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So are we winning yet?


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Given for the Electronic Resources and Libraries conference-planning event, 9 August 2010.

Given for the Electronic Resources and Libraries conference-planning event, 9 August 2010.

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  • 1. First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. THEN YOU WIN. So, are we winning yet? Dorothea Salo University of Wisconsin–Madison Photo: August 2010 Hi there, and thanks for inviting me. So, a little about myself for those who don’t know me: I’ve been an institutional-repository manager, and right now I’m a “research services librarian,” whatever that means. I’ve been asked here to answer a question for you: what is the great ferment in scholarly communication going to mean for librarians who work with electronic resources? I can answer that really easily: I don’t know. Things could go a lot of different ways, and a lot depends on what we librarians do. I’m not here to give you marching orders; I’m here to frame what’s going on. One thing I’m not going to touch even though I think it’s important, and that’s ebooks. It’s a jungle out there, and I just don’t know enough to say anything useful. Cautiously, I’ll opine that they’re not going away; that they will continue to move upmarket, encompassing more of the materials college and university libraries typically buy; and that it will be quite some time still before scholarly presses and most university presses catch up, which gives us a little breathing space. So, instead, I’ll be talking mostly about journal-space, with an excursion into gray literature. So. The gentleman on the screen is of course Mohandas K. Gandhi, and the quotation is his. It is about change, revolutionary change, and it has been applied to so many would-be revolutions that it’s darn near cliché by now. But for the sake of argument, let’s apply it to scholarly communication and see where in Gandhi’s progression we wind up. Then we can ask ourselves if we’re winning, if we’re building a world we want to live in.
  • 2. “You” and “they” vs. Photo: Kathleen Conklin, Photo: David Spender, First, let’s define our terms a bit. Who’s fighting? On which side? The easy answer is that it’s librarians versus publishers in a fight to the death. Publishers grab up huge swathes of the literature, use the lack of first-sale rights in the digital world to charge libraries more than they can possibly afford, end of story. Except it’s not. (CLICK) Where are publishers getting all that literature? The whole question of mergers and acquisitions aside, they’re getting it from faculty, who blithely hand it over to them. So part of the scholarly-communication story pits academic libraries against their own faculty. How do we make them understand their role in the unsustainability of the system? Once they do understand it (come the day), how do we convince them to change? And change how, exactly? But that’s not the whole story either. (CLICK) As an institutional-repository manager, I can tell you, I’ve spent more blood, sweat, and tears struggling with my own colleagues than anyone else. ACADEMIC LIBRARIES ARE INTERNALLY CONFLICTED ABOUT SCHOLARLY COMMUNICATION. We’d like to be able to keep kicking the can down the road; we’ve been cancelling journals and reducing monograph budgets for what, thirty- some-odd years now, and still we can’t decide to fish or cut bait on open access? Even libraries where alarm bells are ringing loudly aren’t sure what to do, how to do it, whether we even CAN do what needs to be done... and from where I’m sitting, where this lack of belief comes out is that we starve the librarians working on new approaches. Which of course makes negative prophecies self-fulfilling; we can’t fix scholarly communication if we’re not willing to WORK HARD AT IT. And we own our ambivalence, no one else. Will we own up to it? We haven’t yet.
  • 3. First they ignore us... } “ullage” ... the serials crisis Photo: Matthew, The story begins with the serials crisis. I don’t have to spend a whole lot of time on this; electronic resources librarians know the score better than I do. At a very basic level, there’s a gap between what our patrons need and what we can afford to buy. Peter Suber calls this gap “ullage,” which is the word for the space in the neck of a wine bottle that isn’t filled with wine. Print, electronic; journals, books, multimedia; WHATEVER -- ullage has been there for decades, it’s growing, and the current recession threatens to explode it. The thing is, electronic-resources librarians know all about ullage, and yet we’ve had a terrible time getting anyone else to listen! For-profit publishers make noises about costs, and tell lies about peer review going away without them. Scholarly societies talk about all the other wonderful things they do with our money, as though we’re supposed to be impressed by that argument. And in my experience, librarians tend to play three- little-monkeys, except for those of us who are directly involved with programs hoping to fix this. At most, we whine about ullage, but we tend to think the problem happens outside us and we don’t really own it. As for faculty, they tell us to go find some more money, when they bother paying attention at all. Where? The couch cushions? There IS no more money. Nor there ain’t gonna be in times to come, neither. And that’s interesting. Because libraries aren’t the only institutions fighting internally about this. Publishers are going to find themselves in a zero- sum game. They’re going to have to figure out how to cut EACH OTHER out of library budgets. Worst-case scenario, that means a lot of journals folding, a lot of Big Deals getting smaller as the big publishers finally cull the weak titles out of their herds, a lot of frantic salespeople trying to sign libraries on to multi-year deals -- and quite a bit more power for e-resources librarians at the negotiating table. Will we use that power, now that they can’t ignore us any more? I don’t know; again, we mostly haven’t so far. But we should.
