Capitalizing on the Library Investment

A presentation to the Association of College and Research Libraries biennial meeting in Nashville, Tennessee 12 April 1996

Michael A. Keller
University Librarian
Director of Academic Information Resources
Publisher, HighWire Press
Stanford University


Listen. … Listen.

Listen to the distress cries of librarians around North America as the ignominy of down-sizing of staffs and reductions of operational budgets tumbles down on top of the decade-and-a-half long decline in the purchasing power of our book budgets.

Listen to the directors and other leaders of our profession extol the mantra of "access instead of ownership," a plaint offering no comfort in the absence of effective ways to build a strong and distributed logical national collection, much less a substitute for the still viable tradition of "ownership in order to provide access" and the careful accretion of books for readers now and yet to come.


Listen and watch many publishers and their fellow travelers seek ways to go around academic libraries in the belief that more dollars are to be found and more control to be gained by marketing directly.

Listen also to those who are attempting to subvert the balance of copyright law, disputing fair-use applications, and disadvantaging the exchange of ideas.


Listen to some computer scientists, web-wackos, and information brokers extol and predict the death of libraries, or at least the metamorphosis of our venerable institutions which have survived wars, natural and economic disasters, and previous cycles of neglect and disillusionment. These self-confident, self-absorbed prophets of the absurd notion that our libraries are or soon will become museums of pulp paper, these people generalize from their own use of the literature…no, better the reports…of their own discipline as much as their own desire to invent the next techno-widget to insure their own personal fortune.


Listen as well to the few voices of hope, of re-vitalization, of appreciation for the fundamentals of our profession, of the essential social functions librarians serve regardless of the form and sometimes even the content of the carriers of information, knowledge, and wisdom. Listen to our readers, our students and faculty who are borrowing more books, spending more time in our reading rooms, and worry with us about the future of libraries, librarians, and librarianship, but ultimately expect us to be there for them.



My intention today is to review with you the investments made in our libraries, in our profession, and in ourselves. Following the review I will present some ideas about capitalizing on those investments to insure the future of our institutions, our collections, our services, our profession. The definition of investments I will use is expansive, not one with which an investment banker or an accountant might agree. On the other hand, I will try to insert enough notions of business and capital to suggest, if not to prove, that our future, a serviceable and maybe even resplendent one, is possible.

Frankly it is also my intention not just to suggest that new thinking must be forthcoming; that new methods and techniques must be invented, learned, and transmitted; that in addition to our strong service ethic and devotion to our readers, we must cultivate additional behaviors of aggressive intervention and entrepreneurship, of risk-taking and extroversion so that the products of the teachers and scholars in our colleges and universities remain accessible, so that we continue to make real the ideals of free access of the citizenry to information, to ideas so that our democracy can survive and flourish. It is also my intention to challenge incrementalism and common denominator program development, both inoffensive and safe havens for the wary and fearful, many of whom are either unaware or uncaring that our libraries, our services, our profession are under fire and even declared moribund. Among the messages I will try to deliver is that individualism and particularity should be valued and recognized, cultivated even in some settings, in order for all of us to serve our readers and their successors most faithfully. Cookie cutter, vanilla programs, services, collections are not ultimately predictors of success in the prosecution of our duties for society at large, though commonality at some operational levels is essential to the achievement of our goals and mission. Let me leave this conundrum hanging for now and move from this thematic statement to get down to cases, trying to show as I go how possible it is to make use of the capital invested in libraries to advance the state of the profession and our fundamental cultural responsibilities.

The Investments

In discussing investments, my overly broad definition is probably abhorrent to appraisers, bankers, accountants and the like. However, some venture capitalists and other extraordinary risk takers might appreciate and even credit some of what follows as investments.

First and most obviously are the tangible aspects of our libraries…the collections and the buildings. These are the most easily seen and yet, in some ways not fully comprehended as opportunities.

