The Scholarly Clampdown

The hubbub started two weeks ago (6 December) via the blogsphere and twitter and grew into articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education and The Washington Post. The scholarly publisher, Elsevier, had asked to remove final version editions of Elsevier publisher articles posted by scholarly authors to the social media site. In the ensuing backlash, Elsevier released a statement about why the takedown notices were issued, reiterating that takedown notification was an ongoing practice, and providing alternatives for scholars to use for posting articles such as utilizing the final author draft pre-print copy. In the various social media venues where this action was debated and discussed, one statement was made again and again, that the takedowns from ™ were probably just the beginning of takedown notification. Indeed, this week, the University of Calgary received a takedown notification for Elsevier content posted within their domain. Following this announcement, TechCrunch (TC) noted on 19 December that takedown notifications had now been sent to start-ups, Harvard, and individual researchers. Peter Suber followed up on this post by TC with a Google+ posting giving further information regarded the notifications sent to Harvard. In response to these notifications, the full legality of the takedown notifications has been called into question.  As noted by Mike Carroll, Washington College of Law, on the LIBLICENSE  discussion list:

“in the United States, you can’t transfer the exclusive rights under
copyright without signing a written agreement to that effect.  In the
absence of a signed writing, the author retains the exclusive rights and
the publisher is said to have been granted an implied non-exclusive
license to publish.  In the absence of a signed writing, a publisher that
asserts that it owns the copyright in a misleading copyright notice is
itself legally problematic.”

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) sent a memorandum out to the ARL Directors and this email in turn has been distributed out to ALA-ALCTS leaders. Here is a paraphrase from the ARL memorandum:

–Takedown notices are being sent to the designated DMCA agents at universities accompanied by spreadsheets of the articles that Elsevier claims are infringing. It is recommended that librarians communicate with your campus DMCA agent regarding these notices. Copyright should be respected when the claim of rightsholder is clear, but articles do not need to be removed if the author did not sign a copyright transfer agreement. In the case of these DMCA takedown notices, Elsevier bears the burden of proof that there is a signed agreement by the author(s) of the article transferring their rights to the publisher.–

The question of whether the copyright transfer agreements are really in place for all the takedowns being requested is a very real one.  Academic institutions are not involved in copyright transfer agreements and whether an agreement was signed or not was left up to the authors. In addition, academic institutions do not make any effort to centrally warehouse these agreements as a common practice. Authors often forget to sign these documents or refuse to sign them but see their work published nonetheless. In many cases, authors signed the agreement but did not keep it or forgot about performing that step when submitting their articles. Librarians have realized that this is a very opportune moment to educate faculty on what it means to sign a copyright transfer agreements, suggest alternatives to publishing with Elsevier, as well as capturing their research within library repositories. One response to the takedown notifications has been that librarians are developing online  messages such as this web site from Canadian Academic Research Libraries (CARL).

Lastly, in a comments exchange by Stevan Harnad with Tom Reller on the Elsevier web site, one practice is agreed upon:

December 17, 2013 at 9:05 pm

Stevan Harnad: Tom, I wonder if it would be possible to drop the double-talk and answer a simple question: Do or do not Elsevier authors retain the right to make their peer-reviewed final drafts on their own institutional websites immediately, with no embargo? Just a Yes or No, please… Stevan
December 18, 2013 at 2:36 pm
Tom Reller: Hello Dr. Harnad. I don’t agree with your characterization of our explanation here, but nevertheless as requested, there is a simple answer to your question – yes. Thank you.
December 20, 2013
Stevan Harnad: Tom, thank you. Then I suggest that the institutions of Elsevier authors ignore the Elsevier take-down notices (and also adopt an immediate-deposit mandate that is immune to all publisher take-down notices by requiring immediate deposit, whether or not access to the immediate-deposit is made immediately OA)… Stevan “


#ICanHazPDF vs. #ICanHazLibrary: Where Librarians Need to Rise to the Occasion

At the end of last week, a blog post by  Alex Bond, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Saskatchewan, on the blog: The Lab and Field caught quite a bit of attention on Twitter.  The blog post is entitled: “How #icanhazpdf can hurt our academic libraries.” The post describes a twitter stream based on this hash-tagged phrase where researchers, academics, students, and other interested parties basically ask one another to share PDFs of articles to which the originator of the post does not have access but hopes to gain free access via someone who does have access to the content. Librarians jumped to attention and re-tweeted the blog post throughout the next couple of days pointing out that Inter-Library Lending (ILL) through libraries could also supply PDFs or articles for free. Some researchers countered that ILL takes too long (up to two weeks still at many institutions) and is still delivered at many institutions in print form as opposed to sending an electronic file to the requestor. In some cases, the researcher/academic wrote they were invited to come into the library to find the content they needed but either couldn’t because of time constraints placed on their research or due to wanting to access content when libraries were closed and unavailable. For a sense of the growing use and development of #icanhazpdf, I recommend the blog post by Jean Lui at AltMetrics entitled: Interactions: the Numbers behind #IcanHazPDF.

