Archive for the 'Open Access' category

Little Nuggets

Nov 18 2010 Published by under Miscellanea, Open Access, Praxis, Uncategorized

Little nuggets of information are swirling around in my head. I'm just back from two meetings, in two different cities, and each one had some interesting ideas about the future of library services, collections, and technology.

Meeting #1 was the 2010 SPARC Digital Repositories Meeting in Baltimore. The last time this meeting was held, 2008, the landscape for institutional repositories (and digital repositories) was focussed on how libraries could create and/or host them and convince others of their value. I would say that with a few exceptions, not much has changed.

Just like everyone wants to get married in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, everyone in libraryland seems convinced if the right marketing approach/language is used, the perfect match will be made with respect to people contributing and using IR/DR content. Unfortunately the current IR/DR infrastructure isn't conducive to this. You need to establish relationships before (or while) you build the network, and there're few easy tie-ins to the existing infrastructure.  The keynote speaker, Michael Nielsen, made this point with respect to use and adoption of science online networks and the same is true for libraries. The current reward system isn't set up so scientists can show the value of contributing to social networks outside of the peer review process. I would agree this is true for IRs/SRs/DRS also, although of the three subject repositories have been the most successful.

As you can tell from the program, there was emphasis on collecting and curating open data, which I think showed there is a desire for libraries to find a better match. While this may create a niche for libraries, it's going to take some work between the "data nerds" and the collectors, as this friendfeed discussion shows.  

While several presenters mentioned the need for preservation, there was suprisingly little talk about the importance of having policies, infrastructure, technology in place to do this. In fact these two communities are almost completely disconnected. There's also been very little attention to assessment issues such as identifying if the money and staff time devoted to projects is worthwhile given the continuing recession and shrinking library collections budgets. I see both of these ideas impacting work on IRs/DRs/SRs, although since neither topic is "sexy" it may take some before we see much attention devoted to these issues.

The plan is to have this conference again in two years, and if this happens I predict we will see further shifts in focus or perhaps this program co-sponsored or linked with another organization.

Meeting #2 was a joint ARL/SSP workshop, Partnering to Publish: Innovative Roles for Societies, Institutions, Presses, and Libraries. This should have been a session or part of the schedule for Meeting #1, because it became clear as the meeting progressed that working in the publishing infrastructure is a natural way for libraries to make their repositories and/or preservation efforts tie into the existing promotion and tenure environment. In most cases the speakers at the event were able to show this in easily quanitfiable ways, like sales figures, enhanced content and features in books and journals, as well as stronger relationships with administrative units and campus faculty.

I also attended yet another conference in the last month: the 2010 Library Assessment Conference. Not much of this conference addresses issues in BOT but I will say this - there were twice as many attendees at this meeting than the SPARC meeting with many more presentations and ideas generated. This is currently a hot topic in librarianship and I predict we will see more programming devoted to all areas of this topic in the future.

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The smart scholar's publication-venue heuristics; or, how to use open access to advance your career

Oct 22 2010 Published by under Open Access

It's all about you, really. For all the high-falutin' rhetoric about accelerating discovery and taxpayer access, you the researcher just want to know how to manage your published corpus to achieve tenure and promotion.

The nice thing is that even in these early days, open access can help you do that. Based on research I've read as well as personal anecdata, here's what I suggest to any researcher who publishes in journals. (Sorry, monograph writers, for you I got nothin'.)

Something I hear a lot when I suggest publishing in a gold open-access journal is, "well, I'm not going to give up a slot in Nature or Science for open access." Well, of course you're not. I'll see you in Nature and Science, then. Oh, wait, I won't?

Right. The number of choices that stark really does approach zero. I'll never be published in Nature or Science. I love you, I love your research, but chances are you won't either. So let's back away from the black-and-white and consider the vastly more common situation of quite a few journals of acceptable prestige, some of them various degrees of open, from which you might choose.

