Open Access at FSU

Preface: These are my own thoughts and do not reflect the thoughts or opinions of my employer. 

Since May of this year, I have been working as the Scholarly Communications Project Manager for a Faculty/Librarian Task Force at Florida State University. The task force, created by the Faculty Senate Library Committee, was charged with researching Scholarly Communications* initiatives and making recommendations about how FSU might respond to evolution in the scholarly publishing cycle. As Project Manager, it has been my duty to compile research materials, prepare informational documents, manage communications within the group and conduct outreach around campus related to our work. The number one goal of the Task Force is to propose an open access policy* to our Faculty Senate, beginning FSU down the road to active participation in the adaptations happening in higher education, especially relating to how, why and who should have access to the knowledge produced therein.

So, after 6 months of hard work (2 of which I spent entirely dedicated to reading and researching), we’ve come to the apex. Tomorrow, we will present our proposed policy to the Faculty Senate, and next week I will be leading coordination of Open Access Week @ FSU. It’s strange, but it all feels kind of bittersweet, and I found myself chatting with a colleague today saying, “What happens next in a Scholarly Communications initiative?” That question remains and will be dealt with in coming weeks, but I wanted to take a second to outline some important facets of our work so far:

1) Our proposed ‘policy’ is very different than the policies passed by the likes of Duke, Kansas and Princeton, all of which have similar language about faculty granting the University a certain type of license for their scholarly articles. We are actually referring to our policy as a “Resolution” in that it is an expression of support for continuing to explore this area, more so than a dictation or mandate. Many will see this as a policy with no teeth, but we are approaching is as the best case for our university at this point, and a key first step toward developing this area here.

2) A factor in this decision was the fact that a bulk of our research and work was conducted this summer, when much of the university community is not very active. A scholarly communications initiative must be developed in tandem with an educational/informational campaign, and we just haven’t had the time or resources to do that as extensively as is necessary… yet.

3) Taking into account the culture and politics of the University organization is incredibly important when pursuing these types of grand initiatives. Having previously worked in a University, I had a little knowledge of this fact, but working so directly with it on this project has made me much more aware of the ways that administrative offices, libraries, academic departments and others have to put in a lot of work building consensus… and that is a job in itself.

4) The misunderstandings and misconceptions of open access are rampant and strongly held. This was never more evident than when talking with a friend, who happens to be a faculty member, about my work; he expressed his thoughts on this topic and was shocked when I offered some facts and ideas that countered his preconceived ideas of how open access works. There is much education to be done to combat misinformation.

5) It has been, and is constantly, an encouragement to know that there is an active, brilliant, available community of open access advocates who are willing to offer tips and advice. I contacted Scholarly Communications Librarians around the country, read their papers, viewed their presentations (shared online with CC licenses, of course), and learned so much through others’ experiences.

6) Working in collaborative bodies, like the task force I worked for, is an amazing opportunity to see what the future of the university can be. I am very interested in continuing to explore the nature of trans-disciplinary collaborative projects within the University, and I hope to remain an agent in that work, academically and as a professional librarian.

At this point, I almost feel like I am pushing my baby bird out of the nest, letting the work I’ve put into developing this open access resolution and scholarly communications initiative go to the Faculty Senate to see if it will fly. Come tomorrow afternoon, we’ll know for sure, and will proceed, fighting the good fight, and, rephrasing myself,

…to the best of our ability making it our duty to provide access to information, with the tools available to us, always and forever.

*Scholarly Communications – The cycle of producing, sharing and consuming academic scholarly work, most often focused on journal articles.

*Open Access Policy – the document by which many of these evolutions in the scholarly communications cycle become realized. OA Policies are meant to serve as an endorsement of the underlying principles at work in scholarly communications (faculty empowerment, the public good of access to research, etc.), while providing some clear goals for how open access will play out in the institution. Often an open access resolution is just the first step in the process of a university acknowledging that scholarly communications is an institutional priority.

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