Buildings for many of us are akin to temples, the physical fulcrum of our roles, our collections. We build them, often in the past without accounting enough for flexible and extensible uses of the structures themselves and to a lesser degree subordinate spaces. For instance, we may have some rooms for group study which can also be used as seminar rooms, many places for readers on walk-in bases which could also serve as dedicated carrels, and lately as we extend network and electrical connections to more rooms and more seats, we may have planned for better flexibility and variance of function in subordinate spaces.

As I develop my argument, I hope you will see that as we confront and question our techniques and methods across the regimen of our fundamental functions, the place of space, rooms and buildings in the examination and renovation of our methods and techniques is key, perhaps ironically so. And I should point out that I believe that the process of questioning, doubting, re-engineering once started is never ending, regardless of the category, facilities included.

Another conundrum must be created and left hanging, namely that new investments must be considered and made with some clear notions of early pay-off as well as longer term utility. There are balance points everywhere along the way.

In addition to the investment in the buildings, we need to express as well in our equation the furnishings, equipment, and other fittings which make even a grand structure actually useful for its intended purposes. Now certainly these non-structural aspects of our facilities have declining value over the years, but as those of us with official custodial, maintenance, and replacement responsibilities know, such things rarely cost less than their predecessors. In the case of information technology equipment, though it is increasingly necessary to adopt shorter refreshment and replacement cycles, it is also true and predictably so for the next decades that a given investment in year one made again in year three will bring better functional characteristics…more and faster memory; chips which do more; clearer, larger screens, more integrated and intuitive software, and so forth.

On the collections front, those of us in the collection development seats are well aware of the value of our collections, partly because the insurance underwriters need for us to make justifiable estimates of value and partly because we know what we spend each year to acquire the stuff. Just to give you some idea of the impact of institutional spending in the marketplace, the total spent in 1995 on all the subscriptions to the 500 highest impact journals in science, technology, and medicine we estimate to be well in excess of $2.3 billion. The ARL statistics show also annual investments in the collections of the largest libraries in North America on the order of $640 million. Those 120 libraries are the largest, but certainly not the only libraries spending money. Even given modest estimates of library spending in the 10,000 North American libraries, we can quickly come up with some incredible sums, ones which keep the publishing community profitable.

Though many of the new, digitally formatted information resources are not actually added to our collections as we lease access to them rather than possessing them, we need to factor this kind of investment as well. We need to invest wisely in digital information resources and perhaps have been stampeded by our own need to be near the cutting or bleeding edge of things informational as much as by clever and creative marketing schemes by information providers. Why is it that so many of our institutions are quite ready to pay extra and to guarantee levels of payment over several years to get digital versions on top of print versions of journals and other publications which are low in impact to begin with, unlikely to grow in impact by distribution over networks, and over-priced to boot? Certainly there are places, lots of them, for useful unica and rarities in digital form. Certainly as our systems and digital resources suggest to faculty and students new and creative uses for information, there is room for experimentation and adaptation. However, the message and meaning of distributable information over wide and local area networks is that information of broad use and heavy impact is information worth investing in first and foremost.

Still on the matter of investments in collections, we should consider the value of our individual collections, not just aggregate annual spending. Moreover, the cash investment in any given year on individual titles, seen as disaggregated and separate elements, is one measure, but the more impressive number and the more significant estimate of value, two quite different things, in the first, the quantifiable element, must incorporate the value added by the selection, the acquisition, and the cataloging and classification. In the second, more "soft" and philosophical estimate of value, the intellectual, scholarly, and pedagogical value of a collection carefully selected and described over the years, decades, centuries must assume a value just about inexpressible in terms of money. To know them is to love them.

The matter of buildings, their furnishings, and the collections are concrete and thus more easily seen as capital items on any spreadsheet. We cannot easily quantify the sense of place in the case of our facilities and their settings, nor the inestimable notional value of the collections housed within them. Yet, when earthquakes, fires, floods, overcrowding, and other bibliothecal pestilences are visited upon us, as much as anything the notional values have created the upwelling of determination to rebuild and replace, to build anew, to invest all over again. This has been true in the past, and I predict will be true in the future even as the primacy of the artifact is diluted, for the sense of place for academic communities is practically essential for the kind of education practiced at -- or by -- the vast majority of our institutions. I am perfectly willing to concede that distance education may produce some additional challenges to the roles of the "heart of the academy," but for those engaged in distance education, the metaphor of a library as a place of community as much as the reality of virtual libraries and virtual communities will be enormously weighty.

