You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Current Digital Collection Developments’ category.

The two collection databases chosen were from the Getty and theMetropolitan Museum of Art.  Four object types were selected to evaluate the descriptive comparisons, which included:

1. Manuscript:  Psalter

2. Statue: Greek Kouros

3. Decorative Arts: 18th Century European Bed

4. Painting: Edouard Manet

The Getty:

I have to give a hand to the Getty because I truly believe this institution attempts to gear their online collection to the layperson and visitor.  There are pros and cons to that position, of course, but simply for access and legibility, the Getty does a fine job in the ability to quickly access and view what is available in the online collection.  Suffice it to say, it does not include everything and is more representative.  Also, the Getty collection cannot compare to the number of objects that are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the genres it collects have traditionally been based on what J.Paul Getty liked and instituted (but they are making expansions such as photography, etc.).  However, it is a good robust collection and worthy of comparison.  Again, note the name of the Getty’s collections database.  It is called “Explore Art” and this is placed in an active context.  On the “Explore Art” screen, the collection can be searched via the following categories:

Artists by Initial

Types of Art (this is object type or medium)

  • Architecture and Room Elements
  • Decorative Objects and Vases
  • Drawings
  • Furniture
  • Implements and Costume
  • Manuscripts
  • Paintings
  • Photographs
  • Sculpture


  • How We Live
  • Mythology
  • Natural World
  • People and Occupations
  • Religion
  • Science and Industry
  • Where We Live

(and then one can view a collections highlight as well as new acquisitions).

Again, these categories are easy to use but can verge on simplistic.  These artifacts are not categorized by theme, by era, by location, by period, by defined collection.  Subject classification (“Where We Live, People and Occupations”) appears to be too broad, undefined, and a bit too “preschool” for those searching collection databases.  One could keep these “friendly” categories but truly real and helpful subject classifications would be helpful.

The Getty developed an international documentation standard for cultural objects called “Object ID” in 1993.  In Robin Thorne’s Introduction to Object ID: Guidelines for Making Records that Describe Art, Antiques, and Antiquities from the Getty Information Institute define these as the minimum information needed to identify cultural objects.  The critical components of Object ID are:

  • To assist museums, police and custom agencies, art trade, insurance industry, and appraisers of art and antiques.
  • “Documentation standard that establishes the minimum level of information needed to identify an object.
  • Key building block in the development of information networks that will allow organizations around the world to exchange dexcriptions of objects rapidly.
  • Checklist of information required to identify stolen or missing objects.”

These minimum data field types include:

Type of Object

Materials and Techniques


Inscriptions and Markings

Distinguishing Features



Date or Period



Additional recommended category fields include:

Inventory Number (accession, catalog or registration number)

Related Written Material

Place of Origin/Discovery

Cross Reference to Related Objects

Date Documented

Object ID minimum standards ties in nicely with the Getty’s CDWA – Categories for the Descriptions of Works of Art.  Published by the Getty Trust and available online:  CDWA includes 532 categories and subcategories of content standards and guidelines.  One example are the standards set simply for the title field:

Core CDWA metadata elements include:


Catalog Level
Object/Work Type
Classification Term
Title or Name
Measurements Description
Materials and Techniques Description
Creator Description
Creator Identity
Creator Role
Creation Date
Earliest Date
Latest Date
Subject Matter Indexing Terms
Current Location Repository Name/Geographic Location
Current Repository Numbers

Brief Citation
Full Citation

Display Biography
Birth Date
Death Date
Life Roles

Place Name
Place Type
Broader Context

Broader Context
Scope Note

Subject Name
Broader Context

These metadata element sets can be matched/crosswalked to other metadata standards and elements.  The XML schema, CDWA Lite, offers a core set of standards based on CDWA and CCO.  CCO (Cataloging Cultural Objects) are cultural object descriptive guidelines, rules and examples for core CDWA and VRA (Visual Resource Association) categories.  In addition, the Getty is introducing CONA – Cultural Objects Name Authority – as a new vocabulary standard:

It will include “records for cultural works, including architecture and movable works such as paintings,sculpture, prints, manuscripts, photographs and other visual media, performance art, archaeological artifacts, and various functional objects that are from the realm of material culture and of the type collected by museums. The focus of CONA is works cataloged in scholarly literature, museum collections, visual resources collections, archives, libraries and indexing projects with a primary emphasis on art, architecture and archaeology. The coverage is global, from prehistory through the present.”  Unfortunately, it does not cover records for science and natural history museums.

