Does the Buck Stop Here?

ALA conferences always seed something valuable for me.  Midwinter was no exception, with the ALCTS CMS Forum, “Scholarly Communication and Collections:  From Crisis to Creative Response”, yielding interesting questions about library investment in and the cost of open access.  As librarians, we seem to agree that open access is a good thing and a model we should advocate.  There is less agreement about our financial role in transforming the scholarly communication system.  Below are some of the questions that have preoccupied me of late…and a plea for further conversation.

When are we going to see costs decrease because of open access?

This question was raised at the forum and is filled with expectation.  I don’t regard OA as a means for reducing cost.  I think it is a more productive and efficient model for scholarly and scientific exchange and that library investment in OA publishing is a difference in kind from money spent on fee-based access models.  SCOAP3is an excellent example of this thinking—the consortium members are focused on re-directing, not reducing, their expenditures.  To paraphrase Kevin Smith, I believe that to realize significant change, libraries must be willing to apply their collection budgets to open access.

But is it a matter of will or capacity?

My library is a member of Public Library of Science, Hindawi, and Biomed Central.  Our support – drawn from our collection budget – allows OHSU authors to publish in open access journals at a reduced cost.  The money we spend on subscription journals dwarfs this investment.  Our subscription decisions are driven by faculty requests, publication and citation activity, and cost per use data.  There’s not a lot of fat.  Additional investment in OA would require difficult decisions about cuts to other resources that our patrons want and use.  Initiatives like SCOAP3 offer strategic models to emulate, but we’re still wanting for everyday, practical tactics that meet my institution’s content needs.

Why does it matter where the money comes from?

My friend Jill Emery and I have been talking about this as we prepare for our ACRL program on hybrid open access models.  I think there is something to be said for libraries contributing to the cost of open access besides the investment in building a better scholarly communication system.  Faculty value highly the library’s role as a buyer (see the 2009 ITHAKA S+R Faculty Survey).  Open access is not free.  By supporting OA financially – ideally in partnership with other stakeholders – libraries can preserve an evolved but familiar connection to the scholarly record.  Moreover, open content still requires management and curation, library expertise representing significant costs.

What are your answers to these questions? 

Mine are obviously still evolving.  So this is a call to continue the conversation we started at Midwinter within and across our institutions.  Ultimately, our conclusions will guide how we work to transform the scholarly communication system.



Berlin Declaration

The Berlin Declaration on open access was written in 2003 under the direction of the Max Planck Society in Germany. Many organizations in Europe, Asia, and Latin America have signed the declaration, but North American organizations have been rather thin on the list of signatories. The main thrust of the statement is that open access is good for scholars and that they should strive to resolve that problems that arise when open access and traditional academic promotion and tenure come together.

With the Berlin 9 Open Access Conference scheduled to occur in Washington D.C. in November, 2011, many North American universities and academic organizations have been hoping to show greater American participation. My university got on board. As the out-going chair of the Faculty Senate Library Committee, I was asked to draft a resolution about the Berlin Declaration. I wrote something up and presented it to the Faculty Senate. They accepted it and passed it on for our Provost to sign, which he has promised to do.

I thought the text of my resolution might be useful for others who would like their university to endorse the Declaration. I’ve attached a generic version of what I wrote. The specific names and titles have been replaced. Feel free to use any portion of this resolution that you like. No acknowledgment required.