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.

Micah vs. the Society for Scholarly Publishing

Next week I’ll be presenting on a panel at the Society for Scholarly Publishing in Boston. I am honored to have been invited and very excited to talk to a group of people that might not necessarily have the same point of view that I have on academic publishing. I will share my slides/notes here after the fact, but I thought it was important to get some stuff out early (feeding the fire, if you will.) Here’s why:

Panel TitleOpen Access Mandates and Open Access “Mandates”: How Much Control Should Authors Have over Their Work?

Description: Many universities now mandate that faculty authors deposit their work in Open Access university repositories. Others are developing this expectation, but not yet mandating participation. This seminar will review various mandatory and non-mandatory OA deposit policies, the implications of different policies, and the responses of faculty members to them. Panelists will discuss the degree to which academic institutions ought to determine the disposition of publications originating on their campuses.

The gist of my talk, rooted in some problems I have with the title/description, is basically that Scholarly Communication should be about authors making well-informed decisions about their scholarship, rather than about libraries and publishers fighting over who’s right/wrong about open access. In that spirit, my talk will call for us, together, to make a commitment to The Author as the only stakeholder that matters. 

I know this has very little to do with Mandates or OA Policies, but the more I thought about the prompt the more it bothered me that anyone actually might think that was true; Universities don’t mandate OA – faculty senates/bodies affirm OA as an ideal and action that benefits them, their colleagues and the institutions they represent, so if anything these OA Policies should be called “OA Agreements.”

Which led me to the thought that kickstarted my brainstorm – Universities ought not determine the disposition of their faculties publications. The faculty ought to make those decisions – well-informed and factually-based decisions. How much control should authors have over their work? All the control since it is their work. And we ought to be empowering them to exercise all the control in whatever way they see fit.

I plan to use some examples on both sides of the aisle to illustrate this, and I do hope that my co-panelists and the attendees will challenge my ideas. I am all for an open debate, as long as we can agree that we should at least be honest: publishers are here to provide a service (that will make them money), libraries are here to fight for equity and access, and that I will never be convinced that it is OK that libraries buy intellectual property that was given away to publishers through misinformation on the part of the author. 

Science, Peer Review, Open Access and Controversy.

Following Nature’s Future of Publishing special issue this spring, Science has just published a similar series of articles under the theme “Communication in Science: Pressures and Predators.” Needless to say, there is a definite ideological bent to the articles included in both, and to the dismay of folks like myself, more misleading information about open access. Having not read each piece carefully yet, I won’t speculate too far about the content therein, but I did want to point out the affect these Special Issues have on the cultural context and perceptions of open access. 

The Economist, which in recent years has published interesting pieces about the potential of open access and issues in academic publishing, has missed the mark with this piece, Science’s Sokal Moment. Here’s my response, written as a comment to that article:

I think it’s important to note that there are some factual errors in this piece.

“The publications Dr Bohannon selected for his sting operation were all open-access journals. These make papers available free, and cover their costs by charging authors a fee (typically $1,000-2,000).”

According to the Directory of Open Access Journals, actually 70% of the journals listed there DO NOT charge an author fee at all. There are many business models of funding for open access journals.

“Policymakers have been keen on such periodicals of late.”

Many academics are keen on the principle of open access also, including those at prestigious universities like Harvard, Princeton and MIT, who have all passed actionable policies in support of making scholarly literature accessible online.

“But critics of the open-access model have long warned that making authors rather than readers their client risks skewing publishers’ incentives towards tolerating shoddy science.”

The issue that is overlooked in this statement is that currently authors (faculty at universities) are the producers, laborers, reviewers, and consumers (“readers”) of academic publications and it is actually libraries that are the clients. The costs of academic publishing are totally hidden to the very group that create, consume and invest in this industry. The traditional publishing company’s incentives are to capitalize on the free labor of scientists and scholars and reap the financial benefits as long as the costs of production are secret. Asking faculty to write publication costs into their grants, or asking universities and libraries to support the research on the front end rather than through subscriptions, may actually incentivise publishers to approach their role in this system with more caution, as everyone will be paying more attention to their financial stakes therein. Open access journals are forthcoming and transparent about the costs involved in producing research, whereas traditional publishers tend to restrict that information to shareholders and CEOs.