Below is an example of a CONA record (the Hagia Sophia):

Paste in Image

So after all this intensive discourse regarding standards for these metadata fields, I come to the assignment itself.  What this shows is that the Getty in particular does not show very many data fields.  Perhaps these are hidden for the user, but for the user, these some of these core metadata elements are missing.  We’ll see more of these in the MET collection database.  Perhaps the Getty thought these fields might be superfluous for the user, but for researchers, academics and historians, these additional fields would be of import.  I could see an advanced or more selection to access those fields.

1. Manuscript: Psalter

The Getty has a nice selection of medieval illuminated manuscripts.  Here is the record for a psalter (devotional book of psalms):

Getty Psalter Page

Note that there are no category or field descriptions (i.e. title, date/period, artist, description)

Oddly, title is only provided as “Psalter.”  It would be nice if the title was more descriptive.  Assumption by analysis is made in the creator field that the artist of the piece is the “Master of the Ingeborg Psalter” and as such, anonymous.  I was slightly confused by not named descriptive fields and assumed that this was called the Ingeborg Psalter. Period/Date is combined with Location: France, after 1250.  Materials are clearly defined.  Measurement of the leaf are listed as well as a numbering system.  The Getty also offers whether the object is on view or not.  One of the best fields that the Getty is pretty good about are Descriptions.  These fields seem to be well-covered and very well-written.

There is a link to view more pages of the Psalter, and the titles for these are folios with names.

2.  Statue: Greek Kouros


The Getty is known for its Roman and Greek statuary and artifact collection (Getty Villa).  Here we have a Greek statue of a youth (Kouros).  The main title given is “Statue of a Kouros.”  The creator field is listed as “Unknown.”   Again, the fields location and period are combined.  Material, dimensions, ID number, description and view status are provided.   It is interesting to see the commentary in the location/date field as “or modern forgery.”  It seems they cannot tell if this is a fake or not.

3. 19th Century European Bed

The similar data fields again for this lovely 18th century French bed are:

  1. Title
  2. Creator
  3. Materials
  4. Measurements/Dimensions
  5. I.D. Number
  6. Viewability
  7. Description

4. Painting:


We see similar fields for the painting artifact but now we actually have an artist’s name in the Creator field.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Piotr Adamczyk, Met analyst and GSLIS graduate, noted in our LEEP course that the entire Met collection database was pretty old and was undergoing a massive design overhaul.  It needs it.  The Met is the exemplar museum institution of the United States and its online presence and collection should reflect that.  Again, there are pros and cons to how the collection database and fields are set up.  Definitely in comparison to the Getty, the Met collection database is definitely applying “insider” terminology.  There’s no friendly Getty “Explore Art” but its literal translation “Collection Database.”  I don’t know but even for hard-core art historians I find the term database too “scary-techie.”  The Collection Database screen itself is a bit intimidating and the Met doesn’t let up by providing this caveat: “Due to the extremely large number of objects in the Museum’s permanent collection, not all artworks are currently available in the Collection Database. Furthermore, information contained in the database records is, in some cases, incomplete, and all information is subject to change according to ongoing research and new acquisitions.”  Let’s see – “extremely large,” “not all are currently available,” “in some cases incomplete,” and subject to change” – are intimidating and can make a user turn away already from the search, but at least they do mention that the online collection is only representative.  In addition, the Met attempts to explain to the user what the collection database is, except again to describe it, they use “database” again to define the database…  All that introductory text does not get me excited, interested or comforted.  Also on the Collection Database screen, there are already objects that are showing up.  When you look at the count, it shows Works 1-20 of 155,410.  155,410!  That’s enough to make me run from this collections screen.  Items are searchable by department (an added bonus I believe the Getty should include in their collections database), by curatorial highlights and by keyword.  That’s it.  I hope the newly redesigned Met collection database includes more categories, particularly hierarchical results.

