Tag Archives: conferences

Evaluating Information: The Light Side of Open Access

Early last week I opened the New York Times and was surprised to see a front-page article about sham academic publishers and conferences. The article discussed something we in the library world have been aware of for some time: open access publishers with low (or no) standards for peer review and acceptance, sometimes even with fictional editorial boards. The publications are financed by authors’ fees, which may not be clear from their submission guidelines, and, with the relatively low cost of hosting an online-only journal, are presumably making quite a bit of money. The article included an interview with and photo of University of Colorado Denver librarian Jeffrey Beall, compiler of the useful Beall’s List guide to potentially predatory open access scholarly journals and publishers.

I’ve long been an admirer of Jeffrey Beall’s work and I’m glad to see him getting recognition outside of the library world. But the frankly alarmist tone of the Times article was disappointing to say the least, as was the seeming equation of open access with less-than-aboveboard publishers, which of course is not the case. As biologist Michael Eisen notes, there are lots of toll-access scholarly journals (and conferences) of suspicious quality. With the unbelievably high profits of scholarly publishing, it’s not surprising that the number of journals has proliferated and that not all of them are of the best quality. And there are many legitimate, highly-regarded journals — both open access and toll-access — that charge authors’ fees, especially in the sciences.

As I’ve bounced these thoughts around my brain for the past week, I keep coming back to one thing: the importance of evaluating information. Evaluating sources is something that faculty and librarians teach students, and students are required to use high quality sources in their work. How do we teach students to get at source quality? Research! Dig into the source: find out more about the author/organization, and read the text to see whether it’s comprehensible, typo-free, etc. Metrics like Journal Impact Factor can help make these determinations, but they’re far from the only aspects of a work to examine. In addition to Beall’s List, Gavia Libraria has a great post from last year detailing some specific steps to take and criteria to consider when evaluating a scholarly journal. I like to go by the classic TANSTAAFL: there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Get an email to contribute to a journal or conference out of the blue? It’s probably not the cream of the crop.

So if faculty and librarians teach our students to evaluate sources, why do we sometimes forget (or ignore?) to do so ourselves? I’d guess that the seemingly ever-increasing need for publications and presentations to support tenure and promotion plays into it, especially as the number of full-time faculty and librarian positions continue to decrease. I appreciate reasoned calls for quality over quantity, but I wonder whether slowing down the academic publishing arms race will end the proliferation of low quality journals.

The Times article last week notes that one danger of increasing numbers of fraudulent journals is that “nonexperts doing online research will have trouble distinguishing credible research from junk.” This isn’t the fault of the open access movement at all; if anything, open access can help determine the legitimacy of a journal. Shining a light on these sham journals makes it easier than ever to identify them. It’s up to us, both faculty and librarians: if the research and scholarship we do is work we should be proud of, prestigious work that’s worth publishing, then it stands to reason that we should share that work and prestige only with and via publications that are worth it.

Yeas, Nays, and Next Steps

I was in the midst of a particularly busy day last Wednesday when the decisions on the ACRL 2013 Conference contributed paper, panel, preconference, and workshop submissions were sent out, so it was a few hours later that I had a chance to catch up on Twitter. Suddenly my feed was full of happy tweets from librarians with accepted conference proposals, and somewhat more melancholy tweets from those who had their proposals turned down this year.

According to ACRL there were 20% more submissions for the 2013 conference across all four formats than for the ACRL 2011 Conference. The acceptance rates were 30% for contributed papers, 23% for panels, 45% for preconferences, and 39% for workshops.

I’m full of conflicting feelings about these conference yeas and nays. I’m delighted that the panel proposal I submitted with two collaborators was accepted, and it’s great to see the yea announcements from other librarians I follow on Twitter. But I was also disappointed to read the nay tweets from many librarians whom I admire. I found myself wondering what their proposals were about and whether they would have been relevant or interesting to me.

While pleased about this year’s yea I’m no stranger to nays: last time around the panel proposal I submitted for the ACRL Conference with several collaborators was rejected. However, my collaborators and I reconsidered our ideas, and in the end we reworked our panel proposal into a poster session submission which was accepted. If you’re thinking about next steps for a proposal that wasn’t accepted, you might want to take a look at some of the alternatives that Steven suggested in a past ACRLog post (retooling and resubmitting as a poster session proposal among them).