The categories of investment I mention next for your consideration are ones which are most likely not admissible in the auditing or accounting of capital investments. You will see, I hope, why I consider them important.

Central to all of the investments made are those made in the staff, professional, paraprofessional, and casual. Individuals and institutions have made investments in these staff in diverse ways, from fellowships, scholarships, grants-in-aid, loans, and other monetary devices meant to educate and train us. While there is certainly not a system or intention now to provide a growing cadre of professional librarians, there has been in the past. Despite the shrinking number and changing nature of library and information science programs in North America, there is considerable concern here and there to suggest at least the possibility of a resurgence of such support. I assert that the conversion of that possibility to probability to reality is in part dependent upon the very leveraging which is the topic of this paper.

On top of the education and training for the professional and other vital roles in our libraries, we invest in salaries, benefits, in-service or on-the-job training, and programs to build and maintain morale as well as others to help individuals cope with crisis, on the job and off. We can add the investment in time and care in leadership, management, and supervision which facilitates the collaboration, communication, and coordination of all of our line and service personnel.

An aspect of the community building and nurturing too little observed or realized in our libraries is that of re-assigning and weeding the staff in careful and correct ways so that the irremediable or irrelevant or inappropriate skills, behaviors, and performances of duties by those not well suited to a particular setting are not supported. This kind of investment is costly of attention and of pysche of the managerial and leadership staff who must oversee and perform the reviews and notifications to accomplish these difficult tasks. However, the failure to attend to this minor percentage of the total investment we make shifts burdens, almost always unwarranted ones, to other staff members. And we all know how our services can be adversely affected by poor performance by staff. Reassignment, remediation, and ultimately removal are investments too little made in our institutions.

Another investment we have made is the devising and operation of services which directly and indirectly support the work of scholars and students. These range across the core functions to which I have referred before: selection and acquisition, cataloging and classification, interpretation and reference assistance, distribution, and preservation. Think for a moment of the iterative processes performed by librarians and their paraprofessional colleagues, in groups and singly, constantly to improve existing services and occasionally to devise new ones. For those of our readers who are thoughtful about our services and are conscious of how much is done for them, the good will toward our libraries is an asset and thus the result of some investments.

It is important to observe in this section the long history librarians have had in specifying, devising, and using information technology in their duties and in serving readers. Beginning with Fred Kilgore's work first at the Yale Medical Library and then at OCLC, we have been leaders in adapting computers and networks to our technical services and processes. This history of successful performance is significant as we think of leveraging investments in libraries as I will demonstrate in a few moments

Think also of the contributions librarians make to their colleges and universities when they serve on campus-wide or at least non-library committees. I think that as a result of frequent engagement in group processes, librarians often contribute to the successful working of these other groups. As many librarians are responsible to boot for resources and thus resource management, librarians often inject a sense of the practical into discussions which often otherwise wander around and never quite get down to brass tacks. I suppose one might claim that this characteristic is in fact a payoff of an investment made in group process; I see this facilitating characteristic as proof that such investments were made at all.

The quartet of investment categories just recited, facilities, collections, staff, and services, were made for the most part by our institutions. The last investment category I want to mention is that of the personal investments we have each made to become librarians and then to improve our professional capabilities. Our investments take the form of time, money, inconvenience, and cultivation of intellectual and even physical skills. Many of us move from paraprofessional to professional status by earning library degrees in our "spare" time. Most of us advance in the profession through sweat equity, with fair measures of support and understanding from our colleagues. Librarians are among the most community oriented professionals I know about. While we all can cite instances of professional jealousy interfering in progress, those of us with perspectives from any of the scholarly disciplines know full well that the politics of competition and contention among librarians is trivial in comparison with what goes on in these other groups. We need not turn to the rigors of the lives of attorneys or physicians to make the point even more vividly.

