Selling to Academic Libraries in Australia and New Zealand: An Interview with Diane Costello (CAUL)

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On 16 September 2013 ACCUCOMS interviewed Diane Costello, Executive Officer at the Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL). Established in 1965, CAUL’s key objectives include maximizing the potential of libraries’ information resources, facilitating their access, and advocating effective policies and an appropriate legal and regulatory environment. Counting up to 70 academic and research institutions from Australia and New Zealand in its electronic information resources consortium (CEIRC), and providing access to the content of 121 licensed vendors (including intermediaries who represent many more publishers), CAUL is one of the most influential consortia in the region. ACCUCOMS has asked Diane Costello a series of questions concerning acquisitions and recommended sales strategies for publishers approaching libraries in Australia and New Zealand.

What is your role at CAUL and how did you get involved?

DC:  I am the Executive Officer of CAUL, the first full-time appointment to this role when the CAUL office was opened in 1995.  A large part of the job is as manager of the CEIRC program which, since 1998, has  facilitated access to eResources for its CEIRC participants.   I am the first point of contact from the publishers and their agents, and deal directly with key contacts in each of our institutions.  My day job is managing the office, the secretariat, for CAUL and all its other programs.

What is the situation of library consortia in Australia and New Zealand?

From ACCUCOMS’s research: In Australia there are 11 consortia streamlining the membership of 283 members. CAUL is the consortium with the highest number of members (70). In New Zealand, where the number of academic libraries is lower than in Australia, there are two consortia counting 158 members in total.

DC:  In general, the activities and the purposes of consortia in Australia and New Zealand do not differ much from consortia operating in other countries: developing national perspectives on issues relevant to university libraries; devising effective library-based subscription models;  providing cost-effective solution to facilitate acquisitions and access to a wide spectrum of information resources.

How do CAUL members select what products to buy and when to buy them?

DC: CAUL members choose the resources they need by means of an opt-in solution. This allows them to satisfy the effective needs of their libraries at any moment throughout the year, avoiding tenders and saving costs. In general we prefer to deal directly with publishers; however, subscription agencies such as Swets, EBSCO, iGroup, and DA Information Services do collaborate with CAUL as publishers’ representatives by bringing publishers to us. When  this happens, we review the licenses and the business model (and it’s sometimes a very long conversation before it gets presented to members). Subsequently, these resources are presented to our members. A big chunk of the traditional business  of agents (i.e. managing subscriptions)  in Australia and New Zealand is now being directed through consortia. Both because most of the resources at hand are in electronic format, and because publishers are selling in packages, there is no obvious value in putting it through an agent and being relieved of the agent’s commission. So agents are finding other parts of the library business to fill the gap in theirs. Some are doing better than others.

What is, in your opinion, the current financial situation of university libraries in Australia?

DC:  In Australia the government funds all but two universities, and universities fund libraries. Additional research funding promised to universities over the next couple of years has been withdrawn, and plans for its expenditure have had to be drastically revised, leading to unexpected cuts in some programs. Indeed, although most data suggests an increase in government expenditure on R&D, this is not necessarily reflected in the actual funds universities put into their libraries’ collections. On the other hand,  when there are budget cuts usually the first thing to be reduced is staff rather than collections. However, although most library budgets are not going to be drastically reduced in Australia, there is evidence of cancellation of lower priority information resources at a level not seen since the GFC.

Which type of resources are currently acquired by university libraries, and what will be the trend in the next three years?

DC: Databases, including A&I databases, are likely to be the first to be taken off the list. E-books, on the other hand, are increasing in our members’ libraries. Particularly, there is a pressing demand to finding an effective library-based pricing model for e-textbooks. If this demand is not satisfied it will be a lost opportunity for publishers. 

Do you feel there is a need for pro-active selling in Australia?

DC: On the one hand, the advantages of having people based in Australia might be relatively small because in Australia we are accustomed to dealing very efficiently by email. I myself travel little and meet face-to-face with CEIRC  members just once a year. On the other hand, it is true that when publishers or their agents make the effort of meeting with librarians personally, that makes a difference to the ultimate take-up of their products.  We do not market products – we manage the business end and facilitate information flow between the publisher and subscriber.  A company assisting the communication between libraries and publishers through consortia can be very productive, as the latter can provide an efficient channel to institutions but the former may have more resources to negotiate appropriate business models and prepare supporting documentation.