A Sea Change (5): More Specifics

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

I was encouraged by the unprecedented level of engagement at CRL's annual Council of Voting Members business meeting last week. The high turnout (156 registrants) was great news, but unfortunately overwhelmed the provisions we had in place for webcast communication. Since I was consequently unable able to answer all of the questions from attendees about the CRL budget and collections agenda, I will respond to those questions here.

Many of those questions centered on our intent to refocus CRL collection development on core historic strengths and to shift some resources from collecting to electronic access. In my report at the meeting I mentioned the challenges posed by changes in scholarly practice and the deterioration of the supply chain in CRL’s traditional areas of collections strength: news and other forms of documentation relating to governments, world affairs, and economic development. To continue to fulfill its mission of supporting advanced, original research in the humanities and social sciences CRL must respond, and respond decisively, to these challenges. While the changes may have seemed sudden to some attendees, the course we have set is actually the product of years of discussion and deliberation by CRL management, the Collections and Services Policy Committee, and the Board of Directors. The CSPC and Board consist of representatives of member universities -- public and private -- and four-year colleges, from all regions of the U.S. and Canada and therefore represent the interests of all sectors of the membership. 

In moving forward we have no illusions that there will not be losses. Indeed, future issues of certain print serials will no longer be available through CRL. But those materials are not likely to disappear, since they are published in developed nations like Japan, Norway, and Germany, where functional if not robust national libraries exist, with the capacity to provide articles on demand. CRL needs to devote more attention to preserving materials published in places where the information industry, libraries and archives are either non-existent or under-resourced, and where conflict and oppressive regimes threaten the survival of the public record. CRL has always had to choose between collecting and maintaining materials that will survive elsewhere in one form or another, and those that will disappear absent our intervention. Moreover, CRL also needs to devote more resources to providing electronic access to the materials it does preserve, lest low use of those materials prompt the withdrawal of community support for our enterprise.  

As for CRL's shared collections agenda, FY 2018 will be the year in which we explore potential partnerships to expand the CRL humanities and social science corpus.  As we reported last year, there is not enough information available on which to base decisions on priorities and scope of the endeavor. Therefore, with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, we are now gathering data to help define the outer limits of the “critical corpus,” and to identify the potential partners that can offer the most to CRL libraries. There will be an opportunity for input from all CRL members at the June 23 forum, to be held during the ALA Conference in Chicago, Expanding the Shared Collections Network, announced earlier this month.

And now, the Q&A:


On CRL focus and scope:

Q:  You've explained in detail the problems with print as time goes forward. Many of those problems (e.g. supply chain issues) have always been with us. Your focus has understandably largely been on how to preserve and digitize content CRL has already collected. But unfortunately much of the world stubbornly continues to produce  (though perhaps "low use") content in print [not "superseded" by electronic], intended for readers other than academic libraries. What is CRL's stance for the PROSPECTIVE acquisition of this material? Is this ongoing need being essentially swept away by the sea change? As many are asking, "If not CRL, then who?"  

A:  Critical components of the traditional supply chain for research-essential print, like LC's Overseas Operations and the Title VI centers, are under great stress and will no doubt deteriorate further with federal budget cuts. Identifying and acquiring endangered print materials is what the Area Materials Projects (AMPs) do best, and for that reason supporting their efforts to a greater degree will be a priority for CRL. Doing so requires us to reallocate resources from collecting materials like Scandinavian brewing journals and Japanese serials on materials science, that are not imperiled.

Moreover, the 2012 Global Dimensions conference at Duke University made us aware of the growing importance of online sources for the international studies and public policy community, and raised the concern that those resources are rapidly disappearing from the web and even from commercial databases, and that many such databases are unaffordable to academic libraries. CRL's licensing program was begun some years ago for the purpose of gaining leverage for member libraries in dealings with the major vendors and publishers in traditional areas of CRL interest like news, government, civil society, economic development, and population. With NERL now operating under the CRL umbrella, we have begun to identify new opportunities to do good things in that realm.  


Q:  What about preservation of existing microfilm collections? Is there discussion of digitizing them?

A: Yes. In fact we have been digitizing microform holdings both on-request for researchers and on a project basis.  The World Newspaper Archive titles, for example, and some of the official gazettes included in the Civil Society Documentation portal, were digitized from microfilm. In doing this we have to strike the right balance between digitizing from microfilm and digitizing from original documents, as the latter are more likely to disappear if not captured.  


