Kittie Henderson Leaves a Message for Libraries

Librarianship | June 29, 2017

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EBSCO Subscription Services’ Chief Librarian is retiring. We look back on 25 years with Kittie Henderson.

Kittie Henderson, our EBSCO Subscription Services Division’s Vice President and Chief Librarian, is retiring after 25 years with EBSCO. It is always difficult to say goodbye to a colleague, especially one so well-respected with such a long history of service to the company and to our library customers. We asked Kittie to share her story and pass on some insights about the library world.

Can you provide some background on your career? What prompted you to become a librarian?

Like many librarians, I joined the profession because I had so many positive experiences with libraries growing up. From the small public library in my hometown in Alabama, to high school and later, college, the library was like a science fiction portal to another place, another time and access to what seemed to be knowledge without end. I volunteered as a student assistant in my high school library and quickly learned that what might have seemed like magic was actually based upon the hard work and skill of the people who selected, ordered, cataloged and facilitated the access to materials.

Where did you work before EBSCO?

I worked at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, where I managed the Discovery Center (the Visitor Orientation Center), as well as the Audiovisual and Photographic Services departments. On a busy summer day, the park could have more than 20,000 people, many of whom would visit the Discovery Center. The products of the Audiovisual and Photographic Services had a range of uses, from documentation, education, research and publications. I was very fortunate to work with many wonderful people and be part of some amazing projects.

Kittie is my given name. In the late 1980’s and early 90’s, when I worked at the Zoo, phone messages were taken on the little pink “While you were out” notepads. When I left messages for people, the receptionist would often just write down just my name and phone number. People would receive the message, call the number and immediately hang up after reaching Brookfield Zoo. I often joked, that when your name is really Kittie and you work at the Zoo, nobody ever calls you back …

Prior to the Zoo, I was a high school librarian and worked in a university nursing school.

I volunteered as a student assistant in my high school library and quickly learned that what might have seemed like magic was actually based upon the hard work and skill of the people who selected, ordered, cataloged and facilitated the access to materials.

How did you decide to join EBSCO?

My husband, Don, worked with Eastman Kodak in the Motion Picture Division; Kodak transferred us to Los Angeles in 1992. I was looking for a job when I ran across a small ad in the Los Angeles Times that read something like “major library services company seeks Account Services Manager. M.L.S. and travel required.”  The Account Services Manager (ASM) role had been established in Birmingham and was in the process of being rolled out across the country. I am from Alabama, knew EBSCO, liked the people with whom I interviewed and decided to give it a chance. At the time, libraries and EBSCO were on the brink of profound change. There were many challenges and great people; it was exciting and fulfilling. One year turned into five, five into ten and almost before I knew it, more than twenty.

What was the library landscape like in 1992 when you joined EBSCO? How has it changed?

Academic, medical and corporate library collections were still print based in 1992, with institutions requiring multiple copies to serve users at different locations. Character cell versions of ERIC and MEDLINE were available as were other services such as Dialog; CD-ROM indices were starting to offer full-text. Early e-journal projects like Red Sage and Tulip gave us a glimpse of the future.

The emergence of the e-journal packages in the mid-1990s and the rapid embrace of electronic journal content changed everything. During the years that followed, publishers, libraries and vendors shifted to electronic format. In 1998, 88 percent of the orders placed by EBSCO on behalf of academic libraries were print, eight percent were print plus electronic and four percent were electronic only. By 2016, electronic comprised 78 percent of academic library orders, print was 12 percent and print plus electronic was 10 percent. The changes to the way content was purchased, the way it was accessed, library staffing and workflows required a new suite of agent tools and services. 

Journal price inflation coupled with the ever increasing percentage of the library resources tied up in the e-journal packages and inelastic budgets has been an ongoing challenge. Few parts of the economy were immune from the Great Recession of 2009 and for many libraries, funding, when adjusted for inflation, has still not recovered to pre-recession levels. In an effort to bridge the gap, the quest for better evaluation tools and content access alternatives ranging from article delivery to Open Access continued.

Consolidation shifted the publisher landscape. In response to government mandates and market demand, many major publishers launched Open Access initiatives. The number of consortia grew, with many working with publishers to offer e-journal package arrangements.

