Almost halfway there, a research report authored by Holly Mercer from Texas A&M University, is an analysis of the behaviours, as opposed to the attitudes of academic librarians in relation to Open Access publishing. With the issue of Open Access, academic librarianship seems caught between the imperative of cost-saving, difficulties in effectuating change in the faculties and the need to provide a continuous service (not mentioned in this study, but an important factor in inhibiting the cancellation of journal titles or “making a stand with the publishing industry” over price rises).
With an emphasis on behaviour then, the research methodology avoids the survey approach, and instead conducts an analysis of literature published by the LIS community and indexed in the LISA abstracts database, rationalising that data in ways such as de-duplication and exclusion of non-academic librarian authors.
Early on in the report, the issue of Open Access is situated in a broader context of shifting roles and responsibilities in academic librarianship:
Bibliographers and reference librarians have become liaisons who provide expanded services to academic departments. Liaison-librarians often are responsible for discussing scholarly communication topics, such as the rising cost of scholarly journal subscriptions and open access alternatives, and are expected to advise authors to retain enough rights to their published work to use in the classroom, to share with colleagues, and to deposit in an institutional or subject repository.
Yet the report highlights significant levels of ambivalence around this new responsibility:
A 2009 study by Palmer et al. concluded librarians are generally quite supportive of scholarly communications programs including opening access to scholarship, but are nonetheless ambivalent or unsure how to discuss these topics with faculty at their institutions.
It may be that this lack of confidence is symptomatic of uncertainty across academia of the benefits of Open Access. The report discusses the low take-up of institutional repositories, and this reminded me of some qualitative research I carried out in 2008, in which a Russell Group university psychology researcher told me that the benefits of simply dumping [sic] a paper into a repository hadn’t been made clear to him. The problem goes beyond poorly rolled out repositories. It remains the case, for example, that the “certification process” (i.e. quality review) of a published article sits with the journal rather than the repository.
One of the strengths of this report is its constructive criticism of institutional repositories. Dorothea Salo is quoted as making the following very strong statement:
Repository software serves observed and stated faculty needs surrounding content creation and dissemination hardly at all.
And the report goes on to say:
The University of Rochester library investigated the discrepancy between the stated benefits of institutional repositories and the desires of faculty and found that most want to work with colleagues, as well as organise and manage their research and writing. IRs only minimally cater to these goals.
Back to the advocacy issue, a particularly valuable recommendation made in the body of this report is that if academic librarians were practitioners of open access publishing, they would find it considerably easier to evangelise to academics:
Academic librarians believe the profession should advocate for OA but few said they were supporting OA by taking action individually, such as self-archiving or amending agreements.
So the report suggests that the full power of evangelism is only released when you practise what you preach. And for this point alone, the report is valuable. Practise what you preach, and provide tools to help the congregation to follow suit. But if neither the academic librarian nor the academic in the faculty is adopting open access en masse, then there may be deeper problems not dealt with in this otherwise excellent report. So the report does provide a rare analysis of librarian behaviours around Open Access, but ultimately fails to dig down into the reasons behind the behaviours described. We need to look beyond the report, not necessarily for attitudinal factors, but for more cultural, political and economic reasons behind this resistance to change.