In the information glut society in which we now reside, librarians have opportunities to expand services and provide more content at the point of need. First, we need to insure that all open access content is made readily available through our discovery systems, include all OA articles and do not “not include” resources within our library catalogs/discovery systems because they do not represent a complete journal issue or journal run. There are times when access does trump ownership and open access content is one specific situation we can readily remedy by providing broader access through our current systems. Secondly, we need to explore how to provide context sensitive content delivery when possible and make it happen. This means document delivery. Build into your service and/or collection budget a fund for rapid supply of article delivery to the desktops of faculty and graduate students. It has to be article delivery that is useful to the end-user, it cannot just be a PDF that can only be used for a short period of time or not printed-out. It has to be full on article delivery to the end-user. There are service providers, some from within our very own community, who can make this happen. This type of service may in fact, be more important than the addition of more journals or journal packages. Lastly, establish a 24 hour article delivery option of print resources to faculty and graduate students by offering to scan and deliver to desktops, content that reside within your stacks or storage facility. It is worth the staff time and resource commitment to do this as this type of service will be greatly lauded by faculty and researchers on campus.

Librarians cannot fully compete with Twitter but we can improve both access and availability to the content we’ve collected and the content our end-users demand.


Innovation Abounds with the Electronic Resources & Libraries Annual Conference 2013

First off, I must admit bias when it comes to ER&L since I’ve been involved with this group since their inception. That said, the folks that own and run ER&L (Bonnie Tijerina & Sandy Tijerina) are doing some really nifty things in 2013. First and foremost, in conjunction with ProQuest & DLF, they’re hosting this super groovy #ideadrop House at SXSWi (South by Southwest interactive). Checkout some of the great streaming videos that have already been captured by this event and see what your colleagues are up to in promoting libraries. Also learn why “zebra” is the new pattern for librarians!

ER&L’s annual conference starts on 17 March and runs through 20 March. It’s not too late to join into this year’s conference! You can register to be part of the online conference experience, still sign-up to attend in person, & find out where online viewing parties are happening near you! This year’s conference is made up of great keynote speakers, fascinating programs, interesting tracks of content and even features a library publishing unconference.

ER&L is unlike any other library conference you attend. It provides a wonderful networking space to meet engaged and enthralling colleagues. There are multiple opportunities to become involved in the overall conference from simply participating in open discussions at the sessions held, joining in on the lightening talks, participating in the unconference, participating in any of the meet-ups happening or joining in online. There’s something for everyone at ER&L.

If you can do nothing else, just follow the forthcoming twitter streams at #ideadrop and #erl13. It is hard not to share the excitement that this conference generates each year and we hope you’ll join in on all the fun stuff happening this year!


Library Material Gifts: Unrecognized Treasure or Trojan Horses?

All collection development librarians have found themselves facing the acceptance of materials into the collection that they know will be under-utilized and we’ve also all been in the position of having to turn down material gifts. Donated gift materials are such a fine line for all of us. We want to make sure we do not pass on something that could be a significant addition to our collections but at the same time we’re trying desperately to not be saddled with materials that will have little to no use and end up in storage or potentially being weeded within a decade. Apply the three “w” rule to gift acceptance to give yourself the wriggle room for making your library material gift acceptance or denial.

First off and probably most importantly, WHO wants to make the donation/receive the donation? If the person making the donation is a well known public official either within your organization or within your local environment, accept the gift materials graciously. Even when you have twenty other copies lurking in various places within your library, accept these materials. Annotate the notes on the records for the copies currently available or replace current copies available with the donated titles and make it clear these material were provided by distinguished person X. It is not unheard of for a long time distinguished donor of library materials to follow up with a monetary donation and or bequeath to your library. At academic institutions this situation can be applied to prominent and distinguished faculty and administrators. There is also a corollary to this type of library material gift acceptance. If a prominent and distinguished faculty, administrator, or public official wants your library to accept a particular material gift, then accept it. Acceptance does not have to mean retaining in the collection. You can still make your local decisions regarding the condition of the material received and/or number of copies held locally or within your consortium. For the material that shows up unannounced and unsolicited, feel free to reject readily. You are under no obligation to add library material just because someone has taken the time to send it in your direction.

Secondly, consider WHAT is being donated as potential library material. Sometimes that quirky phone call you receive from the timid voice on the other end of the phone line is worth following up on and investigating. If possible, ask all cold call donors to provide you with a list of material they are considering donating. People with material worth personal interest will take the time to do this and you can avoid accepting the gift at this point if a list is not provided. People not willing to make lists have already boxed up the material and have made a mental break with it and just want to move it out of their space now. Seven out of ten times, the person will make you a basic list, author title of what they want to donate in part because they feel a connection to these resources and want them to go to a good home. The list gives you the ability to either spot check and/or go through the entire collection in a remote way to see how much you would want to accept. If the person calling with the library material donation sounds particularly frail but the person has an interesting story to tell of their collection or due to a connection to a particular department or professor, offer to go to them to review the material being offered. Yes, this takes some time but this is where the treasure is found and how special collections get built. Again, the unsolicited library material donations that show up at your desk for the most part are not things you will want to add. However, every now and again, there are things of interest that appear this way so always open up these packages to give a cursory review.