And if you didn’t send in a proposal for a paper, panel, or other session last May, remember that there’s still time to submit a proposal for a poster session, cyber zed shed presentation, roundtable discussion, and virtual conference webcast. Those proposals for the ACRL 2013 Conference are due on November 9, 2012.

Not Halfway But It Could Be A Start

Are you attending ALA Midwinter – assuming you still think there should even be a Midwinter conference? How about ACRL 2011 in Philadelphia? A west coast colleague recently asked me for some advice on getting to the Convention Center from the airport. It made me realize ACRL 2011 is not that far off if the west coasters are already planning their trip east – as I recently did for my trip to San Diego.

As I was making my Midwinter conference plans I came across John Berry’s editorial in the October 1, 2010 issue of Library Journal titled “Half Way to ALA”. Basically the column is about the inequity in our profession (I’m sure it’s common in other professions too) whereby administrators and senior librarians are much more likely to be subsidized for conference travel than their newer and possibly younger colleagues. Berry admits this is nothing new, and recalls that when he was coming up in the sixties a friend of his suggested the “half way” solution. What was it? To help their newer-to-the-profession colleagues to attend the national conferences, the friend thought administrators should subsidize half of their expenses. I’m guessing that one never got past the idea stage. Andy Woodworth is also thinking about the “Half Way” idea over at his blog, and he wonders if there are other ways to sponsor the newer-to-the-profession librarians so they can attend the big conferences.

Woodworth and those who commented on his post provide the new-to-the-profession librarian’s perspective on Berry’s opinion piece. Let me offer a reaction from a not-so-new-to-the-profession librarian. I have a suggestion that might help this situation, though it’s not quite as “out there” as half-way – maybe it’s more like a tenth of the way – but we need to start taking action somewhere – not just talk about the problem. If enough of us senior folks helped out even to a small extent it could provide subsidies to far more academic librarians to at least attend ACRL 2011. I can’t say enough about how important that is, not only for their professional development, but simply for the fact that it adds a vibrancy and dynamic dimension to our conferences, and that makes it a far better experience for everyone. At least that was the way I felt after Seattle in 2009.

And I can’t make the point strongly enough that we must avoid turning this into some sort of generational conflict issue. It isn’t about newer-to-the-profession colleagues being at the conference instead of us senior folks because we won’t get as much out of it as our newer colleagues would. That’s nonsense.This is about having good representation from across our entire professional demographic. That’s what will make the conferences a better experience – not another US versus THEM debate.

Berry’s “half-way” idea should really get us senior academic librarians and admin types thinking about this issue and what we can do to improve our conferences by making sure our newer colleagues are well represented and getting the opportunity for professional development. If we are committed to the future and sustainability of our libraries and our profession don’t we have an obligation to make sure the next generation is well prepared to take this enterprise into that future? I think Berry ignores a solution we already have in place – at least for ACRL. The solution is becoming a Friend of ACRL, and donating money to the organization and scholarship funds. According to the Friends page, there were 15 scholarships for the 2009 ACRL Conference valued at about $9,000. For an organization of this size with the average member age at approximately 48 – that’s abysmal. I believe ACRL currently has about 13,000 members. Let’s assume just 1,000 of those are senior librarians making decent salaries – and getting a subsidy to the conference (yes, I fall into that category). If each one gave just $100 a year – that’s $100,000 for scholarships so instead of just 15 we could subsidize another 75 newer academic librarians. Now we’re talking some real representation at the next generation at an ACRL conference.

I just renewed my ALA membership. I once again made a contribution to maintain my Friend of ACRL status, and gave extra for the scholarship fund. I’m encouraging you to do the same the next time you renew your ALA membership. I know there are lots of charities and causes that need our help, and you only have so much to give. But give some thought to Berry’s editorial. I think you’ll agree we senior librarians need to do our part to bulk up the scholarship fund to an amount that reflects how we really feel about this profession – and our commitment to help our newer colleagues get to the conferences.