The museum items are categorized under:


Title of Work or Type of Object

Artist or Maker

Date number

Accession Number

Again, the Met is using the insider museum lexicon when looking at a a primary category – “Accession Number.”  For the non-museum professional and layperson, that terminology is again intimidating.  It has no meaning for the user.  However, “ID or Catalog Number” would make more sense.  Despite some of its blatant insider terminology, the Met offers greater number of fields and categorizations than the Getty.

1. Manuscript – Psalter

The Cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan, has one of the most significant collections of illuminated manuscripts in the world.  I would suspect that the research on these items would be heavily documented and suffice to say, they were.

However, I found it difficult to search for what I wanted, or should I say, I had to know exactly what I wanted.  The comparative manuscript to the Getty’s was another psalter, this one being titled: Psalter and Hours of Bonne of Luxembourg.

Psalter Graphic.

The data fields include:

Probably (likely meaning Creator, Maker, Artist)



Geography (compared to Getty, Met breaks out these two categories – geography and culture)

Culture (in Getty, culture and geography were not broken out but combined with date)


Dimensions (a significant number of measurements offered here)

Classification (an important element missing from the Getty, as well as significantly missing from the Met searchable collection database)

Credit Line

Accession Number


Description (descriptions are not as detailed as those from Getty but are right to the point.

Additional Views (multiple views and page by page views of manuscript)

Provenance (also missing from Getty and an important category from the art historian/curator/collector perspective – where the work originated, who owned it, who it passed hands to until this point)

Provenance Graphic

2. Statue: Greek Kouros

Met Kouros Graphic

Here some fields have been eliminated – Creator, Classification, Credit Line, Geography.  I find it odd that the classification field was eliminated.  It could use it.  It has added the field “Period” for the “Archaic Period,” a particularly defined period of Greek art (such as Japan’s Edo Period).  Additional views are helpful for a statue that was not present for the Getty Kouros.  Provenance and Description are still here.

An additional data field is input here: “Selected Biography” that provides some detailed bibliographic references to this Kouros statue.  That is helpful for researchers.  This was not made available at the Getty, again stressing how the Getty collection database was considerably more accessible and legible, but low on a detailed systematic classification and categorization.

3.  Decorative Arts: 18th Century European Bed

The selection from the Met includes an actual entire bedroom – “Bedroom from the Sagredo Palace, Venice.”

Here, there are some modifications to the data fields.

“Bedroom from the Sagredo Palace, Venice” fills the title field but now we also have something called “Object Name” with it being classified as “Period Room.”  OK, I wouldn’t have even known that this would even be considered an object.  Creator fields are defined as “stuccowork probably by… and “probably after a model by.”  Also, instead of description, we have the data field “label.”  I don’t know why it is not called “description” and again it must be some insider terminology.

4.  Painting: Edouard Manet

For Manet’s painting, we have some straightforward fields that we haven’t seen before – mainly being the Artist field and a true title – “Young Lady in 1866.”  Now here we have some additional and fields that haven’t shown up in the other Met artifacts:

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings
  • Exhibition History
  • References

These new fields demonstrate how different artifacts may require different fields as in the case of tracking paintings, and modern paintings seen in the “Exhibition History” field.


In the Getty publication, Introduction to Metadata – Pathways to Digital Information edited by Murtha Baca, it is noted that the term metadata itself is not a user-friendly term.  However, it goes on to say that metadata can be explained in it being “simply meaningful data describing another discrete data object.”  I like the word “meaningful.”  And I take this further for if we can have all the metadata and numerous descriptive content fields we want, but if it is not meaningful, what is its point.  Tony Gill has defined metadata additionally in the updated online version of Introduction to Metadata as “structured description of the essential attributes of an information object.”  “Essential” is a good word too.

