Category Archives: Open Access

Is Open Access Enough? Strategies for Healthier OA.

I’m a salesman, and the hardest part of my job is encouraging people to buy. As a Digital Scholarship librarian I manage the Institutional Repository (IR) and peddle Open Access (OA) to students and faculty, who, despite enthusiasm in our field are sometimes skeptical about web based and OA resources. For a long time, librarians have championed OA in the light of the greater good that access will provide. We very often cite the evidence that OA increases impact factor and citation counts for our faculty, while librarians like Char Booth show the ways in which OA empowers students to publish and contribute to larger scholarly conversations. Unfortunately, in the recent past we’ve seen high profile rejections of the OA model. The most notable of these is the American Historical Association’s recommendation against OA deposit of History Theses and Dissertations. This has been debated and framed as “protecting the most vulnerable” in the academic profession. Inherent in this is a distrust of the open access model as a legitimate form of scholarship (despite arguments to the contrary). Anecdotally, I hear stories of faculty discouraged from publishing open access because of the lesser prestige associated with these journals.

Low faculty involvement in the Institutional Repository and suspicion of OA are symptoms of growing concerns surrounding the intellectual weight of OA resources. There are some in our universities who will see Char Booth’s assertion that OA is good pedagogically for students, as evidence to this point that OA journals and publishers do not have the weight that traditional “brick and mortar” journals have (ie it is good enough for students but not good enough for faculty.) For a long time I have explained the importance of OA to my faculty as a discoverability and impact issue, but, evidence has shown it is a quality issue as well. Just because availability of research increases its use, most often through FUTON (Full Text Online) bias, this is not indicative of the caliber of a resource. Therefore, Librarians shouldn’t dismiss our faculty’s concerns as a stodginess or an unwillingness to publish in web sources, but instead view them as part and parcel of larger debates of what makes research influential, impactful, and important.

I have seen this in my limited experience as a new librarian at both my graduate school and my current institution. Predatory journals and publishers work to capitalize on our enthusiasm for OA to entice our libraries to purchase, and our faculty to publish in, less than reputable journals. This is where our enthusiasm hurts the people we’re here to help, and hurts the overall image of OA. That is why I believe that librarians should encourage more than just openness in publishing; we should encourage quality. These are not mutually exclusive.

A result, perhaps, of the glut of false information on the internet we are suspicious of the quality of online sources. Open sources because of their very nature exist outside of the familiar boundaries of the expensive and locked journals of yesteryear, and so they are presumed to lack intellectual weight. How do we as librarians combat this in our efforts to encourage OA? For libraries with OA funds, we should only fund journals that appear in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and we should investigate every publisher who appears on the market. We should become well-versed in resources like Beall’s List that show predatory publishers, and we should warn each other about new and shady publishers. These sources are not set in stone so we should be open to talk with publishers about what we desire from open access publishing. We should hold our own hosted journals and monograph series to the same standard that our University Press partners and influential journals do. By doing this we do not limit who can publish or what can be published, but we ensure that OA journals and repositories will be treated with the respect that we know they should. The result would be that all open research including student research (which is often seen as unpolished or unready for the limelight) will be more impactful because of the healthier state of Open Access. We are approaching a moment where open publishing could be as accepted, especially for tenure files, as established sources.

Alas, all of this open information is useless if no one is reading it. We should make it a point to include OA resources into our database instruction. Why isn’t the Institutional Repository taught in our class sessions as a resource for students to use? Why do we always point to our paid databases rather than OA ones? There are two common sense reasons for this, one being that we pay for these resources, and two that these resources are “legitimate,” as in they are peer-reviewed and, often, backed by universities or organizations. Open Access in some ways counteracts the elitist undertones of this kind of thought. But this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Open resources are not seen as legitimate because we do not treat them as such, and legitimate resources do not use them because we do not believe them worthy. As Daniel Dorner and James Revell remarked in 2012, about IRs and OA, they: “must also be seen by information seekers as an accessible information resource whose content is useful to their needs”1 This worthiness is built not on availability but on expectations of quality. Hence, increasing the use of the IR or of OA resources will show that they are a worthy home for higher quality projects. If we expect people to submit to OA sources, we should encourage them to use the materials that are already housed in them.

