Librarians and Open Access – What are we Actually Doing?

ResearchBlogging.org

The librarians I’ve met at workshops, at conferences, and on the web, are generally strong supporters of open access. My impression has always been that our professional philosophy of providing information to our users free of charge (to them) fits very nicely with the philosophy of the open access movement.

Recently, I’ve started to wonder if our actions with regard to open access have any correlation with our professed opinions.

A recent article in the (subscription only) journal College and Research Libraries seems to support the idea that while we talk the talk, we aren’t very good at walking the walk, so to speak.

Kristi L. Palmer, Emily Dill, & Charlene Christie (2009). Where There’s a Will There’s a Way?: Survey of Academic Librarian Attitudes about Open Access College and Research Libraries, 70 (4), 315-335 Issue TOC

In this study, the authors surveyed academic librarians about their attitudes and certain actions regarding open access.

The authors conclude that while librarians believe that libraries should be educating users about open access and encouraging faculty to publish in open-access journals, they aren’t actually engaging in conversations about these activities. Librarians are also hesitant about devoting library resources to support open access.

One significant problem with this study was the failure to examine the publishing actions of librarians.  The actions discussed in the article mainly involved reading about open access and talking about open access with colleagues and faculty.  I was disappointed when reading the article, because to me, publishing in open access journals is one of the highest profile actions a librarian can take in support of open access.

In fact, if librarians are to have any credibility with others when we encourage them to explore open access publishing options, shouldn’t we be publishing in open access journals ourselves?

Symptomatic of the problem seems to be the lack of high-impact open access journals in library and information studies.  Open access journals in librarianship exist – there are 96 listed on the Directory of Open Access Journals website – but many of these service particular countries, specialties or publish infrequently.

This is something that librarians can change – publish in an open access journal, then talk about the experience with your colleagues and the faculty at your institution.  Support your beliefs with measurable action.

UPDATE – A College and Research Libraries Pre-print was posted this morning – The Open Access Availability of Library and Information Science Literature (PDF) – indicating that 27.5% of articles from the top 20 library journals could be found in open access full text online (either on the publishers website or in an institutional repository). So we aren’t publishing in OA journals, and we aren’t self-archiving most of the time either.

Are recent developments in scholarly communication relevant to undergraduates?


SCIENCE!
Originally uploaded by
viscousplatypus

On a weekly basis, a new article or editorial comes out discussing the shifting paradigm of how scientists communicate with one another.  According to many, the journal article – the mainstay of scientific communication – is about to undergo a major metamorphosis as blogs and new journal concepts affect how science is done.  A recent report from the Science Online London 2009 conference exemplifies this.

I am very excited about these changes, and I spend some of my time checking out real-time science blogs like Useful Chemistry, participating on online science networks like Nature Network, and exploring what PLOS ONE has to offer.

But how relevant are all of these new changes to the average undergraduate?  Do they need to know about them?  If they don’t need to know now, will they in the near future?

Most of the writing assignments I’m seeing are still asking students to find traditional scholarly articles as the only sources for their papers.  Most of the faculty at my small undergraduate institution are still very traditional with regard to scholarly communication.  A (very) few faculty still have to be convinced that an online journal is acceptable, and I wrote an email a few months ago explaining that PLOS Medicine is a highly regarded journal.

Until a consensus develops around what is scholarly and what isn’t in the online world, how are undergraduate students (who still need help telling apart a review article and a piece of original research) supposed to navigate these on-going changes?

In the short term, I don’t think that undergraduates need to know a lot about these developments, beyond their own personal interest in science blogs or online science news.  For the time being, a science student can successfully navigate his or her undergraduate education without an awareness of the scientific blogosphere or the concept of open science.

As much as I would love to share my excitement of all of these fascinating changes, I don’t think students need to know about them.  At the moment, I teach students about the basic differences between review articles, primary research articles and news articles.

In the future I will probably talk about blogs and social networks and how to access primary data sets – I’m looking forward to it.

Libraries and the Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2013

The ever popular Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2013 has been published, once again making me feel old and young at the same time. Several items on the list pertain specifically to libraries:

4.  They have never used a card catalog to find a book.

This is excellent! Despite the many deficiencies of our current OPACs (and the deficiency of the acronym OPAC), our online catalogs are infinitely superior to their paper predecessors.  We have spent a lot of time in our library trying to our OPAC, and we will soon be directing our users to Worldcat Local instead of our own catalog because Worldcat Local has a much better search interface.

14.  Text has always been hyper.

For our incoming freshman, born in 1991, the internet has pretty much always existed.  They didn’t have an A ha! moment when discovering Amazon.com for the first time, thinking about how it changed book buying.  These students have probably always assumed that information could be found online, and the idea of a CD-ROM encyclopedia is probably pretty funny.

34.  They have always been able to read books on an electronic screen.

Although eBook readers have taken off in recent years, especially with the introduction of the Kindle, the ability to read a book on a computer screen has been around for ages.  Recent developments in book standards from SONY and other eBook manufacturers, Barnes and Nobles release of an eBook store without a stand alone reader, and many other recent developments in the eBook market make this a time of quick change in how books are accessed and read.

72.  Migration of once independent media like radio, TV, videos and compact discs to the computer has never amazed them.

I think that students will have less tolerance for the way that different types of information are segregated.  We have traditionally segregated books, articles, reference materials etc. physically and online by telling our users to use different search tools to find different materials.  Why?  How often does it really matter?  Certainly some assignments ask students to find X number of articles, books etc., but often they just need appropriate information.  Shouldn’t we be able to search across all kinds of material and make decisions about appropriateness of the format once we find it?

