Its Our Time: Three crazy ideas for LIS to “own” open access.

This is my “repent and ye shall be saved” talk, prepared and presented at ACRL-NY’s 2014 symposium on the topic of Academic Librarians and Open Access.


Let me give away all my secrets up front – I’ve only been a librarian for three years, scholarly communication is the only job I’ve ever had in a library, and I’ve never known librarianship without HathiTrust, DPLA, campus/funder open access policies, The Code of Best Practices for Fair Use in Research Libraries, research data management, and digital humanities. I’ve never done reference. Never put together a collection development plan. Never once recommended a book to a patron. Best yet, Librarians are untenured faculty at Florida State, so I have nothing to lose by challenging the scholarly communication system as we know it.

In developing this talk, I thought I had a new idea. But then, reviewing some of the other things I worked on this year, it turns out I am really just a broken record on a soapbox. So if you have read or heard anything I’ve done recently, feel free to stop reading and begin uploading all your publications to your institutional repository while I blather on.

Most of the discussions about open access and the academic library have been how we can provide services and support to the campus – what we can do to support OA rather than what we can do to DO OA. I’m much more interested in the latter.

There is a time for coalition building, but there is also a time for action.

I titled my talk “Scholarly Communication is People” because I believe that is the number one thing that we have lost over the 8 years that Open Access Week has been observed in libraries internationally. In the beginning, we (libraries) made it about money (the Serials Crisis); scholars have made it about their rights to their work; funders have made it about a return on investment; policy makers have made it about civic life. I believe all those things are true, but what we overlook too often is that the academic enterprise, and by extension all this damn writing we do, is about making better humans. The only real reason open access matters is because of the potential it offers. The possibility that a member of the public, disconnected from higher education, will discover academic research that matters to their real life is the reason I wake up. And we have done a disservice to the public by making it all about us.

My mantra, when thinking about open access and academic librarians, is simply this, borrowed from colleagues in the digital humanities – Less yack, more hack.


To that end, here’s one of the crazy things I’ve done this year:


And another:


And, the Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication just published an article based on a talk I gave at the Library Publishing Forum in March, titled “Free to All: Library Publishing and the Challenge of Open Access,” asking what is our responsibility, as we move into publishing roles, to advance an open access agenda with our partners?

You can imagine the variety of responses that I might have gotten to any of these. My entire professional output this year has basically been, “so, what are we really doing here?” The good news is its not just me, alone on my soapbox.

Here’s what we currently know about open access and academic librarians: Slide07

UPDATE: there are currently 11 OA policies in libraries. The Open Access Directory lists only “unanimous faculty votes.” ROARmap represents a fuller list of policies. Thanks to Jen Waller at Miami U – Ohio, where they passed a policy in 2012, for catching this.

Since 2009 there have been 7 open access policies passed specifically in academic libraries (Oregon State, University of Calgary, U Oregon, Gustavus Adolphus College, U of Northern Colorado, Wake Forest, UNC-Greensboro). Of course, there are many other instances where campus OA policies apply to libraries also, but these represent an important subset of campus open access policies.

We have a 10 year old, international, disciplinary pre-print archive that is entirely underutilized as a tool for disseminating and discovering scholarship in our field.

The Directory of Open Access Journals lists 143 OA journals (97 in English). Several of my personal favorites are College and Research Libraries, In The Library with the Lead Pipe, Code4Lib, Weave, Journal of Electronic Publishing, and the Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication.

Out of 14872 signatories on the Cost of Knowledge Elsevier boycott, 389 self-identify as hailing from the Library and Information Sciences, including 8 students in library school.

This is all great, encouraging progress. However, after a brief literature review the picture looks a little more grey.


A 2007 study surveyed 10 research libraries (9 ARL) and found that “library faculty members are not practicing what they generally advocate.” Only 50% of the respondents considered the copyright policy of the journal to be important, and only 12% had exercised the right to self-archive.

A 2009 study reported that 77% of respondents agreed that principles of OA relate to the purpose of academic libraries, but only 46% agreed that “OA would fail without active involvement of libraries.”

In 2011 Holly Mercer studied the open access behaviors of academic librarians, and concluded that while 49% of articles published by librarians in her study were openly accessible, 94% were eligible to be open.

Earlier this year, Chealsye Bowley and I dug deeper and discovered that we are almost halfway there on many measures — 54% of the LIS journals we reviewed allow the author to retain copyright, while the publisher receives a license to publish; 45% of the journals allow pre-print and post-print archiving; 49% offer gold Open Access publishing options that require an author processing charge (APC) ranging from $300 to $3,000; 56% of our LIS journals are owned by commercial, for profit publishers. The remainder are supported and published by library consortia, libraries, universities and/or University Presses, and a large chunk from our societies and associations.

What does it all mean? We’re getting better, but not as quickly or publicly as we could be.

I believe that we’re at a place where we’ve got the campus support model going pretty well. It’s well past time for us to critically examine the research practices of our own profession and to take steps to change it. This is where we’re at, what I’d like to discuss is where we could be going.


1) All librarians should/can be invested in Scholarly Communication and open access.