  • 4. Then they laugh at us... ... the institutional repository Is there anyone in this room who HASN’T laughed at institutional repositories? I sure have, and I’ve been running ‘em for five years. I laugh to keep from crying. I’m not going to go into all the reasons the IR hasn’t revamped scholarly communication. Been there, done that, posted the postprint, some of you may have read it. Here’s what e-resources librarians specifically need to know. One, spontaneous faculty self-archiving is like the spontaneous generation of maggots on meat: it just doesn’t happen like that. (I spared you the illustration; you can thank me afterwards.) If you want their articles, go GET their articles. Two, the campus open-access-mandate movement that Harvard started in oh-eight is out there chugging right along. Now, I don’t know what’s happening on your specific campuses, but I will say that if you don’t either, YOU NEED TO, because a mandate like Harvard’s means an all-hands-on-deck workflow challenge for the library. You can’t just leave it to the techies if you want a mandate to succeed. Last, some IRs have been successful doing what Clayton Christensen the disruptive-innovation guy calls “competing against non-consumption.” This means capturing local digital materials that the library maybe wouldn’t normally capture. I’ll talk more about this later, because it’s really a larger question about library collection-development practices. Right this second I just want to point up one of the ways library attitudes about scholarly communication initiatives are fractured: a lot of librarians recoil in utter horror at the idea of an IR capturing undergraduate research or research-unit newsletters or institutional records or datasets or images or ANYTHING really that isn’t a peer-reviewed article or dissertation. That’s not AUTHORITATIVE! That’s not PEER-REVIEWED! That’s not QUALITY! What are we doing with it? I’m here on behalf of all my repository-manager friends and colleagues to say: GET OVER IT. For one thing, that stuff is what we can actually GET. For another, if we want to change people’s behaviors and ethics around scholarly communication and digital preservation (and we do) we need to catch ‘em young, and we have no choice but to start somewhere that isn’t the crown jewels. Don’t argue with your IR librarian about these things. SUPPORT THAT LIBRARIAN. And if every single one of you who publishes isn’t self-archiving, shame on you. SHAME. Your IR librarian needs your support, and libraries generally need not to look like total hypocrites when we talk about green open access.
  • 5. Then they fight us... NIH Public Access Policy The NIH Public Access Policy has a fantastic history; I hope somebody writes a book on it someday. Here’s the gist: After a lot of politicking by Harold Varmus and his successor Elias Zerhouni, the NIH got Congress to ask them to increase public access to funded research. This was the genesis of PubMed Central. Well, as you can imagine, the big-pig publishers screamed bloody murder. But the NIH was smart. They said, okay, we’ll let article deposit be voluntary and see if the results make Congress happy. So they did, and because as I just said, researchers do NOT spontaneously self-archive, they got a three percent deposit rate. Sure enough, Congress wasn’t happy with that and made the policy mandatory. If you want some shock and horror to spice up your day, go find out how much money Elsevier and its pals spent lobbying against the NIH Public Access Policy in its various forms. I won’t even tell you. Go find out. And then take a look at the PRISM Coalition’s website-full-of-lies, and ask yourself how much that’s costing. That’s OUR MONEY they’re spending to keep OUR FACULTY’S RESEARCH locked in their paywalls. If you’re not outraged, you’re not LISTENING. What you need to know is that the federal level isn’t the only level where the fight against open access is fought. If you think these people aren’t lobbying your faculty too, misleading them, I’ve got news for you. Who’s going to counteract those lies, if not the library? And who’s going to tell faculty the real, unvarnished story about serials costs, if not e-resources librarians?