Out of the Margins: Reflections on Open Access Week 2016

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Lily Troia (@LilyTroia), Digital Services Librarian at the College of William and Mary, primarily working at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in digital scholarship, open access, and research data management.

This year marks the 9th annual International Open Access Week, a celebration that engages the global research community in issues surrounding openness. Open Access Week was first launched in 2008 by SPARC®, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition and student partners, and seeks to raise awareness of, and encourage participation in, open access advocacy, working towards the goal of making openness the default in research. This year’s theme, “Open in Action,” aims to motivate individuals, institutions, and organizations to take concrete, actionable steps towards increasing open access to scholarly materials.

Access to research and scholarly articles gets to the heart of the library and information profession’s ethos. Conditions around access to information have the power to sharply segregate society into haves and have-nots—a circumstance acutely represented in the serials crisis academic libraries have been grappling with for 20 plus years. In a 2013 TEDMED talk, Elizabeth Marincola, CEO of the Public Library of Science (PLOS), warns of the repercussions of this commoditization of information, and a society in which only students at the wealthiest schools have access to the best research.

The open access alternative represents a commitment to the basic tenets of scholarly pursuits, and recognition of the incredible distribution potential of digital technology. The rise of the Internet Age has irrevocably changed the economic landscape for countless industries, especially those involving intellectual property, so it should come as no surprise that scholarly publishing would also face a similar reckoning. Yet open access offers all stakeholders an opportunity to evaluate what’s broken, what needs to be maintained, and to collaborate to create new methods and tools for communicating the fruits of research and academic labor to the widest audience possible.

The benefits of open access might seem obvious, but to many in academia, they are not. In a recent webcast Q&A with Peter Suber, Director of the Harvard Office for Scholarly Communication, and author of the seminal work Open Access, Suber pointed out 30% of journals are now OA, and roughly half of peer-reviewed articles are OA after publication within two years, indicating incredible progress towards the goal of making open the standard. A recent report revealed the growth rate for open access articles double that of published research articles in general. Despite these heartening statistics, Suber noted librarians continue to be the drivers of most open efforts, a necessity to the campaign, but one that will fall short without equal engagement from faculty and researchers. Continued (and amplified) focus on outreach will be crucial to the movement. Certainly the public’s right to know should resonate with many, especially when considering taxpayers fund a good portion of the research. The limitless analytical potential of text and data mining across wide swaths of intellectual output cannot be understated. For some researchers, the requirement to share data or their articles may be reason enough, yet the benefits of increased exposure, substantial citation advantage, fostering of collaboration, and opportunities to have huge public impact, should be continually reinforced via communications and policy.

Since its earliest days of inception as a grassroots, scientist-led initiative, open access and the related efforts around open data and open research have successfully shifted the conversation in scholarly communication, with funder requirements for OA the norm, and self-archiving allowances by for-profit journals common. While the cause has certainly advanced, bolstered by the momentum accompanying public access mandates, cultural shifts in academia, especially those surrounding tenure and promotion, have been slow to respond, and wading through this extended transitional period has resulted in traditional models and subscription costs maintaining a firm foothold. Researcher participation, most notably in the humanities, is still far from universal. Scholarly communications librarians, those working with institutional repositories, and university administrators[1] reveal concerns about slow shifts towards faculty buy-in and acknowledge researcher misconceptions around open access are prevalent.

While the open access movement is specifically focused on scholarly journals, it represents a broader shift towards openness made possible by networked technology. Open data has been at the center of the research community’s discussion surrounding reproducibility, and has many other implications: data sharing can stimulate innovation; like new analytical tools, it enables new research questions to emerge when datasets are combined, it serves as an incentive for better data documentation, and it can reduce costs associated with research by eliminating redundant efforts and other inefficiencies.

In addition, librarians must be ready to support non-traditional uses of data and collection materials – like digitization of archival materials, artistic projects, or software programs. While tangential to the serials-focused movement, special collections and archives must be involved in open initiatives, and educating information professionals working in these fields will be paramount to developing a unified message and building strategic alliances across the open data, research, and science movements.