We have seen by looking at these two collection databases that there are quite a number of differences in quantities and types of data fields.  In the very legible discourse on descriptive metadata for LAMS by Gunter Waibel and Mary Elings in “Metadata for All: Descriptive Standards and Metadata Sharing across Libraries, Archives and Museums,” the present metadata and standards graphically as the data structure as a bottle or container, the data content as that which fills the bottle, the data format as the packaging for the data, and data exchange as a milkman who carries the data.  So, suffice it to say that these data content fields and data structures should be meaningful.  It is also noted in this article that we may have by LAMs becoming a combination of themselves (a museum may have an item that fits in archives standards or a book that fits in library standards) as well as sharing data, a greater need for additional metadata and fields because of this hybridization of materials and communities, and thus make this data more meaningful.  It would also be nice to see more ways of making the collection elements more meaningful as seen in other avenues, such as tagging, keywords, commentary, videos or podcasts, related links, collection, and artifacts.

As Clifford Lynch states in “Digital Collections, Digital Libraries and the Digitization of Cultural Heritage Information, there is a “growing and persistent demand for more and more digital content” and that there is a sense that when one digitizes and marks up, that it is complete.  But he states, and emphatically so, that we are “going to need to revisit this mark-up periodically as our understanding of mark-up evolves, and our capabilities to apply mark-up economically also evolve…  Needless to say, he illustrates that the metadata, the fields, and the markup may change and we must change with it.  It brings up the dilemma again of Meissner and Greene’s More Product and Less Process.  Do we want more items in the collection versus the work involved in creating the details, in processing, and such?  Is there somewhere in between?  In the end, I believe it comes down to making the fields of the collection artifact or object meaningful.   I know I have used that word repetitively in this conclusion, but its a good one… a meaningful one!


Digital Collections, Digital Libraries and the Digitization of Cultural Heritage Information by Clifford Lynch
First Monday, volume 7, number 5 (May 2002),

Introduction to Metadata by Murtha Baca,
Getty Publications, J. Paul Getty Trust (2008)


Metadata for All: Descriptive Standards and Metadata Sharing across Libraries, Archives and Museums by Mary W. Elings and Günter Waibel
First Monday, volume 12, number 3 (March 2007),

More Product, Less Process: Pragmatically Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal with Late 20th-Century Collections by Mark A. Greene and Dennis Meissner
American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming,  American Archivist (2005)

Baca, Murtha, et al. Cataloging Cultural Objects: A Guide to Describing Cultural Works and Their Images. Chicago: American Library Association, 2006.

Thornes, Robin, et al.  Object ID: Guidelines for Making Records that Describe Art, Antiques, and Antiquities.  United States: The J.Paul Getty Trust, 1999.


First of all, Nicole’s incredible dialog blog write-up is phenomenal, in regards to the Cushing Academy’s issue of eliminating ALL books from their collection.   Great points.

Hidden Factor of Why Cushing Story Loses Some of its Juice:

I think one of the interesting aspects of this issue can be found in one of the responses to the article  – the fact that there is a well-used public library right down the street that students often use.  It’s always important to what… do proper environmental scanning, and realize that there is another library helping to supply the 20,000 book void that Cushing Academy created:

The posting comment by Shoshanna Silverstein:

What they don’t mention here is that the public library is literally right down the street.  Students at Cushing can walk to Ashburnham Public Library in less than 5 minutes from the center of their campus.  Cushing having a library is almost unnecessary if you take that into consideration.”

Very powerful and illuminating point and fact.  So important to take the whole environment into context, which sort of strips this story of some of its potency.

Frankenstein says “Books Bad, Fire Good:”

What I find slightly horrifying is the statement by the academy headmaster James Tracy: “When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books.”

He also thinks it is wiser to spend $50,000 coffee shop that will include a $12,000 cappuccino machine.  You know, coffee is a far more important investment than those out-of-date books… oh, also “gotta” have some $42,000 on three large flat screen TVs…  Personally, it would be better to spend that $100,000 and give 200 students iPads.  That would be creative marketing and applications to the academy would flood in.

Liz Vezina, a librarian at Cushing commented, “It makes me sad.  I’m going to miss them. I love books. I’ve grown up with them, and there’s something lost when they’re virtual. There’s a sensual side to them — the smell, the feel, the physicality of a book is something really special.”

Why is it that so often that those who want to be hip and up on the new wave or the latest technology, don’t realize that you don’t throw everything out like the old was all bad and that technology is all good.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that there can be a blend of offerings within the library space, complementary even.  In fact, if books are going the way of manuscripts and scrolls, then they might want to hold onto them as investment if books go the way of rarity.

