Posts Tagged 'open access'

Hack the library

This is the text of a talk I gave at a recent MIT Libraries all-staff meeting to introduce the recommendations in the preliminary report from the Institute-wide Task Force on the Future of Libraries. A colleague suggested I share the notes more broadly, as she considered it not just a rallying call for the MIT Libraries community, but also a good recap of the core themes in the report. I gave this talk about a week before the report was released. 

I am very excited to have this chance to start sharing with you the results of our nearly yearlong engagement with the Institute-wide Task Force on the Future of Libraries.

What this community has done in convening this Task Force, soliciting the input we got, hosting the range of conversations we had, and really listening to our community, is remarkable, and honestly unheard of in my experience of academic libraries.

The very fact that the 30 members of the Task Force, and the literally hundreds of other members of our community spent their time, energy, and brain power developing a vision for the future of research libraries and producing a set of recommendations for MIT to move us toward that future is amazing. We had faculty from all 5 schools (over 20 faculty in total), plus students and staff, thinking about, talking about, and ultimately writing about libraries since October.

Their engagement, and frankly their confidence in us to realize the bold vision they have laid out for us, is a testament to all the work that all of you have done to earn their faith, respect, and enthusiastic support. Everything you all and your colleagues have done made the work of this Task Force possible and is the enabling lifeblood that runs through this report.

I know you all have been waiting for this report for a while now, we have been in a state of transition and a state of preparing and building our capacity to enact a new vision and new strategic priorities for some time; and I want to thank you for your patience and say that I hope you are as certain as I am that it has been worth the wait.

Working with this Task Force to gather input, to really listen to the community, and to try to synthesize and make sense of everything we heard, and everything we collectively know and think and want out of libraries and higher education has pretty much consumed my time and my energy and my soul for the last 10 months. This has been the most intense, hardest, and most important work I have done in my library career to date. 

And this kickoff with you all is perhaps the most important step now that the report is so close to approval and public release. We are the ones, collectively, who are going to make the vision and recommendations in this report a reality. This report confirms that the MIT community expects big things from us; and I for one wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Barry Bonds hitting one into McCovey Cove, by Chris Bourg

To use a baseball analogy, with this Task Force and this report, we are swinging for the fences. But I’m a San Francisco Giants fan, and I had the privilege of watching Barry Bonds in his glory years. I watched him swing for the fences in games where he only got 1 pitch to hit; and still he connected more than any other player in history. If you want to hit a homerun, you have to swing for the fences. (I may have also adlibbed something about this report being “research library on steroids” to complete the analogy-although I still choose to believe Barry never knowingly used steroids.)

For the less baseball obsessed amongst us, I’ll say that this is our moonshot. And really a moonshot is a better analogy, because hitting a home run, as majestic as that is, is a solo act. Getting to the moon though, that’s a team effort.

And like a moonshot, this vision we have in front of us only gets off the ground once you all are invested in it too. And to get there, I know you all need time to think about it, talk about it, ask questions about it.

Certainly your expertise and your experience and your ideas on how we can move these recommendations forward will be crucial. We need to, and will, have conversations about where we start, what we need, and success will look like – in short, medium and long term. We also need to ask questions together, come to a shared understanding, and develop a shared sense of excitement and commitment. The impact of the Task Force and the report will be realized through your engagement.

You have all, I hope, read the Executive Summary by now; and you know even from that, that the Task Force has painted a high-level aspirational, but not vague, future for us. One of the most inspiring sub-texts of the report and the conversations in the forums we held and in the Task Force meetings themselves was the confidence our colleagues throughout the Institute (faculty, staff, students, and alumni) have in us; and their desire to collaborate with us as partners in providing the content, tools, services, expertise, spaces, and technologies needed to do what MIT does best – advance knowledge, educate students, and solve the worlds biggest problems.

I believe this report goes well beyond any other strategic plan or library vision I have seen, in that it recommends that we not just respond to changes in scholarship and teaching, but that we become a platform through which research, teaching, and learning is transformed.

Let me talk a little about the Task Force’s process and the vision and recommendations in the report.

First, the Task Force had a number of passionate conversations where there was some pretty vigorous disagreement on a range of topics, such as:

  • the relative role of digital versus print collections,
  • the degree to which MIT & the MIT Libraries should push Open Access for all scholarly publications,
  • the degree to which MIT ought to prioritize our obligations to a global community versus our service to the on-campus local community.

These and other topics inspired some heated debates and were the source of some tensions in the Task Force … but ultimately, we found remarkable levels of agreement around a common set of principles and values. That consensus formed the basis for the vision and set of recommendations that ultimately landed in the report. The values that animate the vision of the Task Force are things like the importance of the advancement of knowledge, privacy, openness, service, innovation, and support for diversity in all aspects of our work.

As the executive summary makes clear, the Task Force articulated a vision of a future where access to information is ubiquitous and open. The Task Force and the folks we talked to envision a world where data and knowledge and scholarship flows freely, and where anyone can access it, share it, contribute to it, and exploit it as needed. They want libraries to build and maintain that world, and collaborate with others to build it.

Through all the different opinions and approaches to the future of libraries, the Task Force was united in affirming that at their core, libraries have always been about sharing information, providing community spaces, and preserving knowledge. In the report, the Task Force sketches a vision for what those functions could and should look like in a truly networked, fully digitally enabled world.

This image of the open dome is the key illustration of the new vision of a research library that fully exploits technology to operate as an open global platform.

global-platform

We want the libraries to be that platform in a physical and a networked digital world, and we seek collaborators from within MIT and throughout the world to help us build that platform.

This platform idea, which is both a set of networked repositories of content, metadata, tools and services, and a set of physical spaces, services, and human expertise; is symbolized by the iconic MIT great dome, and it rests on a set of pillars. Those pillars represent community, discovery, stewardship, and research.

The vision and the recommendations are all based on the shared mission and set of values that the Task Force agreed on — MIT’s and librarianship’s values of openness, service, advancing knowledge, innovation, and diversity.

There are recommendations associated with each of the pillars.

Let’s start with Community and Relationships. The Task Force report calls on us to think of our community and our relationships in global terms, and to think of our spaces and our services, especially our educational role, as open and integrated into the full life of our communities.

Recommendation 1: The Task Force asserts that the MIT Libraries must be a global library serving a global university and its audiences. The MIT Libraries should conceive of the communities they serve as concentric circles, from the closely affiliated circle of current students, faculty, and staff to increasingly larger circles of cooperating scholars, MIT alumni, participants in MITx classes, the local Cambridge and Boston community, and the broader global community of scholars.

Recommendation 1 says that we need to think of ourselves as a global library for a global university; and that we should think of our audience in terms of concentric circles – striving to provide as much access as possible to people in all circles.

This recommendation came about in recognition of the way MIT scholars work – both the fact that they frequently work from remote locations all around the globe, and the fact that they collaborate with other scholars, formally and informally, from all over the world. As MIT seeks to take on research questions and grand challenges that are global in nature, MIT faculty need to be able to easily share articles and data and access with colleagues who are not officially part of the MIT community. The Task Force recognizes that all scholarship is better when more people can participate, and opening up access as widely as we can helps move that vision along.

The value of openness also came up in discussions of the library spaces – we heard over and over how much the MIT community appreciated that our libraries, unlike many other private university libraries, are open to the public. Students spoke of the libraries as a “haven” on campus; faculty and staff described our spaces (and their vision for renovated spaces) as intellectual and social gathering spaces. And one department head told me that she credits the library for their best graduate student yield in years, because they held their graduate student reception in the library during preview weekend.

