Category Archives: Technical Services

Relationship Priorities from the Forest to the Library

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I just returned from my annual family vacation in Colorado.  Amidst the forest bathing and a slower daily pace, I always experience a deep dive into relationship building on these trips.  Riding in a compact Fit for the eight hours it takes to get there, and living for a week in a different “home”,  does test and stretch patience.  The physicality of hiking and even adjusting to new altitudes requires a certain reckoning of oneself.  This year we were battling swimmers ear in high altitude and an overall slack in physical fitness. Both required accepting limitations in ways we weren’t used to and spending a greater amount of time in quiet inactivity.  With each year, however, I always discover new strengths and unique differences in myself, between fathering and mothering, wifery and husbandry, sibling to sibling, and among hikers who want to push on versus those who want to rest. 😉

This thinking on relationships helpfully segues my mind to the arrival of August and the start of a new school year. As the students return and faculty prepare course syllabi, my more isolated, internal, summertime work turns externally, patron-oriented.  As my library is also discussing its strategic priorities for the next two years, words like collaboration, partnership, engagement, and development abound.  In every practical discussion around seeing our own work in these priorities, the actionable path forward always points to relationship building.  Just me?  Perhaps.  As one of my favorite quotes suggests, I have come to believe relationships are key to how we accomplish real goals.

“If you want to go fast, go alone.
If you want to far GO TOGETHER.”

– African Proverb

I didn’t always think this way.  I usually preferred fast and alone.  Both personally and professionally, my default is still often internally-focused and analytical.  One of the stories I tell about my path to librarianship — besides it being the only result of my junior high career test — is that in my first job as an elementary school music teacher, I was much more interested in discussion music theory than singing songs.  Now, it’s true, I justifiably lacked the necessary accompanist skills.  Moreover, I know preference for the analytical side to just about everything was to blame.  “What a great match for librarianship!” I thought at the time, conceiving the profession as solely concerned with how things ought to be organized.    Working in libraries quickly taught me that the most efficient and organized ways involved learning from others.  My favorite analytical question soon became “Who?” rather than “How?” or “Why”.  Eventually learning to build relationships with vendors became the best way to get what was needed on both sides of a negotiation.  Understanding vendors’ relationships within their own organization helped alleviate undue aggravation and reduced miscommunication.   My first aha moment as a new leader (and still a magnificent daily challenge) is what comes from just listening to others.

Taking an analytical approach to building relationships made it easier for me in some ways.  But, like too much process thinking,  it has sometimes kept human connection at a safe distance.  I often got by using my analytical side to figure out how I respond to others and circumstances rather than in relationship together with them.  Let’s be fair. The relationship business is messy and time-consuming.  I’ve learned that can be OK, and how analysis is just one step of many to decluttering it.  Working through problems, successes, new ideas, and ultimately changing with others creates bonds.  As bonds suggest, I believe stronger relationships and work/life places result.

Thankfully, I can continue analyzing to my heart (or brain?)’s content with ACRLog and in my research.  My analytical passion now focuses on seeking ways in which technical services can get beyond mere transactions to richer, more interpersonal communication and sense-making.  It’s proven to be messy, challenging, and very worth it.

 

 

 

Confessions on Owning and Honing Your Weaknesses

The month of June marks the ramp up to fiscal close in my neck of the library wood.  In the otherwise quiet summer of academia there is this corner of buzzing frenzy. Staff work though last minute orders, pay invoices, troubleshoot problems, answer questions about the various statuses of the cash flow, and pull and prepare data to estimate a new year’s allocations.  In my role, I mostly coordinate various inter-dependencies of the workflows and people that must align for these numbers to be properly reconciled. Thankfully for all I’m not responsible for the number-crunching.

You see, I’ve never had the intuitive ease with numbers accountants, or it seems an acquisitions librarian, is expected to have.  I prefer to visualize and think around things rather than operate in the linear calculus that numbers require.  My analytical mind loves to think about cause and effect, and even the many complex inversions and formulas that produce usable data and its visualization. But producing those inversions on the spot, even in simple arithmetic, doesn’t come easy for me.  It explains why I was always terrible at timed math tests, but loved algebra and geometry.  I struggle with sewing patterns that instruct from the inside out, but love cooking, where I can follow strict instructions and play with them to my taste.

When I worked in serials, calculations took on linguistic obscurity when it came to publication frequencies and title changes.  “Is twice a month semi-monthly or bi-monthly?” Does continues mean what a title it used to be? Or what it will be going forward?”