Suber acknowledged institutional change is among the hardest hurdles, yet implored librarians to maintain optimism, and encouraged actionable efforts such as blogging about open access, publishing their own works in OA outlets, and refusing to peer-review for non-OA journals. Advocacy to increase open access is needed now more than ever. Many organizations, professionals, and policy-makers are responding to the call, with targeted work aimed at building both internal and external support, and development of policies and platforms that promote greater participation. It is critical these conversations are inclusive, and identify (and work to deconstruct) the privilege and power structures inherited from our communities of practice. In a recent blog post, April Hathcock, Scholarly Communications Librarian at NYU, calls upon the open community to address ways the movement simply recreates the dominating “Western neoliberal research institution . . . fully colonized across the globe;” and notes any transformation of scholarly communications must demand openness and transparency in its own discourse.

Above all, open access advocacy is about collaboration with all research communities, and the broader public, who are also key stakeholders—and investors—in this process. We must form alliances with like-minded publishers, expand our role in digital scholarship, and build public awareness around the ways that open issues touch all of our lives. Advocacy also involves enlisting the support of our institutional administrators, anticipating and addressing faculty concerns, engaging early researchers and even undergraduates, and ensuring all academic librarians are confident in their understanding of copyright, open licensing, and new modes of publishing.

Forward-thinking institutions like William and Mary are creating new positions such as mine, focused on facilitating academic digital services, expanding open research, and recognizing the vital importance these roles play in promoting a healthier flow of scholarly communication. I feel incredibly privileged to have been tasked with organizing our International Open Access Week events here at William & Mary Libraries, and view these outreach and educational activities as essential components of open access advocacy and action.

In 2009, when asked to give his outlook for the future of open access, Suber referenced the sage words of computing pioneer Alan Curtis Kay: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” The outlook of digital scholarship is riddled with unknowns, so it is up to us to engage various stakeholders and audiences, enlist their support in open access initiatives, and empower the academic community towards sustainability. It is up to us to ensure the dissemination of information is not stymied or stalled by lack of action, and to stand firm in our commitment to make certain the future is open.

[1] See more on this discussion (specifically in the context of IR participation) in a recent series of blog posts and responses: Q&A with CNI’s Clifford Lynch: Time to re-think the institutional repository?; Institutional Repositories: Response to comments; Repositories vs. Quasitories, or Much Ado About Next To Nothing

The Rock and the Hard Place (Part 2): Opening Up License Negotiation

The following is the second in a series of posts on the subscription-based model and open access alternatives, and how each get stuck from their respective ends of the scholarly information supply chain.  In addition to the usual disclaimer regarding my own opinions expressed here, these should also not be interpreted as a substitute for legal advice.

In my last post I outlined one side of scholarly communication — the subscription renewal process – in underrepresented detail, revealing places where it is stuck in arduous workflow, inefficient systems, and complex, problematic licenses. In addition to pointing out the subscription model’s own struggles, I acknowledge its perpetuation works directly against investment in open access alternatives. Seeing the shared predicament from each respective end, I wondered how these two workflows come together in practice. Beyond our company in misery, this post will explore where collaborations, specifically in the realm of licensing, have made progress toward alternatives to traditional publishing and subscription-based acquisition.

Licensing
Contract negotiation is an activity associated with the subscription model that most often occurs when placing new orders or at renewal. In many cases this responsibility is performed by collection management or acquisitions, usually with support of the institution’s general counsel. Scholarly communication staff also interpret contracts as they assist authors in negotiating publishing terms and retention of authors’ copyright. The scholarly communication office might also be involved in contract negotiation if they are a publishing entity themselves. A third player, interlibrary loan, also plays a role in licensing terms, interpreting copyright and fair use as it relates to day-to-day borrowing and lending, and copyright fee payment associated with these activities.

For other obvious reasons, these areas of the library are key stakeholders in the subscription renewal process. If we cancel, what will the faculty reaction be? How will the subscription savings through cancellation effect the cost of ILL? If we renew, what does this say about our efforts in promoting open access? In addition to this, the skillset these faculty share in negotiation and the interpretation of copyright in particular reveals a unique collaborative opportunity for subscription and open access workflows.

Bringing these shared skillsets together in the licensing process allows for a more comprehensive awareness of where contracts can restrict rights granted by copyright law. More specifically these perspectives can quickly identify key terms that can best mitigate that risk and influence other favorable objectives. The LIBLICENSE project is an excellent starting point for understanding general license terms and those specific to the needs of libraries. I highlight examples of some commonly sought terms below for which the collaborative contexts I’ve mentioned have been most helpful in addressing. Relevant pages and discussion threads from LIBLICENSE and other resources are linked within.

