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In a Tough Economy, Databases under Threat January 29, 2009

Posted by Wendy Stephens in Advocacy, Check this out!, Hot Topics.

In the 2007 documentary film “Resolved”, subscription database access is presented as a manifestation of affluence, commitment, and intellectual rigor. In the more competitive suburban schools, databases are a necessary personal expense related to participation in debate at the national level.

Many students rely on resources provided by state consortia or access databases through a regional virtual library. A database vendor at the ALA Midwinter Meeting intimated that funding for our state resources, now only 82 cents per citizen a year, might be cut in half over the next year. Though K-12 resources should represent 65% of the remaining funding allocation, I began to despair for the colleges and universities that have curtailed spending on print journals. A two-thirds reduction in database funding could directly undermine their students’ ability to be competitive for graduate school and employment. Where will our students get access to journals without online databases? In the age of instant digital communication, we cannot insist that information needs wait for interlibrary loan or document delivery services.

This Statement on the Global Economic Crisis and Its Impact on Consortial Licenses suggests many groups are wondering how they can maintain access to digital resources. That coalition  proposes flexible pricing, a la carte services to suit individual needs, and trading features for price. Luddites might argue that the problem posed by the looming crisis can be traced to the ease with which we have integrated digital resources. Ownership is explicit with print resources. It was a recurring caveat in library school, usually summarily dismissed by the technophiles. After a decade of access to databases through a state consortium serving public, academic, and school libraries, many institutions limit purchases to print journals not available in digital format. We might have become complacent about the persistence of the data as it became seamless to access. Hardware and bandwidth were less and less expensive. Interfaces became more faceted and offered more ways to manipulate the information we retrieved. Eventually, the acquisition of print periodicals and even reference books could be decried as duplication.

The same sort of dialogue surrounds Renaissance Place, the online version of Accelerated Reader. In my district, a librarian at a suburban elementary school was urging others follow her lead in moving to the online version, despite its per-student cost. Another librarian from a rural community said that she preferred to purchase the quizzes outright because she might not always be able to afford the annual subscription. Were she not be able to maintain that, she said, she would have to remove stickers from most of the books in her library, not having purchased any tests since subscribing. The crux of the conflict is the same. Do we own the resource? Or do we lease it by the year?

We have young teachers who have never used print resources and rely on keyword searching. Media outlets are disappearing or are losing editorial staff. User-generated content in the form of Wikipedia tops search results for Googling just about anything. It is an important time for school librarians to be emphasizing rigorous research standards and citation expectations. But without sustained access to online databases wherever students need them, we run the risk of forgetting what a quality source looks like. In my state, parent-teacher organizations at the more academically challenging schools subsidize site licenses for JStor and Gale products to support the work of college-bound kids. These sorts of communities may step in to fund the databases cut by our state as well. The districts and schools that commit to funding quality resources will produce students with advantages, not only in accessing, but in evaluating sources. Access for all students to resources, which has been shown to influence achievement, can be framed as an issue of equity.


1. adutton1 - January 31, 2009

This is a very well written post about the importance of access to scholarly information.

In Arizona where I live and work, there is a public library consortium of databases but K-12 students need to have a library card to access due to the licensing agreement. There are varying levels of access in our communities, yet ALL students must take the same standardized test.

A small group of public, school, and university professionals are attempting to resolve this issue in AZ.

Ann Ewbank
2009 Candidate for AASL Division Councilor

2. ICOLC Issues Statement on the Global Economic Crisis and Its Impact on Consortial Licenses | Disruptive Library Technology Jester - January 31, 2009

[…] Wendy Stephens of Buckhorn High School (New Market, Alabama) has written a great analysis of this on the ALA AASL blog. Disclosure: my employer is a signatory to the […]

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