Capitalizing on Investments -- Introduction

"The bright promise of tomorrow is of a time when the expanding resources of science, industry and art may be mobilized to ease every man's burden and produce new opportunities of life and leisure."

This quote from the London press at the time of the coronation of Elizabeth the second, apart from being mildly archaic now in tone could be an expression of the present Pax Americana. The following sentences from the same source qualify this sentence:

"Yet these are the years when the first atomic clouds have drifted between us and the sun. If anything at all is plain, it is that many generations will be robbed of a future unless there can be established a settled peace…"

Winston Churchill, with a touch more reality, on the same occasion said:

"The present is hard and the future is veiled."

Such "best of times, worst of times" aphorisms are as much a constant of democratic societies and market-based economies as are commentaries on weather.

Yet, if we fall back upon such easy excuses not to act, but to be acted upon, in this time of authentic opportunities for librarians and librarianship, what befalls us as a profession is our own fault.

My central assertion today is that in order for us to continue to be of service, some of us can take advantage of the times by shifting to more entrepreneurial bases of action, and by so taking advantage create new methods and techniques for the practice of librarianship, perhaps modeling futures for the profession.

Before getting down to cases, consideration of notions of returns on investments is necessary.

In the business world, investors consider potential "r o i" before committing resources. These same investors look at past returns on previous investments in a particular management group or company as indicators of future performance. Investors may be indifferent to the products or services to be offered, interested principally in a competitive return on their investment. In the commercial world, goods and services are value priced. Another way of saying this is that you charge what the market will bear. Firms that accurately diagnose a consumer need and are the first ones to meet the need (that is, fill the niche) effectively can reap huge profits until competitors kick in. Then, cost control and efficiency become important factors in profit margins, in addition to marketing factors, and returns settle down to more normal rates.

Another kind of opportunity that creates big profits is where some market disjoint gives the lucky ones access to a limited opportunity. Suppose you own the oasis in the desert which everyone has to pass through, or the government favors you with the exclusive contract to provide them with missiles. When some commercial firm gets an advantage like this, they tend to charge what the market will bear, and it will bear a lot. This will create perceptions of injustice and create a backlash. The freer the market is, the smoother it will operate, without such disjunction. By the way, for an example closer to home, think about the competition between for profit publishers and the publishers based in universities and scholarly societies in the battle for control of the literature of science, technology, and medicine.

On the other hand, the non-profit scene is driven by those who wish to accomplish some worthy social end and need to raise money to cover the costs of such an end. To make their job easier, they persuade government to exempt their income from taxes. Non-profits will charge what they need to charge to recover the non-subsidized cost of their activity, whatever it is. The return they get generally cannot be measured precisely, but sounds good when you talk about it..."educated citizenry"..."self-esteem"..."clean beaches"..."progress"..."peace". Of course, all non-profits like to have a tidy sum in the bank, because this means they can do more of whatever good they have collectively defined. They would never distribute the surplus to individual contributors (as known as investors) for private, unregulated uses.

For the past several months, there occurred the latest deliberations on Stanford's interest in intellectual property created by its faculty and staff. There is a long history of such meetings, of course. Stanford began its rise to its present status with investments made by President Terman in the first efforts of David Packard and Bill Hewlett long before World War II and then after the War in the Stanford Research Park, Varian Associates, SRI and similar organizations. These few examples are mentioned to make the point that institutional commitment explicitly to investments in actual products, services, and companies, not just to mutual funds, stocks, bonds, and other similar anonymous instruments of investment is a necessary element for leveraging college and university investments in their own libraries. Anyway, to get back to the latest intellectual property conversations at Stanford, a sub-committee of President Casper's Commission on Technology in Teaching and Learning met to discuss whether and how to adjust Stanford's policies on copyright.

