All posts by Scott Walter

JLA Lights the Way

Last Spring, while we were in the middle of the debate over the Research Works Act, former ACRLog blogger Barbara Fister issued “a call to action.” As she wrote:

“Many of our scholarly journals are published by the very corporations that supported the Research Works Act and which will continue to do what they can to maximize profits, which means making research in librarianship unavailable to many. Either we believe in open access, or we’re okay with the enclosure of knowledge. To preach open access without practicing it is baffling to me.”

For years even our own Association contributed to the “enclosure of knowledge,” but now I am the editor of an open access journal to which many of you subscribe. I was proud when ACRL lived up to its ideals by making the content of College & Research Libraries openly available – first to the pre-prints, then to the current content, and (within the next few weeks) to the complete back-file back to 1939 – and I am proud of our commitment to author rights. When you read our “instructions for authors,” it’s clear where we stand: “[the] agreement between ACRL and the author is license to publish. The author retains copyright and thus is free to post the article on an institutional or personal web page subsequent to publication in C&RL.”

Unfortunately, not everyone stands with us, and we are not the only publisher of scholarship in library and information science. We received another reminder of the fact that Fister’s call to action still echoes over this past weekend when the entire editorial board of Taylor & Francis’s Journal of Library Administration resigned their positions. In an explanation of this decision already described in blog posts by Brian Mathews, Jason Griffey, and Chris Bourg, former JLA editor Damon E. Jaggars wrote:

“The Board believes that the licensing terms in the Taylor & Francis author agreement are too restrictive and out-of-step with the expectations of authors in the LIS community . . . . A large and growing number of current and potential authors to JLA have pushed back on the licensing terms included in the Taylor & Francis author agreement. Several authors have refused to publish with the journal under the current licensing terms. Several others have demanded to add addenda to the author agreement to clarify what they find to be confusing language about the exclusivity of the publishing rights Taylor & Francis requires . . . . Thus, the Board came to the conclusion that it is not possible to produce a quality journal under the current licensing terms offered by Taylor & Francis and chose to collectively resign.”

The former editorial board of the Journal of Library Administration is being justly recognized for taking a stand on behalf of their authors and on behalf of a field that has made a commitment to promoting author rights, but Fister’s original question still pertains: given our commitment as a field to open access and author rights, and given what we know about the limitations of the still-predominant model of scholarly communications in our field, and given the easy access that many of us possess to the tools that allow for the launch of high-quality, open access titles that may fill the niche currently held by commercial journals, why are the actions of the former JLA board still so unusual? Why do so many of us still serve as the editorial leadership for journals whose policies do not reflect our ideals? Why do I? In the interest of full disclosure, I will note that, while editor of College & Research Libraries, I continue to serve on a number of other editorial boards, including those of journals published by commercial publishers whose policies regarding open access and author rights may not be precisely what I wish them to be. Fister suggested that I re-think that service a year ago, but I’m slow. Now Jaggars and company have suggested it again. It’s time for me to look at this seriously, if only because it will give me more time to promote the development of C&RL as an open access journal and to collaborate more effectively with other OA journals in library and information science.

How about you?

Widespread Ignorance About Google B.S.

According to a story in this morning’s Chronicle, many scholars remain “wary” of the Google Book Search project. This is perhaps to be expected (many librarians are wary of it, too, although I prefer to think of our work more as “due diligence”), but more distressing is the conclusion drawn by Pamela Samuelson (UC Berkeley School of Information and Co-Director of the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology) that there is “widespread ignorance [among our colleagues] about the agreement and its implications for the future of scholarship and research.”

Samuelson and her co-authors note that several provisions of the proposed Google B.S. settlement “seem to run contrary to scholarly norms and open-access policies that we think are widely shared in scholarly communities.” In the Chronicle’s report of their concerns, one can see the potential benefit on campus of a robust scholarly communications education program, i.e., one that engages librarians, faculty members, graduate students, and others (e.g., University Press, Graduate College, Office of Research) in a discussion of issues such as author rights, copyright management, open access policies and publishing, and the library and the press and the leaders of scholarly societies and professional associations (who are also often on our campuses) as the pillars supporting a new vision of the university’s role in the dissemination of research and scholarship.