Recommendation 2: The Task Force recommends that the Institute create a new planning group to make specific recommendations regarding the redesign of the MIT Libraries’ physical spaces, reflecting the vision and themes of this report.

Recommendation 2 is about bringing focused and expert attention to developing a vision for library spaces that fits our vision for the library more generally. There is early support by the administration for convening this space planning group; and I think we will be able to make progress there rather quickly.

Recommendation 3: In supporting the research and teaching mission of MIT, the Libraries will provide educational opportunities to equip MIT community members with essential skills and habits for critically and effectively using information. It also will teach them the skills required to responsibly generate new knowledge and to create the platforms, systems, and networks to disseminate it, guided by the values held dear by MIT and by the library profession.

Recommendation 3 goes beyond usual information literacy roles for librarians, and recognizes that both our expertise and student need is much more complicated than how to search. Students at MIT are more than consumers of information.  As individual creators of knowledge, they need to understand patents, standards, copyright, trademarks, regulations and all the rules of engagement in the global landscape where commerce, academia, and research take place.  In addition to creating new knowledge, students are also actively developing apps, algorithms, platforms and tools that enable dissemination, sharing, and consumption of information by others – it is essential that MIT students critically understand the impact and social consequences of technical choices and design decisions.

This recommendation validates much of what we are already doing, and gives us the support and mandate to do more; and to really do some interesting and innovative things with our instruction program.

The Discovery and Use section of the full report is the most detailed, and not surprisingly, the most technical.

Recommendation 4: In support of the MIT mission and values of openness and service, the MIT Libraries should be a trusted vehicle for disseminating MIT research to the world.

In Recommendation 4, the Task Force is saying they expect us to continue to be the primary trusted dissemination platform for OA articles, but/and also calls on us to expand that to include taking responsibility for openly providing rich, comprehensive, well-described, and well-structured data that will fuel an ever-evolving scholarly ecosystem. In the Task Force discussions with faculty, many scholars talked as much about wanting to discover people and ideas as they did about wanting to discovery articles – even, especially people & research happening right here at MIT. They want the libraries to take responsibility for collecting and providing access to all kinds of research outputs. The Task Force recognizes the importance of having a repository of information about MIT’s research efforts, with carefully curated links to its resources, authors, contributing organizations and topical areas; and they are signaling their support for the libraries leading those efforts.

Recommendation 5: The MIT Libraries will provide comprehensive digital access to content in our collections and/or content needed by MIT’s global community by expanding our capacity to acquire and make available born-digital content, and by embarking on an ambitious project to digitize much of our analog collections.

Recommendation 5 came out of some of the most passionate debates the Task Force had. There were members of the Task Force who do everything online, and who believe that better technology and changing user behaviors and expectations will make the need for print materials go away sooner rather than later. Other members were just as passionate about the need for tangible materials for some kinds of learning and some types of research. But, even those who make heavy use of print resources also need online access to digital resources. Eventually we all agreed that in an ideal world, everything would be available in digital form; and some things would also be available in physical formats.

It took a bit of data to help some members of the Task Force see just how much of the scholarly record is actually not digital, or not digital in accessible, findable formats.

Although I like to refer to Recommendation 5 as our “Digitize Everything” mandate – it is actually considerably more nuanced than that. Yes, it does call for an ambitious digitization project, but/and it also calls for efforts to ensure our digital collections are available in minimal computing environments and in formats optimized for text-mining and other computational analyses.

Recommendation 6: Through interdisciplinary institutional and external partnerships, the Libraries should generate open, interoperable content platforms that explore new ways of producing, using, sharing, and preserving knowledge and that promote revolutionary new methodologies for the discovery and organization of information, people, ideas, and networks.

Recommendation 6 follows from 5. It isn’t enough to just digitize everything – we have to then create and maintain open, interoperable, and networked platforms of content so that we aren’t simply creating new silos of digital content. The content platforms we create have to work with existing digital libraries, and have to be open so that scholars can be creative in how they access, discover, and use the content. Many members of the Task Force were most excited about the prospect of the libraries building and expanding its content platforms so that new kinds of discovery tools could be built – ideally by and for scholars, reflecting scholarly needs and academic values. While many faculty rely on third party tools like Google Scholar, academia.edu, Mendeley and the like; they see the long-term value and benefits of such tools emanating from within academia – where there is a commitment to sustainability and a history of trust.

Recommendation 7: The Task Force recommends that the Institute convene a new Ad Hoc Task Force on Open Access to review the current MIT Faculty Open Access Policy and its implementation with an eye toward revising and expanding current policies and practices, where appropriate, to further the Institute’s mission of disseminating the fruits of its research and scholarship as widely as possible.

Recommendation 7 reflects the high level of interest the Task Force heard from faculty, students, staff, post-docs and others in Open Access. At almost every meeting we had, someone asked “what are you going to do about OA?” or more pointedly “what are you going to do about the publishers?”

The Task Force wisely realized that while the libraries have significant interest in and expertise in facilitating open access to scholarship, MIT’s OA policy is a Faculty policy, and any revisions to it must come from an MIT coalition much broader than the libraries.

On to recommendations in the area of Stewardship & Sustainability. Our responsibility as the long term stewards of scholarship, and especially of the Institute’s memory, is ever more important and we are being called upon to expand and accelerate our leadership in developing sustainable models in digital preservation.

Recommendation 8: Through its archival programs and practices, the MIT Libraries will serve as a durable, trusted repository for research objects produced at MIT and the metadata associated with MIT scholars and scholarship, as a continuation of their mission to serve as the “Institute’s memory” and record of research and learning.

These recommendations reflect the dual ideas that the library has to continue to serve as the Institute’s memory, and that long-term stewardship of records, manuscripts, data, articles, and other kinds of research objects is a real and pressing challenge in a digital age.

Scholars are putting their papers up on personal and department websites, and sharing their data and graphs on commercial sites like Mendeley and Figshare. While these are expedient short-term solutions that work well enough for an individual scholar, the Task Force recognizes that the Institute and academia in general is best served when the libraries are the trusted long-term repository for the scholarly record. Our challenge in accomplishing this recommendation is as much an organizational and a resource one as it is a technical one; but having this kind of a recommendation from the Task Force provides a strong organizational mandate to build on.

Recommendation 9: The MIT Libraries should continue to actively engage with and, in many cases, provide leadership to collaborative global efforts to develop viable models and systems for the long-term stewardship and preservation of digital research.

Recommendation 9 says we can’t do this alone, and provides us with the encouragement to continue to lead where we have the expertise, and to partner and collaborate with promising coalitions that are working on the hard problems of digital stewardship & preservation.

Recommendation 10: The Task Force recommends that MIT establish an Initiative for Research in Information Science and Scholarly Communication, based in the MIT Libraries, to enable bold experimentation and to serve as a hub for best-in-class research on the great challenges in information science and scholarly communication.

Recommendation 10 is where the Task Force signals just how serious they are about this vision.

Much of what we want to accomplish in building and sustaining a library that operates as an open global platform requires significant investment in research, development, and experimentation.

An Initiative for Research in Information Science and Scholarly Communication would accelerate progress on a number of key issues of importance to scholars and practitioners at MIT and across the globe.

