Syllabi (and how rapidly they become obsolete)

(by Dorothea) Jan 18 2011

So I promised I'd throw my syllabus up for folks to look at, and voilà, I have done so.

A few foot-shuffling words about it. This is a library-school syllabus. I am teaching future librarians, archivists, and records managers. I therefore make no apology for the library focus in this syllabus. If approached to work on an informatics course for a science department, I would come up with a very different syllabus indeed. (I'm up for doing that, by the way; just not alone, unless it's a linguistics or digital-humanities course where I have sufficient disciplinary background not to make a total idiot of myself. Don't ask me to teach cheminformatics all on my lonesome, though; no can do. Find me a cheminformaticist or even a chemist to work with, and I'll see what I can accomplish.)

I haven't cribbed (much) from other curricular materials out there. Possibly I should have; I ran short on minutes. Part of it, though, is that I'm an ornery cuss with a full set of my own ornery notions about what newbie librarian data-managers need to know. That set will change over time! I'm already feeling sorry that I didn't stick in a day on personal digital archiving, and I may yet do so, since I cautiously left a free day in the syllabus.

Part of it is also that curricular materials tend to assume a whole program's worth of courses, rather than just one course. If I paid too much attention to DigCCurr, feelings of utter inadequacy would have prevented me from writing a syllabus at all! There's only so much I can do in a single semester.

The fun bit (for certain values of "fun") of writing syllabi is how rapidly they obsolesce. Teaching and working in a rapidly-growing, rapidly-developing area, as I remarked on Twitter this morning, is an exercise in constant "whoa, hey, look at THAT!" moments. Today is the first official day of class for me (although since this class is all-online and I opened it up late last week, several enterprising students have already dug in, and I even have a couple of first-week homework assignments turned in already!), and what should show up in my feedreader but an entire issue of D-Lib Magazine devoted to research data. Total facepalm moment. If this issue had been out when I was syllabus-writing, half of it would have gone in, I'm sure!

So, you know. I do what I can do. I posted a "whoa, hey, look at THAT!" note to the course-management system. I expect I'll post quite a few more of those, as the semester progresses!

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Derk Haank interview, translated into English

(by Dorothea) Jan 17 2011

"The Big Deal, a problem? C'maaaaaaaan! There's no problem! I'm getting big fat checks; where's the problem?"

Interview here, if you'd like to check my interpretation.

I can't even manage to get angry at this. Events will overtake it. I stand pat on my current set of predictions: in 2011–2013, even the few remaining wealthy libraries will go over the cliff. (Why will it take three years? Because most Big Deal contracts are multi-year. It's hard to know when precisely the renewal demand will come in that shatters the camel's back.)

Haank is even right about one thing: if libraries could just kick the Big Deal can down the road a little further, they would. It's an utterly dysfunctional short-termist way to behave, but it's worked this far.

Think of Haank as a realtor in 2005. Real-estate market looked great from a realtor's perspective! That it was structurally unsound, and the cracks couldn't be spackled over any more, wasn't something he was prepared to admit, or even acknowledge.

I could be wrong. I don't think I am, though. Then again, neither does he.

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Syllabus machine

(by Dorothea) Jan 12 2011

Sorry for the radio silence this week; I thought it might be a good idea to finish my syllabus for this spring's digital-curation course, seeing as how class starts next week and all.

It's pretty much done, finally; I'm working on stuff in the course-management system now. I do intend to post the syllabus online when I'm committed to it sure I'm finished. Since this is an all-online course, I'll be doing a fair few audio lectures and screencasts, and I may post a few of those as well over the course of the semester. (Not all of them by any means; the classroom is a sacred space where I can tell horror stories and not get in trouble, but Book of Trogool is not a sacred space.)

This is the first time I've taught this course; it should be a pretty wild ride!

Also, how in the world did anyone do syllabi before there were DOIs? I love DOIs. Find the article, copy-paste the DOI into the syllabus with http://dx.doi.org/ in front of it, done. All the messy access bits get dealt with by library proxy servers and CrossRef infrastructure.

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Huh? What'd she mean by that?

