The following summary of the Charleston Conference was written by Sylvia Miller from the University of North Carolina Press, and author of “Publishing the Long Civil Rights Movement” blog. It is reposted with permission
Trains and battleships were two of the most telling metaphors that presenters at last week’s Charleston Conference used in their attempt to describe the strength, speed, and scariness of the changes currently taking place in academic librarianship and scholarly publishing. The news media and press outlets that focus on education and publishing seem to regard 2009 as a tipping point for public acceptance and business success of e-books. The speakers at this conference attended by 1,000 academic librarians and scholarly publishers clearly recognized that this enormous change is upon us.
In a talk entitled “I Hear the Train A Comin’” Kevin Guthrie, President of Ithaka, asked, “When the tracks and the cars come up to everyone’s door, what happens to the beautiful old train station?” He was of course referring to the impact of the Web on libraries, many of which may no longer be needed as physical repositories of content duplicated down the street, across town, and online.
Responding to this year’s conference theme “Necessity Is the Mother of Invention,” several speakers urged librarians to act quickly and strongly for positive change. Ivy Anderson of the California Digital Library said that reorienting libraries toward the future was “like turning a battleship around.” In an inspiring keynote speech, David Lankes of the Information Institute of Syracuse memorably referred to the dubious efficacy of “conducting exit interviews on the deck of the Titanic“!
Lankes urged librarians to recognize their mission “to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities” and become innovative, proactive leaders. When I described the speech to a colleague here at UNC Press, she immediately said, “That could also apply to publishers!” I told her that in fact the first audience member to comment during the Q&A session said exactly that. In another plenary speech, Douglas Armato of the University of Minnesota Press concluded, speaking of libraries and publishers, “If we’re not dealing with this evolution together, we should be.”