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I recently attended at talk by Francis Pinter of Bloomsbury publishers entitled “A Publisher’s Perspective on Academic Publishing in the Digital Era”. Bloomsbury Academic are apparently providing some publications free of charge on the Web under Creative Commons licences. Simultaneously physical books will be produced and sold around the world.

This is an interesting concept, predicated on the idea that the added value publisher provide is not so much the printed content as the proof-reading, editing and peer review,verification and now hosting services which give that content authority and make it accessible to a wider audience.

But if content is freely available on the web, what is the role of libraries?

Our role has already largely changed from that of gatekeepers to that of experts in information retrieval, or experts in the use of varied and convoluted database interfaces. We’re also teachers of information literacy skills and experts at filtering and aggregating content for use in courses, so already our role is not all about providing access to content.

However, as the role of publishers changes, perhaps the way libraries provide added value access to content will change too. Rather than subscribing to collections of electronic resources in order to make the content available, perhaps we will subscribe to them in order to subsidise the cost of print on demand for students at our institution, or to subscribe to extra services such as an allowance for downloading content to a mobile device, or being able to annotate comment and bookmark it.

It was suggested that one of the paid-for services publishers might offer around free content is access to the data supporting research, so academic libraries could also help researchers at their institution gain bulk access to research data, where an individual might have to use a more expensive pay-per-view model.

I also wonder whether libraries have a role in hosting user-generated content for people within their institution.