(by Dorothea) Jan 08 2011

So in response to a plaint in a BoT comment, I've made a glossary of often-used jargon and acronyms on Book of Trogool.

It's assuredly not done yet! Please feel free to suggest things I've missed in the comments, on this post or any post. Librarianship, open access, and data curation are no less prone to jargon than any other field of endeavor. As a librarian and a teacher, though, it's my business to make the obscure and obtuse less so.

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PLoS One envy

(by Dorothea) Jan 07 2011

PLoS One has done well. Very well. Well enough that it is spawning imitators.

I was ready to write a Huge Bloggy Screed about the importance of Nature Publishing Group going in this direction with the launch of Scientific Reports, but Cameron Neylon scooped me in grand fashion. I endorse his analysis in its entirety—including, for once, its optimism! (For the record: I've done a tiny bit of unpaid consulting—really just referrals—for PLoS, and I think Peter Binfield bought me a drink while we were both in Edinburgh last year at UKSG. That's the extent of my possible bias.)

So who are these other would-be Ones, and what are their prospects?

In this corner we have AIP Advances. I have no strong opinion on this either way. It might fly, it might not. A lot depends on the prestige and energy of the editorial board, on which I have no inside information, or indeed any information whatever.

In that corner we have SAGE Open, which wants to be PLoS One for the social sciences and humanities. I know you can't see me right now, but what I am doing is holding the big thumb-and-forefinger L-for-loser in front of my forehead. This journal is not going to fly, not at this point in history.

It's a logical enough idea; I can well imagine what the thinking was. "PLoS and NPG have the hard sciences sewn up… so let's try all those other disciplines!" The logic fails, though, because all those other disciplines either aren't remotely ready, or they use the green road to open access. I defy SAGE to find enough humanities scholars who don't think open access is a commie plot (or worse, a veneer over pure vanity publishing) to fill an appreciable number of pages or pixels. I double-dog-defy them to find enough humanities scholars who don't think open access is a commie plot and have money to pay author-side charges. Don't talk to me about subventions; no humanities scholar worth his salt will use a subvention on anything but a book.

As for the social sciences, the quals seem to hang out over at SSRN these days. What's the value proposition of SAGE Open over SSRN plus an established (and free-to-publish-in) journal? You got me. That leaves the quants; I don't really know where they hang out online, or even if they do—but even if they're SAGE Open's dream crowd, will they be enough, and do they bring enough money to the table? I doubt it.

If they'd waited five years to launch this? Ten years? Maybe it could eke out an existence. Not now, though. Not yet. The only halfway-feasible business model I can imagine would be a partnership with SSRN to cherrypick and slap an imprimatur on good stuff that isn't otherwise claimed. Or maybe they could try to offer a home to the better shoestring open-access journals out there, though for a lot of those I would think "you'll now have to hold up your authors for cash" is a complete non-starter.

So what does this mean for libraries? Maybe some hope, if Cameron and I are right that a lot of lower-tier STM journals are about to be garroted and dumped in oubliettes! It may also mean increased demand on library and institutional author-fee funds. If we're really lucky and if libraries are paying attention, it might even breathe more life into the comatose COPE.

Good times. Good times, for once! As much as I've lambasted NPG here over their hamhanded treatment of California (and the rest of us libraries suffering badly from budget cuts), I'm pleased about this new venture of theirs, and wish it all the best.

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Friday foolery: Puttin' On the Writs

(by Dorothea) Jan 07 2011

Considering the huge kerfuffle on the JISC-REPOSITORIES mailing list over copyright and whether would-be self-archivers need to respect when publishers own it (hint: yes), I thought the video following of librarians gettin' down on copyright seemed apropos:

The single best response to the kerfuffle, by the way, was Bill Hubbard's. Ignore the rest of it; just read his.

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Empty gestures?

(by Dorothea) Jan 05 2011

I wanted to blog about EBSCO's latest jerk move, but I utterly despair of explaining comprehensibly why it matters to anyone but librarians. Suffice to say that in a market where journal Big Deals are in serious budget trouble, EBSCO is doing its level best to position its resources as uncancellable. Time will tell whether they succeed.