An initiative of this kind would leverage several strengths of MIT and the MIT Libraries to achieve significant progress in interdisciplinary, applied research, and experimentation in information science and scholarly communication.  MIT Libraries have a uniquely close relationship with the MIT Press, an existing research program in information science, a donor-funded Digital Sustainability Lab working on solutions to digital content management challenges, and access to scholars and students doing groundbreaking work in relevant fields at MIT.

The Task Force imagines research projects that draw on local and external expertise in, for example, brain and cognitive science, media arts and design, computer science, and business modeling.

I think that the big message from the Task Force report is that Libraries have always been the platform upon which new knowledge and understandings are built; and that even, especially at a place like MIT, libraries remain a central part of the scholarly ecosystem and have a crucial role to play in transforming research and learning in a digital age. There is also a recognition in this report that the work we are being asked to do is hard, and that in many cases the models don’t yet exist. There are gaps in the knowledge needed to advance some of recommendations – so the libraries also have to be a home for research and development.

At its core, this report is an affirmation that libraries and our collections are for use – that is the root of our conception of the library as a global platform. This report and the vision it promotes is an invitation – we are inviting MIT and the world to hack the open global platform that is our library.

We are all are part of that invitation – with this report and starting with this conversation, we are all being invited to invent the future, to build the components (technical, social, educational, political) of a global library, and to simultaneously hack the library in exciting, clever, productive, and creative ways.

Batter up!

 

Educause 2016: Libraries and future of higher education

Text of the talk I gave at Educause 2016

Like all good talks, I’m going to start out by telling you what I’m not going to talk about.

As fewer people “go to the library” there has been a growing genre of literature I’ll call the “how to save libraries” genre.

Trends like declining circulation of print books and, in some cases, declining foot traffic in physical library buildings, has led to all kinds of strategies for “saving libraries”.

For academic libraries, that has usually been about turning libraries into information commons, always with coffee shops inside; and/or pumping up the role of librarians in teaching study skills, info-seeking skills and otherwise tying the work of the library folks into student success.

These are all good things, and make for good talks and articles, but my talk today will not be part of that genre. This will not be a “save the libraries” talk.

(this talk by David Lankes, where he references a great talk by Char Booth ,is a much more nuanced take on this than my soundbite intro here)

Let me go ahead and give away the punch line now: I don’t think we need to save libraries, but I do think we might need libraries to save us.

And maybe that’s the kind of hubris you might expect from a library director at a place like MIT; but so be it.

I believe it strongly and am willing to take some time here to try to convince you of it as well.

To convince you that libraries can save us, I figure I need to talk a bit about what libraries (really what librarians, archivists, and all those folks who work in and for libraries and archives) do in addition to building, maintaining, and circulating big collections of physical books and managing physical spaces.  I also need to talk about why what we do is so crucial in higher education a right now, and frankly in the nation and in a global context. To do that, I’ll share with you some of the ideas in a recently released MIT report on the future of libraries.

But before all that, I should probably be clear about what I think we need saving from.

This is the gloomy part of the talk, and I’m not really saying anything you don’t all know, so I’ll try to keep it brief.

At a global level, the challenges we face include ridiculous levels of inequality, poverty and hunger; refugee crises triggered by violence and environmental disasters; climate change; energy and water shortages; civil unrest and violence across the globe; an increase in human trafficking; and more.

At the national level, we are of course affected by the same global horrors, including a growing inequality gap, increasingly divisive and inflammatory political rhetoric, and a frighteningly polarized population.  And the most recent headlines tell us that 51% of likely voters fear election day violence, and in many counties across the countries schools are cancelling classes on election day because of the same fear. I mean, that’s not really how democracy is supposed to work.

But I don’t want to talk about anything as touchy and controversial as politics; so instead I’m going to talk about race.

(there was some uncomfortable laughter from the audience at this point)

Some of you likely know these data, but let me highlight some of the staggering racial differences in the US experience.

wealth-inequality-by-race-ethnicityOne troubling trend is the growing wealth inequality by race and ethnicity in the US – the current gap between blacks and whites has reached its highest point since 1989, and the current white-to-Hispanic wealth ratio has reached a level not seen since 2001. What data from the Pew Research Center show is that whites currently enjoy a level of wealth 13 times that of blacks, and 10 times that of hispanics.

There is a persistent income gap as well. We all know about the gender pay gap — that women make 80 cents for every dollar earned by men — but the race and ethnic income gap is even larger: 2014 census data show that black men earned 70 cents for every dollar earned by white men, black women, 63 cents. Hispanic men earned 60 cents on the dollar, and hispanic women earn 54 cents for every dollar a white man makes.

There are persistent racial and ethnic differences in educational attainment, health outcomes, home ownership, you name it. And residential and occupation segregation persists as well.

Look around the room and you’ll see evidence of occupational segregation – higher education, information technology, and librarianship are all overwhelmingly white occupational fields.

But racial differences in this country are not just demographic differences.

When polled about a variety of social issues, blacks and whites have very different opinions. Perhaps not surprisingly, for example, black americans are about half as likely as white americans to have positive views of whether the police treat members of all racial and ethnic groups equally, and whether police generally use the right amount of force.

On a huge range of topics, black people, other people of color, and white people all see the world differently.

By now, some of you may be wondering if you walked into the wrong talk – what do racial differences and racial inequality have to do with libraries and the future of higher education?

Bear with me just a bit longer as I call your attention to last fall, when students on many of our campuses came together to demand that America’s colleges and universities own up to the systemic racism that exists in higher education and in our nation, and to insist that we take steps to reduce discrimination and promote social justice.

I am talking not only about the high visibility student protests at places like the University of Missouri, and at Yale University; but also about the actions of students and community members at hundreds of colleges across the nation; including MIT.

Students have called our attention to ubiquitous and blatant incidents of racial harassment, they have demanded that we hire more faculty from underrepresented groups, and they have called for faculty and staff to be educated on unconscious bias.

And, like the Stanford law school students who hung this banner in January of 2015, they have insisted that we simply affirm that Black Lives Matter.

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Given the very real racial, political, social, and economic inequity, tension, and divides in this country and on our campuses I think how those of us who work in higher education respond will determine what kind of future we have.

Bridging our divides to find common ground and common solutions requires both individual education and awareness; and dialogue — and libraries are really good at facilitating those things.

Libraries are and must be key partners in the academy and in our communities for making progress on global, national, and local challenges.

And one of those challenges is that we haven’t yet figured out yet how to provide quality education to the billions more people who need and want it, people who are going to be stuck with solving the wicked problems and challenges we leave them with.

Two necessary conditions for making progress on the kinds of challenges we face are sound research and a well-educated populace.

This is where libraries come in.

Libraries and librarians can and do play a crucial role in creating a more open, connected, and equitable future for higher education (and for our communities) through our support and facilitation of open access to scholarship and through our role in providing inclusive spaces that facilitate community building and formal and informal learning.

Let me talk first about openness.

And I want to talk about more than open access when I talk about openness, but let’s start with Open Access.

And here I borrow liberally from Harvard’s Peter Suber, who literally wrote the book on Open Access (published by the MIT Press). A book I recommend to anyone who wants to a quick but thorough introduction to the basics of Open Access. The e-version is available for free, the print version for under $20.

First, what is Open Access? It is work that has been made available to a global audience, digitally, online, free of charge and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.

According to ROARMAP, the Registry of Open Access Repository Mandates and Policies, there are nearly 800 registered Open Access policies across the globe; mostly adopted by research organizations & universities; but also adopted by funding agencies and by sub-units of major research organizations – such as departments or schools within a university.  And the number of policies has grown significantly in the last decade.