In terms of content and acquisition:
• Post-cancellation access (see perpetual license)
• Emergency cancellation clause (see force majeure and early termination)
• Title swap and cancellation allowance
• Content caps on changed or lost content
• Pricing caps – the larger or longer the deal, the lower the cap

In terms of ILL and copyright:
• Allowing ILL with more liberal interpretation for electronic access (see 1997 ILL straw poll)
• Assert/Do not remain silent on copyright (see section 3.3 model license “ No Diminution of Rights” and Fair Use assumptions discussion thread)

In terms of open access:
• Assert author rights (see 3.4 model license “Authors’ Own Works” and also COAR’s 2013 report: OA Clauses in Publishers Licenses )
• Eliminate or ameliorate confidentiality and non-disclosure clauses (see also ARL recommendation)
• Allow for text and data mining (see Request: Text and Data Mining Licenses…Language thread)

Negotiation
Though many of these terms are generally accepted among the library profession and even have the backing of national and international organizations, publishing and other industries have their own generally accepted clauses and the backing of their organizations. This is why it can be difficult, unrealistic even, for the single acquisitions staff responsible for negotiation to push for all these on her own.  A major subscription contract renewal is an important opportunity for many to speak with a unified voice, not just on behalf of buyers and content, but on behalf of authors and of a wider audience of users. In addition to bolstering well known terms and issues, these multiple perspectives are key to introducing new ideas into a traditional negotiation.

Sometimes new ideas (and even traditional ones) will not result in accepted contract terms because they are dealt with entirely separately from the renewal process, or because they do not otherwise match the other party’s entrenched business practices. This can be advantageous from a negotiating standpoint, as losing out on some issues can favorably influence the advancement of others. The fact that some issues are perceived as entirely separate from the renewal process can also be advantageous. Author rights, for example, are often handled through individual author contracts or separate institutional open access policy agreements. While this can sometimes prevent their inclusion subscription agreements, by recognizing the separation itself the negotiation lends a stage to raise important issues more boldly without directly jeopardizing the terms of renewal.

New ideas I’d like to see in renewal negotiation discussions involve taking what is often the licensee’s obligation and making it a mutual or licensor obligation. One example is caps on changed and added content. Publishers often allow a clause that addresses when a percentage of content lost by a publisher can trigger breach or renegotiation. But aside from title cancellation and swap clauses – which are rare and require a significant amount of time and effort by the library to invoke — there is nothing to prevent a publisher from acquiring and adding content to a package for which the libraries are required to take on in their renewal spend. Another has to do with advance renewal or offer deadlines. As outlined in my previous post, publishers often require advance notice of cancellation, but there is nothing that requires publishers to provide the library with advance notice of major changes that might influence a cancellation decision, like new package offerings or an entirely new license contract. I’d also like to explore clauses that might address the myriad ways payment for published research is replicated across the institution (aka double-dipping), such as with the libraries paid subscription and the author’s open access article processing charges.

Closing the deal
In any change, the individual and organizational commitment to cooperation can be the hardest, but most important first step. In future posts, I’ll lay out ways organizational structures, workflows and individual skills might lead to more frequent and improved collaborative work on these issues.

Breaking the big deal of a major subscription renewal and reinvesting in open access will certainly require a deeper investigation into economics of open access and subscription infrastructure already well-covered by the literature. Perhaps, as with licensing, if we look at these economics more carefully with a different group of eyes and minds, new practical alternatives will emerge.

The Rock and the Hard Place (Part 1): Renewal Season, No Big Deal?

The following is the first in a series of posts on the subscription-based model and open access alternatives, and how each get stuck from their respective ends of the scholarly information supply chain.  As a reminder: Opinions expressed here are my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer or of ACRL.

September is renewal season when the largest percentage of a typical academic library’s collection budget is committed to the hands of publishers and vendors, thereby determining the largest part of what research is accessible in January of the following year.  This four-month lag between getting what you paid for is just one of the many problematic examples of the slow-churning scholarly information supply chain.

Here’s another.

