The Electronic Resources & Libraries conference is taking place from tomorrow in Atlanta, GA. This is the conference's third year, and it's sold out - no surprise, given that it's a packed schedule with some strong speakers. Our own Jeff Downing (library relations manager) will be part of a panel discussion about the ways in which consortial networks can help libraries to retain "market share" in an increasingly competitive landscape. Here's a précis of Jeff's paper (which we published in last week's eyetoeye newsletter).

It is no secret: libraries face daily and ever-increasing competition. Within this sea of competition, however, publishers and regionally-based consortial networks are forging partnerships to develop creative, long-term cost-effective business models for content delivery.

Where is the competition coming from?
Competition for traditional library services is coming from all directions, but most obviously from the web, where consumer information is widely available and in many cases freely accessible. Wikipedia, for all its faults, has become a destination reference resource while other less well-branded sources of information are made easily discoverable by search services such as Google. Thus users are now able to self-serve much of the information that historically has only been available via the library or other paid services. But, of course, users are largely untrained in the skills of assessing found materials for authoritativeness, and in forgoing library assistance they are at risk not only of missing out on valuable paid-for resources, but also of basing their studies on incorrect data or ill-formed arguments. The convenience of internet research is substituting for the credible sources to be obtained from the traditional library.

What effect does this new competition have?
Historically, libraries have had the good fortune of being a monopoly; if you wanted access to information, especially authoritative information, you went to the library. Libraries had no competition and thus had no need to operate like a commercial business. As other resources become more prominent, libraries are having to re-envision and re-tool to operate in a more competitive environment. This is an attitudinal shift to which not all librarians are ready to adapt; the rigours of competition in a free market are not necessarily a welcome environment for those who have opted for an altruistic career assisting researchers in their information quest.

End of Chain of Craters Road, where it meets the lava flow (Volcano National Park, Hawaii)

Some people's reaction to the sea of competition?

How can libraries reinforce their value in the information supply chain?
Researchers continue to need to access quality, peer-reviewed information, and in providing this the library is making itself an essential tool in the academic arsenal. Libraries should take advantage of regional networks like Amigos and Palinet that can help by promoting libraries as information providers and community leaders, and by facilitating sharing of resources and development of innovative services. Networks may also be able to negotiate discounts of which members can take advantage when purchasing scholarly content from publishers or aggregators.

If you are attending ER&L, be sure to attend this session in order to add your voice to the discussion. If you would like to arrange an appointment with Jeff Downing during the event, please contact - or stop by the Ingenta table at the sponsors' reception tomorrow night.