Where’s the ebook waiting list?

Some of our other articles written on ebooks in academia seem to demonstrate the lack of interest by students.  Some of this is because of proprietary issues, cost issues, lack of exposure issues, and the list goes on.  In the Princeton report, students actually were given Kindles (that sure makes a difference) with course/textbook material – most thought that it lacked proper annotation facility that occurs with paper models.  I mean if a school was going to hand out a Kindle, or better yet, an iPad, I’d take it.  Of course, with Google Edition, we can now download Google Books collections on our computers.  I still believe the market for ebooks in academia will be in textbook and course material.  That would one of the best offerings for electronic books.  In particular, ebooks based in certain areas, such as the sciences would benefit from updated electronic books as well as technology-based areas.

Give me a format, give me a standard!

Ok, I just had to throw in this Afghanistan PowerPoint diagram – it’s too good. Please substitute verbage above for ebook formats…

Part of the problem in building ebook collections is the dizzying array of choices of readers, and formats.  I mean at least the International Digital Publishing Forum is trying to push for one standard – ePub, yet the reality is that there exits over 50 different ebook formats.  This is also likely why libraries haven’t taken a huge plunge into this area nor why users are not going “ga-ga” for ebooks.

iPad and Google Edition:

I do think that the iPad will being to make a dent into interest in eBooks.  I mean, there were more iPads sold in 1 month than Kindles for an entire year.  I mean, witness the English lit major and 100-year-old woman, having glaucoma, who already has read two books in one week on iPad, Of course, Kindles are better for your eyes and interestingly for your sleep than iPads.  Yet, I can’t help but think that Apple and Google will be playing big-time in the ebook arena with iPad and Google Edition.  It will be interesting how ebooks eventually play out in academic and public collections, or will we be seeing ebook rentals on the horizon?  Now that’s a whole other can of worms…

When a player like Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak joins the advisory board of DeepDyve, it sends a signal to the Internet community that this must be something “hot.”  The “Woz” (why do some tech leaders get names like this – especially from Apple – “Tog,” etc.?) saw the possibilities of this search engine that crawls what is known as “deep web,” or what is not indexed by search engines.  We often think when we use Google, we are tapping into a lot of material.  However, what is so fascinating is that according to a study by the University of California, Berkeley (, traditional search engines only index .2% of the Internet.  .2%!  That means that 99.8% is not indexed and resides invisibly in the abyss of the “dark web.”  The goal of DeepDyve is to mine the data in the deep web and make it accessible to research.

DeepDyve was founded by two scientists from the Human Genome Project (designing a system for pattern-matching data).  Chris Sherman from Search Engine Land (  comments enthusiastically on DeepDyve’s “genomic researcher” bent (vs. computer scientists and linguists that base search strategies on text and keywords) on setting up “sequence” search strategies, such as indexing words but also computing the “factorial combination of worlds and phrases in the document and uses some industrial strength statistical techniques to assess the ‘information impact’ of these combinations.”  DeepDyve primarily covers scientific, technical and medical research.  With its KeyPhrasetechnology, one can enter up to 25,000 characters – meaning one can also cut and past paragraphs to search for.  A big boon – a user does not have to rely on just an abstract or title to ascertain whether the article is fitting or not.  DeepDyve allows the user to read the full article before buying it.

The DeepDyve article rental plan sounds a lot like Netflix but with a twist – rent viewing time and if so desired, buy the article.  The plans include:

  • One time rental cost of 24 hour article viewing: .99/per article
  • Silver monthly plan: 9.99 for 20 articles to read for 7 days
  • Gold monthly plan: 19.99 for unlimited articles for unlimited time

A problem for researchers with DeepDyve is that in reading the article in its Flash-based proprietary viewer, users cannot capture that information electronically or through print.  If users want to copy any material, it’s down to writing on paper.  Another problem is that publishers that have signed up veer more toward the scholarly societies over for-profit publishers.  What a surprise – Elsevier is not a player.  Certainly, DeepDyve can augment research by providing relatively inexpensive access to those devoid of the free richness of databases and electronic journals found on university campuses.  That is often the shocker when leaving a university – suddenly devoid of those lovely journal and database resources.  Not even alumni get a piece.  However, one alumni association has taken it on.  The Caltech (California Institute of Technology) Alumni Association recently hooked up with DeepDyve ( to provide their alumni discounted DeepDyve memberships.  Now, that’s a start.

