Charleston Conference Proceedings 2002

Paul Genoni (Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Australia)

Library Management

ISSN: 0143-5124

Article publication date: 1 August 2004




Genoni, P. (2004), "Charleston Conference Proceedings 2002", Library Management, Vol. 25 No. 6/7, pp. 321-322.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The Charleston Conference – so called because it takes place in Charleston, South Carolina – has been held annually since 1980. The intention of the conference is to bring together librarians, publishers and library vendors in a forum where they can communicate openly about shared issues.

Given the participants, it is not surprising that the emphasis of the conference leans heavily towards matters relating to collection development and collection management. Indeed the various headings used for the papers in this collection – aggregators, usage statistics, digital archiving, pricing, acquisitions, and consortia – constitute a virtual catalogue of the core issues currently confronting collections librarians.

Despite the representation from other parts of the publishing “food chain”, participants with library affiliations overwhelmingly dominate the papers collected in these proceedings, being responsible for approximately two‐thirds of the 35 papers. Publishing and vendor representatives are drawn from, amongst others, McGraw‐Hill, Oxford University Press, Swets Blackwell, and Rockefeller University Press.

It is also worth noting that the “library” contributions are drawn almost entirely from USA‐based university and college libraries. Only one paper – by Jurong Atwill looking at collection development issues as experienced in a Chinese academic library – is based on experience from outside the USA.

The conference was conducted under a theme of “Two faces have I: one for books and one for bytes”, but it is certainly not surprising that issues related to bytes dominated over those related to books. Indeed, if a unifying theme did emerge from these papers it is that of the various pricing models that are, or might be, applied to the pricing of serial aggregations. It penetrates not only those papers collected under the heading “pricing”, but also surfaces at numerous other points of the proceedings. Coupled with this is the related issue of exactly how much (or more to the point how little) control collection management librarians have over the content of aggregations.

That cost and content emerge as the central issues are hardly surprising. The relationship between librarians and publishers/vendors is based on an exchange of content for a price, and these are the competitive points at which parties struggle to make some advantage from the exchange. It is also therefore not surprising that the tensions that currently underlie the relationships between the parties frequently surface. Many librarians express their dissatisfaction with the value they currently receive from the exchange, and the publishers/vendors exhibit a level of defensiveness and uncertainty about their role in a new information marketplace.

The point of the “market” driven changes to information production and consumption is well made in a paper by Joyce Ogburn of the University of Washington, “The return of scholarship: an optimistic, cautionary tale about scholarly communication, digital libraries, and changing funding models for universities”. Ogburn reminds librarians that it is not only technology that is forcing changes upon the scholarly publishing environment, but that the economic structure underlying higher education has also shifted to such an extent that attempting to impose old information management paradigms into a new technological environment will simply not work. She also points out the dangers in some of the attempts to move publishing and distribution out of commercial hands and back into the universities, at a time when universities are constantly seeking to find revenue from their intellectual assets. Although Ogburn's title promises an “optimistic” assessment of the situation, there is no doubting her concern for the well being of the “information commons”.

Books, however, are not forgotten/overlooked entirely in these proceedings. Those with an interest in print collections will find rewarding reading in papers dealing with the roles of bookshops, second‐hand book dealers, gifts, and the use of the Web as a buying source.

This collection will provide at least some interest for any librarian involved in struggling with the day‐to‐day issues of managing a modern academic library collection. It is, however, at times a quite frustrating reading experience. A number of the papers are very brief, at around 1,000 words or less, and most of them retain the sense that they were prepared for conference presentation rather than for close reading. This might help to retain the flavour of the original presentation, but it also results in papers that are not only truncated, but frequently anecdotal and/or institution specific. The proceedings would have been more valuable had presenters been required to provide written papers that broadened – or indeed deepened – the context of their material.

Other features – such as reports on sessions which were held but from which no text has been provided, and transcripts of panel discussions – could happily have been eliminated entirely. Conference proceedings should not be asked to serve as conference minutes.

On the positive side, the editors have prepared an index – a feature included far too rarely in publications of this type.

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