Updated 14 April, 1998
Australian Academy of the Humanities, GPO Box 93, CANBERRA, ACT 2601, AUSTRALIA
Ph: 06 248 7744     Fax: 06 248 6287
FAX TO: Clare White, Committee Secretary, Review of Higher Education Financing and Policy
FAX NO.: 02 6240 8854
FROM: Angus Martin, Chair, National Scholarly Communications Forum
FAX NO. 02 6248 6287
DATE: 13th February 1998
SUBJECT: Reports prepared following the meeting with NSCF representatives, 22nd January 1998

Dear Clare,

I am appending to this memorandum the recommendations and comments that the NSCF agreed to submit to the Review Committee. As I suggested when we spoke on the telephone, the delay in finalising these documents was the result of the need for a considerable amount of consultation. The papers I am sending are the following:

Recommendations outlining the composition and responsibilities of the National Information Steering Committee proposed by the NSCF.

Comments on

I hope that these documents will assist the Review Committee in its work and that a recommendation for a National Information Steering Committee will be viewed favourably.

I am forwarding this material by fax, by e-mail (to your own e-mail address) and also through the post.

Thank you again for your help in facilitating our work.

Yours sincerely,

Angus Martin
Chair, National Scholarly Communications Forum

National Scholarly Communications Forum recommendations to the Review of Higher Education Financing and Policy on the establishment of a National Information Steering Committee (NISC)

Recommendation 1.

That the Minister for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs establish a National Information Steering Committee (NISC) to provide policy and funding advice to the Commonwealth Government on national information/library infrastructure development for the higher education and associated system.

Recommendation 2.

That the Committee's terms of reference be:

Recommendation 3.

That the Commonwealth Government approve a central funding program for such national infrastructure development, at a level of $10m per annum for four years, and subject to review as to the effectiveness and future of the program in the third year of operation.

Recommendation 4.

That membership of the Committee include appropriate representation from the higher education sector and other key stakeholder groups, including:

Recommendation 5.

That the Committee take steps to establish the following programs and services without delay:

National Scholarly Communications Forum comments to the Review of Higher Education Financing and Policy on questions concerning the University library system

1. A Structural Separation of University Libraries from their Universities?

The National Scholarly Communications Forum recognises that university libraries are integral to teaching, learning and research and thus inextricable from their universities. Although elements of their services and resources may be outsourced, it is vital that the strategic imperative of each university library be attuned to its university's strategic directions. The emphases of the university must be reflected and supported by the emphases of its library.

The dangers of a separation of control of university and research libraries from their universities are well illustrated in France and Germany. In France, universities do not employ their own library staff so the libraries are driven by central public service goals rather than the research and teaching goals of their institutions. In Germany, the well intentioned central direction of collection developments has led to dysfunctional matching of collections to research and teaching. The Australian approach marries strong institutional focus with a commitment to national resource sharing and collaboration.

However, a national infrastructure cannot be developed effectively by collaboration among the libraries of competing universities alone. There must also be a sense of national purpose supported by national funding to promote national infrastructural projects. It is to that end that the National Scholarly Communications Forum supports the establishment of the NISC.

Comments on the structural separation of libraries (Alex Byrne, NTU)

...Who should operate the libraries? Even if we accept that it is essential that there be a campus library, ... does it follow that it needs to be operated by the university and by university staff? Could it not be outsourced to "Academic Libraries Inc" who might contract with the university to provide a specified range of services as is done for food and beverage services? This might appear unlikely at our institutions but might not the VC of a university in a metropolitan area see that another university library in the same area is better managed and has more resources and then contract with it to provide a campus library service at her/his university?

I think the answer is that libraries are such an integral part of the scholarly process that they are 'core business' and consequently not candidates for outsourcing (although some of their services, eg shelving, might be outsourced). Universities are concerned with the creation and transmission of knowledge and their libraries are essential to those processes so control of the library is essential to control of the university.

Leaving the commercial, outsourcing, model aside, another option would be a national academic library authority which would run the 'Distributed National University Library' for the benefit of all universities. Again the argument is based on the synergy between universities and their libraries. A national academic library authority would inevitably develop its own imperatives, pursue its own goals, and diverge from the needs of the universities it was established to serve.

Re separation of libraries, from Madeleine McPherson (USQ):

....Libraries are a service not a capital asset. The first rule of good service is "know thy client". It can't be done from a distance. .... Give the local faculty a few years living with collections designed in Canberra, and it won't take long for them to decide that anything the university is paying for this service is too much. They will settle for the Internet, and a closet collection of books bought from faculty budgets, and in a few years they will quietly appoint someone to organise said books and......