The context is this: Stanford asserts ownership entire over what might be called classroom performances and in general the teaching of its faculty. Stanford asserts part ownership over patents: one third of any royalties goes to the inventor or inventors, one-third to the home department, and one-third to the university. However, over copyright of articles, monographs, software and the like, there has been no assertion of ownership by Stanford except in cases where an officer caused a work to be written, as it were, "for hire." Lately, however, in discussing prospects for distance education, meaning both the expansion of the Stanford Instructional Television Network, a School of Engineering program actually offering graduate degree courses for credit, as well as the creation of new t.v. and networked-based instruction, some officers and faculty believe that a new intellectual property regime is needed for Stanford, one more like that for patents. On 11 March, the following four principles for a new intellectual property regime at Stanford were developed:

Principles for Stanford Intellectual Property Regime

  1. Do No Harm to core missions of teaching, learning, research

  2. Protect for return on investment for both individuals and institution

  3. Incite and kindle entrepreneurship

  4. Constantly refresh knowledge base; i.e. continue to create and disseminate new knowledge

These principles, developed by a few faculty and university officers are not yet policies, but it is remarkable, I think, that the group came to these notions. That we did get to this point is an indicator of a changing world. The principles are very likely going to be the basis for some new policies at Stanford intended as much to improve the returns on Stanford's investments in its faculty, its programs, its facilities as much as to protect the institution from encroachment by others on its investments and their potential for return.

Let us now take a look at some ways investments in libraries have been or might be leveraged or used to benefit the investors. I will organize these thoughts as I did in the description of the investments already made.

Capitalizing on Investments - Actual

Under the rubric of facilities, there is only so much which can be done as our buildings and equipment tend to be heavily used. From time to time we have received requests to provide venues for wedding receptions and other social engagements; some of us wish we could do more in the way of sponsored exhibits and even as conference sites. However, given the pressure, perhaps the best we can do here is to protect the investment for the best use our primary clientele can make use of it. Without our facilities, the place of our libraries as homes for communities of scholars and students would dissolve. Even now with expanding virtual libraries, there is plenty of evidence that our people want to see one another; there s more pressure on seats and carrels now than ever before, just as our circulation figures are up considerably as well. A footnote comment is that providing supervised access to our facilities may improve possibilities for return on our investments in collections and services.

It is in the area of collections that there are the most obvious possibilities for returns on investments. Ironically, it is here that we often fall afoul of our own expectations and the conflicted expectations of some of our readers.

First, the opportunities. We and our institutions have invested heavily in collections for academic purposes. As it turns out, such collections of information as we have are of use for non-academic purposes, by individuals, by companies and corporations directly, and by them and others indirectly through commercial information services, Information Express, for instance. Very often we have instituted corporate memberships in our libraries in order to meter and recover costs, at least in principle, for corporate uses of our information. Our services to corporate clients range from the mostly passive (collect the money, let their staff in the door, sometimes circulate the books) to the pretty aggressive (witness the Corporate Information Service of the New York Public Library and the nascent one begun by Ken Dowlin at the San Francisco Public Library). Mostly these cluster down on the passive side.

With a little risk-taking in the form of hiring or re-assigning a staff member or two, practically every academic library in North America could test whether there are consumers of information in each area interested in services (and thus fees) of the more aggressive sort. For these scenarios to pan out, investments not only in the service and delivery side are important, but also are investments in marketing.

If an institution did not want to assume such risks, it could engage in out-sourcing such services to a commercial information provider. Only a few of these are well-known, but there are a great many occupying niches sprinkled here and there. Basically, the institution licenses access to an information service, assures that the service will make responsible use of the libraries collections and facilities as well as accounting for copyright and royalty payments. In exchange, the institution gets money for its collections, services, operations.

How do we fall afoul of expectations?

Often our service ethic flowers to the point where free access to the information resources gathered and protected as a free good to students, faculty & staff is reinterpreted as free access to one and all, regardless of affiliation with the investing institution. I remember vividly my first weeks at Berkeley's Music Library during which time street people from Telegraph Avenue made extensive use of listening rooms, sometimes actually listening to music, but always preventing the use of the recordings and the rooms by students and faculty at Berkeley. The argument that UC/Berkeley is a public institution had turned the place into a public lounge with extraordinary Muzac. It took months to make the staff realize that the library was there for its primary clientele and just as access to the Doe Library stacks was limited, so too could access to the precincts of the Music Library. Some publicly supported institutions must offer services to all comers, but many can focus upon their students and faculty.

