Panlibus Blog

Halfway to paradise

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.

2 Responses

  1. Dorothea Salo Says:

    The quotation you cite them citing from me is accurate; it’s from Innkeeper at the Roach Motel, which you may find a useful companion piece to Mercer’s.

  2. Stevan Harnad Says:

    Librarians self-archiving at twice the global baseline rate
    http://openaccess.eprints.org/index.php?/archives/765-guid.html

    Holly Mercer reports that the self-archiving rate in library and information science is nearly 50% among librarians (and double the 20% global baseline even among nonlibrarians). Nevertheless, not even all articles for which immediate OA self-archiving has been endorsed by their publishers (c. 58-68%) are yet being self-archived even in library and information science, let alone the over 90% after embargo (or the 100% that can be deposited immediately in Closed Access allowing the semi-automatic eprint-request Button to provide Almost-OA during any embargo).

    Among the potential solutions, the most important and effective one is for institutions and funders to mandate self-archiving. (Several library faculties have already taken the intiaitive of doing this.) It is also important to make institutional repository deposit the official mechanism for submitting publications for institutional and national performance review (see Liège model).

    One slight correction: Alma Swan’s reported rate of 49% self-archiving was not for total articles; it was just the percentage of authors who said they had self-archived at least once. (And both Alma’s studies and those of others have found that authors are often not sure what they mean when they say they have self-archived!) This too will be self-corrected as self-archiving mandates, with their links to research assessment, grow.

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