The idea is not totally peculiar in the virtual environment, but it certainly is if we're talking about physical campuses.

A number of people (including me as long ago as 1994) suggested that there was no logical or necessary reason why a university operating virtually should not contract out its library services. This is already happening in Florida, and when we have the LIDDA [document delivery administration] system operating I intend to explore the possibility of contracting with other libraries for direct service to our external students. Our students would be given access to their catalogues and would initiate the supply of either a photocopy or loan, obviously for a fee. I believe however that even a totally virtual university will need to employ librarians, even if they don't need collections.

The attraction of providing this service from a dedicated facility, ie., not one that has to meet the demands of walk-in clients, is that it can be more efficient in capital and running costs. Such a library would have to break new ground in terms of electronic database licensing if it were also to offer access to these resources to all comers.

The efficiency argument also recommends a separate institution for the supply of little-used research materials nationally - the CARM [CAVAL-operated store] model. We probably need more research on actual costs to be able to say with any certainty what materials are most cost-effectively housed in central stores. Paper is expensive to move around, and there's still an awful lot being published on paper which under current copyright laws has to stay there.

On the other hand it is difficult to imagine any university acquiescing in the loss of its campus library, or to demonstrate that such an arrangement would be an efficient way of providing access to heavily used print materials. Without getting sentimental about it, there are educational values in exposing students to a good library, where they can serendipitously explore beyond the narrow requirements of the curriculum. The argument holds even though most don't take advantage of the opportunity. The world has for so long had the belief that the quality of the library is an indication of the quality of an institution that we should examine it closely before abandoning it.

There may be a certain neatness in the separation idea if Hilmer is fully implemented. An institutionally separate library could make its services available to all providers, although unless the established libraries were physically moved off their campuses at great expense the mind boggles at the kind of relationship that would have to be negotiated with the host university.

However just supposing that such a thing happened, campuses would have to invent another facility to provide for all the other needs that libraries meet, besides just being a storehouse. These include professional services but also the provision of spaces for study, instruction and social interaction. A library is a great facilitator of cross-disciplinary fertilisation.

2. Libraries and economic self-sufficiency?

There is little capacity for university and other major public libraries to be self funding, even in the foreseeable electronic future. What university libraries do is high cost by its very nature, and

involves very significant staffing and infrastructure costs also ( buildings, study spaces, storage facilities, hardware, as well as the collections themselves). The kinds of broad licensing arrangements and base infrastructure support for the overall higher education and associated system proposed by the NSCF through the National Information Steering Committee will lead to higher levels of cost saving efficiency, but will not provide a platform for high levels of direct cost recovery. The economic advantages will come from the more effective support given the core teaching and research activities of tertiary institutions and other end users.

We do not know of any recent exercises undertaken by Australian university libraries in modelling cost transfer to academics and students, presumably with 'one off' voucher or some such funding adjustments first. Because of the cost intensive nature of information provision it seems highly unlikely that such systems would be either attractive or effective.

The National Library of Australia has undertaken some such investigations and concluded that it is not possible for it or for libraries playing similar national rôles to recover any significant costs from users, because of the high unit and infrastructure costs of core activities. The Library does generate approximately 22% of its revenue, but from services to the public unlikely to be emulated on anywhere near the same scale by university libraries.

The NSCF believes that Australia's information infrastructure is a national resource that supports all levels of social, political, cultural and economic activity. Even in a narrower sense, access to, and archiving of, research information is clearly of concern not only to universities, but also to government research organisations such as CSIRO and DSTO, to organisations such as CRCs that are concerned with cooperative development of intellectual property for transfer to Australian industry, and to industrial laboratories both large and small. It is by enriching the output of the information client base generally - in ways that cannot be quantified at the level of individual usage - that the information infrastructure contributes to the national economy.

Comments on "libraries and the model of the market" (Madeleine McPherson, USQ)

I think the question of libraries and efficiency is not dissimilar from the questions we are having to ask ourselves about universities and efficiency, in the light of the challenge of globalisation and commercialisation of higher education. Both higher education and library services are only candidates for commercialisation if you segment their functions. In higher education., businesses will define (are defining) those functions from which a profit can be made and create specialised markets in those areas. These markets will be in what you might call the training functions. One of the reasons why universities are having trouble conceptualising what is happening to them is that for most of this century they have engaged in both education in the broad sense (developing intellectual capacity and an acquaintance with accumulated knowledge in basic disciplines) and training (teaching the application of knowledge and technique to tasks). It's possible to make money in the training market. It's a lot harder to make money in education. One of the questions for the future is how much society values education and is prepared to invest in it, either through taxes or private payments to universities when training can be had in less expensive institutions.