If you believe, like I do, that equal access to information and knowledge is a social justice issue; that higher education is a social good; and that education and research are essential to finding solutions to the problems I mentioned earlier; then ensuring everyone has open and equitable access to research and scholarship is really important.

This is one of the key themes in the preliminary report on the future of libraries just released by MIT on Monday:

For the MIT Libraries, the better world we seek is one in which there is abundant, equitable, meaningful access to knowledge and to the products of the full life cycle of research.

And lo and behold, it is libraries and librarians who are implementing Open Access policies in our research organizations and who are doing the heavy lifting to make journal articles (and some other forms of scholarship, like data and in some cases books and textbooks) openly available in meaningful, organized ways through institutional repositories and through educating authors on their rights and options.

Right now we are doing that in a hybrid environment, where much of the content that libraries provide to our communities is still not openly available. We provide content to “authorized users” only, based on the contracts we sign with publishers – many of whom are for-profit entities who dabble in open access publishing, but who at the end of the day are still driven by a profit motive — not an educational or social good motive.

Having research locked away behind corporate paywalls and/or behind our institutional authentication systems means that access to information is not only not free; but is fragmented and cumbersome.

The current landscape of scholarly literature consists of multiple silos of information, accessed through library websites, journal sites, aggregators sites, Google and Google Scholar, social media sites, you name it.

Not only is this hard to navigate as a whole and at each site; but the distributed nature of current access makes it nearly impossible to use the ideas and topics and data in a scholars’ research output to make connections for that scholar to the full range of other research and other scholars that might be relevant, interesting, and important to them. And the need for those kinds of connections and insights was something MIT faculty and researchers brought up often in our conversations with them about their hopes for the future of libraries.

In response to this fractured environment, one way many libraries, MIT included, are re-thinking the way we provide collections to our communities is by applying the “inside-out” framework offered by Lorcan Dempsey of OCLC.

The inside-out library concept describes  a pivot from an old model of libraries where we went out into the world and collected all the stuff (books and articles and such) that was written and published elsewhere, put it on our shelves and loaned it out 1 at a time to our students and faculty; to a new model where we focus on being a trusted repository and disseminator of the research outputs of our own scholars.

In the inside-out model, libraries take responsibility for gathering up and organizing the research and teaching outputs of our own scholars, and making it available to the world.

In the report on the Future of Libraries out of MIT, we use this image of the iconic great dome  at MIT to symbolize that mission.

global-platform

From the preliminary report of the MIT Task Force on the Future of Libraries

(note that the dome is opened in the image, but not in real life)

The overarching theme of the Task Force’s vision is that the MIT Libraries must become a global library for a global university. We conceive of the library as an open platform serving the needs of our communities.

Through this open global platform, we will disseminate MIT research to the world.

We want to do this not just because of a philosophical sense that it is the right thing to do, but also because open access facilitates the verification, replication, reinterpretation and application of research.

Open access accelerates the development of new materials, new technologies, new theories, new policies, new understandings of our world and new solutions to our grand problems — including the kinds of seemingly intractable social problems I described at the beginning of this talk.

Right now, a remarkable 44% of recent journal articles written by MIT faculty members are freely available online through our institutional repository.

As we make progress on the recommendations in our Future of Libraries report, we expect to increase not just that percentage, but also the kinds of research outputs available and the kinds of MIT authors whose work we disseminate.

Now imagine if all, or even most, or every some decent number of research universities and organizations, committed to doing the same thing, at scale. And imagine if the content platforms we built for storing and disseminating our universities’ research outputs, were all compatible and interoperable and built on a common set of standards and metadata practices.

That is the information future we imagine at MIT and it is an information future that contributes to social justice –directly through open, free, and equitable access to information for individuals; and indirectly (but no less powerfully) because open access is good for science.

The report also highlights the need to create content platforms that are for use not just by people reading articles one at a time, but also by machines and algorithms.

We envision the library as a networked set of global platforms replete with content, data, metadata, images, audio files, laboratory notebooks, course materials, and more. We imagine a repository of knowledge and data that can be exploited and analyzed by humans, machines, and algorithms. This transformation will accelerate the accumulation and validation of knowledge, and will enable the creation of new knowledge and of solutions to the world’s great challenges.

That is a really important part of our vision — that the data, collections, and metadata that the libraries have would be open for others not just to read, but also to build tools on top of; and to aim machine-learning algorithms and APIs at.

At MIT, there is a long history of student hacks – ostensibly harmless, but clever pranks carried out with some degree of secrecy, bravado, creativity, and engineering know-how. The most famous MIT hacks have involved putting things on top of the great dome I showed earlier.

And by things, I mean things like whole firetrucks.

firetruckondome-erik-nygren

Photo credit: Eric Nygren

So we used the dome in our illustration because we hope our platform inspires clever, creative, and productive “hacks,” in the form of innovative uses, tools, and programs that extend and amplify our work. For libraries and library collections to have maximum impact, we have to open them up to a full range of possible uses and users.

We have to build open, flexible environments because there are uses for our information and findings to be discovered via our data that we can’t yet imagine.

This is a vision of libraries that is more than books and buildings, and that takes us beyond libraries as high-tech study spaces or gateways to paywalled journal literature.

And yet, it is a vision of modern libraries that is firmly rooted in the traditional and historic role of libraries as providers of information and as institutions that contribute to democracy and the social good.

The theme of radically more open access to information and knowledge is central to the MIT report on the future of libraries.

Another key theme in the report is the importance of libraries as  a space—virtual and physical—where communities of students, scholars, local citizens, and global learners can gather to interact with one another and with scholarly objects and tools.

At MIT, our library spaces are used for everything from a classical music hackathon to dog therapy stress relief during exam week.

Libraries are special places on campus and the Libraries and their staff occupy an essential role in the intellectual and social life of our college and university communities, perhaps especially for students.

The Libraries are a place of research and learning, and library staff are subject-matter and methodological experts who are committed to supporting student success.

One important characteristic of library staff that distinguishes them from faculty is the lack of any authoritative or evaluative role over students. This makes the Libraries places where students might be especially free and comfortable asking questions, seeking help, experimenting with nascent ideas and thoughts, and making mistakes.

Combine that with the fact that Libraries are places where intellectual freedom and privacy are deeply valued and fiercely protected, and it is quite possible that libraries will be the places our students and other community members might feel the most comfortable talking about difficult topics. Perhaps we could start to bridge some of the racial and other divides on our own campuses in and through the libraries; through formal and informal learning and dialogue in our spaces and through exposing students to an inclusive range of credible sources of information and knowledge and research.

To wrap things up I’ll just repeat that at MIT, the idea of the library as an open global platform is central to our vision for the future of libraries. So too is the assertion that library buildings provide unique and necessary spaces for students and other community members. The future of libraries is both digital and physical; and it is open, connected, and inclusive.

I don’t know if that is the kind of talk you expected about libraries; but in case it wasn’t I’ll end with the most stereotypically librarian slide I could come up with, complete with a cat and a card catalog (courtesy of Jackie Dooley).

slide15

a dissertation finds her readers

By now, I hope y’all have heard of SocArXiv, a new open social science archive. I think it is one of the most promising new projects in open access scholarship right now. Of course, I’m a bit biased, being on the Steering Committee and all. But the fact that this was started by social science faculty who immediately reached out to the library community for collaborators, is a big part of why I find this whole endeavor so promising. This isn’t one of those “build it and they 1 will come” archives. This is a “they built it and want us to partner with them” archives.