When Shakespeare’s Juliet (Romeo and Juliet II, ii, 1-2) utters the famous line “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” she may have scrunched her nose and changed her mind regarding the name “Institutional Repository.”  Perhaps this word brings to mind that “cold sepulchre” where she and Romeo laid down their lives (“Let’s leave this cold sepulchre for Verona’s warm embrace”).

Mike Furlough seems to concur in his witty and insightful article “What We Talk About When We Talk About Repositories” from Reference & User Services Quarterly (volume 49, issue 1). As an Assistant Dean for Scholarly Communications for Penn State University and with exposure to multiple digital scholarship initiatives, he should know.  He starts off immediately discussing how he dislikes the word “repository” – primarily because it obscures its meaning and function, and in essence works against it in positioning, marketing, and defining an institutional repository.  The word “repository” conjures up a number of distasteful and unhelpful connotations.  One wonders whether those parties involved in naming institutional repositories bothered to look up what the word meant and implied. defines it as:

  • receptacle (Ok, this is bad.  Trash bins and toilets are receptacles.)
  • burial place (The final resting place.)
  • sepulcher (Scholarly ghosts, anyone?)
  • warehouse (Dusty, never to be seen again.)
  • where things are deposited or stored (deposit as in a bank account?)
  • stockroom (How many cans of Spam do we have left?)
  • store room (Dusty again.)
  • safe, vault (You can deposit but you can’t get out.)

Repositorium: (I don’t think this sounds any better and sounds slightly like a place for bodily eliminations, such as the the word “vomitorium” falsely implies.) Its origin comes from word “repositorium – meaning “that in which anything is placed.” (Again, laid to rest, not active, dormant.) The word “repositorium” actually means a “place for the storage of valuables, as in an ancient Roman temple or church.”

Interestingly, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary also defines “repository” as something that “contains or stores something nonmaterial.  Nonmaterial?  This brings to mind a common term used in 2005 for the University of California Irvine Institutional Repository Initiative known as “the black hole.”  It brought fear to many professors that their hard-wrought research would disappear into this “vacuous” space.

With the initial much-ballyhooed IR hype evidenced in the referenced 2002 paper from The Chronicle of Higher Education as “superarchives” that “could hold all scholarly output,” the Chronicle followed just two years later with “Papers Wanted: Online Archives Run by Universities Struggle to Attract Material.”  Dorothea Salo dared to touch this modern “Ark of the Covenant” (“touch this issue and you will fry”) and reveal its “data comes in but it doesn’t come out” roach motel status in “Innkeeper at the Roach Motel.”  Certainly, Salo’s article tapped into an underlying resonance felt by an accepting and grateful audience regarding the reality of managing an IR.  IRs seem to need more marketing, branding and positioning than is required of other digital libraries and collections.  Defining what an IR is and should be is critical, and as Furlough notes, there is quite a bit of active stuff that is required of a fully-functional IR.

Needless to say, its “service” aspect is hidden by its clunky and inactive name.  Where is the support and interest that can be seen for IRs when discussing “cloud computing” and “digital libraries?”  I recently attended a seminar by OCLC discussing the phenomenon of cloud computing.  The presenter displayed a gorgeous diagram of what “exciting” resources and services are available in the “cloud.”  All the cool stuff, or “branded” stuff was situated prominently together in this massive visualization map.  However, I noticed that only one item was positioned all by itself in the “cloud map” in the dark recesses of the PowerPoint slide. Oh, what a surprise.  It’s our beleaguered “Institutional Repository.'”

Perhaps a name change is in order.

