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Archive for the ‘Digital Libraries’ Category

Moving the Beast: Open Access and the Market

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With Open Access Week approaching, I have been flipping through articles and dreaming of solutions to the economic troubles facing academic libraries. Needless to say, I believe in the cause–information should be widely accessible; knowledge should be “free.” This assertion, however, does not help us answer the question of who is going to pay the bills.

Along these lines, at the end of an article reporting the results of a large survey of editors (n=998) using Open Journal Systems, Edgar and Willinsky make a rousing gesture toward a radical change in the market. After noting that “$8 billion [is] devoted annually for science, technology, and medicine journals alone,” the authors conclude:

Such an investment may appear better directed toward underwriting, for the benefit of humankind, universal access to the scholarly literature. Were the academic community willing, there is enough money on the table … to make this a reality in the years ahead (Edgar, B. D., & Willinsky, J. (2010). A Survey of Scholarly Journals Using Open Journal Systems. Scholarly and Research Communication, 1(2). p. 18. Retrieved from

Well then, let’s do it. Or, to be less to the point, what would it take for the academic community to be willing to make this change in how it pays for scholarly communication? Why do universities subscribe to over-priced titles from commercial publishers? I have always assumed (and I would be gladly corrected) it’s a matter of reputation–in large part, it’s keeping-up-with-the-Joneses at the research university level. True, expensive journals do (often?) publish important research and scholars do need access to this research, but why do we need an expensive journal for this job–why not an open access journal? When people stop using expensive titles (to read, to publish, to evaluate faculty productivity), universities will be free to spend their money elsewhere. This sounds like a long term, economic and cultural revolution–perhaps it’s coming, but I expect a lot of disgruntled faculty on the way. See, for example, how dropping an expensive point-of-need, clinical reference tool quickly produces outraged patrons in the medical library. Imagine this battle waged title by title or bundle by bundle!

If change is coming, and I hope it is, it’s time for libraries to get prepared. In my opinion, libraries have a long way to go if they want to compete a publishers. Institutional repositories and open-source journal software have come a long way in recent years and are now trusted tools. But imagine what we could do with a little more support! Perhaps small chunks of the subscription budget could be redirected (without too much screaming from faculty) to develop prototypes to compete with commercial publishing platforms. The money would support better marketing (if it makes you feel better, call it “advocacy” or “outreach”) and slicker interfaces. If reputation is a key driver of faculty adoption, we need scholarly communication services which fit the bill.

Written by Jere

October 10, 2012 at 5:57 pm

Struggling to Build a Digital Repository for Community Engagement

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In “A university library creates a digital repository for documenting and disseminating community engagement,” William A. Miller and Marilyn Billings describe an effort to use the institutional repository in a win-win for community engagement (CE) initiatives and for university libraries (JHEOE 2012;16(2):109-21). The equation was meant to be: universities want to measure community engagement + faculty want to get credit for engagement activities -> the repository becomes a record of both. Thus, differing but aligned incentives from two key stakeholders would provide sufficient support for sustaining the project. The authors do not say so outright, but it seems that the project died: “Staffing for the initiative was redirected … when the Outreach Division at UMass Amherst was eliminated in 2010. It is clear that the community engagement section of the repository will be very difficult to maintain and impossible to expand without the benefit of dedicated staffing” (117). That’s right: “impossible to expand.” Today, it looks like portions of the CE section are an empty shell; see, for example, Photovoice.

What happened? Well, the university ditched a CE program. Why? I’m certain U. Mass Amherst would insist that its commitment to CE is unwavering, but walk-the-walk, people. More specifically, the project likely hoped to benefit from a number assumptions about the academic culture: 1) that the university values CE, 2) that promotion and tenure (P&T) committees at the university would value CE activities, 3) that P&T committees would value self-archived gray literature as a record of these activities, and 4) that faculty would seize the opportunity and spend a significant amount of energy to develop and then submit materials. (In my experience, even if 1-3 are proven, faculty are shy about submitting–partly, I think, in fear of embarrassing themselves or of overexposing their community partners, while also hoping to save their best work for peer-reviewed publication.) Although a university may value CE in its mission and even in its funding of programs (1), changing the culture of P&T (2-3) is another matter; thus, the faculty (4) are slow, very slow, to follow.

Nonetheless, I read Miller and Billings with great personal interest. I am currently involved in developing a similar open-access repository, and, truth be told, would have preferred to use an implementation of DSpace, as did the authors with ScholarWorks@UMass Amherst. My team, however, opted to use a software that was not developed with digital libraries in mind. The CE side of the team wanted something with data fields to capture key tasks and activities in CE programs. They also wanted something that would look-and-feel “community friendly.” Now we are laboring with a system that is easier to customize, but less stable, less interoperable, beyond the reach of OAIster, and difficult for new contributors and administrators. On the other hand, we still have staffing and, for a little while, funding too!

Written by Jere

May 30, 2012 at 4:58 pm