But a funny thing happened on the way to open social science. When SocArXiv did a soft launch on the OSF platform, I uploaded a few of my own papers. I posted an OA article from Code4Lib that I wrote with Bess Sadler (Feminism and the Future of Library Discovery). I also posted an unpublished manuscript (Bowling with Veterans) that I had submitted to a top-tier sociology journal in 2000 or 2001. It got rejected back then, but in a very gentle and helpful way.  I got 2 incredibly supportive and helpful reviews, and a letter from the editor with strong encouragement to submit to a more specialized journal (military sociology is still not very popular in mainstream sociology). I revised it some, but then abandoned it to finish my dissertation. It’s a good paper, and I was happy to finally have somewhere to put it.

But the really interesting thing is what happened when I published my 2003 dissertation (Gender Mistakes and Inequality) on SocArXiv.

It got read. A lot.

In fact, it has been downloaded 160 times so far,2 making it the most dowloaded paper on SocArXiv right now. Before SocArXiv, I’m not sure anyone outside my committee and a few generous colleagues had read it.3 It has been cited once, albeit by a colleague who was just a year or two behind me in graduate school, so it was pretty easy for her to discovery it.

I actually like my dissertation, and I used to wish I had gotten it published in the traditional way some time closer to when I finished it. But I was a year into my new career in academic libraries by the time I finished the dang thing, and I just never did find the time or energy to revise it to make it suitable for journal submission. But lo these many years later, my dissertation has found her readers. 4

Aside from the ego boost, I actually think this is a great example of the power and usefulness of open access archives. I hope those folks who have downloaded it find useful ideas to build on in it. That was really all I ever wanted–for my dissertation to be useful. But to be useful, it needed to be read; and to be read, it apparently needed SocArXiv.

___________

  1. “They” being shorthand for faculty, who we are often told don’t want OA, or don’t care. Obviously some don’t; but some do. Coalition of the willing and all that.
  2. I know reading and downloading aren’t the same. Whatever.
  3. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t “peer reviewed”. It was reviewed by an all-star committee (Ridgeway, Tuma, Olzak, Jost). Karen Cook and Shelley Correll also read drafts and gave me feedback.
  4. Why yes, I am invoking Ranganathan
  5. And yes, I did just gender my dissertation. But I might be mistaken.

Infrastructure and Culture: A job talk

Below is the text, with some of the slides, from the job talk I gave as part of the interview process for my current job as Director of Libraries at MIT. I have shared it with a few folks who seem to have found it helpful in preparing for similar job talks, so I hope that sharing it here is helpful to others. I also have found it helpful to look back at it myself from time to time – I see it as sort of the “platform I ran on”, and I want to make sure I honor the commitments made herein.

Shaping scholarly communication: Infrastructure and Culture

Shaping scholarly communication: Infrastructure and Culture

Good morning and thank you all for coming out this morning to hear my talk. It is a tremendous honor to be here and to be in consideration for the job of Director of the MIT Libraries.

As I think you know, I have been asked to talk about the future of scholarly communication and generally how I would see myself influencing that future as part of the MIT community. But since this may be the only chance some of you will have to meet me in the day and a half that I am here, I wanted to fill in some of the details about who I am and how and why I ended up here this morning.

You know from my CV (pdf) that I am currently the AUL for Public Services for Stanford Libraries, responsible for the humanities, social science, and area studies libraries, plus special collections, plus direct user support in digital humanities and social science data. Those of you who paid close attention to my CV will have noticed that my path to a career in academic libraries has been a bit unconventional.

Because I paid for college with an ROTC scholarship, my first job after graduation was as an active duty army office. I was stationed in Germany during the tail-end of the Cold War and it was during that time that I gained invaluable experience as a leader, especially during my time as a company commander. At the end of my tour in Germany, I applied for and was accepted into an Army program that sends selected army officers to graduate school in exchange for a commitment to teach at West Point. So I got a master’s degree in Sociology from the University of Maryland, then spent 3 years teaching leadership and sociology to cadets at the US Military Academy. By the time those 3 years were up, it was clear to me that a career in higher education was going to be a better fit for me than an Army career; so I resigned from the military and began a PhD program in Sociology at Stanford. As a graduate student at Stanford, I worked part-time in the library in the Social Science Data center. During that time I came to really see the critical role that the library and librarians played in the research and teaching life of the campus; and I very much enjoyed being a part of that.

While I was in the final stages of writing my dissertation – and therefore spending even more time in the library — several of my librarian colleagues encouraged me to apply for the Social Sciences Librarian position that was open at Stanford at the time. By then I had learned enough about libraries and librarianship, that it was clear to me that a career in academic libraries would be an extraordinarily good fit for my combination of leadership experience and scholarly training. More importantly, I believed that the work I could accomplish within research libraries would likely have a greater impact on the future of scholarship than the work I might have accomplished as an individual scholar.

That has absolutely turned out to be true for me. My career at Stanford has allowed me to assume positions of increasing responsibility since that first library job as well as the opportunity to participate in the profession at a national level. A job as director of libraries at a major research university like MIT is very appealing to me as a next step in my career and as an opportunity to continue to influence the future of libraries and scholarly communication at what I consider a crucially important time for both.

I am convinced that the decisions that are made now, and the directions we take, especially at institutions like MIT, will have profound implications for the future of scholarly communication and therefore on the influence that scholars and scholarship can have on addressing the world’s greatest challenges.
Which brings us to the substantive portion of my talk.

I’ve been asked to talk about the role research institutions like MIT have in shaping the future of scholarly communication, with an emphasis on how I might influence local and national discourse, and how I might lead the libraries and the press to have maximum impact. And, I’ve been asked to do that in 30 minutes.
It is a big topic, or set of topics, and I certainly have more than 30 minutes worth of thoughts on it. Some of what I want to say will necessarily be at a fairly abstract level, but I will try to provide some examples which I am happy to address in more detail during the Q&A time.

Frankly, I’m also hesitant to offer detailed plans for MIT because I believe that a new leader should spend a considerable amount of time learning about a new organization, its culture, its strengths and aspirations before initiating any specific strategies for that organization. There are also a number of topics that I think are crucial to the future of libraries and scholarly communication, but that I won’t address directly in the scope of this talk – I hope you will feel free to ask me about my thoughts on learning spaces, MOOCs, information literacy, big data, shared print collections, the role of social media in marketing the library and the press, and any of the other topics that I don’t directly highlight in the next 30 minutes or so.

What I will talk about is how institutions like MIT, and specifically the MIT Libraries and the MIT Press, play key roles in shaping the future of scholarly communication by providing an infrastructure and a culture that supports the creation, dissemination and preservation of knowledge.

My plan is to explain what I mean by infrastructure and culture, explain where and how I think choices about infrastructure and/or culture, particularly in the context of libraries and university presses, affect scholarship and the future of scholarly publishing, and provide examples of ways I have tried, and would continue to try, to influence discourse and organizational effectiveness via infrastructure and culture.

When I talk about infrastructure, I’m referring to not only physical settings but also to the digital infrastructures that are increasingly important to research and learning. And when I talk about culture, I’m primarily talking about organizational culture – the assumptions, values, and norms that make up an organization’s personality and that guide (or should guide) the decisions an organization makes – not just about what to do, but also how work is accomplished and by whom.