Open access journals, which are just one of two ways to achieve open access, show considerable promise for involving a wider collection of interested parties in the ongoing academic conversation, the “unintended reader” if you will. I’d like to direct readers to two responses to Dr. Bohannon’s piece, which point out holes in his reasoning much more effectively than I could:

Peter Suber, of the Berkman Center at Harvard –

and Michael Eisen, a Biologist and co-founder of PLoS –

Damn the man.

image used without permission. Damn the man.

It should be no surprise that I have taken a pretty bold stance in regards to how I conduct my scholarly activities. Since I began my career in an area of librarianship that just happens to be rousing the rabble, I’ve taken on some of those characteristics. A youth spent in punk rock doesn’t hurt either.

Typically, I’d do anything to help out a colleague. I’d go out of my way to contribute to a team effort and to build/create/make something worthwhile for the field. But the line has been drawn. I was fortuitously asked to review a manuscript recently, and inspired by Heather Piwowar’s recent post Sending a Message, I jumped at the opportunity to clearly state my reasons for refusing the review.

“Respectfully, I’d prefer not to.”

Thank you very much for the invitation. Congratulations on the Editorship, I’m sure your guidance will continue to produce high quality scholarship for the journal. I am absolutely interested in the subject matter of the journal, and the title of the paper you sent is very intriguing.

However, as I am working in the area of Scholarly Communications, I hold to some pretty strict standards for the publishers that I’ll work with. I have signed on to The Cost of Knowledge boycott of Elsevier, because I strongly believe we need a scholarly communication system that works to the benefit of the authors, rather than the benefit of the publishers. I’d be very interested in working with you if I knew that your goals as an Editor of this journal were to advocate for changing the copyright transfer agreements to Licenses to Publish, and to push Elsevier to revise their policies regarding archiving in institutional repositories. Currently, their “green open access” policy is that authors can if they want to, but cannot if they have to. My colleagues at institutions with mandated open access archiving policies are therefore restricted from pursuing that as an option simply because Elsevier wants to flex its muscle in the scholarly publishing arena.

Again, I sincerely appreciate the invitation, and hope you will take my comments into consideration. We librarians, contributing our service time and our collections budgets to the scholarly publishing venture, have the opportunity and right to ask that the system evolve.


Micah Vandegrift

Damn the man. Change the Empire.

Leading by Example: Negotiating Publishing Contracts

One of the primary points that I share when discussing scholarly publishing is the fact that faculty authors should take their publishing contracts more seriously. Open access or not, the terms of those contracts dictate how the intellectual property can and will be used. Most often, I do think that the contracts are designed to promote the author’s work, but in the current climate of lawsuits, fair use claims and digital distribution options, it seems to be worth a second glance to make absolutely sure that the publishers are adapting these contracts to be clear and beneficial to the author’s needs. 

I’ve found myself in the fortunate position to do exactly that. I am so honored to have been invited to include a piece in a forthcoming special issue of a journal (not sure how much of this needs to be secret or not), and we’ve just gotten to the part where we (the editors, co-authors and publisher) discuss the publication agreement. In this instance, the publisher already has a pretty good policy of letting authors retain copyright. So, I went through the contract line by line and am asking for further clarification on the points that don’t make sense. 

Because of my role as the Scholarly Communications Librarian, I am asking my faculty to scrutinize their agreements and clarify all details, and would be remiss not to do the same. I know this is not necessarily a high profile, life changing scientific article, but I have to argue that the terms of these publishing agreements begin to change, on the principle that they will not unless we ask. 


