Open Access News

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Librarians and OA

Dorothea Salo, Libraries and Open Access, Caveat Lector, September 7, 2006.  Excerpt:

Much is made of how librarians impede open access. Iíll surprise you: I agree with that assessment. I donít agree with the usual complaints, however. Itís got nothing to do with metadata (though I agree that we over-obsess about it sometimes, and the evidence shows it isnít where we need to put the bulk of our effort). Itís got nothing to do with preservation, which is an absolutely valid and necessary concern. Itís got nothing to do with peer-reviewed research versus everything else we can and do archive.

Itís ignorance. Just as with researchers, the biggest problem I see in libraries is that outside of some enlightened leaders and a scattering of peasants like me, librarians know next to nothing about open access. Worse, my sense (admittedly based on anecdotal evidence only) is that the ingrained librarian distrust of free-as-in-beer is actively hindering library use and promotion of open-access materials.

Serials Solutions offers an open-access module in its popular e-journal management software. Dozens of OA journals and other sources, added to library collections in a few keystrokes. Itís a very enlightened approach. I wonder how many libraries that subscribe to Serials Solutions turn up their noses at it?

I wonder how many repository-rats have to struggle to build a coalition around a repository inside their own library. Insofar as I have managed it, itís been by force of personality rather than my colleaguesí intellectual investment in the concept. Several of my colleagues still stumble over their own tongues when they introduce me to faculty (which they are exceedingly good about) and try to describe what I do.

I wonder how many hear ďBut why would they just give that all away?Ē in tones of abject disbelief. (True story. I heard this with my own ears, from an honest-to-goodness librarian.) I wonder how many librarians at smaller, non-research-intensive institutions donít think open access concerns them. I wonder how many are turned off by virulent anti-librarian sentiment in the open-access community --Iíve gotten fighting mad about that myself once or twice.

Much as I dislike survey research, I see a use for it here. We need to know how bad the ignorance problem is. We need to know if librarians are suppressing open-access materials, and if so, why. We need to know if theyíre buying into publisher fear, uncertainty, and doubt....

Comment. I've always thought of librarians as strong allies of OA.  But I realize that this could be a sampling error:  the ones I know best are strong allies and I know many of them for precisely that reason.  We all have skewed samples of other groups, but for what it's worth here are two rough inductions from the samples I have:  the average librarian knows more about OA than the average researcher, but the average researcher is easier to excite about the idea in a five minute conversation.