These problems have been raised by a crisis of economic sustainability most commonly blamed on the serial subscription model.  The movement toward remedying this problem, however, often comes from the perspective of authors, copyright, and open access.  I think shedding light on some of the practical economics at play in the subscription renewal process can help show where both the subscription model and open access movement get stuck in this process, and may reveal ways to join forces for change.

“No big deal…”

In the grand scheme of the subscription renewal process, four months is not really too much to ask considering a subscription vendor must have time to process its multitude of customers’ orders from a further multitude of publishers, and all by the start of the calendar year. In a typical renewal year library staff must also build in sufficient advance processing time to meet that September deadline.  Accounting for fiscal close, data gathering and normalization, as well as faculty review and input, means renewals can require anywhere from 9 to 12 months of advance preparation.  Without any problems you might have a 3-month breather between January and March before the full cycle of renewal processing begins again.

Significant exceptions to  a typical cycle occur with the renewal of what’s called a “Big Deal” package.  These packages are so named because they are, well, big, both in terms of number of total titles and the fact that the titles represent most, or all, of a publisher’s content. The deal, beyond the size of what you get, lies (pun intended!) in the unique way in which the package is priced. Traditionally this is based on a library’s historic total spend with a publisher at a given time, rather than the title-by-title value of the list.

Another exception is these deals are often negotiated in multi-year contracts, requiring a comprehensive review only every 2-5 years, as opposed to annually. Yet all of the annual renewal steps above must still happen in a multi-year contract renewal.  If your library budget is under close scrutiny, that more comprehensive analysis probably involves more people, such as deans and directors, sister campuses, and often consortia. More than likely the analysis also involves more data, such as usage, interlibrary loan (ILL) or other article level access options, overlap analysis, or citation analysis.  A communication plan may also be necessary whether the purpose is justifying continuing expenses or considering cancellations.

“No Big Deal?”

When looking for savings these packages seem a reasonable option for cutting costs, given their large portion of the budget and the number of included titles, sometimes hundreds of which get little to no use.  Unfortunately, however, because the Big Deal is not designed according to title-by-title spend, attempting to subscribe to fewer titles at list price can mean paying more in the end.  Outright cancellation is not without risk either, since in addition to a major loss of revenue for the publisher, this can translate to unpredictable and shifted costs for the library.

Some publishers sensitive to the workflow and economic challenges of libraries — usually those with MLS degrees or a background in libraries — make an effort to negotiate for alternative solutions rather than lose large sums of subscription revenue.  Such alternatives, however, rarely include an ability to cut costs through cancellation or by swapping out underused titles.  Nor has there been much effort to limit the amount of content publishers may acquire that libraries must take on in additional spend.

According to a longitudinal ARL study on the topic of Big Deals, however, this model persists because “[n]either market studies or market forces have produced a sustainable new strategy for pricing and selling e-journals” (Strieb & Blixrud, 2014, p 587).  Or in words heard from some of the big names in the business:

“Our business model is not designed to save you money.” – Elsevier

“As long as we’re making money, we’re not inclined to change.” – Springer

Without an on-the-ground budget crisis or other disruptive force, institutions often continue to renew, stuck in a mess of our collective making.  I observed a parallel “stuck” reasoning on the open access side of things when I reported on Garnar & Knox’s ACRL 2015 conference session, “Ethical Issues in Open Access” (tweet above).   This shared state of paralysis led me to wonder how advancing scholarly communication and negotiating subscriptions renewals could work together to get ourselves unstuck.

New Dealings

On the surface these two areas appear to work against each other, since perpetuating renewal of subscription-based models can diminish purchasing power or investment in open access alternatives.  But there is evidence that this is changing both organizationally (MIT) and in the evolving models for open access (see OAWAL, NISO).   As my library prepares to renew four big deals in the near future there is real incentive to explore alternatives.

I would love to hear others’ experiences working with subscription renewals or open access workflows.  What intersections do you see?   Where are you are most stuck?  What alternatives have you tried? Anyone you making inroads to jointly address these issues?