Bikes outside Green Library, Stanford

Bikes outside Green Library, Stanford

As a sociologist I see infrastructure and culture as not separate domains, but as very much interrelated. For example, Stanford is a biking campus, not just because we are in California, with its culture of healthy living and environmental consciousness, but also because we have a very large sprawling campus and we enjoy generally excellent weather all year round.

Infrastructure and culture are mutually reinforcing aspects of a healthy, effective organization. And as a leader, ensuring that infrastructures are reflective of and supportive of a clearly articulated culture is one of my key responsibilities.

I also think it is important to note at the outset that I do not believe that libraries have ever been merely neutral repositories of information; nor do I think they should be. Great libraries are always more than infrastructure, they are more than warehouses they are definitely more than merely a Netflix for books.
Great libraries embody the cultural values of their communities and their parent organizations; and they promote the values of democracy, diversity, openness, and the idea that education is a public and social good.

MIT strikes me as a place that openly strives to create infrastructures that match your particular culture and values; and as a place where the libraries and the press are expected to play leading roles in advocating for change in scholarly publishing practices and higher education consistent with MIT values. That is one of the key factors that makes this opportunity so attractive to me.

For example, it is no coincidence that DSpace – an infrastructure designed to promote the preservation and open dissemination of scholarship, was developed at MIT – an institution with a culture that promotes open access to the scholarly record and that includes preservation as part of its mission. I won’t name names, but many institutions lag behind MIT in providing access to the research they produce. In some cases, it is because they have the cultural will, but lack the infrastructure; at other universities, the infrastructure exists, but the institution lacks a shared cultural imperative. It seems clear to me that the tight coupling of culture and infrastructure has been a key factor in MIT’s unique and early success in disseminating its research and teaching to the world.

DSpace at MIT

DSpace at MIT

MIT established itself as a bold and effective leader in the open access movement when it developed DSpace over a decade ago, and again when faculty passed an Open Access policy in 2009.
(Let me note here that I am aware that within the broad support for open access as a concept there are valid concerns across campus about how to balance openness with current realities of tenure and promotion and the pressure on humanities graduates especially to revise their dissertations into a first book that university presses will be wiling to publish.)

It is clear to me that the MIT Libraries and the MIT Press play a vital role in providing the kinds of physical and digital infrastructures that facilitate world-class scholarship and teaching and that encourage and support innovations in research and pedagogy.

The next leader of the MIT libraries and the MIT press will clearly have a unique opportunity and responsibility to continue the legacy of leadership and excellence, and to influence the discourse on open access – both locally and nationally.

My sense of the open access landscape is that the movement has reached the point where it is time to take stock of the many innovations, experiments, successes, and failures in this space. MIT strikes me as especially well-positioned to lead such a conversation.

Open Access: What's next?

Open Access: What’s next?

Developing sustainable models for open access publishing requires an understanding of the complex interactions between the ways scholarship is produced, reviewed, published, rewarded, marketed and disseminated – and the ways all of those things are changing.
Essentially, I see this as a sort of systems engineering puzzle – the exact kind of problem that folks from MIT are especially well qualified to solve.
It is time to pull together all the key players – scholarly associations, librarians, publishers, funding agencies, and scholars – to develop a systematic inventory of what we know about open access efforts to date, and what remains to be learned. I would love to see MIT host a set of productive conversations on open access, with the explicit goal of chronicling what we know so far, and charting a direction for continued development of infrastructures, policies and practices based on documented successes and best practices.

Moving from experimentation to sustainable models for Open Access, especially models that move beyond journals to include monographs as well as new forms of interactive, multimedia narratives, will require steady and coordinated change across all parts of the scholarly communication system.

Change in this space will also require new radically collaborative funding models – such as the model suggested by a recent white paper produced by K|N Consultants that calls for all higher education institutions to contribute to a centrally managed fund that would be used to support partnerships among scholarly societies, research libraries, and other institutional players for the production, access and long-term preservation of new and evolving forms of research output. Full disclosure, I am was a member of the Board of Directors of K|N consultants – in part because I think bold strategies like the one they propose need to be part of the conversation.

Encouraging and hosting a systematic and collaborative meta-analysis of what we currently know about open access is one specific way I would want to leverage the expertise, culture, and reputation of MIT to influence discourse and progress in shaping the future of scholarly communication. In other words, lets gather the available data, from all parts of the ecosystem, and analyze it so we can make smart decisions about how to move forward.

Finding ways to promote and sustain open access to and broad dissemination of scholarly research is not only consistent with the core values of librarianship and with the mission of MIT, but it also conveniently has the potential to offer some relief from the very real budget pressures most academic libraries and their host institutions are all too familiar with. Flat or declining collection budgets, combined with rising serials costs – especially in the sciences – have driven most libraries to look very carefully at the value of their collections and to focus on maximizing the return on investment on the materials we acquire.

Journals, photo by Wayne Vanderkuil

Journals, photo by Wayne Vanderkuil

Now, while I am very much in favor of maximizing the use and impact of our collections, I am also an advocate for explicit efforts to ensure that use and popularity are not the sole determinants of what sorts of materials libraries collect. I believe that libraries need to collect and university presses need to publish diverse literatures, on niche topics and by authors from underrepresented groups not just so that our individual collections reflect a stated commitment to diversity; but also to ensure that diverse voices get published and are therefore available as part of the collective scholarly record we leave to future students and scholars.

I also think it is important to recognize that the books we collected in the past, and kept, preserved, and digitized are now available for innovative new kinds of research – such as this project on the evolution of Brazilian Portuguese.

Graph of evolution of Brazilian Portuguese, courtesy of Cuauhtémoc García-García

Graph of evolution of Brazilian Portuguese, courtesy of Cuauhtémoc García-García

The data for this research – provided to the Stanford research team by Stanford librarians — consists of the digitized texts of Portuguese language books in HathiTrust & Google Books –from our own collections and those of our peers. Here’s the thing — Our pre-colonial Brazilian literature doesn’t really get much use, and it is a good bet that the majority of the tens of thousands of texts that make up the data for this study have less than impressive circulation records. For me this project, and other examples of research that depend on rarely used materials, stand as cautionary tales about relying too heavily on use statistics and narrowly defined return on investment metrics for decision-making and assessment. We have to be cognizant of the fact that current and future scholars will make use of our archives, our collections, and our data in ways we cannot now imagine.

Creating a culture that values diversity and the long-term value of library collections and services requires new and innovative ways of assessing and demonstrating impact. With this in mind, I started a pilot project last year, with one of our digital humanities librarians, to investigate an alternate way of assessing the value of libraries and librarians. In this project, we used text-mining techniques to quantify and analyze mentions of Stanford libraries and librarians in the acknowledgements sections of published monographs. We have dubbed this our “measuring thanks” project, and our early findings are quite encouraging and informative. For example, we have found that the two library services most often mentioned by name in acknowledgements are special collections and interlibrary borrowing. We have also found that the majority of authors who acknowledge a library actually acknowledge more than 1 library or collection—pointing to the importance of creating collaborative collections and discovery environments to make access to dispersed but related collections even easier for future scholars.

Developing new ways of demonstrating the impact of our services and collections is a way of promoting a culture that values assessment, but also recognizes that the true impact of libraries and librarians is often delayed and too idiosyncratic to show up in most of the standard ROI style assessment tools currently in use.
So while I am a fan of assessment and data-driven decision-making, I think it is critically important that we make sure the data we are using captures the full story of our impact. As a social scientist with experience teaching and consulting on statistics and research methods, I’m committed to making sure that the assessment tools we use in libraries are the right ones, that the data we collect measures what really matters, and that we use methods appropriate to the decisions we want to make.