  • 6. Then they fight us... vs. NPG vs. California Now, I feel kind of silly coming all the way here to California to talk about this, but it’s important, so here’s how I saw it as a spectator. Nature Publishing Group tried to hand California a huge price increase this year. California told NPG loudly and publicly to shove it, and added a threat: call off your dogs, or our faculty boycott your journals. No submissions, no peer review for you, nothing. NPG came back with some weak nonsense about discounts. California told them loudly and publicly WHERE to shove it, in loving anatomical detail. Since then, there has been public silence. First, ROCK ON CALIFORNIA! Round of applause, please! This is juicy, and there’s a lot to it. Let me try to throw you some of the implications that I see. One is that it blows a gaping hole in the notion of “core” or “uncancellable” subscriptions. Hey, if Nature ain’t core, what is? And yet California is threatening to cancel, and faculty for a wonder aren’t screaming about it. How will e-resource negotiations change if publishers and vendors know that libraries really can, really will say NO? I don’t know, but I’d love to be a fly on the wall. Another is that it calls the confidentiality of journal-price negotiations into question. This has already been happening a little bit with open- records requests to public universities, but the difference here is that California intentionally let the cat out of the bag, and while NPG whined about it, whining was pretty much all they could do. Make no mistake, we need to be on the side of transparency here whenever we can -- but that’s going to take some policy decisions and some GUTS back home in our libraries. And one last thing. A faculty-member friend of mine from another institution blind-copied me an email where a librarian at her institution was all “What’s California whining about? We’re paying a lot more! Let ‘em suck it up.” This is so sad, and so wrong. Look, we are ALL being overcharged by somebody or other; with the price secrecy vendors insist on, that’s a foregone conclusion. We NEED to stand together in the face of our collective problem, not throw each other to the wolves. I mean, come on, if Nature manages to extort more money out of California, does anybody REALLY believe they’re going to charge the rest of us LESS? Really?
  • 7. First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. THEN YOU WIN. So, are we winning yet. We ain’t winning yet? So how do we win? So, we’ve been through the ignoring stage and the laughter stage and we’re going through the fighting stage right now. Does that mean we win? (CLICK) Not yet. I think that’s a pretty uncontroversial conclusion. So how do we win?
  • 8. What do these have in common? THIS. Photo: Andy Roberts, So, I mentioned the Harvard open-access mandate already, and I just finished talking about California versus NPG. What do these actions have in common? (CLICK) Faculty. That’s the answer. Faculty taking the lead with strong librarian backing. Faculty working WITH librarians instead of just yelling at them. Harvard’s open-access mandate is being implemented by the library, but it was developed in the faculty senate, starting with faculty member Stuart Shieber. If you want something similar happening on your campus, and you don’t already know who your faculty champions are, I’m sorry, but you’re delusional. Find those champions. Help them. Getting serious about that may take some organizational navel-gazing and job reconfiguration, as at Minnesota; as I said, libraries’ ambivalence about change and lack of belief in open access as a solution has led many of them to starve their institutional repositories and other scholarly-communication initiatives. NOW is the time to change that. California versus NPG isn’t the first time libraries have said “this much and no more.” You folks probably remember the revolt against the Big Deal back in oh-three, because California was right in the middle of that one too. That fight didn’t go much of anywhere, really. This fight is qualitatively different, though, because for the FIRST TIME, libraries are bringing faculty labor to the table. The whole journal publishing system operates off the free authoring and peer-review labor that faculty give it. Losing that free labor is the REAL threat, and Nature knows it. Now, California couldn’t just call a faculty boycott out of the blue. What allowed California to make that threat was YEARS of patient politicking and faculty education by the libraries. Two thousand three was not in vain! It set the stage for two thousand ten. If you’re wondering why you, a perfectly innocent e-resources librarian, should get involved in all this messy scholarly-communication, institutional-repository, open-access business, THIS IS IT. If you want to come to the negotiating table with some power, you NEED faculty to back you. And you e-resources librarians are very important in this effort because YOU HAVE THE NUMBERS. You know what this is costing everybody.