Feel free to share responses in the comments, or email them to atruthbrarian@gmail.com

 

References:

Emery, J., & Stone, G. (n.d.) APC Processing Services. OAWAL: Open Access Workflows for Academic Librarians, 2.6. Retrieved from https://library.hud.ac.uk/blogs/oawal/workflows/2-6/

MIT Libraries (n.d.). About Scholarly Communication & Collections Strategy. Retrieved from http://libguides.mit.edu/c.php?g=176063&p=3015339

NISO (2016). Managing an Open Access World, Part 1: Open Access & Acquisitions. [Webinar] Retrieved from http://www.niso.org/news/events/2016/webinars/sep7_webinar/

Strieb, K.L., & Blixrud, J.C. (2014) Unwrapping the Bundle: An Examination of Research Libraries and the “Big Deal” portal: Libraries and the Academy, 14 (4), 587–615. https://www.press.jhu.edu/journals/portal_libraries_and_the_academy/portal_pre_print/articles/14.4strieb.pdf

The Time is Now: Scholarly Communication and Undergraduates

“Open Access empowers all scholars, not just those with a Ph.D appended to their last names.”

~char booth, open access as pedagogy

Several recent developments in the scholarly communication world have left the future feeling bleak. An April news piece in Science concluded that millions of pirated papers continue to be downloaded from Sci-Hub. The piece states that for access or convenience (or both), “[o]ver the 6 months leading up to March, Sci-Hub served up 28 million documents” for researchers around the globe (para 6). Some of the papers downloaded were open access, with more than 4,000 papers available from PLoS. Even more surprisingly, “some of the most intense use of Sci-Hub appears to be happening on the campuses of U.S. and European universities” (para 10).

Let me be clear: I believe that Sci-Hub and the work that Alexandra Elbakyan is doing is imperative and eye-opening (if for no other reason than that it “has hastened the speed and vigor of [the OA] conversation.”) But I wanted to share two immediate, visceral reactions that I had to these findings. The first is that this is undeniably an indictment of current library systems and how functional and accessible they are to our users, particularly if those that already have access through their library databases and Interlibrary Loan still prefer using Sci-Hub. The second, which is perhaps more important, is that this will have repercussions with vendors. Last open access week, our library hosted two showings of “The Internet’s Own Boy,” which is a documentary about Aaron Swartz’s life and work. One of the people interviewed for the documentary talked a bit about “underground” or illegal movements. This person expressed that they are important and even central to progress (particularly when all legal routes have been exhausted) but that they can inhibit the legal, mainstream progress that is in motion.* I have to wonder how strict vendors will be in the future in an effort to shut Sci-Hub—and sharing—down.

Since the Science article was published, more has happened. It is difficult to say if these developments are a direct result of the Sci-Hub findings or simply part of vendors’ constant quest to create more revenue. In May, Kevin Smith published a blog post entitled “Tightening their Grip.” In the post, he discusses publishers ever-growing control over access to scholarship, including Wiley’s “control over the pre-peer review copy of scholarly manuscripts” (para 2). He ends the post by discussing Elsevier’s purchase of SSRN and their interest in data on scholars’ behavior and impact. Last week, Phil Davis wrote about two-step authentication and its possible repercussions for Sci-Hub. I would add that this addresses my first reaction—this could potentially make library systems even less intuitive for our users (which, in turn, makes Sci-Hub even more attractive!).

I hope I’ve made it clear that it’s incredibly messy. Yet, while all of this happens—we see more evidence that our students are using Sci-Hub and we watch Elsevier continue to acquire more pieces of scholarly workflow and the scholarly communication system—it becomes more and more evident to me that librarians are missing an important opportunity.

Most of our efforts to move the system closer to openness seem to focus on helping faculty understand the importance and impact of making their work open. This is a start but it is clear that out of all of the populations that the library engages, this group has perhaps the most developed and ingrained practices for sharing their work. I’m not implying that we shouldn’t try to work with faculty. But I am asserting that we aren’t doing enough to engage graduate students and undergraduate students. Yes, you read that right. Undergraduate students.

In 2010, Warren and Duckett claimed that undergraduate students “largely remain excluded” from scholarly communication outreach (pg. 352). While their article started a conversation and Davis-Kahl and Hensley have added to it, I believe that we haven’t come far enough. Amy Mark has written that “[b]ecause of how knowledge and expertise are arranged in the academy, there is little trust in the student voice” (pg. 5).

