Saturday, June 26, 2010

Creating Change in Scholarly Communication

I was a panelist at the SPARC-ACRL Forum on Saturday (and at the discussion group on Sunday.) Here are my notes.

Change from the ground up – Campus-based policies to ensure Open Access to institutional research outputs through proactive copyright management, with Jonathan Miller, Library Director at Rollins College.

First I must acknowledge the work of Cynthia Snyder, Bill Svitavsky, David Noe, all librarians at Rollins. They are doing the real work of building the repository.

Rollins is a good selective liberal arts college in central Florida. With 3200 FTE students and 203 faculty. We emphasize teaching excellence. Our mission is to educate students for global citizenship, and responsible leadership. Most of our faculty members are active researchers, creators, and writers, but their main job is to teach.

We have an endowment that is better than most, but not as big as we want it to be. We have survived the latest recession better than most, but the library has had a flat G&S budget for three years.

So, in the context of US higher education, a perfectly normal school.

So how have I, the director of a small college library, found myself in the august company of colleagues from Duke, and UC San Diego?

Since the Rollins Arts & Sciences faculty passed their Open Access Policy a number of my librarian colleagues from around the country have expressed surprise that Rollins should be one of the first liberal arts colleges to pass such a policy. In fact I think we were third, after Trinity University in San Antonio and Oberlin.

Well, I would argue that Open Access is not just for the big guys. It is not just the concern of research universities. In fact I think it might be more relevant for small colleges than for larger schools.

Rollins, as a small, largely undergraduate, teaching intensive, school with a liberal arts curriculum that, at least in one sense, means we need broad not deep access to information. We are net information consumers rather than net producers and our students and faculty make a little use of a lot of resources, rather than a lot of use of a few resources, or a lot of use of a lot of resources. The subscription model of collecting a relatively small number of periodical titles “just in case” students need articles in those titles, doesn’t make much business sense for us. What we really need is “just in time” access to a broad array of information resources, none of which will be used particularly heavily.

Our Open Access policy was simply one part of a larger strategy to change focus of the faculty and students of Rollins College from a local library collection to a larger world of information. There are four parts to this strategy that I will mention today:

1. Working politically to create the scholarly communication system we prefer and that meets the needs of the students and faculty at liberal arts colleges.
2. Building collaboration and cooperation with – amongst others -- the state universities of Florida.
3. Moving aggressively from print to digital periodicals.
4. Contributing to open access initiatives and exploiting open access resources.

First, working politically – I am the outgoing chair of the ACRL Government Relations Committee which plays a leading role in the advocacy efforts of ACRL . For the last few years, pre-dating my involvement, much of that advocacy has focused on open access and on finding a productive balance in terms of copyright law. I also serve on the SPARC Steering Committee. My research and writing also concerns copyright policy. On campus I have looked for opportunities to present that research to my colleagues and build a reputation as someone with whom they can discuss copyright issues.

At the state level I have worked with others to get libraries in the three Florida higher education silos – state universities, state colleges and community colleges, and the private schools to think about cooperation and collaboration. That has led to some interesting strategic planning, some cooperative licensing, and to Rollins and Miami participating in the Florida group involved in the Open Library Environment Project, putting significant money into the project.

I also led an effort amongst liberal arts college library directors nationally to protest the Nature Publishing Group’s recent exorbitant increase in the online subscription price for Scientific American. We also cancelled our subscription. This was not universally popular on campus, but it was an opportunity to explain why we thought we had to hold the line on periodical prices.
That is a good segue into the next point – aggressively moving from print to digital periodicals. Obviously, most if not all of us are doing this these days, we at Rollins are doing for the usual reasons – our users prefer digital articles to print, we are able to link these articles into our wider information systems, we save space, etc. But, in response to flat budgets, we also did a major periodical cancellation project in the last 18 months, focused on print subscriptions because the use was so low and the subscription prices were increasing so fast that the model was unsustainable. We worked closely with faculty on this project and this increased their awareness of just how expensive the annual subscriptions to scholarly periodicals have become. That project was definitely about cuts, but we described it as a necessary pruning. We made sure that faculty understood that when budgets came back, we would consider adding subscriptions to digital content. In the meantime we continued to make them aware of open access journals, open repositories and made sure to incorporate these open resources into our systems and services.

So: I have a reputation on campus as someone who thinks about copyright. The Library is acting in a concerted way to protest journal price hikes, to limit our exposure to periodical inflation, and to find ways to improve our users access to a broad array of resources, including open resources, and our faculty are primed to think about scholarly communication in general and journal pricing in particular.

Which leads us to my presence on this panel. If are going to encourage our faculty and students to use open access resources as information consumers, shouldn’t we also contribute to those resources as information producers?

We were given good advice by those who had traveling this road before us: the good people at SPARC, Peter Suber, Ray English, Diane Graves, Terri Fishel. So I pass this on to you:

  • Find faculty champions to push the OA policy
  • Build the institutional repository at the same time as you develop the policy.
  • Find the message that resonates with particular audiences: on our campus the provost was interested in institutional reputation, the Dean of Faculty by the idea of a stable repository of faculty publications, IT and the librarians in a hosted solution from Bepress which did not involve much staff time and expertise in implementation, and – most importantly – the faculty were interested in more visibility for their own research and a policy that was flexible enough to enable them to get an automatic waiver when necessary, and that recognized the diversity of their output. Fully half of the output of Rollins faculty is something other than the classic peer-reviewed scholarly article.
The policy passed the A&S faculty unanimously in February. The institutional repository site went live at about the same time. We have spent the last few months tweaking the site and loading materials. The next big push will come in the Fall, once we get the data on last year’s publishing output from the annual report each faculty member submits to the Dean.

What are the next steps?

  • Continuing to populate the repository.
  • Passing a similar policy in the other faculty on campus: the faculty of the business school.
  • Reaching out to journal editors on campus – both faculty and students -- and offering to host their content. Preferably with open access, but toll access if necessary.
  • Building other collections – theses for instance.
  • Continue to work on other parts of the strategy – statewide collaboration and cooperation, rewriting our copyright use policy so that it offers more practical guidance to faculty, moving from print to digital, and working politically. I will be on the Hill on Tuesday, lobbying for FRPAA.
Let me end by just mentioning the faculty champions on our campus. Both were members of the Professional Standards Committee. Thom Moore, a physicist who directs the faculty/student collaborative research program, and Claire Strom, a historian and journal editor of Agricultural History. Claire drafted the policy, Thom shepherded it through the faculty.

Throughout the process I was in the background, frankly “loaded for bear” ready with facts, figures, and arguments. I worried we needed to hold all kinds of informational meetings with various constituencies. Thom said, “nah.”

I came to that final faculty meeting ready for any eventuality and just sat and watched Thom and Claire quickly and quietly move to the unanimous vote. At the end the meeting Thom came over and just said, “told you.”

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