Not hanging separately

Sep 16 2010 Published by under Open Access

I've been thinking again about the question asked me at UCLA: why should academic libraries divert staff and budgetary resources to open access (green or gold, gratis or libre) if our mandate is to serve our local patrons? I gave an answer that I wasn't particularly happy with. I have a bit of an esprit d'escalier answer now, the borrowed words of Benjamin Franklin:

We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.

A lot of us academic librarians know that our faculty basically see us as wallets. We pay for the stuff they use. That's pretty much all they know about us, all they think we do (aside from checking books out at the desk, don't you know—and I am being sarcastic because this function is rarely performed by actual librarians). If we just hang back contentedly being wallets, what will happen to us when the wallet-function breaks, as we all know it's breaking? Particularly, what will happen if we have nothing to fall back on—no rhetoric, no advocacy, no best practice, nothing—from the profession, the collective? A library under siege from its institution with no support external to that institution isn't playing a strong hand.

We also know that toll-access publishers and aggregators have been playing divide-and-conquer for a long time. What are all these NDAs about, if not to divide libraries one from another and prevent us from gathering the collective intelligence that would let us all negotiate fair prices? At this late date, we seem unlikely to reverse this behavior as individual libraries and consortia. It's going to take a full-court press, from as many of us as possible.

Just as open access will. It's perhaps a measure of my own demoralization that I was quite chuffed by this preprint finding that 49% of current academic-librarian–authored materials can be found open-access. Forty-nine percent is dismal, but it's also extraordinary, and rather better than I would have expected. The lesson is clear, though: individual efforts on individual campuses and in individual libraries don't get us very far.

At the risk of sounding all commie and stuff: we work toward a collective openness, or we die off one by one as the business model sustaining us as well as publishers crumbles to bits.


4 responses so far

  • Peter says:

    Let's hope so, by goodness!

    I think it's the biggest issue right now and more open access is one key. I wish I could say "if it's not in the arXiv, it does not exist" (but at least it's how I feel).

    I'm often amazed on how strongly older researchers feel about the established (dysfunctional) publication methods. Sometimes I think vanity/reputation is the most important key. The current system seems to rely primarily on prestige; prestige seems the key motivation to generate quality instead of the other way around (e.g. 'top' journals strongly favoring established authors). Those that have acquired the prestige don't see a problem. So alternative means probably need to offer alternatives for the acquisition of prestige as well -- maybe even in a more transparent and reliable way while we're at it?

  • LJ says:

    I work in the information aggregation business for a large company and I am a librarian. I would say one of the best approaches to have regarding the role that libraries have as being the economic buyer is to know your users above all else. When it does come time to open your wallets you will be able to drive requirements, services, tools, and content that your end users really want regardless of who is asking for money.

    • Dorothea says:

      And you think that's enough?

      Because I don't.

    • ebrown says:

      I don't this is enough either with the emphasis on accountabilty and return on investment (ROI). There's more pressure to provide data and anecdotes to show evidence of impact within an organization.