In addition to providing an alternate, potentially more meaningful benchmark for library impact and value, one of the other things I love about the “Measuring thanks” project is that it has provided us with true stories that help us connect the work we do with actual scholarly products.

Ensuring that all members of our staff understand how their own work and the work of their colleagues contributes to the research and teaching missions of the university is one of the main goals of the Library Concierge Program – a project I developed for Stanford Libraries in 2012.

Stanford Libraries Concierge Program, with feedback

Stanford Libraries Concierge Program, with feedback

The Concierge Program ensures that all our library staff have a good understanding of the array of resources and services we have to offer – from print and digital collections across many disciplines, to multi-media training, to digital humanities support, to data management planning and more. The Program consists of structured opportunities for all library staff – from subject liaisons to cataloguers to shelves, even many of our long-term student workers – to learn about what their colleagues in other parts of the organization are doing, so that we could all act as ambassadors – or concierges – for the full range of resources, services and expertise the libraries have to offer. The program is explicitly designed to break down the silos across the library, the university press, and our academic computing services and to promote more open exchange of information and expertise among all members of the libraries.

I’m happy to say that the program has been a huge success – I offer these 2 quotes as partial evidence, supporting by a more quantitative evaluation reported in a case study published in the open access Journal of Creative Library Practice. As the quotes suggest, library staff report that they have a better understanding of the bigger organization and how & where their particular job fits in the big picture. And ultimately, the success of the program is revealed through the impact on scholars, who, as the 2nd quote illustrates, are able to make more productive and efficient use of the resources we make available to them.

The final topic I want to touch on is the work I have done as an advocate for increased diversity and inclusion in the library profession generally, and specifically in library technology.

As some of you know, I am active on social media – I’ve used twitter and my blog, as well as various speaking opportunities to try to raise awareness about the lack of diversity in librarianship and I have played a leading role in two major recent events – a day-long forum on diversity in academic libraries at the Digital Library Federation Fall forum, and a 2-day summit on Leadership, Technology, and Gender in April of this year.

And last summer, I asked our university librarian to issue a public statement in support of anti-harassment policies (or codes of conduct) at library, technology, and higher education conferences. Together, we encouraged our staff to participate only in those conferences that had clear and public anti-harassment policies and to advocate for the adoption of such policies at conferences in which they participate. As a result, Stanford librarians, backed by the strong public stance made by the library leadership, played key roles in the adoption of codes of conduct by several major national and international organizations, including the Association of Digital Humanities Organizations, the Music Library Association, and the Association of Slavic Eastern European & European Studies. I am told that the Coalition of Networked Information is working on such a policy, in response, at least partially, to advocacy from Stanford. I am proud to have played a key role in ensuring that these spaces are safer and more accessible to those who may have otherwise felt less welcome.
OK – to summarize, I was asked to talk about the future of scholarly communication and how I might influence discourse about that future, and how I would lead the MIT Libraries and Press. I hope that what I have shared about the work I have done and the values and passions that motivate me have made it clear what kind of leader I have been thus far and how I would seek to lead if given the opportunity here at MIT.

I believe that scholarship is ultimately a conversation, and my vision of libraries and university presses, is that they are natural hosts for those conversations – creating spaces — virtual, physical, & cultural spaces –where those conversations are facilitated, recorded, published and made available to be used and revised and expanded in ways we can’t yet anticipate; but which we none-the-less must aspire to capture and preserve for future generations.

Infrastructure + Culture = Conversations

Infrastructure + Culture = Conversations

I’m proud of the work my colleagues and I have accomplished at Stanford, and of the influence I have had on broader conversations about issues of importance to the library profession and to the future of scholarly communication.

And … I am ready and eager to assume a more active and a more prominent role in leading and influencing the future of libraries and of scholarly publishing. I am attracted to MIT because of its unique blend of values, scholarly intensity, and commitment to solving real world problems.

By all accounts, the MIT Libraries and the MIT Press are poised to meet the emerging challenges presented by new methods of research, new forms of publication, and changing expectations for access to information. MIT strikes me as a place where people see challenges as opportunities, and where faculty, students and staff alike seek to leverage the full force of MIT’s intellectual resources toward finding solutions to real problems. MIT has already taken a lead in addressing the very real and pressing challenge of finding sustainable models of providing open, equitable & meaningful access to the growing flood of scholarly information, data, and technologies. I would welcome the opportunity to build on MIT’s legacy of strong and principled leadership on these issues as a member of this community and as director of the MIT Libraries.

Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you and I very much welcome your questions.

My stint on the JLA Editorial Board: A few clarifications

Seems like a few clarifications about the story of my short stint on the JLA Editorial Board are needed. In no particular order:

  • I’m female. Some of the follow-on stories refer to me as “he”. I get it. It’s a gender-neutral name, and I guess if you googled me for a picture, that might not clear things up. But I am female. I figure if I write “Chris Bourg is female” here, future bloggers can google me and get it right next time.
  • I do not speak for the former Editorial Board of the Journal of Library Administration. My post about my stint with JLA is my own story. I thought that was obvious in the original post, but apparently not.
  • My crisis of conscience in the aftermath of the tragic death of Aaron Swartz was my own and not the board’s. I’m pretty sure I never even mentioned Aaron’s death or my feelings about it in any conversations ever with the Editor of JLA or any of my fellow board members.
  • Even after my crisis of conscience, at the time, I decided to stay on the board, and to submit the article I promised. Judge me if you will. Later, when negotiations with T&F went nowhere, I resigned along with the rest of the board.
  • Any connection between my crisis of conscience, Aaron’s tragic death, and the board’s resignation is tenuous and indirect at best. I suppose my hesitation to submit my article counted as one more piece of data adding up to the board’s conclusion that the restrictive and confusing licensing terms were making it difficult to attract quality content.
  • It is my opinion, and was my hope, that the terms negotiated by the authors of the articles in the special issue on Digital Humanities in Libraries should have served as a model for a new standard author license for JLA. I think Micah Vandegrift and the rest of the authors in that issue deserve enormous credit and praise for both the quality of that issue (which was hugely influential in my decision to join the board), and for their persistence in negotiating an amended license, and for doing so publicly. I just didn’t, and still don’t, think every potential JLA author ought to have to go through the same lengthy negotiation process.
  • As former Editor Damon Jaggars has stated: “Open Access writ large was not the fundamental issue in this disagreement.” I characterize it as about open(er) access and about author’s control of their own work.
  • And just for good measure, I am female. Always have been, always will be.

3/29/13, 6:30pm: Edited to make timeline clear and to reiterate that we all remain resigned.

My short stint on the JLA Editorial Board

In the Fall of 2012, I was persuaded by Damon Jaggars to join the Editorial Board of the Journal of Library Administration. This week, we all resigned.

When I was asked to be on the board, I warned Damon that I had actually never published anything in library literature, and that I was generally critical of the quality of much of the literature in the field. He convinced me this would be a chance to do something about it, and that he had some good ideas for publishing a quality product. Damon is a pretty persuasive guy, and I figured it was time for me to stop grousing about the problems with library literature and try to be part of the solution. So I signed on.