I base my analysis in the idea, now borne out by copious amounts of research as well as ordinary common sense, that all else being equal, a work available without subscription barriers over the Web will garner more attention than one that is not, and that increased attention translates into measurable increases in citation. I also argue that individual-article metrics are already gaining importance at tenure and promotion hearings at the expense of the much-maligned journal impact factor, and I believe they will continue to do so. If you don't buy these arguments, you can probably stop reading now.

So let's say for the sake of argument that you can narrow your choices to two journals, roughly equivalent in prestige. Here's how you might choose between them:

  • If one is fully open-access and the other is subscription, take the open-access option. As Kevin Smith heard from a journal editor recently, some open-access journals are making waves. As you're hearing from me right this minute, library subscriptions are falling like wheat before the sickle. Open access maximizes the chance your article will find its reader, and its reader will not have to endure a whole lot of hassle (because really, who persists through hassle for one measly article?) to get at it.
  • If one is subscription-only and the other is hybrid... it's a toss-up. I regard hybrid journals (subscription journals that will free up individual articles on payment of a fee) with considerable suspicion. Many of them haven't revamped their user-facing interface to be clear on which articles are open and which aren't. Many of them aren't Google-crawlable, which removes one of the basic ground-level advantages of open access. Many of them don't have the basic integrity to promise to reduce subscription prices in proportion to open-access adoption. And many of them are severely overcharging. Use your best judgment.
  • If both are subscription journals, but one requires a full copyright transfer and the other only asks for a license to publish, go for the one with the license. This is called "keeping your options open." If you sign over copyright, you have only the options the publisher deigns to give you.
  • If both are subscription journals, but one allows you to place a pre/post-print in an open-access repository and the other doesn't, go for the one that does. Pay attention to the type of repository allowed, too. If there's a repository for your discipline that you know everybody reads, you're shooting yourself in the foot if you let your publisher forbid you from putting your work there. If there isn't such a repository, then check to see if your institution has one; placing a copy there will put your full-text work in Google and Google Scholar (with some pretty decent Googlejuice, if the repositories I've run are typical).
  • Put as much of your work as you legally can in open-access repositories. Again, your goal is to maximize your chances of getting your work in front of interested eyes. Yes, this means you'll have to keep track of your manuscripts. Yes, this means you'll have to read those consarned publishing agreements. From my own experience, I look you right in the eye and say: it is worth it.

One thing that never hurts: whenever you see a restrictive publishing agreement, sigh, look pained, and ask the editor, "Can you do any better than this?" The worst they will say is "No; put up or shut up." Sometimes they will say yes, and the deal you get will be considerably better. You won't endanger your publication. You will send a message that you care about your rights. There is no lose here.

Another thing that will likely help you is to put whatever you have that isn't a publishable unit on the open Web. Your thesis, perhaps. Your data. Your conference slidedecks. Your working papers. Your technical reports. Your bibliographies (via Zotero or Mendeley or the like, probably). Anything about your work that isn't a published article! The currency of academia is attention. Grab as much of it as you can.

Some analyses suggest that you should only make your best work open-access. I don't buy this argument (and a recently-published article seems to agree with me). My objection is simple: how do you know a priori what your best work is? How good are you at anticipating what your discipline or allied disciplines are going to think is important? I tell you what, I'm terrible at it—so I make everything I write open-access. I just don't know what will catch on, so I give all my work the best chance I can.

A question that does come up is how much you should pay for open access, if you're in one of the fields with author-fee gold journals. (Usual disclaimer applies: most open-access journals don't charge author-side fees!) I can't really answer that, not yet; the market hasn't shaken out. I can reiterate my suspicion of hybrid journals, and I can also remark, perhaps heartlessly, that it's a good thing you are having to ask yourself this question. Part of the reason subscription prices got so out of control is that you, researcher, were never paying them! But if you're cost-conscious, I think it will work out fine for you to eschew an author-fees journal in favor of a subscription journal that lets you archive your manuscript on the open Web, as long as you then actually do the archiving. Open is open.

Thanks for sticking with me this Open Access Week. I've had a great week, a refreshing week, a week where I feel for once that I'm not alone in this struggle. I hope you have too.