And to this day, when gardening,  “Do annuals mean I plant them every year, or that they come back every year?!”

What gets me in trouble in all of this is my strong preference to operate intuitively and efficiently. This means I am often impatient with the extra time it takes me to slowly think through cost comparisons and reports. I know that extra time is necessary for me, though, to make sure it is done right.  Understanding of my own strengths and weaknesses in this way allows me to recognize the need to rely on other tools, systems, and people.  Relying on the strengths of others is not an excuse to avoid your weaknesses. In fact, identifying and using your particular strengths can be a tool to overcome weaknesses, and it can mean talking about those vulnerabilities in more empowering ways.

This important skill is perhaps most practically applied in job interviews, where some variation of “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” is no doubt asked. The best interviewers do this using behavioral questioning or appreciative inquiry techniques, which often ask for examples that demonstrate direct personal experience with particular skill or trait.  My first ever job interview was as a senior in high school, and I had no previous work experience.  So I had to answer questions about what I find difficult when working with others using only my school experience.  Thinking of various show choirs and musicals, where I had to practice and perform with my ex-boyfriend (among other  characters), I answered:

“Sometimes I have a hard time separating my personal life from my work.”

*crickets chirping*

Surprise! I did not get the job.  Not knowing a lot about myself at 17, I failed to realize my strength as a performer was precisely the fact that I actually can and do work with others, even those with whom ‘it’s complicated’, probably better than the average person.   Even though inside it was a hormonally-charged tornado of difficult emotion, I could summon my inner Olivia Newton John and nail Grease’s  “You’re the One That I Want” number with a smile on my face. With each interview I got a little stronger at framing my skills.  When interviewing for a waitress position, in which I did have some experience, I shared my thoughts about an unreasonably disgruntled customer, but described how I worked foremost to best meet that customer’s need.

As I’ve learned more about how my own strengths help my weaknesses, I know I thrive in project management roles because there is a framework to breakdown milestones, tasks, and timelines.  I thrive on learning to use new tools because they help me be more efficient and accurate.  Perhaps most importantly, I rely the strengths of the people with whom I work.  What is painstaking for one person is often the effortless strength of another who is happy to be asked to contribute what they do best.  When dealing with numbers, as I must inevitably do in the day-to-day work of acquisitions and resource sharing, I strategize (a strength of mine) to build in the extra time to sit with, play with, and picture data (my analytic strength).  I am constantly using my learning strength not just to find new tools that can help me, but to know more about myself and others.  I also have an individual relational strength that allows me to know and connect with other people and the unique strengths they offer.

In my seventeenth year experiencing and third year overseeing the fiscal close, I’m putting my anxiety around the numbers in better perspective. I’ve come to see that working through vulnerabilities and getting help where you need it is not abnormal at all. It’s what a responsible adult person would do.

Please tell me your favorite job interview story!  What would you do over, if you could, from a position of strength?

 

 

“Just…why?”: Coming to terms with ambiguity, resilience, and acceptance

As a former electronic resources librarian, along with what I’ll call my own unique set of life experiences, I’ve found the practice of radical acceptance has served me well.  Acceptance as an ongoing practice is not optimism or permissiveness, but healthily recognizing how and when to let go, and knowing that acceptance is not the same as approval.  This practice comes in handy, especially in life’s lemon-giving moments. I’ve mentioned a few  from the technical side of library work in previous posts.  Certainly the current sociopolitical climate is not at a loss for examples of this either.

When these “Seriously?” moments occur in my job, I am reminded of another idea, comfort with ambiguity, which frequently appears as a desirable skill in job advertisements, along with its companion resilience.  Both have been on my mind since attending a recent ACRL presentation,  Resilience, Grit, and Other Lies: Academic Libraries and the Myth of Resiliency.  As ubiquitous as both ambiguity and resilience are in my field, this presentation reminded me how poorly defined, misunderstood, and problematic they are when idealized professionally.  So I was thinking about how to unpack this concept related to my own academic librarianship and how a personal practice of acceptance (without approval) might play a helpful role.

It seems in the everyday ambiguity, as well as ambivalent with the same root, often describe something squishier.  For example, ambivalent is often misused to describe someone who is passively undecided or not invested in a particular outcome, rather than actually feeling multiple different ways about a thing. Similarly, ambiguity is often synonymous with an amorphous state of confusion than specific set of circumstances that make a solution unclear.