Some potential clients of library-based information services are not happy to pay for access to the collections and services we offer, even though they think nothing of paying quite heavily for comparable information from commercial providers. For example, most university law libraries get lots of requests from local legal firms for access to their stuff for low or no cost. And the requesters sometimes get irate when told of the limited access most law libraries permit. Yet, these same attorneys think nothing of paying handsomely for information from WestLaw and Lexis.

These two examples suggest that a good starting place for some libraries would be with contracts for access to collections with commercial information services, at least as a starting place. As a side benefit, those commercial services might become document suppliers to the institution as well, maybe substituting for our own inter-library borrowing services, many of which are too expensive and too slow.

In addition to access to our collections of books and other physical carriers of information and knowledge, there are some possibilities, I believe for providing access to digital information resources on a re-sale basis to commercial customers. It is also possible, I believe, that contracts could be written so that larger academic libraries could provide access to networked information to other academic institutions. Our experience at Stanford in attempting to do this indicates that there are certainly interested potential customers and at least some information providers are ready to talk about re-sale contracts. For both customers and providers, the matter of "branding" a particular selection of information seems to be interesting. Another aspect of importance is that of convenient user interfaces and convenient, unified billing and customer support. Of course, locally developed sources could be included in the package made available to other institutions. For institutions developing such on-line information re-selling services, effective customer support must be provided.

There is yet another way to look at the notion of leveraging our institutional investments in collections. Or perhaps it is better to say that an aspect of investing our institutional capital as we purchase new materials for our collections is that of making strategically wise investments. By this I mean that there are ways to influence the marketplace of ideas an aspect of which we call publishing. If one regards selection decisions on individual titles, whether monographs or serials, as tactical decisions, one can look at decisions on aggregated titles as strategic ones. Those of us in collection development and acquisitions specialties know that there are opportunities in negotiating prices on lists of titles and for approval plans. Investing wisely might mean using the leverage made available by concentrating orders as well as focusing attention on all of the titles purchased or subscribed from a particular publisher might give new leverage to the process of investing in that publishers products. Attention also to the overall impact of that publisher's titles, especially serial titles, might suggest some alternatives to the simple sum of tactical decisions. To take a case in point, I have wondered frequently in the past couple of years why it was that libraries were accepting contracts for electronic journals involving whole lists of titles, maintenance of cash flows over years to the publishers, and excessive premiums for access, sometimes on coercive bases for whole campuses to journals whose articles were written by our own faculty. A wiser investor would attempt to select, to alter the terms so that they were more beneficial to the institution, and consider whether making multi-year deals for low impact information read by only a few at premium prices makes any sense at all. That we have fallen for such deals makes little sense to me. We need to become better, more savvy investors, more businesslike in our strategies and decisions.

On the service front, a few academic libraries already provide various kinds of reference services to "outsiders" on demand. At Stanford, there is considerable demand for this service, but it has not yet become apparent to us that there would be enough business to pay for additional staff. Our principle in this arena as well as in the others mentioned is to "do no harm" to the academic support we provide to Stanford's students and faculty.

Also on the service front are the possibilities for distance education, whether the libraries are involved as part of larger offerings of instruction for credit or certificates or whether librarians offer bibliographic instruction on-line. One of the recurring inquiries at the Stanford Libraries' booth at last weeks WWW6 conference was this one on distance education. Did we offer it? How much was it? Does it lead to degree credits at Stanford or could it elsewhere? Stanford, like many other universities is considering how it could be affected by and contribute to distance education, but other than the SITN courses and some televised courses for the Continuing Education program on the Stanford Channel, we are a long way from more such programs. These inquiries are a measure of the interest in such possibilities. On the international front, one need look only to Australian colleagues, many of whom are engaged in distance education in south and south-east Asia. Airplane traffic between Kuala Lumpur and Brisbane is so brisk that everyone down under calls the Malaysian city K.L.

