll call them (in the hope that the material world will still hold out its sharp, voluptuous ding-ness in the face of insubstantial, nuggatory electronica) like this. I must perforce attend to all this, and be part of its wave if I want to stay in this bid’ness, but I confess to you, friend, that the first sentence alone [“… models to deploy technologies …”] causes in me such a depth of despair about what we’re saying to one another anymore that I can barely move beyond it.”

“It” = giant. A big one–a big strong stupid one.

My question is: when we’ve finally taken leave of both our language and the world, who’s to say we’ll have the capacity to miss them? Or even to notice that we’ve taken our leave?

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