So I'll blog about something else instead: the ARL's new language on author rights in library journal-subscription contracts. The idea here is that libraries have leverage over journal publishers and aggregators at exactly one time: when subscriptions, and therefore currency in large denominations, are in play. So as good little open-access advocates, one thing librarians can do while we have leverage is insert contract language that protects our institutions' authors from copyright lawsuits from their own publishers when they reuse and circulate articles they write.

It's a nice idea. I like it. As often happens with good open-access ideas, this one comes out of California, which successfully inserted such provisions into contracts with big shots such as Elsevier. (For California's next trick, I'd really like to see them try this with ACS. I'd pay good money to watch the ensuing apoplexy attack. And hey, if a library or consortium that isn't California wants to try this, good on you.) One clear benefit to faculty is less negotiation with publishers when funder open-access mandates such as the NIH's are in play. That alone is enough to make this negotiation worth doing for most research libraries, I believe.

I don't think, though, that license language all by itself is enough to make appreciably more material open-access, especially through most institutional repositories. If increased open access, above and beyond that created by funder mandates, is your goal, these negotiations may be nice, or even necessary—but they are laughably insufficient.

I'll give you two real-world examples by way of explaining why. One example: author addenda, and faculty-senate resolutions in support of same. (What's an author's addendum? A bit of boilerplate legalese that article authors append to their contract with the journal publisher, ensuring they retain some basic intellectual-property rights over the article.) There are quite a few such local addenda and resolutions out there. Pretty much the entire Big Ten (okay, the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, but it's basically the same thing) rallied in support of one such. So, has there been a tremendous efflorescence of open-access literature from Big Ten schools?

Er. Not so much. (Because I must: yes, I work for a Big Ten/CIC school.) I can't be more specific than that, because there has been as best I can tell absolutely zero attempt to assess the real-world impact of the addendum. We don't know who's tried to use it. We don't know who succeeded and who failed. We don't know what those who succeeded ultimately did with their retained rights. All we can really measure—self-archiving rates in Big Ten/CIC institutional repositories—paints a seriously discouraging picture: these addenda and resolutions did not appear to accomplish anything whatever by way of more open access to the journal literature.

So why not? That leads me to my other example: a lovely interview by Mary Minow of Harvard Law School Library's Michelle Pearse. In case you didn't know, Harvard Law School has an open-access policy; its faculty have agreed that they will either give Harvard a copy of their journal articles for archival and open dissemination, or seek a policy waiver for each individual article they don't want to (or can't) let Harvard have. This is the current open-access Holy Grail: faculty imposing an open-access requirement on themselves!

But all by itself, such a policy doesn't guarantee smooth sailing:

We are still in the process of reaching out to and educating the faculty, trying to get them to understand the policy and get it into their personal workflows… It can be challenging implementing such a policy.

A brief digression. Some years ago, Alma Swan published a faculty survey in which faculty overwhelmingly said yes, if they were subject to an open-access requirement, they'd comply (p. 56). I was skeptical at the time; I didn't think this meant faculty were willing to do one jot more than tick a tickybox on a survey.

Harvard, Minho, and other institutions with on-the-ground open-access mandate experience are tending to validate my skepticism. Faculty think open access is a nifty idea. Many deluded faculty think they already have it, because they don't know the difference between open access and library-mediated online subscriptions. Faculty are happy to tick tickyboxen and make resolutions.

When the rubber hits the road, though, faculty can't be arsed. Won't lift a finger. This is hardly (ObSelfCitation) a new or unexpressed problem! But it's why just negotiating an opportunity for open access isn't going to create much (if any) more open access. A library that wants its faculty's stuff to be made open-access actually has to go out there and get that stuff.

I've ripped on Harvard in the past, sometimes unfairly, so I'm extra-happy to say now that Harvard is implementing its open-access collection absolutely, positively, 100% right. They have a whole staffed office whose job is to go out there and get articles that are covered under the various Harvard open-access policies. Is more Harvard journal literature going to become open-access because of what Harvard is doing? Absolutely. You'd better believe it.