Is Samuelson right? Is there “widespread ignorance” on your campus regarding the implications of the Google Book Search settlement? Is this part of a broader “teachable moment” on your campus on scholarly communication issues and the resources that your library is ready to put in play to help faculty to better understand these issues and to understand both the potential of large-scale digitization programs for enhancing discovery of scholarly materials, and the implications that taking one or another direction on those programs may have for the process of scholarly communication? Will you be taking advantage of that teachable moment?

Quick quiz: when Google Scholar went live, many information literacy instruction programs began to offer workshops on how to use Google Scholar as part of the research process; how many of you with scholarly communication education programs are planning (or have already conducted) workshops on the broader implications of Google Book Search for local understanding of author rights, open access alternatives, use of Creative Commons, etc.? Have you shared resources such as ARL’s Guide for the Perplexed? Who have been your campus partners in developing such programs?

We’re academic librarians. “Widespread ignorance” is something we should be able to help to address!

Thinking Differently, Thinking the Same

Two interesting takes on the future of scholarly communications this morning:

In the New York Times, Columbia University’s Mark C. Taylor urges us to “end the university as we know it.” His suggestions include completely re-thinking our approach to the curriculum, the organization of the university into academic departments, and the place of tenure (spoiler alert: he is not a fan). Librarians may be especially interested in his comments on the doctoral dissertation, the traditional first step on a future faculty member’s road toward involvement in the scholarly communication cycle:

“Transform the traditional dissertation. In the arts and humanities, where looming cutbacks will be most devastating, there is no longer a market for books modeled on the medieval dissertation, with more footnotes than text. As financial pressures on university presses continue to mount, publication of dissertations, and with it scholarly certification, is almost impossible. (The average university press print run of a dissertation that has been converted into a book is less than 500, and sales are usually considerably lower.) For many years, I have taught undergraduate courses in which students do not write traditional papers but develop analytic treatments in formats from hypertext and Web sites to films and video games. Graduate students should likewise be encouraged to produce ‘theses’ in alternative formats.”

In one paragraph, Taylor enters into ongoing discussions of electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs), the future of the university press, and the place of gaming and game collections in academic libraries! He is thinking outside the box!

Back inside the box (and with good reason) is “Laurie the Librarian,” who has come to conclusion that it is in her best interests as a young professional to “publish in the more established LIS journals out there.” Why? Because, unlike Taylor, who is already established as Chair of the Columbia University Religion Department, Laurie is still coming up:

“If we assume that the majority of the people on application review committees are long-standing faculty members, it could also be assumed that they are older members of the faculty and may prefer older journals that fit the traditional model of scholarly publishing. In other words, I’m not doing myself much good right now to publish in a web-only, new journal. I need to be more strategic in publishing, particularly because the peer review process is so lengthy and I need to start applying to programs in 6 months. I need to identify a set of criteria to determine those journals with the highest impact of what I assume an application review committee is looking for and work from that.”

Assuming she is correct (and perhaps she is not), Laurie tells us in one paragraph what’s wrong with academic library leadership of scholarly communications discussions. ACRL took a big step forward in 2005 when it provided open access to the archives of College & Research Libraries (which now also provides access to pre-prints), but Laurie suggests that we, as a field, are among those still tightly bound to traditional markers of scholarly communication. How many of us whose libraries provide tenure-track positions for librarians have taken the stand that Oregon State did in terms of open access? How many provide guidelines for tenure and promotion that reward non-traditional forms of publication (or other forms of scholarship beyond those reported in journals)? As my ACRLog colleague Barbara Fister asked just last month, “why can’t we walk the walk?”

We know that it will take academic leadership from people like Taylor and from scholarly associations to provide the structures that will allow future faculty to take full advantage of the positive changes now possible in the scholarly communication process. The same might be said of academic librarians; what more can ACRL do to provide support for our colleagues making decisions about appointment, promotion, and tenure for academic librarians wishing to make different choices about how and where they publish? “Right now,” Laurie writes, “I have to work within the system.”

It’s our system, and it’s high time we change it.