Libraries and publishers were not the only ones adjusting to change. In the vendor world, the collapse of Faxon in 2003 sent ripples through the library, publisher and vendor communities. Failure to respond quickly enough to the shift from print to digital subscriptions, changes in journal ordering channels and the corresponding changes in agent compensation, were cited among the primary reasons for the Swets bankruptcy in 2014.

Is there a type of technology you miss or were glad to stop using as a librarian?

I have never been a fan of microfiche, loose leafs or pocket parts!

What are some of the biggest changes/trends in journals you have seen in the past few years?

One of the biggest trends is that while overall journal inflation has hovered in the six percent range since 2012, it comes in a library environment where the majority of libraries responding to the 2016 Budgeting and Trends Survey reported either a flat budget or one that had increased less than five percent. While there are occasional reports of the nonrenewal of Big Deal e-journal packages, overall it appears that more libraries re-negotiated e-journal package contracts than cancelled them.

The ongoing tension between library budgets and increasing journal costs have certainly helped to fuel the call for Open Access. While some within the academic communities advocate the wholesale shift from commercial publishing to open access, open access still requires money. More money than, according to one recent study by a group of major university libraries, is in the system if all of the funds that are currently spent for subscription journals within the study group were transitioned to open access article processing charges (APC’s).

A disturbing trend is the acceptance and support of piracy sites such as SciHub by some in the scholarly community in the name of Open Access. I believe that piracy sites erode the process and economic underpinnings of our scholarly communication system. Just as shoplifting increases the cost of retail goods, so ultimately will article piracy increase content costs.

How has your background as a librarian helped you in your career at EBSCO?

Yes, I consider myself a librarian who happens to work for a vendor who serves other librarians, interpreting what EBSCO can do to help them to provide service to their end-users and in turn, communicating the needs of the library community to the company.

I know you strongly support EBSCO’s scholarships. How important is it to nurture emerging library leaders?

Very important. A number of years ago, EBSCO made the decision to shift funding formerly used for parties to conference scholarships. Not that parties aren’t nice but in an environment where not every institution can support professional travel, the scholarships are an investment in the future of the recipient as well as the profession.

What would you most want to tell them?

Once you get to conference, make the most of it!  Webinars and other forms of remote learning are wonderful technological developments but nothing can replace the opportunity to personally interact with others in your field. Invest the time. Go to sessions and the exhibits. Get involved. Be a sponge and soak up every experience you can. You know you have had a successful conference when you are both energized and exhausted afterward.

Can you talk about the relationships you have built with librarians and the value of the Library Journal serials pricing article and the budgeting and trends analysis you have worked on?

No matter how good the technology, like many enterprises, the serials world is still a people business. I have had the privilege to work with many wonderful people, some for decades. One of my managers once described it as psychic income; it gives me a great deal of personal satisfaction.

The Library Journal serials pricing article is a year-long project. In addition to presenting the serials pricing data, Steve Bosch of the University of Arizona, the co-author of the article, and I try to present it in the context of the larger serials ecosystem. We have been told that many publishers read the article; we know that a number of librarians use the article in budget planning. Last year it was translated into six languages.

The Budgeting and Trends survey is a snapshot of current customer activities, coping strategies and plans. Individual libraries often feel that they are the only one making difficult decisions. The survey helps to verify anecdotal reports and give a sense of market direction. The data gathered is used in the Library Journal article and in publications.

What would you like to see for libraries in the future?

Hard question since everyone’s vision of the future and the perfect library is different!  While I think electronic resources that are available round the clock are a given, I also strongly believe in the concept of library as place. No, not a large building of little used print resources occupying valuable real estate in the center of a campus or city, but a living organism, a place where people can come to work, discover new things or just have a moment to collect their thoughts. A place where the electronic resources are augmented with a variety of support services and carefully curated physical collections ranging from print books to special collections. Yes, this library already exists in a number of places and hopefully more will follow.

Do you have an anecdote you use when advocating for libraries/showing their value?

There are so many inspiring library stories — from that of the author James Patterson who had donated millions of books and many more millions of dollars to support school and university libraries as well as Teacher Education Scholarships at 24 universities — to the efforts to reopen the libraries in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina — to Scott Bonner, the Public Library Director in Ferguson, Missouri, who spearheaded the efforts provided stability and hope during the crisis there.

