A group called the Ithaka S+R has released the latest survey in its assessment of academics’ “practices, attitudes, and needs”. Check out that 2012 US Faculty Survey here. Although the survey is 79 pages in its entirety, the findings are all summarized in a 2-page executive summary (clever) and the data supporting said findings are graphically presented in a bunch of graphs.
The report is fun to flip through if you have some interest in higher education, faculty practices, and the roles of academic libraries. If you don’t have such interests, then the report is probably not the worst thing to flip through if you’re looking for a boredom-busting, time-passing tool. If you have neither interest or the need to look for such a tool, then reading this blog post will suffice!
Below are two graphs that I find of particularly interest. Figure 15 surveys the faculty on what features they would like to see in their e-books. We should keep in mind that the responses speak directly to scholarly monographs only and not e-books in general. However, given the blurred boundary between trade/academic and scholarly content, we needn’t think of these as pure technical tracts either.
The interesting thing I would point out here is that although the survey does not present the concern in this language, the faculty very much want the absence of DRM-free e-books. Look at the third from the top option, “improved ability to read scholarly monographs on my device of choice”, and the third from the bottom choice, “improve ability to download and organize a personal collection of monographs”. Both of these things — interoperability and control over organization — are readily doable with a software like Calibre if the content were DRM free. Moreover, other options, although less directly, speak to a want that can be technologically satisfied with the removal of publishers’ placed constraints. These include text mining of a corpus (choice 2) and improve ability to interact with the text by annotating and printing (choice 5). Whether these things are profit-maximizing for publishers to make possible is something that’s currently answered with a “no” by many publishers, but that one may hope may change in the future.
The other figure that I want to highlight is Figure 35, specifically the first choice in this graph. See how the overwhelming majority of faculty members — more than 80% — say that they don’t receive help from their university library to “understand and negotiate favorable publication contracts”?
Part of the reason for this dearth of help received is the lack of demand for such help. Figure 36 in the report shows that less than 40% of the faculty members think that support from a university library (or others) in reviewing and negotiating contracts would be very valuable to them. Even if this is an accurate reflection of the true state of faculty preferences, then this is almost 40% of faculty that the library is not effectively engaging. As somebody who’s interested in scholarly communication, academic publishing, and copyright, I would be thrilled to help a faculty author work on his publishing contract! It is a missed opportunity that people like me and people like these faculty members are not connecting.
Furthermore, I believe that more faculty members would value help with contract negotiation if they understand how important those contracts are to the dissemination and re-use of their works. A favorable contract allows the authors to archive their works, deposit them into institutional repositories, Creative Commons license their articles, allow their students to use materials from their published corpus without having to clear permissions or pay fees for such use, assign readings to their undergraduates without incurring any risk of running afoul of copyright or contract stipulations, incorporate materials into new publications, and much more. Getting the message out to faculty authors that they should insist on these terms, or what’s generally called retention of authors’ rights, has been an uphill battle for libraries. It is a battle that is not yet on the verge of being won.