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OA Week repost: Dancing with them what brung ya

Oct 21 2010 Published by under Open Access

(Background: I'm seeing another current of anti-library, anti-librarian sentiment burbling up out of the open-access discourse. It disturbs me; I also find it personally insulting. When OA advocates say "OA doesn't exist purely to solve libraries' budget problems," they are of course correct. Unfortunately, the undercurrent there is "… and therefore libraries and librarians are not important to open access, nor should the open-access movement heed in any way its impact on libraries and librarians, nor are librarians entitled to ponder the impact of open access on libraries without heed to other stakeholders." And this is just wrong, all of it.

Open access wouldn't have a movement if not for us librarians. It'd still be a few economists shrieking in a vast wilderness. I don't think it's asking too much for open access to respect that—and respect us, our related struggles, and our contributions to the discourse.

I could, of course, be wrong.)

This post originally appeared on Caveat Lector in February 2007.


Peter Suber's excellent-as-always predictions for open access in 2007 include:

I'm tempted to predict a continuing tension between the narrow conception of institutional repositories (to provide OA for eprints) and the broad conception of IRs (to provide OA for all kinds of digital content, from eprints to courseware, conference webcasts, student work, digitized library collections, administrative records, and so on, with at least as much attention on preservation as access). But I have to predict that the broad conception will prevail. Universities that launch general-purpose archiving software will have active constituents urging them to take full advantage of it. The good news for OA is that many institutional interests, beyond the OA interests, will converge to fund and maintain the IR. The bad news for OA is that the project of filling the IR with the institution's research output could, without vigilant stewardship, drift downward on the IR's priority list.

I'm in agreement with Suber's prediction, which doubtless surprises no one. I confess to considerable annoyance that he even had to raise the matter, however, and I refuse to countenance his "bad news" statement (which is not his fault, I may say; this accusation has been made so loudly, repeatedly, and hatefully that Suber had little choice but to address it) until I see even a shred of evidence for it.

Just for a moment, imagine that academic libraries holding print resources were suddenly told that their sole priority—not top priority, mind you, but sole priority—was the acquisition and dissemination of the peer-reviewed journal literature.

I'll wait for every single academic librarian who reads Caveat Lector to stop laughing uproariously. As a bonus, I'll even talk down the government-documents and special-collections librarians who are readying their torches and pitchforks. The simple reality is that academic libraries are multiple-purpose organizations serving many and diverse constituencies with many and diverse materials. (There are these things called "books," for example… disciplines that rely heavily or exclusively on journals may consider them quaintly outmoded, but many scholars are still rather fond of them.) Nothing about the digital realm changes the variegated nature of our work.

What's more, we wouldn't have it any other way. So if the green road to OA wants to dance with academic libraries—and green-OA does want us on its dance card, because it would not exist and cannot at present survive without us—it will have to accept the other digital baggage we bring with us. Student papers. Digitized collections. Webcasts. Learning objects. Et cetera.

There are certainly discussions worth having about whether standard IR technology is the best tool for some of these things. I have my own dislike for administrative records because disseminating them via OAI-PMH is like putting shoes on a fish, and my boss thinks that learning objects have no business in IRs because they're ephemera that need a lot of versioning. These are different discussions, however, from "OA concerns the peer-reviewed literature and nothing else!"

I refuse to be defensive about archiving more than peer-reviewed journal literature in the repository I run. I have never considered the peer-reviewed journal literature the end-all of research anyway, and I do not agree that open access to it solves every single pressing problem in scholarly communication. (What about legal, convenient awareness of and access to primary sources? Can IRs help with that? Sure they can, and the one I run does.) Moreover, I demand that peer-reviewed-literature-only OA advocates recognize and accept that existing IRs in institutions without self-archiving mandates—which is most of them!—have no choice but to include other materials if they are merely to survive long enough to win those mandates. This is not dereliction of duty, nor is it neglect of OA to the peer-reviewed literature. It is simply tactical necessity in an OA-hostile environment.