I know this isn’t quite what Berry was hoping for – it’s sure not half-way, but it’s a start. I sure hope this brightens up his day.

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

There’s Harvard and Then There Are “Lesser Libraries”

Does the name Robert Darnton ring a bell? No? Maybe it should. After all, Darnton is the Director of the Harvard University Libraries. As I read the most recent Annual Report of the Harvard Libraries I discovered who Darnton was when I read his “message” at the front of the Report. This quote got my attention:

Lesser libraries may rely on Google, JSTOR, and whatever they can harvest from the Internet, but Harvard has a responsibility to keep up with the production of scholarship by increasing its acquisitions of books–old-fashioned books, print on paper…No other university library has contracted such a heavy obligation, because none can compare with Harard in the depth and breadth of its collections.

Well I’ll certainly sleep more soundly at night knowing that the future of civilization is safe as long as Harvard continues to amass its huge collections. In the meantime I’ll slink back into my “lesser library” where we’ll try to get by gleaning information from Google. According to the latest ARL Library Investment Index (just issued about two weeks ago) Harvard Libraries, ranked first, spends $33 million more and has 500 more staff than the second ranked library (Yale). I guess that gives Darnton the right to refer to all other libraries as “lesser”.

Are We Placing Too Little Emphasis On TOC Alerts

They provide an easy and powerful way to stay up-to-date with journal literature but I wonder if, when it comes to our faculty, we are doing too little to promote Table of Contents alerts. Nearly every major aggregator database and e-journal collection has this feature. The problem is that without someone bringing it to your attention you’d hardly know it was there. A recent study into the behaviors of faculty for locating scholarly material suggest that TOC alerts are highly valued. “How Readers Navigate to Scholarly Content” is a new report published by Simon Inger and Tracy Gardner for a consortium of scholarly publishers, including the Nature Publishing Group, that examines how scholars start their search for content and how they navigate different search resources. There is both good and bad news for academic librarians. Depending on what they’re trying to do and how much information they have, scholars may go right to a known library database or their favorite search engine. But figure 5 (pg. 18 of 32) asks “how often do you follow links to a publisher’s e-journal web site from these starting points” and TOC alerts is far and away the top starting point – that got my attention. Perhaps it’s time to recognize that we need to do a better job of making faculty aware of TOC alerts. We may be underestimating their value.

Got My ALA Midwinter Hotel – Darn Easy Too!

If I don’t manage to reserve my first choice ALA/ACRL conference hotel room within 30 minutes of the opening bell then I consider myself a failure. For me this process actually begins about two weeks prior to the start of the reservation process. I do a detailed review of the available conference hotels, analyzing all the amenities, prices and locations so that I can get the optimal reservation. For me that includes making certain the hotel has a fitness room – and it has to be open 24 hours. I also check to make sure there is free internet in the room – don’t believe what they tell you on the ALA site. I’m an early riser so I make sure I can get breakfast by 6 am or 6:30 at the latest. Pricewise I’m looking at the low end of the spectrum. Those are my top priorities. I don’t care about coffee makers, flat screen televisions or nightly turndown service. So I narrow it down to the four or so hotels that seem to best meet my criteria. I then proceed to the hotels’ websites to see if they actually do meet my criteria. Then I call each to confirm which ones will actually make the cut. The next step is to compile all the data and then rank the hotels from first to last choice.

On September 2 at 9 am EST I logged on to the conference site and first took advantage of the bundled registration to sign up for midwinter and annual – and saved a few bucks. I was then seamlessly shifted to the hotel registration process. ALA is running on all cylinders with this easy, new combined conference/hotel registration process! Within five minutes I’d booked a room at my first choice hotel – an optimal mix of low price, location and amenities. It’s a bit more work in advance but I think it definitely pays off on the day registration opens. ACRL in Seattle? Done! Same joint conference/hotel registration process. Fast and easy. Since I liked the hotel where I stayed in January 2007 for ALA Midwinter I just chose it again. You know, I sort of missed doing my conference hotel analysis. Well, there’s always ALA Annual in Chicago. If you usually procrastinate on the hotel registration process, think about giving my method a try – unless you really prefer a last minute reservation at that fleabag motel on the outskirts of town.