A bold move by MIT Libraries

Ellen Finnie has shared some exciting news coming out of MIT libraries: their collections budget is now under their scholarly communications program. This will potentially give collections librarians the flexibility to significantly shift the way they strategize and negotiate purchasing decisions. The “vote with your money” approach is perhaps one of the best options we have when it comes to changing the scholarly publishing landscape in favor of a more open, affordable, and “healthier” system.

It also opens up opportunities for having tough but nonetheless important conversations with faculty who insist they need journal x for their research but who may not realize the full implications of publisher x’s licensing terms. It’s high time, in my opinion, the we (librarians and academic) take back the responsibility for stewarding scholarly information to create a system that better reflects our values and aims.

Twitter as inter-library loan

In my recent presentation on social networks for academics, I discussed the disintermediation of the library out of the scholarly communication process as social media tools make it easier for scholars to transfer and acquire information without consulting library services or staff. In today’s Chronicle, I came across an interesting example of this:

Thanks to Twitter, I have been sent copies of obscure articles much faster than I would have received them from an interlibrary loan. I just need to tweet “Does anyone have access to the Journal of X, 1972?” and within an hour someone will have e-mailed me the PDF. It’s tremendously useful.

A similar PDF exchange market exists on Reddit.

In some part, this relates to the concept of the “invisible college,” notably the part that encompasses the peer-to-peer transfer of research that has always existed and functioned outside library walls. In fact, I still have a drawer full of pre-prints and writer’s copies from scholars that I interacted with as part of my graduate work in medieval studies. If I needed a copy of research that my library couldn’t get due to copyright or availability (and electronic copies were not as pervasive then), I could usually contact a small handful of scholars (if not the author herself) and obtain a hard copy.

So how is this different? For one, it’s more efficient and, as the author points out, faster. But even more importantly, it reduces the need for ILL as long as (1) the need is for electronic material, (2) one’s social network includes enough cross-institutional coverage, and (3) one’s network includes at least one database-savvy person. I can only expect that these factors will increase over time thus creating an even richer environment for this type of exchange. So whither ILL?