Q: James Simon referred to "Scan on Demand" in responding to Gerald Beasley's question about digitization. Does CRL imagine continuing to scan on demand, or does it imagine doing whole-sale digitization? If the latter, how does it plan to address copyright issues ?

A:  We do plan to continue scanning on demand, because it responds to the real needs of researchers. Moreover, we have found that most materials scanned for one researcher tend to be accessed later by others.  

Wholesale digitization along the lines of the Google Books and Internet Archive efforts, however, are not in the cards. Unless I am badly misreading the economic picture, members are unlikely to subsidize such an effort.  Instead we support strategic digitization of materials identifiied by the area materials and Global Resources projects, and digitization of materials specifically prioritized by member libraries. The globalCollections platform, now under development, will enable member libraries to nominate and vote on collections for digitization, in the same way they now help prioritize CRL microform purchases.  

With regard to copyright, we make materials that are not clearly in the public domain available digitally only to researchers authenticated by member libraries. Because of the "low-use" character of CRL collections, we are able to minimize the risk of infringement by limiting scanning to materials that are not likely to be commercially viable, such as political and cultural ephemera, government publications, archives, old newspapers and dissertations, and such. There are some risks to this, which we weigh against the harm done by withholding these materials from researchers.  


On CRL partnerships:


Q:  Can you speak more to the potential new partnerships that would address social science & humanities content ?

A: It would be premature to identify potential partners because we are still analyzing the holdings of various candidate libraries and consortia. Analysis to date, however, has identified a number of sizable aggregations of humanities and social science journals held by member institutions. More about those at the June 23 forum.


Q:  We've seen some new developments over the past few weeks re: The Rosemont Group and CRL. How do those developments impact your vision of CRL's role in preserving perpetual access to print?

A: There are some areas identified as priorities by the Rosemont group that CRL has also designated as priorities. We are working with members of the group and with other print initiatives to determine how cooperative investment on those priorities might advance CRL member interests. FY 2018 will be the year in which we explore potential partnerships. As we reported at last year's @Risk forum, not enough information is available on which to base decisions on priorities and scope of the endeavor. Therefore, thanks to support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, we are in the process of gathering data to help us define the outer limits of the “critical corpus” and to identify the potential partners that can offer the most to CRL libraries. There will be an opportunity for member input on this at the June 23 CRL forum at ALA, 


Q: There is a dynamic environment around shared print for both serials (Rosemont, Big Ten, WEST, others) and for monographs (HathiTrust).  How does CRL position itself in this community?

A: As a matter of policy CRL scrupulously avoids duplicating other cooperative efforts in which our members invest. Given the declared interests of HathiTrust and EAST CRL is limiting its print archiving efforts to serials rather than monographs. Moreover, we are actively working with the major U.S. and Canadian shared print initiatives to optimize the return on CRL libraries' investment in those efforts. For instance, we have provided holdings analysis for the Big Ten Academic Alliance, WEST, Scholars Trust, and the COPPUL SPAN project. For the past eight years, moreover, CRL has sponsored the Print Archive Network forums, providing a venue where leaders in the shared print efforts pool their expertise and identify best practices. We think there are possibilities for further synergies, and are actively exploring those. 


On the budget:


Q: The strength of CRL has always been member-driven decision making. I would like to see [the new] initiatives separated and described in detail and submitted for individual votes by members. I am sure that many will agree to cutting back microfilming, but there are other changes that may not be as widely accepted. 

A: The initiatives described actually have very little impact on the FY 2018 budget.  In fact, the activities I described as “new” (“newer”, that is, than the longstanding microfilming, interlibrary loan, and document delivery services) were initiated some years ago. Those include digitizing collections, the 2012 Global Resources STE Partnership with Linda Hall Library, and the Global Resources Law Partnership with the Law Library Microform Consortium.  Other "new” initiatives begun some time ago include: negotiating the terms of access for news, statistical and other historical databases; analysis of serial holdings data for WEST, BTAA, Scholars Trust, COPPUL, EAST, and other shared print efforts; and ongoing evaluation of CLOCKSS, Portico and other digital preservation services. Member libraries have embraced and benefited from these new services.  (In FY 2016 Linda Hall fulfilled 6,940 article requests for CRL libraries. 

We will provide a breakdown of the cost of the programs on CRL’s website.  