I think it's a bit the same with libraries. If you can define the services required fairly narrowly - and you probably can for most undergraduate work - then it's possible that a commercial provider could meet client expectations and make a profit at it. However if you define education broadly, and if you throw in the client expectations associated with the research function, then I don't believe it is possible (in our present and foreseeable paper-bound state) to construct and deliver a service that satisfies the clients and make money at it.

Universities know that much that their libraries do is uneconomic - we've told them. (See my contributions to the Round Tables in Canberra. [http://www.anu.edu.au/caul/nscf/mcpherso.htm & .../mcphers7.htm]) They still make very substantial provision from very straightened university budgets to maintain libraries the way they want them. They are making a purchasing decision (making choices in classical market terms) which reflects the value they put on the good. The fact that much of what they buy with their money is redundant to the purposes of the community that makes the purchasing decision, at any particular point in time, shouldn't make the decision invalid to an economic rationalist, who after all has no trouble with other luxury markets.

.... One reason why libraries would find it difficult to conform to the market is that they offer no standard products - every transaction is different. Transaction=client+service/information). Furthermore the costs of each transaction are often not easily estimated when the transaction is initiated. You may say that this is like a patient going in to see a doctor for a checkup and ending up having major surgery, but the medical industry can charge a separate fee for each service in the process. Which is nice for the doctors but it is notable that patients have refused to allow medicine to be a natural market, by establishing medical insurance schemes. Medicine has the advantage that the possibility of death is a great incentive to pay, and the insurance industry generally benefits from similar risk assessments. The relationship between library use and benefit is much harder to establish, and may only be apparent to the student after their results are in. This is presumably why academic staff make 'purchasing' decisions on behalf of students, and universities make room in their budgets for their libraries

On the other hand they may be talking about a market for information. I'm no expert in information economics, but it shouldn't be too difficult to demonstrate the difficulties of putting a price on scholarly information. There is the old conundrum that one can only put a value on a piece of information after one has used (ie, read) it, but that information is infinitely reusable and therefore use is not the same as consumption. Furthermore in a research situation the value may only be apparent long after the information has been used.

I suppose that you could say that the scholarly information market is a speculative one, in which libraries pay vast amounts of money, on the very best advice, to speculate on the future value of information, but that notwithstanding that most of our clients regard our service as indispensable none of us have ever made a profit.

3. Copyright and Intellectual Property

The appendix on copyright provides a valuable summary of the current environment and highlights a number of issues including those created by the recent changes in technology, and the particular position of Australia as a net importer of copyright. However if copyright is considered as a commodity, and the report appears to come down rather heavily on this side, then one area it does not cover is that of academics signing away their rights in an effort to be published in prestigious overseas journals.

Universities are both creators and consumers of copyright, which is pointed out in the report, however the two are dealt with separately In the university environment, probably more than anywhere else, they are linked together.

The issue of copyright is critical to the process of teaching, learning and research within the university.
The issues which are currently of critical interest to university libraries include:

Restrictions in the use of new technologies due to limitations of the Copyright Act. Technologies such as scanning, which provide a mechanism for improving access to information, cannot be fully utilised as the process is not covered by the Act or the statutory licences.

Fair dealing in the digital environment. Fair dealing, in particular for the purposes of study and research, is used extensively by students and researchers as a basis for obtaining information. It is critical that the fair dealing provisions which are currently applicable to the print environment are maintained within the digital environment to facilitate the development of ideas.

The cost of purchasing copyright materials. This is an area where improvements are required, especially if copyright is considered as a commodity. Currently academic staff are required in most institutions to produce a number of articles a year for publication. These articles are then published by significant journals invariably published by overseas publishers. During the process the producer of the material is often required to sign a contract which invariably includes the signing over of copyright to the publisher of the journal. The journal is then purchased by the library, usually for a high price. This perpetuates the cycle of Australia as a net importer of copyright.

Australian content. In an increasingly on-line environment the issue of lack of Australian content is an issue. The majority of publishers are international and based in the US or Europe. University libraries are continuing to pressure publishers and distributors of electronic journals to add Australian content to their lists. 

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