Assessment is the New Black

I’m teaching a course this semester for the Graduate School of Library & Information Science at Illinois called, “Libraries, Information, and Society.” Like similar courses, it presents an introduction to a number of core concepts for future information professionals, as well as an introduction to professional skills, values, and employment environments. This week, we heard an excellent presentation from my colleague, Tina Chrzastowski, author of “Assessment 101 for Librarians,” an essay that appeared Science & Technology Libraries in 2008. The point of the presentation, and the message that I hope my students took from it, is that the ability to design an assessment program and to use its results in planning and decision making is a critical skill set for any information professional. Assessment is the new black – it goes with whatever job you have, and it is relevant to every library environment.

Assessment may also the new instruction, though – a critical skill set for academic librarians that is not clearly and appropriately addressed in LIS programs. It is no coincidence that instruction librarians have been among the early leaders in assessment activities (I’m looking at you, Deb Gilchrist!): this reflects their connection to broader campus efforts to identify student learning outcomes, but also their experience in having to learn critical skills on the job that were not a focus for their professional education. The list of studies showing that teaching skills are required for a wide variety of academic library positions is almost as long as the list of studies showing that few LIS programs have ever made this a focus for their coursework or their faculty hiring (a shout-out to those who break that mold, including the University of Washington and Syracuse University). I imagine that a similar list of studies will find their way into the literature regarding the importance of assessment and evidence-based library and information practice for librarians of all types, and the need for greater attention to those skills across the LIS curriculum. As we remain concerned about attention paid to instruction in LIS programs some 30 years after those first studies started to come out, though, it may take a while to see real change. Of course, it may be that assessment is really the new knowledge management, in which case the courses will be available much more quickly!

As Chrzastowski’s article points out, there are many resources available to librarians interested in continuing professional education in assessment. The Association of Research Libraries has held two successful conferences on this topic, and there is an international movement in support of evidence-based practice that supports a journal and conference programs. As with instruction, there are “lighthouse” LIS programs, too; in this case the University of North Carolina, which offers a course on “Evidence Based Practices in the Library and Information Sciences”.

What can ACRL do? If assessment is the new instruction, should we see more attention to looking at assessment across the association, and to fostering the development of a corps of academic librarians (beyond assessment coordinators) who see this as a critical area of personal expertise? Since assessment skills are critical not only to public services and collections librarians, but also to technical services and information technology specialists, is this an area of functional specialty that could broaden our appeal across the academic library enterprise, or be an initiative on which we can fruitfully collaborate across ALA divisions?

I don’t have the answers, but I know you all look good in black!

Lawyers, Librarians, Clergy, and Coaches

No, this is not the answer to the “Top 5 Professions You Would Like to Pursue” quiz that is likely appearing on Facebook even now; it is a partial listing of the “other professional staff” positions found on American campuses cited as part of a Chronicle article on the increasing number of “support staff” in higher education. The Insider Higher Ed version of the article is here.

Both IHE and the Chronicle point to a new report by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity on “Trends in the Higher Education Workforce” that notes that the number of “support staff” positions have increased far more rapidly over the past 20 years than has the number of instructional positions. This, it is suggested, “reflects unproductive spending by academe.”

The Chronicle does a good job making clear the (very) gray areas around any conclusion that increased spending on “other professional staff” reflects “unproductive spending,” but the lumping together of librarians with other professional staff presumed not to be directly contributing to instruction is worth noting. I have seen several surveys over the years that have followed the “other professional staff” model, including those of first-year-experience programs and public engagement initiatives – librarians are administrators, managers, and, perhaps, research support staff, but they are not instructors.

And, perhaps we are not (although I have argued the opposite on many occasions), but I see echoes in this report of the 2006 debate in school library circles over the “65% solution”, i.e., the question of whether school librarians should be “counted” as instructional staff in budget allocations and reporting required by educational reform programs. Should the argument advanced by the CCAP report gain traction, and should there be any question of whether professional academic librarians contribute directly to student learning in ways that all might recognize as being “productive,” we might be wise to consider these questions advanced as part of the school library debate (Harada, 2006):

  • How does your library media center support student learning?
  • What compelling evidence do you have that students have achieved the learning targets?

How ready are you to provide the answers?