Even with more of an emphasis on the “student as creator” in library discourse, our outreach seems to reflect this claim. We seem to question whether undergraduates will be able to engage with the complexities of access or even care about the economics of scholarship. By doing this, we’re shortchanging our students, compromising their ability to be truly information literate, and impeding the greater open access movement. Introducing undergraduate students to the complexities of access and scholarly communication can make them more informed authors, information consumers, and future advocates for open access. Stephanie Davis-Kahl (2012) adds,

Asking students to consider if and how they want their own work to be shared and used by others shifts the nature of discussions from cautionary and reactive to reflective and proactive, and explicitly acknowledges that the students’ work is valued enough to be shared if they choose. (pg. 213; emphasis mine)

At my own institution, students get scholarly communication. I don’t mean that they understand the cost of information, how and why they can access it (more on this later), or the stakeholders in the scholarly communication system. I mean that they get the root of scholarly communication—that the point is to share so that knowledge can progress. As an example, in our college’s newspaper, The Davidsonian, there is a section called “The Yowl.” This satirical section pokes fun at the quirks of Davidson College and the greater Davidson community. Some of the satirical section headings have included “Davidson Creates New Interdisciplinary ‘Undecided’ Major” and “Local First Grader to Allow ‘Unsatisfactory’ Report Card Grade to Haunt Him for the Rest of His Life.” In the April 2016 issue, one of the headings read, “Student Excited for Thesis to Collect Dust in Dark Corner of the Library.”

I know that this is meant to humorous. But I also think that it is telling. Students understand that their work has to be shared to have an impact. Though they might not be able to articulate it, they might even be frustrated with the library’s inability to give them a mechanism to share their work widely through an institutional repository. They spend hours and hours of their time researching and writing important, original research and they don’t have an avenue to see this research have an impact in the world. Someone has to ILL the print copy of their thesis from us to even read it! As I think about this, I’m reminded of what a faculty member that I admire once said to me: “Davidson students’ work is too good to be sitting in a drawer somewhere. We have to share it.”

And while they get the root of why scholarly communication is important, so many of our students don’t understand how and why access happens. A few weeks ago, my colleagues Cara Evanson, James Sponsel, and I presented at Library Instruction West. We talked about an assessment we created last year that utilized case studies to better understand students’ misconceptions and understandings of the research process. One of our most important findings was that our students didn’t understand the complexities of access. I presented this finding by using the following slide, which is composed of student quotes. All of the quotes are from incoming Davidson students who were asked to evaluate at least two case studies, one of which describes a researcher hitting a paywall:

access quotesStudents didn’t understand that non-scholarly information, like articles in the New York Times, can also live behind paywalls. They didn’t understand the limitations set by copyright and what that means for access. They didn’t even understand why someone might have to pay for information or, surprisingly, that some people just can’t afford to pay for information. I know that this might appear to reflect poorly on our students. I would argue that this is just as much a reflection of librarians.

These students have presumably accessed subscription-based content, possibly with the help of a librarian. But no one ever explained to them why they could access the content, who couldn’t access the content, what that meant for progress and knowledge creation, and what their role in all of this was. Do we systematically explain to students that they will lose access when they graduate? Many of them might be using Sci-Hub right now. Do we even engage them in why Sci-Hub exists? Are we transparent about the role they play in changing the system as an information creator? Don’t we think that their understanding of these systems is central to information literacy?

I’m in the process of co-authoring an article that will present some of the ways we’ve had success in answering these questions at Davidson. I know that I don’t have it all figured yet. But I do know that these questions have to be answered in an institutionally-relevant way. We have to use the context of our specific information literacy programs, missions, workflows, and student bodies to engage these questions on our campuses in a way that makes sense. We have to tailor our programs and outreach to fill this gap.

I also know that this work has to be built upon some basic principles: undergraduate students are legitimate creators of information now. They will be the faculty members, scholars, and citizens of the future. Right now, we meticulously train them to use resources they’ll lose days after they graduate. We’re doing them—and ourselves—a great disservice by not introducing them to the complex, ethical questions surrounding openness.

*I am not critiquing the underground movements both Swartz and Elbakyan have created. It is both shortsighted and privileged to claim that progress can only happen through legal venues. It is outside the scope of this post to get into the complexities of ethics and progress but others have started to speak publicly about this. See John Sherer on our collective needs (last paragraph), Kevin Smith on malum prohibitum and malum in se, and Carolyn Gardner on libraries’ complex position.