For my own part, I am quite convinced that IRs and their managers in academic libraries have a larger mission and many more opportunities than the peer-reviewed literature offers. That shouldn't anger those whose sole or primary cause is OA to peer-reviewed literature. It should reassure them, because it is excellent evidence that academic librarians such as I will continue an active commitment to IR technology and to advancing OA, with support from the institutions we work for.

Assailing academic libraries and librarians gains narrowly-focused green-OA advocates nothing whatever. Instead, they should consider dancing with them what brung ’em.

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The Open Book, redux

Oct 20 2010 Published by under Open Access

I promised an update, so: I thought The Open Book was a pretty smashing success. Just about every attendee wrote in it. The resulting reading is inspiring (though I can't say much for the handwriting... pick a wide-ruled notebook if you can!).

A little contrary to my expectations, more people felt comfortable committing to actions than talking about how open access has benefited them. Unexpected, but hardly displeasing! I think it helped that I emphasized that the action they committed to didn't have to be huge, and priming the book with my own story and promise also made a difference. Most people committed to relatively small things—and that's fine. Commitment is commitment!

I will do this again at other events, and I now feel comfortable recommending the idea to others!

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Best writing in open access, 2009-2010

Oct 20 2010 Published by under Open Access, Tidbits

In lieu of a regular tidbits post this week, I thought I'd highlight the best short writing I've seen in open access over the last year or so. Some of it you'll have seen here before, but as we all know, it takes quite a lot of repetition before the message takes hold.

What's wonderful is that there's a lot of brilliant writing to choose from. What's even more wonderful is that it's not all coming from librarians! What's the most wonderful of all is that this writing is everywhere. It's not just a few rabid bloggers like me. It's not just the faithful vanguard, bless them. Open access isn't quite mainstream yet—but this year it's been putting its foot in the door.

Onward, then.

Honorary mention, because it's not directly open-access–related, goes to the University of California's well-phrased refusal to take Nature Publishing Group's price-gouging lying down.

I've missed a lot. Tell me what I've missed in the comments!

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I am the program

Oct 19 2010 Published by under Open Access, Praxis, Tactics

I'm a little chagrined that I have zero activities planned for our university campus this week for Open Access. I know - this is the time! Act now! The enthusiasm seems larger this year than I remember from previous OA week/day events. I'm missing the boat!

So after I got over it I realized: I am the Program.

This week I'll be giving two talks - one was on Monday afternoon to our University Graduate Council on a new software product, SciVal Spotlight, that tracks research performance and helps predict research strengths and emphases. It is Open Access. No, it's a subscription database, and one that is pretty expensive. But it's unique, it builds on librarian expertise supporting the research mission, and should strengthen our relationship with other campus units. There's a short demo if it here if you want to see more. Note that I didn't include any detailed local data in the talk but Elsevier has several whitepapers available that discuss aspects of the software, which are Open Access.

I'll also be giving a guest lecture this Thursday to Jean-Claude Bradley's Chemical Information Retrieval class at Drevel University over the internet. I'll be giving an overview of web 0.0/1.0/2.0/3.0 applications and scholarly communications issues in chemistry. Since it's Open Access week I'll cover this along with publishing, copyright, identity and library issues. This lecture was fun to prepare and thanks to Jean-Claude for asking me to offer my perspective on this.

I was also planning to talk to my reference colleagues this week about reference management tools, specifically comparing established licensed products like Refworks and EndNote with newer, freely available versions like Zotero and Mendeley. This talk is being pushed back to early next month. While this may seem like a odd topic for Open Access week, I've believed for some time these tools are going to become increasingly important channels for scholarly communications and information sharing. I also believe that researchers will need to use multiple reference management tools over the course of their career, and become facile in converting files and moving between products as their research and personal networks expand and change.   

While it's great to promote Open Access, there are a bunch of other issues tied up with it: copyright, author rights and archives and funding mandates for researchers to deposit results. There are many ways to reach faculty, staff, and administrators and make them aware of the deeper issues lurking underneath the concept of Open Access and how the library can help them.

As a program planner the most difficult part of my job in scholarly communications is creating programming that faculty in all areas (humanities, social science and science) can relate to. Invariably a program emphasis that excites scientists will be inappropriate or of little interest to humanities and some social science faculty. So programming can be effective but also limiting in some ways.