(I can't resist one little jab, though: Having DSpace issues, are you, Harvard? I told you that you would. Shoulda gone with—almost anything else, really, but EPrints would have been an improvement. Today, I'd say Islandora, because even schmucks like me can hack Drupal, whereas it takes a major-league propellerhead to hack DSpace.)

The lesson for libraries looking at the ARL language is this: if author-rights negotiation with publishers is to be more than an empty gesture, you'd better have an active, not passive, open-access collection-development program. With staff both professional and para-. With resources. With sufficient administrative will behind it. Nothing else will work.

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How to make a digital preservationist cry

(by Dorothea) Jan 04 2011

Put your thesis on a 5 1/4" floppy disk. Put the floppy in a floppy plastic pocket. Masking-tape the plastic pocket onto the inside of a hanging-file folder (containing the paper copy).

Leave the folder with the floppy pocket with the floppy disk in a file cabinet.

Do all this in 1985. Do not look at the folder again until 2011.

Somebody pass me a tissue. My eyes are watering here.

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Looking toward 2011

(by Dorothea) Dec 30 2010

Before I get to crystal-ball-gazing, I have to point out my track record, because it's really quite bad. Not only am I on record with a major prediction that didn't come true ("IRs in the US will fold"), I quite failed to predict a number of things that did, from Harvard's OA policy to California telling Nature Publishing Group to go suck eggs.

My brain looks at systems. That means I consistently miss outliers, game-changers. I also don't always calibrate my guesses on the durability of systems right.

So with that said, here are some things that wouldn't surprise me a bit in 2011.

  • SCOAP3 eeks through; COPE backpedals or folds. What the open-access movement is facing in 2011 is a world where most of the low-hanging fruit has been plucked. Progress isn't easy or obvious any more (if it ever was), and it can't be made by the pioneers, entrepreneurs, and other earliest-of-early adopters. IRs are no longer fashionable (in the States, I add for my international readers). Gold-OA funds have to contend with the ever-widening maw of Big Deal renewals. My sense of attitudes among research-library administrators, as well as rank-and-file selectors, does not favor COPE's success or even survival.
  • Academic samizdat sees a real copyright lawsuit. Those creeps over at Attributor may well be the instigators. If they're smart, they won't actually sue a university, much less a library; they'll go after Mendeley or something RapidShare-ish, to keep the slumbering faculty behemoth safely abed. It's not out of the question, however, that some tiny school somewhere with grossly inadequate or nonexistent "electronic reserves" protections (and I've seen such schools firsthand; the culprit, aside from faculty themselves, is generally a boundlessly clueless IT shop) will be the target.
  • The initial campus NSF flurry will sputter. I'm worried about this myself. I encourage libraries and IT shops building data-management services on the strength of the NSF's plan requirement to diversify, and that quickly. Find non-NSF people to help. Do a survey or focus-group study to demonstrate non-NSF-related data-management needs. Pay some attention to the digital humanities. Do not plan to rely on a flood of NSF applicants; that flood is highly unlikely to materialize. There's plenty of work to do, don't get me wrong; most of the work just doesn't happen to be NSF work.
  • FRPAA won't make it this time either. Sorry. Maybe next time. Or maybe the NSF won't wait for Congressional cover, though I emphasize the "maybe" on that one.
  • Some chemistry department somewhere will drop ACS accreditation because the institution can't afford ACS journals. I have to admit, I have a little inside info on this one. But it's only logical, really.
  • A bare handful of Big Deal renewals will blow up, à la California and NPG. This is likely to happen in the full glare of the public eye, despite publisher wishes and publisher NDAs, because Big Deals are just that big and that noticeable. Don't be gleeful about this, libraries, because…
  • Faculty will start a lot of "why don't those damn librarians…" grumbling. If you'd like to hear some, pre-2011, have a listen to Amanda French and Tom Scheinfeldt in this episode of the Digital Campus podcast. Those damn librarians. Why don't they just fix this? Where's their damn spine?
  • An IR's gonna fold. Yes, all right, I was wrong when I said this the first time, and I wouldn't be surprised to be wrong again. But I'll say it nonetheless. I see too many libraries who opened IRs on a wing and a prayer without adequate planning or even a sensible collection-development policy. Let's face it, folks: in the absence of mandates, the OA-via-IRs experiment failed. Let's also face that libraries can't run (much less re-run) expensive experiments these days. Result? Some IR somewhere will face a big budget ax. (Disclaimer: those who know me professionally know that the IR I run is getting merged out of existence. That doesn't count for purposes of this prediction; that would be cheating.)
  • We'll see a bare handful more campus or patchwork mandates. I don't think we've quite seen the end of the post-Harvard wave. I do think we're close to that end—and there won't be a second wave, not without a lot more work and evangelism than the open-access movement is currently mustering. There just haven't been enough mandates quickly enough to start up an academic fashion.
  • Another major university press will merge with its library or fold. I haven't a clue which one, but given the continued bumbling confusion among provosts about scholarly publishing being able to cover its nut (hint: it can't), and the continued denial among the humanities that the economics of monographs no longer hold water (hint: go all-digital, perhaps plus POD, or die), this is all but an inevitability. We'll see a few more small scholarly presses fold as well.
  • Crowdsourced data-analysis projects will increase, and pick up more good press. GalaxyZoo alone practically guarantees this one, but the humanities are charging forward with some great transcription projects as well.

