Seizing Inopportune Moments | Peer to Peer Review 2013-09-08


" ... My question about the MIT report is simple: where were MIT librarians? Where were the rest of us, for that matter? The repeated mass downloads were handled precisely as an academic librarian would expect them to be, but once campus access to JSTOR was restored, the MIT Libraries exited the drama, cooperating with subpoenas as needed and otherwise claiming an inability to speak except to campus legal counsel (III.A.4). Several issues raised by Swartz’s prosecution—the impact of our licensing decisions on our patrons, information access (including for unaffiliated walk-in library users), the consequences to information users of computer-trespass law and zealous copyright enforcement—fall squarely within our professional boundaries. Yet we were silent—just about all of us, not only MIT’s librarians—until Swartz’s suicide lent us an opportune moment. We were so silent that the MIT report does not even bother to list librarians among MIT’s several silent constituencies (p. 14, list item 4). Did it not occur to the report authors that we’d have something to say? If so, I find that a terrifying omen for the influence of academic librarianship on the academy and its information practices. Was it an inopportune moment to speak? Certainly it was for MIT librarians, so much so that even I (scenery-chewing Player that I often am) can’t fault them. The rest of us have no such excuse, and it’s our turf—and our credibility and mindshare around our turf—at stake. I regret personally that I did not speak more loudly. I hope I am not the only one ... Illinois is facing a scholarly communication novelty they’d likely rather have avoided: strong pressure on public institutions from the state legislature to institute an open-access policy along the general lines of Harvard’s. Unlike grant funders like the National Institutes of Health, the legislature does not legitimize its demand by waving money directly at faculty research; unlike Harvard-style policies, Illinois faculty are not deciding entirely on their own initiative to support open access.  For academic librarians caught in the middle, this is a positively paradigmatic inopportune moment to promote open access. Faculty at public institutions all over the U.S. tend to distrust state legislatures, owing largely to ongoing defunding, and faculty distrust of Illinois’s legislature is even deeper, owing to poorly-handled state budget-management issues during the recession, as well as benefits reductions for state employees. Biss-mandated debates about open access are therefore liable to be less concerned with the merits and challenges of open access, and more variations on the theme, “how dare they? If they want this, we don’t!”  Living in neighboring Wisconsin, I have quite a few librarian friends at public Illinois institutions, several of whom work directly on scholarly communication issues. I’ve even taught for Illinois’s Graduate School of Library and Information Studies a few times. I hope, and believe, that my friends there have the courage to continue to support open access despite the inchoate faculty anger that could so easily shift from its current targets to them ... The alternative—not just in Illinois, but for all of us—is to abdicate academic-library leadership on academe’s information issues, instead passively waiting for someone to tell us what to do ... Did we have to arrive at Biss, at Swartz’s suicide, at the confusion surrounding the OSTP Memo? When could we have said no to the serials Big Deal, reasserted our privilege of journal choice? We can’t say we weren’t warned about the Big Deal’s eventual consequences. That’s past, though, and past remedy. Can we say no right now? Can we say no to the ridiculous inflation, the budget distortions by discipline, the erasure of monographs, the destruction of small independent scholarly publishers?

Some of us can. Some of us have, and lived to tell the tale. As best I can tell, what distinguishes those of us who can and have from those of us who feel they can’t is, once again, resolutely explaining the problem to our local constituencies and championing necessary change despite its unpopularity. I believe it’s better to do this work, unpalatable though it is, well before flat budgets and still-inflating costs force us to ... I worry about information seekers and information sharers in heavily-surveilled digital environments, if academic librarians cannot work out how to defend them. I worry about my


From feeds:

Open Access Tracking Project (OATP) »

Tags: oa.comment oa.lis oa.mandates oa.legislation oa.universities oa.advocacy oa.libraries oa.litigation oa.librarians oa.reports oa.funders oa.budgets oa.colleges oa.jstor oa.guerrilla oa.hei oa.policies oa.rights-retention

Date tagged:

09/08/2013, 08:04

Date published:

09/08/2013, 04:04