So talk to faculty about how they are publishing their research, especially if there is new journal being formed or moved from another campus, a new research initiative that needs to know more about library collections, a student or faculty member that needs more information about publishers and editors for their work.  Tell the administration about new tools to better identify campus research strengths, and mandates from funding agencies that affect research activity and support, and how the libraries can support these efforts. I can't guarantee that all of these conversations will be successful, or that everyone who hears what you have to say will be excited about it. You may have to build supporters one faculty member, one program one person at a time. What may work on a large research campus may not be effective for a small college or specialized technical school.  The important thing is to start a conversation.

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OA Week Repost: My Father the Anthropologist; or, What I Offer Open Access and Why

Oct 19 2010 Published by under Open Access

(This post was originally written for the 2008 Open Access Day Synchroblogging competition, and was a co-winner of that award.)


In 1980 or thereabouts—I was eight or nine—my father the anthropologist started yet another rant about serials cancellations at his university's library while he drove the family somewhere in the family car. He thought the problem an artifact of library underfunding, I remember. I don't recall that he ever did anything about it save rail bitterly on the subject to us, his captive, powerless, and resentful audience.


At the inaugural meeting of the Open eBook Forum in 2000, David Ornstein and Janina Sajka explained what they hoped electronic books would accomplish. Amid the faux-visionary fluff and the crass dollar signs, one hope they expressed made me vibrate: that for the first time, a visually-impaired person would be able to walk into Borders or Barnes & Noble and buy a book off the shelf just like anyone else.

Access to human knowledge and creativity. Access for the wrongly disenfranchised. Access. I loved markup, I loved text, I loved design, I loved standards work—but then and afterward, it was the access argument that kept me engaged with electronic books. My father the anthropologist, his own eyes not what they had been, understood and endorsed that argument at once.


I certainly know how reassuring accurate, authoritative medical information can be. When my father the anthropologist went to the hospital for bypass surgery, I looked for every scrap of reliable information I could find about what he'd have to go through, what his chances were, what would happen afterwards. Information is hope for helpless bystanders.

I know what information gaps mean to the efficacy of medical care, too. I started my quest to treat my repetitive stress injury when my hands and wrists hurt so badly I couldn't sleep some nights, nor survive a day's work without severe pain. The open web, obvious misinformation aside, contained little more than nonsensical and insulting condemnations of RSI sufferers as malingerers, as well as blatant advertising of invasive surgery on the websites of orthopedic surgeons.

My primary-care physician insisted on old-fashioned treatment modalities before she would refer me anywhere. I paid for and endured weeks of wrist braces that I knew would not relieve my pain because I had tried them, as well as a tennis-elbow strap that left me in such agony that I refused to put up with it longer than a day. I did achieve a referral at last, and physical therapy turned out to be the right treatment. As I healed, the new search skills I was acquiring in library school, along with the access that being a student entitled me to, helped me discover that the medical literature understood why my doctor's initial recommendations had been wrong. Why did I waste time, money, and pain over my inability to produce reliable information to assist my medical provider in treating me appropriately?

I can only be glad I wasn't suffering from anything life-threatening, like artery blockage.


I was slotted into an online course in "Virtual Collection Development," taught with patient lucidity by Jane Pearlmutter, my first semester in library school. Among the readings was "The Librarians' Dilemma: Contemplating the Costs of the 'Big Deal’" by the University of Wisconsin's own Ken Frazier. There it was again, this problem of serials cancellations, framed in terms so transparently sensible that I could only exult.

Later in the semester came a unit on open access. It would be nice to say that lightning struck and I knew that was what I wanted to do with my professional life, but it didn't and I didn't. Of course I was intrigued; I knew several for-profit journal publishers from the worm's-eye view of an erstwhile lowly data-conversion peasant. I wove the complaints I remembered from my father the anthropologist, my own experience in scholarly publishing, and what I learned in class into a rich, detailed mental tapestry, and I felt real hope that open access was an answer I could take back to him that he would understand and appreciate. Discovering that I would shortly join the profession backing open access only confirmed that library school was the right choice for me, even should I not work in the open-access niche myself.