Read the list – it will make you feel old as you think “I remember that!” and you may feel young if you look at items and think “Hmm, I didn’t know that existed.”

Faculty Outreach


Handshake

Originally uploaded by Aidan Jones

Apparently, our day-long meeting last Tuesday started out as a collection development retreat.  Somewhere in the planning, our collection development librarian realized that we needed to take a step back and talk about how we communicate with faculty in general.  The topic is related to collection development through the library liaison program (or lack there of).

And so, as a result, almost all of the librarians at my library gathered off campus for a full day of discussion about what we are currently doing to reach out to faculty, what we wish we were doing, and what will be possible for us to do in the future.

I am one of the few librarians at my library with a very firm group of “constituents” – the science departments.  We have never had the staff to develop a complete library liaison program and have concentrated our energies on information literacy instruction, rather than hiring subject-specific bibliographers.

In our day-long retreat about faculty outreach, we were able to identify areas where we have been successful at reaching out to faculty (instruction), areas that we need some improvement in (collection development), and areas that we haven’t even dipped our toes in yet (scholarly communication).

After a lot of discussion, we were able to come up with a few goals for faculty outreach for the library as a whole:

  • Organize a faculty luncheon for department chairs, faculty reps, and other interested parties to discuss library issues (especially resources).
  • Improve and update our social networking presence.

We also decided to set a few goals for ourselves.  I wanted to set myself a few modest, concrete goals that I could check off (or not) at the end of the year.

  1. Contact each of my departments about visiting a department meeting for 10 minutes to discuss library resources and services
  2. Meet with Chemistry faculty to talk about changes to our chemistry information literacy program.
  3. Advertise our science-related library workshops to the science faculty

This is in addition to my normal reference, instruction and web design duties.  Perhaps I will write another post at the end of the year to see if I was able to meet my modest faculty outreach goals.

No more print textbooks


No more print textbooks?

Originally uploaded by Amin Tabrizi

Because Arnold Schwarzenegger says so.

This isn’t exactly a new prediction, but two recent news stories seem to confirm the downfall of the print textbook.  First, the NY Times reports on a high school that ditched their algebra textbook in favor of a curriculum designed by the teachers.  Then, the big news from California that Gov. Schwarzenegger has declared print textbooks to be old fashioned, and educators should start looking on the web for material to meet their needs.  (My favorite headline about Gov. Schwarzenegger’s comments:  Arnold Schwarzenegger says hasta la vista to textbooks.)

While California is hoping that the state will save money by not purchasing books for K-12 students, I hope that this trend extends into higher education.  Wouldn’t it be great if students didn’t have to shell out $200 for their organic chemistry or introductory biology textbook?  Instead, they could rely on free material on the web that their professor picked out?

Update: There is a new article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about one university’s experience with eBook textbooks.

Chemistry Librarians


chemistry

Originally uploaded by Brian Hathcock

Today I attended a small workshop held at the University of Toronto for chemistry librarians. It is an exciting group to be a member of (or at least a partial member, since I work with all the sciences). There were presentations from fellow librarians, a chemistry faculty member, and several vendors. It was a long day (rush hour traffic in Toronto is crazy!), but well worth it.

The vendor presentations were interesting, but reminded me that vendors really need to learn to edit their presentations. I know that your latest product is the best thing ever, but if you are allotted a half-hour time slot, please make sure that you only take a half-hour!

This was a great learning experience for me. I am not a chemist, and listening to my librarian colleagues discuss resources and the ways they assist faculty and students helps me understand how chemists work. I am slowly catching on, but I have a lot to learn.

As a relatively new librarian, it is vital for me to learn as much as I can about the literature of the disciplines I am responsible for, but it is also important to learn about the culture of those disciplines. This is something that takes time, and I am just at the beginning.

I was able to share with my colleagues some of the work we have been doing in information literacy instruction in chemistry, and get some wonderful feedback from librarians and chemistry faculty regarding the future of our program.

The “undergraduate” part of a science librarian

I keep up with my professional colleagues through blogs, listservs, twitter and social networking sites. Many of the science librarians I connect with have the advantage (or disadvantage) of being the library liaison to just one or two academic departments. As the sole science librarian at a largely undergraduate institution, I am the liaison to many academic departments:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics and Astronomy
  • Geological Sciences
  • Mathematics
  • Computer Science

I can’t be an expert in everthing, and the past few years have been a learning experience. I have a masters degree in Geology, so I am the most comfortable with the subject matter in that department, but I have been doing most of my library instruction sessions in the Biology and Chemistry departments.

In addition to learning about organic chemistry and vertebrate zoology, I am slowly learning about the culture of the various sciences.

For example, the emaphsis on primary, peer reviewed literature is stronger in Biology than in Geology (where technical reports make up a large part of the literature). Physicists are more receptive to Open Access models of publication (as seen in the dominance of the arXiv.org preprint server) than their counterparts in Chemistry (which has strong disciplinary ties to the chemical and pharmaceutical industries). And I just read a very interesting article discussing the tendancy of Computer Scientists to publish via conference presentations more than peer reviewed publications.

Learning about the publication cultures of the various scientific disciplines has been one of the most interesting parts of this job, and I feel as though I have only skimmed the surface.