Lastly, consider WHERE the library material gift is located. Is it a departmental library that is being abandoned on your campus or within your local government? If so, taking a cursory look at what is there is not difficult or too terribly time consuming. A good rule of thumb is the fifty mile radius. Is this material gift located within fifty miles of your library; usually, then it is not a problem for retrieval or acceptance. For gifts residing more than fifty miles away, the decisions regarding WHO and WHAT may over-ride the location or need to pay for shipping. In which case, you work out how best to delivery the material to your processing units. Most call-in donors are willing to delivery their collections to you and it is always best to state upfront that you do not have a policy for picking up gift material early in your conversation.

One last caveat, it is also good to relate to any given donor that since their library material donation was unexpected and potentially of a large size, that the material will not be processed or added to the collection immediately upon acceptance. This allows you any extra time to review duplicate copies for retention, determine the best location for the material, and work into processing queues or quotas in a thoughtful and strategic way.

There has been quite a bit of library news over the past five years about libraries stopping the acceptance of library material donations but we all know that it is impossible to not accept some library material donations. In all honestly, the best any library can do is to minimize the amount of effort that goes into accepting library material donations. By applying the three “w’s” of ready evaluation to each donation call, you can speed up both the decision making process and material donation process.

How to Better Your Relationship with Service & Product Providers: Become Engaged not Enraged

In libraryland, there is an endemic problem with our relationship with our resource and service providers. As a profession we’ve tended to ignore the popular idiom: “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” In our discussions both with service or resource providers and amongst ourselves, we tend to blame-storm problems and issues being encountered instead of trying to find ways to positively engage with providers and seek solutions to these problems and issues.  It appears that as a profession, librarians sometimes forget we are part of a knowledge community and must act accordingly within the information chain. There are five things we can do to positively shape our interactions with service and resource providers:

  • We are an information seeking and providing profession. What if, when we first encounter a problem instead of expressing immediate frustration with the situation to our colleagues, we take a step back and follow the advice we give to our patrons? Let’s start with investigating how the problem or issue came into being. By taking an hour or less to review press release documentation from the provider, reviewing the company with whom we have an issue or concern, reading news releases in American Libraries or Information Today, trolling & reading e-discussion lists for other librarians’ take on a situation we become more informed about the issue or concern and not just react to our negative impression or experience. We are now informed and may understand better why a situation is being encountered. Now when we talk to the provider, we can engage in an informed conversation about the situation or problem encountered. Example: “It looks like you surveyed a number of undergraduates to develop your new search interface, did you consider that this search strategy may not be appealing to graduate students and faculty?”
  • Instead of immediately posting a frustrated message to an e-discussion list about the problem or concern, what if we contacted the representative that we work with from the provider and asked questions? This could be an account representative or a technical support person. Ask specific questions regarding the situation and use clear language, for example: “When I do X, it seems that Y is happening and I’m trying to achieve Z. Can you walk me through this process so I can see what’s happening?” Be honest with your feelings regarding the situation: “I’m finding this situation to be really frustrating, how can we resolve it?” “Your company X called me out of the blue yesterday, what role should I play in working with you?”  When we indicate that we are willing to work on finding the solution to a specific situation, it goes a long way with reaching a satisfactory outcome.
  • As a profession we are open to being disrupted. This is the essence of reference and patron service in our organizations. However, we tend to react negatively when this same form of disruption occurs from our service/resource providers. Just as we are open to help any constituent engaging with us, we should be open to responding to a resource/service provider. This is not to say that we cannot discourage cold calls but we should be willing to meet and talk with the service/resource provider as a mechanism for providing feedback and concerns about their products and services. It is part of our job to make time and room to be good stewards of the resources and services we are providing.
  • Along these same lines, when we receive an email from a service/resource provider, it should not go entirely ignored. Many of these emails are news items regarding service disruptions or new products and do not require immediate feedback. However, when we do get a message from an account representative or a sales person, we should respond within a reasonable amount of time even if it is to say that the timing of their offer for a visit, a trial,  and/or for a training session on product X will not work at this time.  We all dislike it when we feel our emails and attempts to contact someone are not responded to in a reasonable amount of time and we should share this same courtesy back.
  • Lastly, offer to be a beta-tester or to serve on a library advisory group for the service/product provider. Indicate that you feel strongly about the resources being offered and that you’d like to support their on-going development or be able to give input on the cost model being utilized. There are benefits to being in on the ground floor of development and new practices with the resource and service providers such as reduced cost and helping to shape the eventual outcome of the service/resource provided.