While inexactness and its synonyms might reflect this murky spirit, isn’t ambiguity really only inexact because it can’t be just one thing?  The fact that it can still be exactly many things is what I find interesting and overlooked in the experience of ambiguity.  Recognizing the possibility of multiple interpretations as specific, distinct avenues for action is especially important for efficiency and service in e-resources management.

Here’s a very basic example working with and a technical problem solving of e-resource access, which I repeatedly encountered when working with publishers’ technical support:

Me: Hi, My name is [me] from [my institution]. We have a current subscription to [your journal] but we’re not able access content online.

Tech Support:  What’s your institution’s [subscriber number, IP address, and other details]?

Me: *gives details*

Tech Support:  OK, it should be working now.

And that was it.  No explanation, no assurance it would not happen again, no way to plan workflow to prevent this very regular disruption.  Good problem solvers who thrive on the details of the problems and the solutions will no doubt feel frustrated and confused by this.  But the situation is no more a mystery than it is comfortable.  There likely is an exact cause for this problem. It’s just the cause is likely multiplicitous, complex, and in most cases less important than the fact that the problem is now fixed. So we move on.  In responding to the given ambiguous situation, we must accept the priorities of the current moment rather than the past or future.  This mindfulness of the present moment is a key part of the practice of acceptance.

Change may the new normal, but comfortable with ambiguity?

I think these tendencies show up in e-resources librarianship in particular because positions of this type developed from those which focused on the exacting and predictable realm of attention to detail.  Certainly the evolution of libraries content and services necessitates characterizing those details as now really messy and inexact.  But position descriptions mistakenly place this ambiguity in the context of a personal quality when it is really a quality of the environment.  To use such a problematic word, and to prefer people who are comfortable in that state, doesn’t say anything about how people should actually respond in these situations.  Expecting comfort in ambiguity falsely sets people up to stay in that state longer than may be necessary.

And this is where the problem of resilience comes in.  As the ACRL presentation I mentioned notes, research shows resilience often normalizes oppression of marginalized groups.  Systemically, I wonder how resilience hinders innovation, preventing us from answering the question “what can we stop doing?”.


So since, as a colleague once reminded me, the privileged have to be uncomfortable to recognize oppression, it is useful to discard a preference for comfort in the face of ambiguity.  Resilience or grit may help us more than comfort, as long as it is focused in the direction of action.  It should not be the normal or preferred quality of an individual professionally.

The idea of resilience as oppression also reminded me of another “What fresh h*!! is this?” experience working as an elementary music teacher.  At one of the two inner-city schools I was assigned, the music room was the stage in the gym’s auditorium. A burlap-like stage curtain was the only barrier between my music classes and the screaming, sneaker-squeaking, ball-bouncing, whistle-blowing activity of PE.  I often preface my sharing of this experience with disbelief that this was a reality to describe – it seemed so obviously nonsensical and in need of a solution.  So, I once spent a week’s planning periods reworking the entire school schedule so that all teachers still got their planning period during elective classes, but in a way that PE and music didn’t overlap.  Working out those complexities was frustrating and certainly not comfortable.  At the same time, I was driven to resist normalizing the resilience expected of the situation.  I knew this was more than a personal preference of the [should-be librarian] music teacher than the institution was leading me to believe.  Before leaving this job, I don’t think I ever gave these alternatives to my principal, but succeeded in getting a new curtain for the stage. When I noted to the principal that the change didn’t block sound as I’d hoped, I’ll never forget her response.

“Why do you care, since you won’t be here any longer?”

On one hand her response demonstrated everything that’s wrong with institutional resiliency.  At the same time I can also see it as an honest statement of my own realm of control.  When work and life inevitably boil down to “Just…what? Why is this normal?”, a practice of acceptance means neither normalizing nor pursuing crazy to find resolution.

The circus has left town

Image CC BY 2.0 with attribution:  matthew_pennell “The circus has left town”

If there is a proactive path through ambiguity or resilience, then I believe the skill we’re really after is how to recognize, reassess, and negotiate our power to influence and control.  This requires a constant give and take of our experience of that control as anxiety or relief.  It means exactly both action and letting go and not necessarily having to choose between the two.  When requiring choice, it means knowing how not to wrestle very long in the choosing.

The Rock and the Hard Place (Part 3): Being Open For Change

Two years ago the department in which I work was charged with developing a new organizational structure in response to changes in the scholarly publishing landscape.  Reflecting, presenting, and writing in various venues about this, it’s hard to avoid the ad nauseam reference to change – change is the new normal; embrace change; anticipate change; be the change you wish to see in the world.