Still on the service front are the possibilities for Internet publishing, real publishing of real scholarly reports, as well as the publication of helpful information about our programs and services. There are several examples in this country of Internet publishing services with significant involvement or even bases of operation in university libraries. Project Muse at Johns Hopkins is a joint project of the Johns Hopkins University Press and the Eisenhower Library. There is a project at the University of California involving UC/Berkeley's General Library. There is a monograph publishing program at Columbia. The one I know best is, of course, HighWire Press, which has co-published eight general and life sciences journals in Internet editions and will soon bring up anther 18 or so. Started with a joint investment of $250,000 from my discretionary funds and from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, HighWire has become a self-sustaining enterprise inside of the Stanford Libraries with an annual budget of over $2 million. We started HighWire for several reasons:

At some level, the start-up phase of HighWire Press has been successful in each of these goals. And we keep getting new proposals or requests for proposals from a variety of like-minded publishers. If we continue to encourage the return migration of academic authors to lower cost and higher quality not-for-profit publishers in science, technology, and medicine alone, we will have done something worthwhile. There are signs in some of the journals that this is happening. It is also true that the new business models, the subscription arrangements for these Internet editions are not wholly satisfactory to some librarians. We are working with the scholarly societies to develop better models based in part on the responses to the first attempts.

I believe that there is plenty of room for many more library- and university-based Internet publishing operations. The tools for doing this are coming down in price and are easier to use. The demand for quality information, properly refereed is high. The costs of doing this are bearable for some institutions. It is true that many libraries are experiencing difficulties in recruiting suitably qualified personnel with specialties in information technology to put into effect the specifications of librarians, faculty editors, and publishers. However, it is also true that not many institutions are ready to grasp this nettle, to risk additional investments on top of already challenged budgets, yet undertaking such risks may be part of the secret of success for our institutions and especially for our libraries in the future.


William Saroyan wrote in a letter to Ernest Hemingway in January of 1936 the following on the subject of books:

"A man ultimately writes only one book; all of them together, even if there are a thousand, are one book. As you believe, I believe that the fundamental value of the activity of writing is this: that it purifies the man; gathers him together out of all time; unifies all the chaotic experience which is his heritage at birth; and makes it possible for him to inhabit the world, and sometimes the earth. It's his first; then it is anybody's, or every body's."

In the age in which we live as the media, including the Internet, begins to carry everyman's books, it is librarians which will make order out of chaos, making it possible for books to by anybody's or everybody's.

Yet another potential for leveraging the investments in libraries is that of doing what we all do best now, performing our basic functions, but in the new realm of digital information resources. The fundamental functions performed by librarians are those of selection and acquisition, organization and description, interpretation and navigation, distribution, and preservation. We do all of these now in the print world. Increasingly, even the prophets of doom for our profession, some computer scientists and engineers, are beginning to realize that we bring serious skills in the all of the functions I have just mentioned and that those skills are based on generations of activity and success. So, I believe that we as individuals and we as institutions have the possibilities of actually creating virtual libraries on any number of facets of human endeavor and knowledge of digital information resources. Many of our research libraries have written synthetic guides to disciplinary literatures, without regard to format or medium. Most often, these are web-based vade mecums, needing frequent updating and revision with the ebb and flow of digital sites. In some cases, both digital and print resources are included. Here is an excellent place for collaborative work among several of the principal bibliographers, catalogers, and reference librarians in any discipline. There is other work for circulation librarians and for preservation specialists. The former requires specifying, building, and evolving human-computer interfaces and the latter will require methods and techniques we do not yet know much about, though we have some general ideas about what needs to be done. These handbooks or bibliographies could be of use to a great many people, specialists and amateurs alike and could be accessible to anyone who can get on the 'Net. So, we have opportunity, values which could be expressed and added, distribution, and motive. This sounds like a business to me. And it is one based mainly on a history of investments in collections, services, and especially people.

What should we do if our enterprises earn money? What should we do with the money? I say we re-invest it wisely in our collections, our staff, our facilities and equipment. In a way, enterprise development and any resulting income above expense merely provides some funding to replace that taken away by down-sizing, re-positioning, and re-engineering. The benefit of shrinking support should be to re-think our methods and refocus our investments in order to do more with less. If we earn back some of what we lost, we should continue to examine our methods so that the return on the investments in libraries is still competitive.