Later, Damon asked me to write an article about our Library Concierge project for JLA, and again I said yes. When Damon contacted me later with an actual deadline for the article, I told him I was having second thoughts. It was just days after Aaron Swartz’ death, and I was having a crisis of conscience about publishing in a journal that was not open access. Damon reminded me (gently) that not only had I agreed to write for JLA, but I was on the Editorial Board, so this could be a problem. More importantly, he assured me that he was working with Taylor & Francis to try to get them to adopt less restrictive agreements that would allow for some form of Creative Commons license. He told me his strategy was to work from within to encourage change among publishers. Once again, Damon’s power of persuasion worked.

So, I worked on the article, and just recently submitted it. In the meantime, Damon continued to try to convince Taylor & Francis (on behalf of the entire Editorial Board, and with our full support), that their licensing terms were too confusing and too restrictive. A big part of the argument is that the Taylor & Francis author agreement is a real turn-off for authors and was handicapping the Editorial Board’s ability to attract quality content to the journal. The best Taylor & Francis could come up with was a less restrictive license that would cost authors nearly $3000 per article. The Board agreed that this alternative was simply not tenable, so we collectively resigned. In a sense, the decision was as much a practical one as a political one. Huge kudos to Damon for his persistence, his leadership, and his measured and ethical stance on this issue.

So, if anyone has an opening on an editorial board of a journal with less restrictive author agreements, I just so happen to have some free time. I’ve also got a fairly decent article about our Library Concierge Project all ready if anyone wants to publish it.

(3/23, 5:43pm, Edited to correct some spelling and add a link. CB)

 

Busy librarian guide to the Research Works Act

I did an informal survey at MPOW and was a bit surprised to learn that very few librarians here know much about the Research Works Act (RWA) (PDF). Some had heard of it, but had only a vague sense of what it is — “It’s the anti-Open Access bill, right?”. (Not to single anyone out, but our awesome new International Government Docs librarian did know about the RWA, had strong opinions, and rushed off the find the full text of the bill).

I think the Research Works Act, and especially the debate that it has engendered, is an important part of the context in which we (librarians) operate; and we need to be aware of the conversations. So, I hope folks at MPOW and elsewhere will find this round-up of the basics helpful. To fully grok the debate, you really should follow the links and read more.

The Research Works Act is intended to place limits on the actions of federal agencies, such that:

No Federal agency may adopt, implement, maintain, continue, or otherwise engage in any policy, program, or other activity that (1) causes, permits, or authorizes network dis- semination of any private-sector research work without the prior consent of the publisher of such work; or (2) requires that any actual or prospective author, or the employer of such an actual or prospective author, assent to network dissemination of a private-sector research work.

The American Libraries Association came out in opposition:

The ALA has been a long-time, ardent supporter of increasing access to information of all types, including federally funded research. This latest bill, the Research Works Act, would act in direct contradiction and therefore the ALA vehemently opposes the bill.

Perhaps not surprisingly, The Association of American Publishers supports the Act, claiming it is necessary “to ensure freedom from regulatory interference for private-sector research publications.”

The Copyright Alliance is likewise supportive, arguing that “Providing a federal grant to fund a research project should not enable the federal government to commandeer and freely distribute a subsequently published private sector peer-reviewed article.”

The ever insightful Barbara Fister does a marvelous job of spelling out the connection between the Research Works Act and the Elesevier boycott, noting that the furor over the RWA seems to have awakened more scholars to the open access cause.

For a rather nuanced take on the RWA and associated issues, check out David Crotty’s piece at the scholarly kitchen, where he asks:

Can we express strong support for open access publishing while at the same time taking care not to destroy the funding we generate, which is used to directly support the research community and research itself?

Crotty further argues:

For the not-for-profit publisher — the research society dependent on its journal, the research institution that uses a journal to fund research — extremism in either direction makes no sense. If one truly believes in one’s mission, then both the seemingly contradictory ideas of expanding access and preserving revenue streams are necessary and compatible. The goal should be to find ways to expand access while at the same time continuing to fund the important activities a society or institution provides.

For more information and opinions on the Research Works Act, see:

Note: I decided to make this the first in what I hope to make into a regular series of posts tagged “Busy librarian guide”. I’ll tackle and try to summarize key issues that I think librarians (especially academic librarians) ought to be aware of. I’ve retroactively tagged a few old posts as well, so it actually looks like a series. Please feel free to suggest topics in the comments below.

2/7/12: Edited to add John Dupuis’ Around the web: Research Works Act & Elsevier Boycott, which is chock-full of links.

Nicholas Carr is wrong. Again.

Nicholas Carr is wrong again (see Google is not making us stupid). In Information wants to be free my ass, Carr argues that all the money we fork out for information services is based on the high value we place on content. No argument from me on that, but Carr seems to be ignoring all kinds of relevant trends towards free services and content: Skype, free WiFi, Open Access movements, etc. Yes, there are counter-trends, as content providers and others are trying to figure out how to cash in on the demand for information. But that doesn’t mean that the basic ideas behind the information wants to be free meme are wrong. It just means that lots of folks want to make money off of information, and that hardly seems like a big revelation. In fact, that is what Stewart Brand said when he first noted that information wants to be free:

On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other. (May 1985, Whole Earth Review, p. 49

But that kind of nuance is not really Carr’s thing.

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When is a mandate not a mandate?

On the HighWire Press Facebook page, John Sack tipped me off to the Occasional Pamphlet, where Stuart M. Shieber has a terrific post up about University open-access policies as mandates.
Essentially, Schieber notes that university open-access policies are not mandates, in the sense that “there is no such thing as a mandate on faculty.” According to Schieber, all open-access policies have an implicit waiver option anyway, so:

it makes great sense to take the high road and provide for the waiver possibility explicitly. This has multiple benefits. First, it acknowledges reality. Second, it explicitly preserves the freedom of the author. Third, it enables much broader acceptance of the policy.

Perhaps the most important part of the post is this:

I am not claiming that there can be no true open-access mandates on faculty. Rather, such mandates must come from outside academia. Funders and governments can mandate open access because they can, in the end, refuse to fund noncompliers. They have a stick. All a university, school, or dean has, in the end, is a carrot.

In As library budgets collapse, authors need to take responsibility for access, Shieber implies that one of the carrots we have is, ironically, shrinking library budgets. As libraries are forced to cancel subscriptions to high-priced journals, the best way to ensure that the maximum number of other scholars have access to your scholarship is to publish it in open-access journals and deposit it in open-access institutional repositories.

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John

Conventional Scholarship as “Legacy System”, Open Access as “Middleware”

I finally got around to reading Conventional Scholarship as “Legacy System” and Open Access as “Middleware” at Academic Evolution.
I think it is a very useful analogy for understanding why some scholars are slow to embrace open access.

You see, academia’s knowledge economy is so symbiotically connected to for-profit (toll-access) publishing at this point in time that academics, ostensibly devoted to open inquiry and the pursuit of knowledge for social good, can be profoundly closed-minded about Open Access publishing or any method of distribution if it varies from the tried and true, even if those methods far exceed the reach and impact of traditional print publishing.

And more on the potential consequences for academic publishing of not changing:

If academic publishing stays within its established genres and persists in the gateway model of peer review, it can continue to pretend to fixed and certain authority, as though knowledge is a commodity (as indeed, it is within the academic reward system). This is understandable given tradition, but it is inconsistent with the open and ongoing review of knowledge that is the new paradigm of communication and knowledge production. Ultimately, traditional academic publishing will prove to be inferior knowledge of diminishing significance (largely due to its own self silencing and its voluntary withdrawal from persistent social knowledge systems).

Read the whole thing to get to the parts about how current Open Access models are “middleware”, and how academic scholarship and publishing will evolve.



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