When I landed my first library position just after graduating, I called my father the anthropologist. His first question was "How much will you be paid?" I declined answering. His second question was "What's your title?"

"Digital Repository Services Librarian," I said, with pride and no little amusement.

On the other end of the line, a lengthy silence.


My father the anthropologist used to buy lab equipment out of his own pocket, rather than struggle with byzantine university purchasing procedures and skeptical departmental scrutiny. Rightly or wrongly, he was convinced no one would understand or support him and his work, but he refused to knuckle under. He would do what it took, spend what he had to, to further the research he fervently believed in.

I have bought quite a bit out of my own pocket too, rather than charge it to the libraries that have employed me. I have bought color inkjet printers, various sorts of expensive paper for brochures and bookmarks and whatnot, and poster printing. I have bought software that I use for work-related purposes. Once I bought an expensive print run of a color brochure because an opportunity came up to distribute a lot at once so suddenly that I didn't have time to print and fold them myself as I usually did. I bought a cross-country trip to an important repository conference when I was de facto between jobs. I bought a laptop on which I do repository-related work when the occasion warrants. I have bought buttons with images of Mars on them, because when you're handed a golden acronym you might as well make the most of it. Like as not the libraries I have worked in would have paid for some or all of this—I never asked.

I have read, written, rewritten, commented, and debugged code in Java, Python, and XSLT. I have tweaked JSPs, murdered unnecessary HTML tables, and rewritten CSS designs from the ground up, swearing sulfurously at various versions of Internet Explorer. I have edited metadata in XML by hand. I have translated Endnote records into Dublin Core. I have screenscraped ugly HTML and cudgeled it into legible metadata. I have screenscraped yet more ugly HTML for transformation into preservation-worthy markup. I have built convoluted SQL queries slowly and carefully from the inside out, run them on production databases with fear and trepidation, and once or twice cleaned up after them when I've gotten them wrong. I have typed cargo-cult incantations at command lines to keep server software running and upgraded, and raked Google for answers when some incantations didn't work as promised.

I have stared at lengthy CVs with a sigh, and then waded resolutely in to clear rights on as many of the publications as I could. I have searched SHERPA/RoMEO and Bowker's Books in Print. I have hunted down agreements from publisher websites. I have asked faculty for their copyright-transfer-agreement files, and tried not to let my smile grow too pained when they told me they don't keep such things. I have explained the difference between preprints, postprints, and publisher PDFs to politely incredulous auditors. I have read scads of legalese, and interpreted it as best I could. I have read and pondered the words of librarians and lawyers who understand the legal fine points much better than I. I have made some risky calls, likely some wrong ones. I haven't been called on the carpet for them… yet.

I have held one-on-one meetings and demo sessions with faculty and librarians. I have designed and produced brochures, flyers, slideshows, posters, web pages, wiki pages, and one mini-movie. I have presented at innumerable campus expos, showcases, lectures, symposia, conferences, and workshops. I have called and written my elected representatives. I have blogged. I have written articles and self-archived them, sometimes after polite and fruitful discussions with publishers. I have run any number of failed efforts toward building a community of practice among repository managers, each new attempt the triumph of hope over experience. I have cold-called librarians, faculty, department chairs, deans, and administrators. I have been to more meetings than ought to fit in the three years I've been doing this.

You needn't be obsessed like my father the anthropologist and me. Believe me, that's the last thing I'd recommend to anyone. If you cannot find even one thing you can do in the above list, though, I wonder about you.


I once explained to a pleasant elderly faculty member that the repository didn't easily allow changes. "It's like a roach motel," I said. "Files go in, but they don't go out. Once they're there, they're stuck." Suppressed chuckles from librarians in nearby cubicles greeted that statement, and I returned from ushering the faculty member out to find that my colleagues had good-humoredly dubbed me the Innkeeper at the Roach Motel.

