Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back?

Editor’s Note: We welcome Maura Smale to the ACRLog blog team. Who is Maura Smale? If her name sounds familiar you may recall that she reported on her transition from archaeology to librarianship (with a sideline in online media) in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s online Careers column. Maura is the Information Literacy Librarian at New York City College of Technology, CUNY. In addition to an MLIS she has an MA and PhD in Anthropology. Her research interests include undergraduate scholarly habits, information seeking behavior, games in education, and instructional technology. We look forward to Maura’s posts on these and other topics in academic librarianship.

Recently I was disappointed to read over at Caveat Lector about the rejection by the University of Maryland’s Faculty Senate of a resolution in support of open access publishing. I appreciate Dorothea’s point that this news is a reality check, a counterpoint to the OA mandates by Harvard, MIT and Boston University, and something to remind us that we still have a long way to go. But honestly I felt disheartened by this news all week.

As a librarian it’s easy to get behind open access. We’ve just been through a round of cost cutting at my college, and we’re going to lose several journal packages I’ve recommended to students and faculty during my library instruction sessions earlier this semester. It’s depressing to realize that I won’t be able to point students to those same resources in the fall. But our faculty colleagues in other departments don’t come to collection development meetings, and many are probably much less aware of the crisis in scholarly communication that’s so often a topic of conversation among librarians.

And in some ways I can relate to that perspective, because for me this is an issue that didn’t really gain relevance until I became a librarian. I used to be an archaeologist, and when I was in graduate school I knew very little about the intricacies of copyright and scholarly publishing. I photocopied articles for reserve for my advisor’s classes (before the large-scale availability of journal article databases), and I appreciated when coursepacks of readings were available for my classes. When the local copy center ran afoul of copyright law and stopped offering coursepacks, I was mightily annoyed by the inconvenience of having to make my own copies at the library instead.

The economics of scholarly publishing were unclear to me then, too. Of course I knew that faculty published articles in peer-reviewed journals, but I had no idea that the publishers typically retain copyright. It never occurred to me that institutions are paying twice for the results of research they fund: once for the faculty member’s salary, and again to the publisher for the journal subscription.

Then I started my MLIS program and it all became clear. I’d hoped that things had changed since I was in grad school, but since becoming a librarian I’ve been shocked (shocked!) to learn that faculty in other departments often don’t feel the same way about open access. For many it probably hasn’t occurred to them to consider the inner workings of scholarly publishing, similar to my own earlier experience.

What can be done? Certainly encouraging tenure and promotion committees to consider newer, open access peer-review journals in addition to the old standards should help push OA into the mainstream (as mentioned in Scott’s post and Laurie’s comments). And institutional mandates at large research universities definitely raise awareness of open access issues.

I wonder if faculty might be motivated to support OA if budgetary limitations force libraries to cancel subscriptions to the journals in which they publish. But what about smaller institutions and teaching colleges, like my own? Our budgets are small, too, and our faculty may already be publishing in journals that we can’t afford for the library.

At my library we’re working to increase our outreach to faculty on open access. A colleague of mine offered a faculty workshop on open access publishing twice this year, and is planning to offer it next year as well. We didn’t do anything special last fall for Open Access Day, but this year it’s been extended to a whole week and I hope that we can take advantage of that extra time to do some extra outreach.

What other ways can librarians help spread the open access word?

Author: Maura Smale

Maura Smale is Chief Librarian at The Graduate Center, City University of New York.

One thought on “Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back?”

  1. I think a significant part of the problem is that when faculty think about scholarly communication, they are more concerned about the community beyond that of their local institution. The problem then demands solutions that are more broadly based. Unfortunately, decisions are made at the local level. So, who is willing to lead the way?

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