  • 9. Collection development? Photo: NasaImages Matthews, Photo: Nina When I talked about institutional repositories, I promised I’d get back to the question of collection development. I’m about to do that now. What I think may start to happen soon -- already IS HAPPENING, on a small level -- is that collection-development will be turned inside-out, like an umbrella in a storm. (CLICK) See, traditionally what collection development has done is carefully select a pinch -- just a pinch -- of all the information that’s out there in the big wide world and put it in the library where the library’s specific patron base can get at it. And there are real, substantive questions about how well that works. We’re not mindreaders, after all; we can only make the best guesses we can about what our patron base will use, and circulation-and-use studies hint pretty strongly that we’re often wrong. Collections studies also hint that given a choice, we all tend to buy the same stuff! So we’re not really using collection development to distinguish ourselves from one another. But even so, we still try to measure ourselves by how much we choose and can afford to buy. This is what we THINK makes our libraries and even our institutions distinctive, high- quality. Maybe some of you have seen the futurist speculation that buying commodity information is no longer going to be the distinguishing mark of a library or an institution. That special collections, precisely because they are unique, will take on new importance as a quality measure for libraries. So what if we turned our collection-development model inside out and backwards? (CLICK) Instead of collecting FROM the world FOR our patrons, we collect unique materials FROM our patrons FOR the world at large. What if an e-resource isn’t something our institution buys, but something it MAKES? We know our faculty and students produce unique materials -- conference papers, slidedecks, posters, working papers, technical reports, research data -- you name it, they make it. We know that almost all these materials are produced digitally, and we also know that without some care and attention, these materials are not long for this world. One last thing we know: We know from the institutional-repository experience that these materials do not just magically appear in libraries and archives. We have to go and get them. We can guess that one measly IR librarian is not enough to do this work. So who else will pitch in? Why SHOULDN’T it be e-resources librarians?
  • 10. All about the... Photo: Andrew Magill, There’s one more thing I want to bring up before I close, and that’s paying for open access. Contrary to what you’ll hear from liars and toll-access apologists, nobody ever, EVER, said that producing the academic literature was free. This means that green or gold, somebody has to come up with green-and-gold benjamins to get the job done. Some examples. Cornell is paying real money to host the arXiv, the best-known and most successful disciplinary repository anywhere. They’re now asking the top institutional users to pony up some cash to help out, and to their credit, most of those top users have. Also in physics, there’s the SCOAP project, an attempt to flip an entire discipline’s journals to open access. They’re still hunting underwriters. Here in libraryland, there’s D-Lib Magazine, which goes around with its hand out, and then there’s the disciplinary repository DList, which has basically folded because its chief backer left Arizona and Arizona won’t support it any more. (How embarrassing IS that, librarians? We can’t even keep our OWN disciplinary repository alive?) And then there are all the little author-fee funds cropping up here and there. So what we’re seeing is a very scattershot, random, grossly inadequate approach to the very real challenge of coming up with the up-front costs of open access. E-resources librarians need to get off the ambivalence fence, to come to grips with open access as a legitimate library-acquisitions and collection- development expense. No more palming it off on gift funds. No more free-riding, YALE UNIVERSITY LIBRARIES. Now, there are a lot of open questions still about how best to support open access financially, partly because there are a lot of ways to do it! What we shouldn’t collectively allow any more is shirking this responsibility, and unfortunately, a lot of libraries still are, YALE. You know, I once heard a prominent toll-access publishing exec -- believe me, you’d recognize the name if I said it -- say that he’d follow the money. If the money went toward open access, his journals would follow it. Well, WE are the ones with the money. That means that we are COMPLICIT in this broken system. We have no one to blame but ourselves if we keep letting toll-access publishers hold us for ransom.
  • 11. Thank you! This presentation is available under a Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution license. So that’s my read on where we are and what’s going on. I hope it’s been useful to you. Please feel free to reuse any and all of these slides; you can find them in my Slideshare, licensed for reuse. Please don’t forget to credit the images as well. I look forward to talking to you more! Thank you very much.