I loved the sobriquet, despite the unhappy truth of its depiction of institutional repositories. I have never liked telling faculty members that my services couldn't do what they needed, and I've had to tell them that often and often. Worst of all, I couldn't envision my services as anything my father the anthropologist would find useful, compelling, or even comprehensible; the promise of green open access was fading fast in the unforgiving floodlights of faculty diffidence. I looked around the open-access community for understanding and a path forward, but I found little to help or reassure me.

My father the anthropologist and I are alike in one way at least: we don't suffer fruitless systems in silence. In one way at least, we are different: I cannot content myself with complaining to the powerless and uninvolved.

I don't think there's a community I operate in that my gadfly ways haven't irked or even alienated. My library school. My librarian colleagues. DSpace developers. Green open access. Library bloggers. The DSpace Foundation. Library coders. Repository managers. The open-access community in general. While I accept all this as the price gadflies pay for being pests, it is no source of pride, nor is it pleasant. I have feared for my job, and like as not I deserve to. I have feared that the career I find myself in will not exist in five years' time, and I have wondered uneasily whether my own behavior has hastened rather than forestalled that eventuality. I have been cautioned, questioned, belittled, berated, cut down to size in public, stepped cautiously away from, set up as homo stramineus, misquoted, deliberately or carelessly ignored—and much of it I have richly earned.

I have also been heeded. I have also made change. Not much, perhaps; certainly not all the change I wanted to make, wanted to show my father the anthropologist, wanted to offer the world. Even so, change is my gift to them and to you: my gift I offer in my much-abused hands on this Open Access Day.


Rodin, La Cathedrale

Rodin, La Cathedrale.
Photo by Wallace Grobetz, via Flickr and the Creative Commons.

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Open Access Week 2010: What we've set free

Oct 18 2010 Published by under Open Access

This week is Open Access Week. I plan to celebrate here with all-OA, all the time: a mixture of new posts and a few reposts of things that ought to have survived Caveat Lector's destruction but as yet haven't.

Teaching a collection-development course last spring, and pondering a presentation I'll be giving at OLA Superconference in February, I've had occasion to ponder the assumptions underlying what libraries do, and for whom.

This Open Access Week, I find myself believing that the assumptions are changing. Stockpiling massive amounts of mass-produced paper is no longer how we thrive. Burying ourselves in arcanities designed only for a few is not how we serve a networked world. Bleeding great gouts of money to multinational corporations and "scholarly" societies driven by greed cannot be our future; it cannot even persist as our present.

From "what do you buy for your patrons?" the question is shifting to "what do you hold in trust for the world?" From "how do you provide your patrons what they read?" to "how do you help your patrons communicate what only they can?" From "what have you acquired?" to "what have you set free?"

This Open Access Week, please set some knowledge free.

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OA Week idea: the Open Book

Oct 14 2010 Published by under Open Access

Here's something I'm going to try for our local Open Access Week event. If the idea works for you too, by all means use it.

I've bought a small ruled notebook, notable because (this is important) there's nothing particular on the pages or the cover that makes holding it right-side-up any more natural than upside-down.

On the arbitrarily-chosen "front," I've put an Open Access sticker and glued a strip of paper with the title "The Open Book." Inside the front cover is the following text:

This is the Open Book. In this side of the book, please tell a story about open access to the scholarly literature benefiting you.

  • Perhaps you benefited from a research resource made freely available online.
  • Or perhaps you benefited from making something you created freely available online.

Please consider leaving an email address, telephone number, or other contact information, in case your story should be shared further.

Flip the Open Book over once you’ve told your story!

On the "back," held so that it's oriented just like the front (so, upside-down), I've put another sticker and another title strip. Inside that cover, appropriately oriented, is the following text:

This is the Open Book. In this side of the book, please commit to a specific action that you believe will open access to more scholarly literature. Some ideas:

  • Self-archive your own work in a reliable disciplinary or institutional digital repository.
  • Discuss open access with colleagues.
  • Submit your next article to an open-access journal.
  • Find out your scholarly or professional society’s stance on open access, and let them know you believe it is important.
  • Change tenure and promotion policies to reward open access.

