Themes from IDCC 2010

Dec 08 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

A few themes coalesced in my head while I was attending IDCC 2010. I don't pretend they're the conference themes; in fact, I know they're not. They're just my personal aha moments.

"Set and forget"

This community understands pretty well that preservation is not a "set and forget" process. The communities this community is embedded in tend not to get that. It's a problem.

I had a good conversation with John Mark Ockerbloom about LOCKSS, which is commonly understood as "set and forget" but which is not by any means robust enough not to require auditing and active intervention.

Institutional repositories have been actively marketed as "set and forget," and we all know where that ended up. In this case, though, it's not so much the auditing that falls down (IRs are actually pretty good at hanging onto bits and bytes) as policy decisions, active collection work, and hardheaded assessment of progress. More on this in a bit.

In any case, "set and forget" is at best an empty promise, at worst an outright lie, and it's good to remember that.

Data curation community of practice

It's scary to be on the bleeding edge, as research data management clearly is. It's doubly scary for those of us who have been on the bleeding edge and suffered for it. What mitigates the fear is community, and I'm quite pleased that data management is even at this early stage building a more active and cohesive community of practice than institutional repositories have ever managed to do.

Reasons for this include the absence of normative software communities in the data-curation space; the potential IR community fragmented quickly and completely around software choices. The enormity of the job also helps. Everyone thought (wrongly) that IRs could be built and maintained by one person with one hand tied behind her back, so where's the need for community? Everyone now thinks (correctly) that research-data management is much larger than any one person, any one library, or even any one institution. We're all looking for partners, collaborators, agony aunts.

And even better, we're finding them.

Open access is losing libraries and librarians

Library involvement in the open access movement in the United States is in trouble. I don't think the movement has entirely come to grips with that yet, but it is. As the "Cassandra of open access," I'd be remiss if I didn't say something.

I see a fair few symptoms. SCOAP3 is going down to the wire. COPE is floundering. When asked to pony up money for open access, I hear librarians and library administrators saying "Look, I thought OA was supposed to fix this budget crisis; instead, it's making my budget picture worse. In fact, when I go ask for more money for serials, I get asked why OA hasn't fixed the problem yet. Go find some other sucker; I'm done propping up this sad little sham of yours."

If that's not bad enough, OA is quietly, steadily losing its footsoldiers in libraries whose institutions don't boast OA mandates. Consider my illustrious co-blogger Sarah Shreeves. Her sole responsibility used to be running Illinois's institutional repository. These days, I learned at IDCC, she is also running the new Scholarly Commons and co-chairing the campus data-curation initiative. These initiatives eat up so much of her time that the IR has of necessity taken a bit of a back seat. I don't talk about my own job here (I really can't), so I'll just say that she and I have been professional twins for a long time, and we continue to be so.

This is great for those footsoldiers, mind you. Being an OA and/or IR footsoldier in the average US academic library is abject misery. The open access movement has never helped, or even taken notice that there might be a problem; when it's not proclaiming loudly that it doesn't exist to solve library problems, it's openly insulting libraries and librarians over a variety of so-called derelictions. This demoralizes the footsoldiers, as well as damaging their credibility and effectiveness within their institutions and their libraries.

The fair few footsoldiers I know are bright, talented, energetic people. I'm frankly thrilled their libraries are recognizing that and finding better professional situations for them. The OA movement, however, shouldn't be as thrilled as I am.

A little while ago I helped coach a friend into a job running a brand-new IR. I encouraged my friend to grill the employer pretty hard on what they were planning to do with the IR—the two questions I've been advocating for years, "what do you want?" and "how are you going to get it?"—and what I learned is that OA is so far down the list (there is a list, at least) for that library that it might as well not be there at all.

In its way, the very success of Open Access Week is a symptom. Listening behind the scenes and reading between the lines this year, I heard a fair few isolated librarians struggling against their own libraries to put together anything at all for the occasion. Several needed the OA Week banner ("this is an international event! it's embarrassing not to participate!") to goose their libraries into action. In addition, I got a distinct sense that some libraries put on an OA Week event in order to tick off the "did something about OA" tickybox for the year, in essence giving themselves an excuse not to do anything else.

I don't have any bright ideas, I'm afraid. I do believe that ARL/SPARC needs to turn its attention to stiffening its membership's collective spine, and giving them a clear and actionable roadmap to follow.

It's quite possible, even likely, that the OA movement will react to these symptoms with a collective shrug; that's certainly how they've treated libraries heretofore. I'm too personally demoralized by the whole mess to argue. The proof of the pudding, and all that. But if US IRs start folding and COPE doesn't make it and institutional mandates stop happening or existing ones backpedal, don't say I didn't warn you.

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