Date: February 22 & 23
Description: “Join us to talk about all the ways our collections are changing and discuss topics such as handling new formats, preservation methods, repository services, planning for the future, best practices for moving forward, and budgeting for changing times. Come share your success stories about how you are meeting the research, teaching, and recreational needs of your users of today and tomorrow.”
There is an academic boycott of Elsevier going on now that is getting a lot of press and social media chatter. (See “The Cost of Knowledge.”) I know Rick Anderson has written a post about the boycott over at Scholarly Kitchen, but I am going to refrain from reading his thoughts until I get this post down. (Perhaps a follow-up after I read it.) In the interest of disclosure, I should say that I work in a library that is a big customer of Elsevier. In fact, we recently licensed the “Freedom Collection” of bundled journals from that publisher.
The point of the boycott is to encourage scientists and scholars to sign a pledge not to publish in, referee for, or do editorial work with any Elsevier journals. The rationale given on the web page is three-fold (my paraphrase): 1) their prices are high, 2) their practice of bundling journals saddles libraries with a lot of titles they don’t want, 3) they support SOPA, PIPA, and the Research Works Act.
I do not deny that each of these points is bad for libraries and for scholarly communication generally, nor that they apply to Elsevier. But I do want to raise a couple of points of concern about the boycott.
- The boycott seems a bit like dÃ©jÃ vu all over again. Our discourse regarding scholarly communication has been vilifying Elsevier specifically for at least 20 years. I often have conversations with faculty in which they say, “I know Elsevier is bad, but…” or “I thought we were supposed to avoid Elsevier…” And, yet, with that knowledge, faculty continue to publish in Elsevier journals and serve on Elsevier editorial boards. In short, all that negative publicity has done little to affect the bottom line of Elsevier, but more importantly, has not changed the high rating and impact of many Elsevier journals.
- All three of the issues raised by the boycott apply equally to dozens of other scholarly publishers. Why are they not included in the boycott? What can the boycott hope to achieve if other publishers simple take up what Elsevier loses? Are we to believe that an open access paradise will be achieved by taking on the large scholarly publishers one at a time? We will have a sequence of boycotts for Wiley, Springer, Sage, Taylor & Francis?
- I have always thought that libraries were always stuck between a rock and a hard place regarding high-priced scholarly journals. The solution has never been that libraries should simply cancel their subscriptions. The very process of promotion and tenure in higher education requires that faculty publish in the highest rated journals, regardless of the sales practices of those journals. I don’t think, however, that the boycott as it is currently organized presents a coordinated effort that will get the desired results.
I admit to be at a loss to how this boycott ought to be organized. The rot here goes to the very heart of the P&T system in higher eduction. Individual scientists can sign the boycott, but that will have little impact if, at the point of tenure review, entire academic departments (or even entire universities) do not discount the value high-price journals and take predatory publishing into account. It is difficult to see how that kind of journal evaluation can take hold without coordination that goes even beyond department and university, encompassing entire academic disciplines and all the journals serving those disciplines.
The library world has two kinds of trolls stalking it lately. Unfortunately, these trolls often have access to major editorial pages from which to pour vitriol down upon us.
Troll #1: We don’t need libraries anymore! These trolls are addicted to those dangerous “everything is on the Internet” hallucinogens. Public libraries are most often in the sights of these kinds of trolls, but other kinds of libraries also come under attack. Newspaper editorial pages are full of their opinion pieces about how no one uses libraries anymore. “We don’t need help finding things anymore. We have Google and Bing.” Or, “We can just buy whatever we want for our Kindle. Information is cheap!” Forget that everything is not free and available to Google’s eyes or Kindle download. Forget that a lot of the information libraries provide is expensive, highly vetted, and still used extensively by library customers. Forget that the service of training users to effectively discover and use information is highly valued in all of our communities. These trolls won’t listen to those arguments.
Troll #2: Don’t you dare change my library of 40 years ago! These trolls are stuck in a time warp. They have fond memories of 1974, when they completed their Ph.D and bought a Chevy Vega. Academic libraries that try innovative new approaches to information delivery will likely raise the ire of these trolls. They will make smug comments about learning commons, remote storage, and any kind of technology that involves electrons in their editorial diatribes. “Any fool knows you need to look at the print journal volumes to do real research.” Which would surprise the other library users who download to the tune of [over] a million journal articles a year, while the bound volumes sit quietly – peacefully in the basement, rarely reshelved, infrequently discovered sitting next to the photocopier. They proudly give research assignments to undergraduates with the instructions NO ELECTRONIC RESOURCES WILL BE ACCEPTABLE. “It is imperative that students know how to use Poole’s Index to Periodicals if they hope to understand the research process.”Â Forget that some of your electronic resources include Poole’s (and a lot more) anyway. Forget that academic publishers are plunging headlong into a new digital world. Forget that scholarship itself is embracing and exploring new ways of sharing discoveries, many of which never grace the pages of a print journal. They know what is best and what is best never changes.
My advice is not to feed the trolls. Despite the prominence of their editorial invective, they are the minority. We don’t need to counter their arguments when 90% of the community disagrees with them anyway. Let your gate-counts, check-outs, and downloads do their own talking. If anyone who matters asks, have those data at hand. Talk about your programs that are well attended. Show your letters of thanks and survey responses that tell a different story than what the trolls spin. Know in your heart that you are serving the needs of the community and talk about that with enthusiasm to those who want to listen. But don’t feed the trolls. It’s not worth it.
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.
ALCTS has several online training courses coming up:
Fundamentals of Acquisitions (October 3â€‘October 28)
This fourâ€‘week online course provides a broad overview of the operations
involved in acquiring materials after the selection decision is made.
Fundamentals of Collection Development/Management (October
This fourâ€‘week online course addresses the basic components of
collection development and management (CDM) in libraries.
Sponsored by Couttsâ€‘Ingram.
Fundamentals of Electronic Resources Acquisitions (November
This fourâ€‘week online course provides an overview of acquiring,
providing access to, administering, supporting, and monitoring access to
Sponsored by Harrassowitz.
Fundamentals of Preservation (October 17â€‘November 11)
This fourâ€‘week online course introduces participants to the principles,
policies and practices of preservation in libraries and archives.
Some upcoming conferences (online and face-to-face) that may be of interest to collections and acquisitions folks:
July 21, 2011
Taking Our Pulse: The OCLC Research Survey of Special Collections and Archives
Webinar, hosted by the Greater Western Library Alliance
July 27-28, 2011
Handheld Librarian Online Conference
Totally online conference dealing with mobile technology in libraries.
August 18, 2011
Current Trends in E-Journals: SERIG Summer Program, Boston, MA
ACRL New England sponsored
September 15-18, 2011
REFORMA, Denver, CO
ALA affiliate involved in developing Spanish-language collections and services
September 29-October 2, 2011
LITA National Forum, St. Louis, MO
ALA affiliate involved in library technology
October 17-19, 2011
Internet Librarian, Monterery, CA
Sponsored by Information Today
November 2-5, 2011
Charleston Conference, Charleston, SC
31st annual conference for library collections and acquisitions
December 5-7, 2011
International Digital Curation Conference, Bristol, UK
Sponsored by the Digital Curation Centre
March 21-23, 2012
Computers in Libraries, Washington, DC
Call for speakers deadline, September 9, 2011
March 29-April 2, 2012
ARLIS/NA, Toronto, ON
Art Libraries Society of North America
April 2-4, 2012
Electronic Resources & Libraries, Austin, TX
The e-resources crowd
May 19-22, 2012
Acquisitions Institute at Timberline, Timberline Lodge, OR
Please post any others you know of in the comments.