Because evolution. New roles for new times. In the past 3 years, most of the new hires at my library have been “functional specialists” in brand new positions. Our field is evolving and being in the know about scholarly communicition is great, but doing it for our own research is better.

Because example. I’m literally just tired of all the best examples of the potential greatness of our open access future being from Physics, BioMed and Digital Humanities.

Because it’s super easy, and it flows from and touches everything that we “believe” in – our heritage of “access for all.”

2) All libraries need a scholarly communication initiative.

Because the populations we serve are being taught poor scholarly communication habits that will continue to perpetuate a misguided system.

Because scholarly communication it is multifaceted. Most people think of a tripod of Scholarly Communication: an institutional repository, a campus open access policy, and an open access fund. But really “scholarly communication” is just Publishing 101: how does peer review work, what is/are Open Educational Resources, Why Creative Commons, what are the best practices for utilizing Google Scholar, are there best practices for professional social networking, digital project management, effective data management strategies, etc. When we define “scholarly communication” not by our library-land buzz word idea of what it is, but as the practice and habits of scholars and researchers effectively passing information between one another… much of what is being done in many libraries could be wrapped into a nice little ScholComm package. “We don’t have a repository” is not a good enough excuse anymore, because your faculty are already using ResearchGate, Figshare, Mendeley, and they need to know how to use those platforms legally and most effectively. The true bottom line for an effective scholarly communication program in my opinion is copyright education. If everyone that interacted with the library left with a firm grasp on their own copyrights to the things they create (including especially scholarly works) the system of academic publishing would change itself overnight.

3) A scholarly communication initiative builds peer-partnerships with researchers and scholars

Because respect. As the library organization evolves, the campus must develop a new perception of the librarian. We do research too, and must be treated as such.

Because collaboration. All things research/scholarship in the future will have elements of collaboration, and what we bring to the table (information skills, copyright knowledge, project management, cross-disciplinary perspective, etc) is invaluable. Not to mention time and people to devote to advancing new research practices like data curation, or grants compliance to federal funders open access mandates.

Because Scholarly Communication is people. We need to invest in making new connections, in new ways, with our colleagues beyond the library. It’s as necessary for the continued relevance of the library as it is for the advancement of the research/teaching agenda at an institution.

Here are some specific things that we can be involved in to change the scholarly conversation: Slide10

OpenCon – A group of young and early career researchers devoted to working toward a more equitable research ecosystem. Included especially folks outside of libraries.

ARCS – Advancing Research Communication and Scholarship. A new conference focused on the evolving an increasingly complex scholarly communication network, “deeply committed to building a conference that explores and respectively debates the different and even conflicting ideas of what a better system of scholarly communication is and how to build it.” Inviting folks outside of libraries.

Triangle Scholarly Communication Institute – The theme this year was “Scholarship and the Crowd,” i.e. how do we connect scholarly work beyond the ivory tower? Teams and working groups including scholars, publishers, technologists, etc., working together to explore this idea. Inviting folks outside of libraries.

Library Publishing Coalition – Newly founded organization, facilitating key connections with University Presses, an essential partner in academic publishing, whose goals align closely with ours. We should push LPC to become our advocate for change as publishing evolves around us.

Slide11What can we DO to change our own research practices?

Acknowledging that not every librarian will be a researcher (Jill Emery points out there are many different ways to support open access), those of us that do produce research have some unique opportunities.

  1.  Pledge. If Erin Mckiernan can do it and survive in neuroscience, we can do it too. Inspired by that article that Chealsye and I wrote, Stuart Lawson over at JISC crowdsourced an LIS open access declaration. Shockingly few people have signed on, and/or heard about it. I think public announcements about our principles are important to changing perceptions about libraries.
  2.  Follow through. Deposit your work in repositories. Change your publication contracts. Reuse other peoples CC-licensed work. Contribute your work to open access journals. Its imperative that we model the behavior we are asking from our campus communities.
  3.  Go Forth. Imagine scholarly communication beyond the PDF, platform/technology agnostic, mobile, agile, big data-ed, experimental, no-textual, multimedia, etc. What could it be, and why aren’t we going to push our field to do that next big thing?

Here’s my big idea(s):Slide12

Lets negotiate a SCOAP3-type deal with Taylor and Francis. They currently hold most of the LIS journals, and we continue to rent our own research back from them. It would be a “Big Deal” on our terms, for our own work.

Lets build an Open Access Journal of Librarianship – borrowing models from PLoS, f1000, and other megajournals like rapid publication, post-publication open peer-review, high volume of submissions and publishing.

LISarxiv – lets utilize e-LIS as an active, productive, international pre-print server and speed up the production and consumption cycle of our own field. Slide13

What would happen if next year for open access week all academic librarians vowed to live up to our principles, start taking responsibility for changing our own scholarly communication practices, refused to continue to perpetuate a system that continues to prove its blatant disdain for author’s rights, libraries budgets and the good/right of information access to the global knowledge ecosystem?

In conclusion, two points – we need to just do it, and we can and should consider a broader swath of what we already do to be “scholcomm” work.  But what I’m most interested in is us just doing it.

Less yack, more hack.

Bibliography available on Zotero

Recommended Citation:

Vandegrift, Micah (2014): Scholarly Communication is People: Three crazy ideas for LIS to “own” open access.