OA Week repost: Dancing with them what brung ya

Oct 21 2010 Published by under Open Access

(Background: I'm seeing another current of anti-library, anti-librarian sentiment burbling up out of the open-access discourse. It disturbs me; I also find it personally insulting. When OA advocates say "OA doesn't exist purely to solve libraries' budget problems," they are of course correct. Unfortunately, the undercurrent there is "… and therefore libraries and librarians are not important to open access, nor should the open-access movement heed in any way its impact on libraries and librarians, nor are librarians entitled to ponder the impact of open access on libraries without heed to other stakeholders." And this is just wrong, all of it.

Open access wouldn't have a movement if not for us librarians. It'd still be a few economists shrieking in a vast wilderness. I don't think it's asking too much for open access to respect that—and respect us, our related struggles, and our contributions to the discourse.

I could, of course, be wrong.)

This post originally appeared on Caveat Lector in February 2007.


Peter Suber's excellent-as-always predictions for open access in 2007 include:

I'm tempted to predict a continuing tension between the narrow conception of institutional repositories (to provide OA for eprints) and the broad conception of IRs (to provide OA for all kinds of digital content, from eprints to courseware, conference webcasts, student work, digitized library collections, administrative records, and so on, with at least as much attention on preservation as access). But I have to predict that the broad conception will prevail. Universities that launch general-purpose archiving software will have active constituents urging them to take full advantage of it. The good news for OA is that many institutional interests, beyond the OA interests, will converge to fund and maintain the IR. The bad news for OA is that the project of filling the IR with the institution's research output could, without vigilant stewardship, drift downward on the IR's priority list.

I'm in agreement with Suber's prediction, which doubtless surprises no one. I confess to considerable annoyance that he even had to raise the matter, however, and I refuse to countenance his "bad news" statement (which is not his fault, I may say; this accusation has been made so loudly, repeatedly, and hatefully that Suber had little choice but to address it) until I see even a shred of evidence for it.

Just for a moment, imagine that academic libraries holding print resources were suddenly told that their sole priority—not top priority, mind you, but sole priority—was the acquisition and dissemination of the peer-reviewed journal literature.

I'll wait for every single academic librarian who reads Caveat Lector to stop laughing uproariously. As a bonus, I'll even talk down the government-documents and special-collections librarians who are readying their torches and pitchforks. The simple reality is that academic libraries are multiple-purpose organizations serving many and diverse constituencies with many and diverse materials. (There are these things called "books," for example… disciplines that rely heavily or exclusively on journals may consider them quaintly outmoded, but many scholars are still rather fond of them.) Nothing about the digital realm changes the variegated nature of our work.

What's more, we wouldn't have it any other way. So if the green road to OA wants to dance with academic libraries—and green-OA does want us on its dance card, because it would not exist and cannot at present survive without us—it will have to accept the other digital baggage we bring with us. Student papers. Digitized collections. Webcasts. Learning objects. Et cetera.

There are certainly discussions worth having about whether standard IR technology is the best tool for some of these things. I have my own dislike for administrative records because disseminating them via OAI-PMH is like putting shoes on a fish, and my boss thinks that learning objects have no business in IRs because they're ephemera that need a lot of versioning. These are different discussions, however, from "OA concerns the peer-reviewed literature and nothing else!"

I refuse to be defensive about archiving more than peer-reviewed journal literature in the repository I run. I have never considered the peer-reviewed journal literature the end-all of research anyway, and I do not agree that open access to it solves every single pressing problem in scholarly communication. (What about legal, convenient awareness of and access to primary sources? Can IRs help with that? Sure they can, and the one I run does.) Moreover, I demand that peer-reviewed-literature-only OA advocates recognize and accept that existing IRs in institutions without self-archiving mandates—which is most of them!—have no choice but to include other materials if they are merely to survive long enough to win those mandates. This is not dereliction of duty, nor is it neglect of OA to the peer-reviewed literature. It is simply tactical necessity in an OA-hostile environment.

For my own part, I am quite convinced that IRs and their managers in academic libraries have a larger mission and many more opportunities than the peer-reviewed literature offers. That shouldn't anger those whose sole or primary cause is OA to peer-reviewed literature. It should reassure them, because it is excellent evidence that academic librarians such as I will continue an active commitment to IR technology and to advancing OA, with support from the institutions we work for.

Assailing academic libraries and librarians gains narrowly-focused green-OA advocates nothing whatever. Instead, they should consider dancing with them what brung ’em.

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