It'll be a challenging year, no doubt about it. Let's meet it with fortitude.

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Oh, Chicago? Your Freudian slip is showing.

(by Dorothea) Dec 28 2010

When I was a young and ambitious librarian, as opposed to the cynical crone I am now, I read a number of librarian career manuals. I honestly don't recall which one it was that mentioned open-access journals only with loathing, discouraging any academic librarian serious about her career from publishing in one.

You know, never mind that in digital librarianship then as now, D-Lib Magazine is one of the major prestige outlets. (So much for peer review, incidentally. D-Lib isn't. Doesn't seem to stop them publishing brilliant articles from the best people in the business—and no, I've never managed to land an article there, so I am not being self-serving.) But that book was weak on digital librarianship to begin with.

Be that as it may, as a new institutional-repository manager reading that book, I felt betrayed by my own profession. How was I supposed to cheerlead for open access (gold as well as green) within my library and my institution if my profession took this "do as I say, not as I do" attitude? The rest is history, really; that was only one of many times librarians and librarianship have despised and undermined open-access work, my own as well as that of colleagues at other libraries in other institutions.

So I'm saddened but not shocked to see that the Chicago Manual of Style is similarly undercutting the many scholars actively participating in the open-access movement, as Stuart Shieber ably recounts. Not shocked, but a little surprised, I must say; I always respected and appreciated the Manual for its "if you really believe it's fair use, don't ask permission, because among other things, by doing so you weaken your fair-use case" stance.

That is sound advice, advice that strengthens the cultural commons. What the latest Manual says about open access is nakedly selfish and a tremendous lurch backward. Whoever wrote that segment should be ashamed. Whoever greenlighted it should be ashamed. Whoever demanded that segment be written? Shame isn't enough, frankly. Maybe a severance package?

The conversation on Twitter has noted that Chicago has a bit of a left-hand-right-hand problem here. If their fair-use advice isn't enough evidence of liberality, the University of Chicago Press has one of the most enlightened green-OA policies out there (ignore the color designation and read the text; "yellow" is wholly unfair). So the Manual editors aren't just stabbing Shieber and other OA-friendly faculty in the back; they're gutting their own colleagues over in the journal division. Nice of them.

I don't entirely know what to do about these situations. Voice and protest, yes, certainly. I've exercised voice. Dr. Shieber obviously does. Dr. Kathleen Fitzpatrick has as well, quite skillfully. The fact remains, though, that the academy's print fetish gives that librarian career manual and certainly the Chicago Manual of Style an awful lot more weight than a few blogs can muster—and as we're seeing, the suppliers of the academy's print fetish tend to be quite a bit behinder-hand than even the academy itself.

I wasn't entirely kidding about the severance-package idea. I don't even mean it to be punitive. I'm just not sure how far forward we move (pace wonderful people like Mike Rossner and the Rockefeller crew) given current scholarly-press notions of leadership.

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