Concluding remarks

These examples have crossed various of the boundaries of the categories I mentioned in my reflections on the categories of investment in our libraries.

Each example of a way of leveraging such investments involves to one degree or another some new investments and also some risks. While I can point to a few examples of risk-taking behavior for each one of my examples, there is not a ground swell of such ventures in our community at large. There are lots of reasons I believe could be cited for what amounts to fairly conservative, common denominator behavior in the face of a rapidly changing social and technological environment. As close as Stanford is to the Silicon Valley, physically and genetically, we can discern generations of technology developments on the order of 90 to 270 days; that is regularly there are new generations of hardware and software every 3 to 9 months. Nodes on the Internet are growing geometrically. Even if one accepts that a lot of what is out there in both realms is not of immediate or important use, there is plenty for librarians to do. Or, if no more than five percent of what is published is selected by research libraries for inclusion in their collections (virtual or physical), that 5 per cent being approximately the yield in content selected of all but our very largest research libraries in North America, there is plenty for us to do.

And to some extent we are moving along, but I am afraid we are moving incrementally and with a minimum of risk taking.

Why should this apparent deficit of adventurousness? What are we awaiting?

I digress to make the point.

Thanks to making my hotel reservation at the last minute to come to Nashville to speak at the ACRL conference, I have found lodging in a hotel near the airport. And because I am at this distant hostelry, I have discovered that in addition to the 18th-century studies conference, focusing upon Mozart, Voltaire and Jeremy Bentham, and the Association of College and Research Libraries Conference, focusing upon the future of our profession, there is another group gathering this weekend in Nashville. The Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks of the state of Tennessee is headquartered in my hotel. Now, in addition to the heavy representation of pick-up trucks and four-wheel drive sport utility wagons in the parking lot, in addition to the prominence of large red and blue coolers filled with malt beverages, in addition to a certain robust conviviality of the Elks, they have brought a hierarchy of leadership at the pinnacle of which is a Grand Exalted Ruler. What an attribute! The position has the whiff of absolutism, of definition, of brooking no interference! Now, I have not met the outgoing Grand Exalted Ruler OR the candidates who would become the next Grand Exalted Ruler. Presumably a puff of white smoke will be forthcoming, likely from the opening of a crowded party room to let us know which of the papabili have been chosen.

This vignette illustrates a point, that namely we need to re-assess our commitments of time to group process to get some thing approaching consensus on issues and programs. It is not a good time for lots of meetings of lots of people to make consensus and thus common denominator decisions. We need to help our staffs and our colleagues, not just locally, but across North America understand that slow moving, maintenance operations and programs will not serve our readers well, nor will they serve our profession.

When Yahoo, begun at Stanford by a couple of masters candidates in the School of Engineering, left Stanford for the cold cruel business world, the two founders needed to expand their staff to provide a kind of subject catalog to the web and organization of the information they selected to make navigation among the web of resources intuitive, easy, quick, satisfactory. Among their first searches for new staff were a number for catalogers, professional librarians. There is more of this needed. Not to use existing techniques and methods, but rather to invent new ones to perform our basic functions in this brave new world.

In order to continue to grow, to continue to be relevant we need leadership, we need models, we need comprehension that the world is nothing like it was five years ago.

We need risk-takers, our own brand of venture capitalists, and we need to leverage the capital investments already made in our libraries, our collections, our services, and in ourselves.


Listen … whether it is the age of information or the age of communication, if we can grasp the nettle of change firmly, without hesitation, with confidence, it is the age of librarianship.

Thanks for coming to this session and for your attention.


Let me acknowledge to contributions to my thinking and to this paper of my colleagues at the Stanford University Libraries, truly an army of generals.

This paper is copyrighted (1997) by Michael A. Keller, but may be read by anyone. It may be copied as well, provided that it is copied in its entirety including this copyright statement and provided that there is no fee or cost to anyone in reading the copied version. [an error occurred while processing this directive]