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2002-2003 Year-End Report of the Committee on Libraries

The University Council Committee on Libraries met four times during the academic year 2002-2003, and the Chair met several times with the Vice-Provost and Director of Libraries, Paul Mosher, and his staff. For reasons explained below, the Committee and the Director and his staff maintained unusually close communication, virtually on a weekly basis, during the spring semester.

The Standing Charge from the Council Bylaws and the six Specific Charges for 2002-2003 are available upon request. After addressing the general charge, this report will address the specific charges by number and conclude with a particularly important issue outside the specific charges that has loomed larger and larger in the Committee's concerns. This issue, too, is outlined in a letter to Chair of Council, also appended.

The Standing Charge was met regularly and consistently, with considerable discussion among Library staff and members of the Committee. The last two meetings were held in the new Meyerson Conference Room, and at one of these meetings the new Library Home Page was demonstrated, explained, discussed, and questioned (Penn Library Bulletin, Number 2, Spring, 2003). The Committee was also given the Draft of the Library Strategic Plan, dated 10/03/02, as well as detailed discussions of the new Penn Collaboratory for Teaching and Learning. The Collaboratory has been designed with the cooperation of SAS and the Library, with options for Wharton to join. It is open to students and faculty. The Cafeł at the Library is in a preliminary construction phase. Complete funding for both projects will take around 2-3 years to raise. Although a few other universities, notably Virginia and Michigan, have done something like this, the Penn Collaboratory will be unique in the U.S. when it is completed. The Conference room, the Home Page, and the Collaboratory are striking examples of the dynamic role that the Library system continues to play in both research and teaching technologies at this University. The Committee reports favorably on all three, as well as on the Draft Strategic Plan.

1. Library Quality of Service Survey

The Library provided the latest results of the Quality/Impact Service Overview (Penn Library Bulletin, Special Edition, Spring, 2003). The Library self-monitoring in this area is ongoing and impressive, but there is still little evidence that inter-university cooperation on this matter is close. There is a national survey that we can use, but we don't know the libraries that are being compared, and so far the other Ivies have shown little interest. This matter might be continued for the Library Committee in 2003-2004.

2. Closed Door Policy

The problem area here is the Law Library, which is to be used as a research, and not as a study area. In some instances, weekend security personnel appear to have turned some research students away, but this aspect is well under address by the Director and staff.

3. Electronic Classroom

The new Library web site will make the use of the electronic classroom easier for instructors and students. The Library continues to analyze use and maintain the adequacy of research relations. This issue is also addressed in Charge 6, below.

4. Development of E-journals

This area still needs work. It is addressed from another perspective in the final section of this report. The University of Pennsylvania Press and the Anthropology Department are starting an e-journal locally.

5. Special Library Reviews

There was no completed special Library review this year. This item should also be moved to next year's Special Charges.

6. Plagiarism

The Council Committee on Libraries cannot address this issue alone. Perhaps Council might designate a network of several relevant committees to work on the problem jointly during 2003-2004. Although the problem touches the Library, the Library's role in addressing it may lie more in the area of instruction on proper research methods. The Library's Research Skills and Literacy Program is working on the issue, having offered training in more than seven hundred and forty courses. Individual faculty members can also play a role: all undergraduate courses ought to have at least one session in the Electronic Classroom with a librarian devoted to research skills and plagiarism.

There is a final and major item that has arisen and largely overshadowed everything else the Committee has done this year. It will continue to do so in the future if it is not addressed now. The problem is the rapidly and steeply rising cost of scientific, technical, and medical journals (STM) whose publication is controlled by a very small number of publishing firms which offer very few options in terms of range of acquisitions and price. The problem is spelled out in more detail in the draft letter to the Chair of Council, [below] presently being prepared for independent Committee submission to the Provost and Deans, which the Committee has authorized the Chair to do. This is a matter that touches not only the Library, but also the entire Faculty, and the Committee takes it very, very seriously.

The Chair thanks the members of the Committee for their energetic service, as well as our administrative staff person, Alison McGhie, and the Vice Provost and Director of Libraries and his staff for their cooperation, frankness, and hospitality.

-- Edward Peters, Chair


April 8, 2003

Draft letter to Mitch Marcus, copying Provost and Deans of SAS, Med, Eng.

Dear Mitch,

The University Council Committee on Libraries will, of course, address Council's general and specific charges in its annual report. But a matter has come up that we consider sufficiently serious and urgent to warrant this preliminary communication, which I plan to send to the Provost with copies to the Deans on Monday.

The very large and very few publishers of scholarly journals primarily in the Scientific, Technical, and Medical (STM) environment have established subscription prices and conditions that are so expensive, prohibitive, and restrictive that the Library System's limited capacity to meet them now threatens other essential Library functions--and ultimately all Faculties whose Library resources face substantial reduction if something is not done. The Library System's account of allocated costs for FY2004 conveys the grim news, and projections for future increases are even grimmer.

In the long run the solution may well be a drastic change in the method and manner of scientific publication, but in the immediate run it is essential that cost containment be achieved. This is not a conflict between the needs of the natural sciences and mathematics on the one hand, and those of the other faculties on the other, since these conglomerate publishers publish print and digital journals of many kinds. It is a conflict between the circumstances of monopolistic publishing firms and the resources of even the best-funded academic libraries.

To be sure, the Council of Deans has recently agreed to a special $180,000 surcharge to the Deans' budgets for FY 2002 to help offset the cost of these serials, but this is well under the projected cost increase of $248,000, and it is, moreover, only temporary funding. The issue will come up inexorably year after year as serials costs rise at a rate that the Library acquisitions budget cannot meet.

The Library has done extensive research on the impact of these costs, and the numbers are absolutely convincing.

The Library Committee unanimously agrees that this problem must be addressed independently and has authorized me to urge the Deans of SAS, Medicine, and Engineering in particular, as well as the Provost, to agree to create a separate budget line for STM publications so that cost allocations for that field may be closely monitored and be permitted to rise as its specific costs rise and take the burden from the Library System's operating budget until something drastic is done about the entire problem.

This is a matter of great consequence, not only to the Library System, but to the Faculty, and regardless of whatever is done for the long run, we are firmly convinced that action must also be taken now. And we recommend the independent budget line for STM publications.

Sincerely yours,
Edward Peters, Henry Charles Lea Professor of History
Chair, Council Committee on Libraries

2002-2003 Council Committee on Libraries Chair: Edward Peters (history); Faculty: Marjorie Bowman (family practice & med), Harold Dibble (anthro), Barry Eichler (Asian & Mid Eastern st), John H. Holmes (epidemiol/med), Max Minz (CIS), Edward Peters (history), David Stern (Asian & Mid Eastern st); Graduate students: Johanna Jacobsen, Victoria Lilga; Undergraduate students: Semanti Datta (WH'05), Suzanne Friedman (COL'03); Deb Stagg (Data Admin & Inst. Res); WPSA: Sylvie Beauvais (health care syst); Ex officio: Paul Mosher (vice provost & dir, libraries) Paul George (dir, Biddle Law Library).

Back to Council Reports

  Almanac, Vol. 49, No. 30, April 22, 2003