What do you like to do when you are not working?

My husband and I have three Shetland Sheepdogs. I collect vintage rhinestone, Mexican and Native American silver jewelry and am probably way too familiar with the Rose Bowl Flea Market.

Some thoughts from some of Kittie’s library friends…

“I have known Kittie for 11 years.  I first met her while I was still at the University of Arizona. My friend Camila Alire introduced us while attending a meeting. When Kittie learned that I would soon be leaving Arizona to become Dean of Libraries at Marquette University, she warmly said that I should reach out to her if I ever needed anything, or if I needed help with my transition.  Also, provided me with her contact information and that of EBSCO rep for Marquette.  However, Kittie being Kittie, she did not wait for me to reach out to her. She contacted me and made arrangements for us to have dinner at our next conference together. She then made a point of helping me make other connections, especially with others who were relatively new in their roles of directors or deans.

Kittie is what Malcolm Gladwell calls a “connector.”  She is always connecting and linking people. I truly believe that she has never met a stranger. Whatever or whenever I need assistance, Kittie is there. She freely and openly shares her knowledge with others. One of Kittie’s greatest contribution to the professional has been the serial pricing article that she has co-authored last year with Steve Bosch.

I cannot image an ALA meeting or Charleston Conference without spending some of that time with Kittie, conversing over a meal about our many common interests. I will greatly miss her southern charm and smile. One university president told me that when he interviewed someone for a high level position, he would pose the following question, “If I were to visit your campus, where would I find your footprints?”  Luckily for us we will find Kittie’s footprints, not only at EBSCO but also all through our professional associations and libraries.  Kittie has impacted us in unmeasurable ways.

Happy Trails Kittie!!”

— Janice Welburn-Dean of Libraries, Marquette University

“I first met Kittie shortly after she had joined EBSCO. I was at a conference on ILL in San Diego killing time visiting with vendors and ran across the EBSCO table, which was staffed by Kittie. At that time, the University of Arizona (UA) was not contemplating a serials vendor switch, but Kittie’s lovely southern accent was hard to ignore so I listened to her pitch.  She recalls the meeting as intimidating but Kittie, of course, showed no fear. A short time later, our current vendor started having financial problems and the UA started the process of reviewing serial vendors. Despite getting drenched in a summer thunderstorm, Kittie and company made a successful bid for the business and the University of Arizona became an EBSCO customer. Kittie and I spent a good deal of time transitioning the account as the UA was in the midst of a major re-organization and the serials department no longer existed. Consequently, the UA needed a lot of support from EBSCO during the transition and Kittie made sure we had that support. I guess many things were done right as the UA is still an EBSCO customer.

Over the years, Kittie and I have learned a great deal from each other as the UA and EBSCO experienced the shift from print to digital, the advent of consortial buying, and the ever-present price inflation and serials cancellations. Never a dull moment. Kittie always seemed to know how to make the requests from the UA turn into actions inside EBSCO, or at least she knew who could make things happen. When Kittie was promoted and took on the Library Journal serials pricing article I was honored when she asked if I would be co-author. Our skills were complimentary, she had the inside knowledge and I could take the raw data and crunch it into summary tables. With her retirement, many of us will have to find new ways to get things done. Her deep knowledge of the information industry cannot be replicated and if she did not know something, she knew who would.  It will be hard to imagine the library industry without Kittie but after her labors on the behalf of us all, she is most deserving of a long and happy retirement.

— Stephen Bosch, Materials Budget, Procurement, and Licensing Librarian, University of Arizona Library

“Kittie - I will miss sharing the Sunday morning breakfast with you for the EBSCO scholarship winners.  It's always a highlight for me during ALA conferences.  Your knowledge and wisdom that you share with the winners will be sorely missed.  I appreciate all of the support you have given us over the past 14 years.”

—Cheryl Malden, Program Officer, American Library Association

“There is probably only one person who can match me on Native American jewelry, and that person is Kittie. I always looked forward to her new purchases. Kittie will be sorely missed. No one else for me to compare to.”

—Camila Alire, Past American Library Association President

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