In my previous post, the second in this three part series, I noted that the literature is growing in supporting the fact that flipping (changing) the subscription model to open access is an attainable reality, and that a will to do so is what’s needed.  My experience rethinking acquisitions and resource sharing workflows to support this changing landscape lead me to believe there is more than will at play.

One problem many libraries are aiming to solve with reorganizations, is the inadequate support of e-resource and open access workflows resulting from predominantly print based workflow and organizational structures.  This is interestingly parallel to an observation Van Noorden makes regarding the costs (that translate to high pricing) of traditional publishing and open access models. He writes:

“Whereas small [open access] starts ups can come up with fresh workflows using the latest electronic tools, some established publishers are still dealing with antiquated workflows for arranging peer review, typesetting, file-format conversation, and other chores.  Still older publishers are investing heavily in technology and should catch up eventually.”

Investing heavily is an interesting lens with which to consider the tensions at play in the subscription model and open access and is often the starting point for change. Investment connotes the shared driver of money at stake.  But investment of time, thought, and resources are also very much at play in exploring alternative workflow and organizational structures in these same spheres.   And because both involve people, solutions are not always a matter of simple arithmetic.

I had the opportunity to take notes for parts of the OA Symposium held at the University of Kansas recently, which was aimed specifically on open access funding alternatives to article and book processing charges (APC/BPC).  As I took notes for the symposium, I listened for specific connections to the subscription model that might lead to actionable solutions in my circle of influence. From almost every participant there was a common call for: concrete, actionable solutions (that do not reinvent the wheel), connections, and momentum.  Not surprisingly, these same outcomes are desired by those involved in reorganizational efforts to address and support such changes.

Breaking down any large problem — like institutional reorganizations or flipping subscription based or APC models of open access — requires both an ability to see the actors involved and the connections at play.  Both cases need a good dose of facilitation and process mapping.  In the OA Symposium participants did a fair amount of idea-generation, but also worked together in small groups to break down the processes involved in the APC model and its connections to many local and international players.  Proposing alternative models addressed the practicalities and anticipated challenges of implementation. Some of these proposals mentioned connections to subscription model in general terms; others offered more specifics.  I starting thinking more about the workflow and organizational implementation on a couple of these ideas.

Common funding models for open access initiatives, besides funding APC, are investing in open access memberships.  This is somewhat like subscription-based membership in consortia, which aim to reduce individual cost of participants and garner negotiating power in numbers. But a new (to me) twist on this model proposed that instead of modeling the price of participation on FTE or Carnegie classification (as the subscription models commonly do), perhaps differing levels of participation could be more voluntary, like endowments. Taking this a step further, I wonder if the options to invest as a silent donor would attract even more willing participation.  While contrary to the more public investment desired by open access advocacy, this recognizes a more guarded approach the subscription model workflow sometimes takes in managing messages about investment.  Take new e-resource trials, for example, which on the face of it represent no actual monetary commitment. However, a decision to even pursue trials may be carefully considered against messages that might appear to over promise the availability of resources that cannot be realistically afforded.  Such a decision might also  work at cross purposes with existing renewal workflows in negotiating better deals. To be clear, the need for budgetary accommodation in subscription renewals does not prevent libraries from considering new resources, but an awareness that the complexities of that messaging should be recognized.

Another, perhaps controversial twist on the membership models was tying participation with a commitment to reinvest subscription dollars along various timelines. (e.g. 1% – 100% over 10 years).  The incremental nature of this approach is also similar to subscription renewal workflows, which operate in annual incremental percentages increases (e.g. multi-year renewal deals often negotiate a pricing percentage cap on increases).  Again, its success with subscription workflows may come down to a question of transparency.  As with some licensing negotiation terms, a public, unified statement of commitment often helps get such clauses addressed in negotiation. Whether internal, or a transparent part of the negotiation process, finding a way to flip the negotiation of price cap percentage to a price reinvestment percentage is an interesting concept.

There are million other tiny ways to begin rethinking subscription and open access workflows in concrete ways. My next concrete step is to consider the steps recommended in the OA2020 Roadmap which is teeming with concrete practical solutions for subscription and open access budgeting and reporting, assessment, negotiation, and more. Being present at KU’s OA Symposium allowed me to pay attention and consider realities I hadn’t been aware of and take stock of how much more I can learn and potentially contribute.

 

References

Richard Van Noordern, “The True Cost of Science Publishing,” Nature 495 (2013), 426-429, doi:10.1038/495426a

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.