See below:


License to Publish
The contract doesn’t use the language “exclusive license to publish”, but implies it. I’d like clarification. 
“Full term of copyright” – dependent on the law at this time? Can I choose a different term? If so, I’d like to. (Life of author + 70 years is unreasonable in my opinion.)
“right to supply the article in electronic and online forms and systems” – is this an exclusive right I’m granting to the publisher? Would it hinder my rights to do the same?
Appendix 1 – Assignment of Publishing Rights
1.3 – the right to sub license publishing and translation rights to others. If I am granting the exclusive right to publish, I don’t agree with this section. I want the right to sublicense these rights to others also. 
2. Strike the sentence about addendum or memorandum not being taken in consideration with this contract. Many institutions, including mine, are asking faculty to use addenda to negotiate their rights and I want to preserve that right for faculty and colleagues. 
Author Right’s
5. Strike the sentence about these rights not being transferrable to others. If the publisher is allowed to do it, I want to be able to also. 
Author Warranties
7. My accepted article is based extensively on an article published in a important journal in my field, indexed, with an ISSN, which just happens to be published online, open access. Additionally, it was published originally under a CC-BY-NC license. Therefore, I cannot warrant that this hasn’t been “previously published by any other journal or publication nor has been assigned or licensed by me to any third party.” I can only technically agree with the last sentence in this paragraph, that the “Version of Scholarly Record will not be published elsewhere.” I’d like this language to be adapted to say that “I warrant that the Article is my original work, which has been substantially revised, rewritten and adapted under a the terms of a Creative Commons license. The work published here is based on, but different from, that original piece.” Or something. 
Appendix 2 – The Schedule of Author Rights
3. I retain the right to share “but not on a commercial or systematic basis” – please remove or clarify. I can agree with the commercial restriction, but the systematic basis language is confusing, unclear and seems to be not conducive to the culture of sharing that is important in academia. 
Also, In light of the recent GA State case, I’d like the right to share to include the word “Students.” It is important to me that this article be allowed to be used, without cause for legal recourse, in course packs and in CMS systems like Blackboard and Moodle. Although I am a fair use maximalist, I don’t think I should have to rely on that if we could make it plainly stated in this contract.
4. I’d like the right to post the preprint in my institutional repository. The contract currently states the preprint is only on allowable on my institution’s intranet.
5. In regards to the supplied language that will accompany my pre- or post-print, I’d like to stirke the phrase “or such other acknowledgement as we or Taylor &Francis may notify you.” I’ll agree to adding a statement as supplied in the contract, but not that the publisher can change that statement at any time. 
6. The right to post the revised text version of the postprint of the article on the “institution’s network or intranet or website…” Please add “or institutional repository.” We all know what they’re called, lets just say it. 
“systematic external distribution by a third party…” Please clarify. Does this mean I cannot post it on my profile? If so, I’d like this removed.
Please adapt the supplied statement for the post print to read: This is the peer-reviewed version of an article published in…” It’s important to me that readers know this fact about my work. The current statement,” This is an electronic version of an article…” does not adequately reflect the full value of the repository version. 
Strike the language about embargos that Taylor and Francis has now, or may at any time in the future decide to create. Since this doesn’t apply to my article, I’d rather it not be in the contract.
In light of recent changes by NIH to cut funding for authors who do not comply with their public access policy, please remove the language that states “You must not post manuscripts directly to PMC, or other third party sites.” If the company fails to do so, authors may lose funding. Also, I don’t like the inclusion of “other third party sites” as I want to make sure I am allowed to post the article to, ResearchGate and the like.
7. the right to share with colleagues copies of an article in its published form as an electronic or printed offprint or reprint. Please add to “the right to share with students in the context of a classroom setting (secured virtual CMS like Blackboard or traditional physical classroom) copies of an article in its published form as an electronic or printed offprint or reprint.”  
“Systematic basis” again? Please clarify or remove. 
I’d love comments or thoughts. Since the publisher is already leaving copyright with me, am I asking too much by going further? Does this seem like reasonable clarifications and questions? Have you seen similar language in publishing contracts?