  • How about branding it like a product?  Say “Digital Scholar.”
  • How about googling the name? Say “Institoogle.”
  • How about only giving it an acronym with a cooler name?  Say “IDL” (Institutional Digital Library) or “SDL” (Scholarly Digital Library).
  • How about “Salo-izing” it? Say “Roachmaster.”
  • How about adding the cool cloud factor to it: Say “IR Cloud.”
  • If can’t change name, put some hipper connotations to the IR acronym.  Say “IR 2.0.”  We all want to know 2.0 or 3.0.
  • Better yet, say “IRX.”  The X doesn’t mean anything but makes it sound fast and nifty like a BMW with that cool “X” factor.

What do you think IRs should be called?  OK, folks, keep it clean.

The iPad as New Forum for Digital Textbooks?

Probably the deal that has gotten me most excited about the possibility of really good digital textbooks has been the introduction of the iPad.  Needless to say, Steve Jobs has made no bones about going after the digital textbook market, and all I can say, is go for it.  I suppose iTunes is a bit of a music cartel, but I’ve been relatively happy with that drug of choice.  I can only assume that iPad would be a hit with college students in portability, visuals,touchability , and multi-functionality.  When you’ve seen what can be done with graphic novels, magazines or an interactive that could appear as part of a digital textbook on iPad (such as Marvel Comics, Popular Science Magazine, and The Elements), one sees that the iPad is a disruptive innovation  in the world of textbook publishing, perhaps even more so than typical e-readers (like the iPhone was for smartphones).  The cost for some of these is still drug pushing, but how sweet it is.  Another complementary aspect to a digital textbook in iPad is the ability to use its Voice Over feature, which reads the textbook out loud to you.  In addition, it is published in the open book platform,ePub.  Though the iBookstore is not stocked with digital textbooks yet (McGraw-Hill has already signed up), it will be interesting to see what textbook publishers develop this summer for its fall lineup.

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World:

In the posting “The Complex World of the Textbook” from the Disruptive Library Technology Jester blog, a very complex portrait of the textbook “ecosystem” is presented.  Complex indeed!  My mind is swirling.

DLTJ identifies the US GAO as publishing a report called College Textbooks: Enhanced Offerings to Drive Recent Price Increases. They identify a diagram that illustrates this complexity called “The Typical Life Cycle of a College Textbook.”

The 2005 diagram provided looks like this:

Only 5 years later, the diagram should look like this:

OK, this is an actual U.S. government diagram describing the Afghanistan war situation (and it doesn’t include the opium drug market unfortunately for comparison and for fitting analogies), but you get the drift – it’s getting more complex.

On a side note, this diagram came from a complex PowerPoint demonstration.  I learned in our job talk exercise, that more on PowerPoint slides is not necessarily better…

Drug Cartel/Market Analogy

Andrea James writes thoughtfully and powerfully in her article “Prescription for consumers challenging academic textbook cartels.”  Again, we get to the drug analogy, and how fitting it is.  This reminds me of Wayne Bivens-Tatum’s lively article “Dealing with the Pusher Man.”  She compares the textbook publishing industry to the prescription drug racket.  This analogy is quite fitting too in that some folks have tried to get their prescription drugs in other countries, similar to students purchasing European or Asian versions of their textbooks for cheaper prices.  She references this analogy in Dr. James V. Koch’s report in that –

  • faculty=physicians
  • textbook publishers = drug cartels

and add…

  • textbooks= brand-name drugs
  • textbook salesmen = drug pushers and dealers


Her statistics on textbook publishing blow my MIND!  Here are the ones that really make a play:

General: In 2006, 4.9 billion spent on textbooks, nearly 2 billion of that on used.

Faculty: 1 of 2 don’t know textbook costs.

Publishers/booksellers:  FIVE CONGLOMERATES CONTROL 80% of TEXTBOOK PRODUCTION, FOUR WHOLESALERS HOLD TEXTBOOK DISTRIBUTION (particularly used books), and operate 35% of college bookstores.  They then operate as cartels to present re-importation from non-US markets, remove used books, rapidly changing/modifying editions (that could mean just changing some exercises or making a pretty cover), bundle, fix prices, and other nefarious practices.

Institutions:  Almost all profit, receipt of government financial aid will ironically increase textbooks costs, and looking at rental ebook systems, but which will possibly destroy used book market.