Flip the Open Book over once you’ve made your promise!

I don't know if this will work, or if people will think it's too gimmicky to live. I'm going to prime the pump with my own story and promise, of course. Ideally, though, we'll pick up a few stories we can use locally, and perhaps even something good enough to share with the various OA-story-collecting projects out there.

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That new ACS Author Publishing Agreement

Oct 13 2010 Published by under Open Access, Research Data

There seems to be quite a bit of discussion about the newly announced ACS Publication Agreement policy in the last week. Thanks to all who responded and clarified on the some of the points I raised: Teri Vogel, on the NIH Submission policy information, and Rich Apodaca, who gave 2009 ACS data on income from subscriptions and licenses versus member dues.  Also thanks to Peter Murray for providing the ACS policy requiring ACS-endorsed programs to subscribe to Chemical Abstracts (or Scifinder Scholar) online.  Overall there seems to be consensus online that the new agreement is an improvement over the previous Copyright Status form, but could go further in supporting author rights, data management issues, and funding mandates. I agree but have some thoughts of my own.

One curious idea is the situation that allows authors to post in institutional repositories with OA policy mandates, but not for non-OA policy institutions. It seems strange to limit posting in this way, especially when there are subject repositories that can post work as well. One of the problems with Chemistry is that there are few subject repository options available. PubMedCentral, Nature Preceedings, and possibly arXiv.org are the main options now, all of which are still considered prior publication with the ACS. Considering the number of places with OA agreements (less than 100 in the US), this new policy would have limited impact on increasing access to the literature.

Another thought is how having an OA mandate may give a chemist an advantage over a colleague at an institution without one. Is this a big advantage? It's hard to say in Chemistry since there are fewer channels available for posting preprints. I will day, given the interest in new free tools like ChemSpider within the chemistry community, there is a restless, increasingly vocal group that will demand more free content and easier access to the literature. I predict the immediate impact might be small but the OA advantage for authors will increase dramatically once these researchers discover and share pathways to this repository content. Perhaps this is what the ACS is afraid of - distribution is almost always more profitable than the initial publication, especially when you can repackage content and resell it.   

To me the most interesting part of the agreement is what is now considered OK to reproduce: supplemental materials and possibly data. While this is a positive step, I still thinik their position on data-sharing is not that clear, especially since scientists are certain to have questions in creating Data Management Plans for NSF projects. All publishers (not just the ACS) will need to consider how they will support this within their existing infrastructure and/or provide policies on supporting and sharing  data created from publications. Personally I think the ACS isn't sure how to handle this new NSF policy, and while that's OK for now, come January 2011 there will be questions coming from scientists. It begs the question that perhaps the ACS is deliberately framing the conversation to their benefit. I think it's a little too soon to tell.

To me the dealbreaker, and most distressing item of all, is the requirement that authors relinquish copyright for their final manuscript. This is a scholarly society, one of the largest professional organizations in the world, saying to their members (and non-members that choose to publish in their journals) that they can't own their work once they publish it with them. No posting in repositories, except in limited cases and when the ACS can get additional nomey from the author (above and beyond subscription money they already get from libraries and individuals) and throwing a carrot to authors that they can use a table or supplemental data. It makes true innovation and sharing impossible, as the final version is locked up and controlled by the ACS and silences the voices and concerns of individual authors. 

This is especially distressing when other areas of the sciences are making very different decisions. In Physics (the AIP) recently decided to make their journal articles freely available to public libraries. Mathematics has already had prominent prize winners refuse to publish in traditional journals because the work was already available in pre-print form. SCOAP3, from the high-energy physics community, is creating an OA model that will make literature from core journals available to all.  Even my own profession, librarianship, has made progress in establishing author rights for individual articles. I was able to retain copyright on a co-authored article in College & Research Libraries earlier this year. If these groups can do this so can the ACS.

My final verdict: there's a little bit of good but still a lot potential bad in this agreement. Let's hope the ACS membership and governance will listen to its members and the broader scientific community to realize this position is detrimental to the long-term sharing of information and advancement of science.

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