Q: To support the Linda Hall partnership, what kind of budget is involved? And would that budget contribute to the deficit for the next two year? Also CRL has been focusing on humanities and social sciences, and Linda Hall's focus is on science & technology, does this mean CRL is expanding its strategic scope and vision for the future?

A: The cost of the Linda Hall program will be $264,265 in FY 2018, incrementally higher than FY 2017. As part of the operating funds budget, that figure will contribute to the deficit for the next two years.  

The program is less an expansion of CRL’s strategic scope than an effort to grow access in an area of strength.  A large percentage of CRL’s serial collections are in the fields of science, technology and engineering. Those include long historical runs of trade and industrial journals and the proceedings and journals of scientific societies and academies. CRL's collection of 800,000 dissertations is also heavily weighted toward the sciences. The CRL materials mesh nicely with Linda Hall’s holdings, which add greater depth to the collections available to CRL libraries.  (An analysis by Steve Bosch of the University of Arizona determined that the CRL and Linda Hall holdings together exceed the average holdings of the top U.S. STE libraries in Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics, Physical Sciences, and Engineering.)    

Q: I was hoping to hear more about the process for assessing member priorities for selecting materials and/or canceling subscriptions.  

A:  CRL's general acquisition and collection priorities are determined by the Collections and Services Policy Committee, which consists of representatives of major member libraries. Guiding the CSPC’s work since 2002 has been the report of the Collections Assessment Task Force chaired by Ross Atkinson. That task force laid out a number of broad priorities for CRL, including "providing national leadership for the coordinated archiving of traditional materials"; coordinating the archiving of selected Web resources, specifically international materials and gray literature; and greater focus on the area studies and global resource projects in CRL’s suite of activities.  

In deciding to discontinue the titles we did analyze the holdings of those serials elsewhere, and determined that the cancelled titles will not be at risk. Of the 355 titles, 260 are held (although perhaps not currently subscribed) by another "library of record" within CRL membership. 81 of those are held by the Linda Hall Library. Of the rest, all were published in Europe, Japan, and other countries with robust national libraries, and therefore will likely remain available. A list of the titles to be discontinued can be downloaded here. Given the minimal-to-no use of these titles, we believe that diverting funds to making available the 3,606 titles currently subscribed by the Linda Hall Library will provide greater value to researchers at CRL libraries. That belief has been borne out by the usage statistics.

At the same time thousands of publications produced each year in the developing world are not captured by North American libraries. These are the kinds of materials identified and preserved by the area studies projects working under the CRL umbrella. We believe that greater support for those efforts will better fulfill CRL's mission. 


Q: Could you say more about the drop in sales/service revenue since FY16 ?

A: This drop is the result of continually declining demand for foreign and domestic newspaper microfilm.  The drop was even more precipitous in the several years prior to 2016: Since 2007, CRL has seen an average decline of 16 percent per annum in its revenue derived from ongoing microfilm subscriptions and one-time sales. While CRL has continued to microfilm titles as part of its preservation mission, the number of institutions acquiring film on an ongoing basis has dropped to an all-time low.  


Q: The budget increase in recent years seems to have been driven in part by personnel costs--17% over the FY16-18 period.  What is driving this?  And what is being done going forward, since the personnel costs are shown to be dropping in the coming FYs?

Personnel is the largest single item in CRL's budget. The growth in this line is due to several factors: a salary pool recommended annually by CRL’s Human Resources and Compensation Committee, to keep pace with the market and to recognize high performance by individuals; increases in the cost of health insurance occurring economy-wide; and the growth of CRL licensing, data analysis, and systems staff. Going forward attrition and strategic cuts will be necessary to reduce costs in activities dealing with physical collections as demand for these materials continues to decline. 


Q: It's typical for non-profits to hold back a percentage (up to 3%) of revenue for reserves.  Is this CRL practice?

A: CRL currently has no policy on adding to its reserve each year. In past years the reserve amount has been decided by CRL’s Board, on the advice of its Investment Committee. In line with a strategic commitment made by CRL’s Board in 2014, to support program and infrastructure growth and increase high-value services, in subsequent years we have been drawing upon, rather than adding to, the reserves. Our budget plan has us beginning to generate a surplus again in FY 2020. At that time it would be worth considering a policy on annual contributions to the long-term investment funds. 


Bernard F. Reilly
President (2001-2019)
Center for Research Libraries


Thank you, Bernie, for following up with these responses. Very helpful. Brian S.