Students:  80% of students are buying required textbook, 67% are purchased used textbooks online, and often students are stuck with mainly high-priced means of obtaining textbooks (except sometimes looking for drugs, oops, I mean textbooks in Europe and Asia online).  A big player in student textbook purchasing behavior is Amazon.

Open Textbooks:

One remedy for this includes open-textbooks (Open Textbooks, Open Source Text, Flat World Knowledge, Wikibooks, and also is CNX to develop math materials and CAPL that offers visual media for elementary schools).

Digital Textbooks – Rentals and Effect?

With digital textbooks, which seem to operate as timed digital rentals, the ability to have currency and portability is enhanced, with the promise of cost reduction (again, there is the promise, but we have to see).  Of course, digital textbooks add to the complexity of the whole textbook market in that it will eat into the used textbook market as well as forcing textbook publishers to modify their offerings.  I wonder if some aspects of digital textbook publishing might enter the cartel-like aspects of digital serial publishers?

[“Publishers, Agents, User, and Libraries: Coming of Age in the E-World” by Dan Tonkery]

A helpful resource for those wanting to stay on top of serial collection issues can find it in Routledge/Taylor & Francis’ journal – The Serials Librarian – accessible online via subscription through its Informaworld. Published 8 times a year, the journal is focused on the current issues, innovations, viewpoints on serial and continuing resource management as well as those involved in the serials information chain. Particularly handy is its serials report, present in every issue, that although not to the minute or daily current, gives an overview on current issues and news related to serials and electronic resource management, new publications, and what’s happening with consortia, libraries, vendors and publishers.

An example of topical currency can be found in Dan Tonkery’s article titled “Publishers, Agents, Users, and Libraries: Coming of Age in the E-World.” And the premise is, and read my lips:


You can see this in…

Quantity (based on 2009 statistics):

The volume of journals now available online: 20,000 and counting
Number of online articles: 50 million and counting

Internet Time:

The fast-moving journals going from print to online matches our present “Internet time.”
User requirements and temperaments now are on-demand or “give it to me now.”

Effects on parties in New World Order:

  1. Publishers – aggregation, revenue streams, monopolies, the BIG Deal, new business structure, vehicle in which to survive in the collapse of the publishing industry, and what options for small publishers to swim in these shark-infested waters of change and conglomeration?
  2. Users – more research information available and accessible.
  3. Subscription Agents – position being eaten up by publishers, consortia and libraries – needs to define itself or perish.
  4. Libraries – holding the BAG with little resources, huge workloads and increased demands.

The Big Deal and Quantity over Quality:

As evidenced by the Big Deal scenario of EBSCO’s exclusivity announcement, these behemoth publisher packages may not even be affordable to libraries. Smaller journals will not be supported, book budgets will be decimated, specific journals required by professors for research, study and instruction will be unavailable, and the issue of quantity over quality begins to override the state of the collection. An example of this is evidenced through the online reference resources at the University of Illinois. Prior to the current encyclopedic offering, UIUC used to provide the #1 highest quality, most accurate and detailed encyclopedia available – the Oxford Encyclopedia with all its offshoots. Despite the belief and need that a top-notch academic university should contain the best reference and journal resources possible, money and packaging played into the game and instead, a mediocre encyclopedia is offered.


Consortial buying can be extremely helpful for smaller libraries yet problems exist in that most consortiums focus solely on getting the pricing deal and provide no assistance in publisher negotiation, tech support, and access control assistance. A player in the consortial arena who is bucking this scenario, and doing so successfully by the way, is SCELC – Statewide California Electronic Library Consortium based in Los Angeles. Besides introducing the power and cost effectiveness of consortial buying, SCELC offers technical support, assistance in negotiating with publishers, peer-reviewed information on electronic journals, grants and scholarships, and its unique vendor day and colloquium held every year. In a sense, the SCELC has also incorporated the roles of “subscription agent” and “publishing tech and administrative support” into its business model.

Jockeying Players:

It’s a time where there is much jockeying around among the players in the information world and, hopefully, libraries can come out of this like the racehorse Mine That Bird (bought for a song and trained on a budget) in the 2009 Kentucky Derby, or at least cross the finish line intact…

LAM Archives

October 2019
« May