I’m not a hero. I’m not an open access warrior. I’m not one of those people who would risk their career on the cross of Open Access. I’m not a badass who makes demands of publishers. I ask nicely. I’m on the tenure track and the idea of walking away from an opportunity to publish is terrifying.
But, you know what? You can find all of my writing (other than what’s on this blog) in PDXScholar, our institutional repository (IR). Want to read my peer-reviewed articles? My American Libraries columns from the past few years? The book chapters I’ve written since 2008? They’re all in there. My most recently article, co-authored with Lisa Hinchliffe and applying a management model to building a culture of assessment where librarians have faculty status, is in an open access journal. And I honestly didn’t think this was particularly notable these days until I read Barbara Fister’s not-at-all-cranky column in Library Journal on making our work freely available and post on Library Babelfish on tenure and the common good.
Apparently a bunch of people told Barbara on Twitter that it’s because of tenure that people aren’t making their stuff open or aren’t fighting for it. I’ll tell you something: what I did was by no means a Herculean task. In most cases, I was allowed via the standard contract to publish my work in my institutional repository. In some cases, I had to use my own ugly copy, but in others, I could use the one from the publisher. In the case of one book chapter, I had to ask for a different contract, but I got it. And the contract they gave me actually allowed me to do whatever I wanted with the chapter (publish in an IR or on my blog, put it on a billboard, etc.). But when I asked the publisher for a digital copy to put in my IR, they told me there was an embargo until I showed them my contract (which they had drafted) which showed no such thing. They then asked me a bunch of questions that made it seem like they didn’t have a clue what IRs actually are. When I realized this, it made me wonder how many authors had ever pushed back (and by pushed back, I mean asked). Some of my co-authors in that book are impressive people and I’m surprised they didn’t try to get the same deal.
Yes, I’ve heard horror stories about dealing with publishers and I totally agree that keeping one’s job is more important than making one article or chapter open. But there are also a lot of fish in the sea, and the number of publishers that don’t allow you to put a pre-print or post-print in an IR (sometimes with an embargo) seems to be dwindling. (Those of you who have a list of acceptable journals that you can publish in to achieve tenure, how many of them don’t allow the deposit of some product in an IR?) Even Elsevier does! And while book chapters are another kettle of fish (I seem to have a lot of fish metaphors going on in this paragraph) there are publishers who will allow you to put a copy of your work in a repository. For me, at least, it’s not necessarily about publishing in OA journals, but about making your scholarship more widely available.
On the other hand, I see so many people who could post pre-prints, post-prints, etc. not doing it and I really don’t understand why. I’m creating a new course for San Jose State’s SLIS program on embedded librarianship (more about embedding the library into the fabric of higher ed than just embedding a librarian in a class, though that’s included too) and I’ve been looking for great articles and book chapters related to my topic. For every book I’ve looked at, I’ve found one or two (at most) chapters in institutional repositories that I can easily link to. Of course they are rarely the ones that I most want to use, and I’ll be damned if I’ll make poor LIS students buy a book from which they’re going to read three chapters. If those authors were able to publish in their IR, why not the rest? Did they not ask or does their contract allow them and they just didn’t bother? My contract with ACRL for a book chapter in 2007 had a provision allowing for publishing in an IR (I believe after an embargo period), and I’m assuming that hasn’t changed since I’ve seen more recent ACRL chapters in IRs.
What’s up with that? Is it that difficult at other places to get your stuff into your institutional repository? What kind of role models are we being if we don’t make available those works we can in the IR? How can we expect disciplinary faculty to do it if we don’t? When it comes down to it, don’t we want to advance knowledge? I know, plenty of people write only for the purpose of getting tenure, but if you’ve put forth the effort already and can make it available to anyone who wants to read it, why wouldn’t you?
You can tell by the title of this blog that I believe in making information widely available. It’s my passion — from creating wikis to creating a mentoring program to publishing in my IR. I do this because I want to connect people with the information they need to be successful, be it from an article or another person. I hate the idea that I might know something that could help someone and didn’t make that information as accessible as possible. Library DIY is essentially a librarian brain-dump that makes us more accessible to our users without them needing to ask for help.
Until I came to Portland State, I had never read an issue of portal. I’d hear about good things in it from blogs, but Norwich didn’t subscribe. Every once in a while I’d find an article in a repository or on the lovely Megan Oakleaf’s website, but I wasn’t going to burden ILL for an article that wasn’t essential to my scholarship. It’s easy to forget when you’re working at a big research university that the vast majority of people in our profession globally do not have access to the scholarship of our profession. I want the solo academic librarian in Vermont and the library school student in Bangladesh to have access to the same wealth of professional information that I have. I see access to information as a social justice issue.
There’s also a purely self-interested reason to get your scholarship out beyond the walled garden of journals and databases: exposure. Tenure track faculty not only need to show productivity; they need to show impact. The more accessible your scholarship is, the more likely people are to read it and (hopefully) cite it. Kristin Antelman (thanks for putting this in a repository!) showed that “freely available articles do have a greater research impact.” In my annual P&T reviews, I include how many times people have downloaded my work in PDXScholar and I’d like to believe it matters that my article on “Participatory Technologies, Pedagogy 2.0 and Information Literacy” was the third most downloaded article in our repository. Even for people who could access your article through a database, the extra steps of logging into the proxy server and navigating to it might just be enough of a barrier for them not to bother.
I guess the proof will be in the pudding. We’ll see in a few years if I get tenure. But if I don’t, it probably won’t be about my scholarship. I haven’t broken any rules or done anything extraordinary. I just made a small amount of effort to make my scholarship open to all. I don’t expect anyone to jeopardize tenure to make stuff more open, but it does disappoint me that people in our profession won’t ask a publisher for permission or even take the time to put something in their IR that could benefit so many. Mostly I just don’t understand why one wouldn’t if they could.
Here’s to breaking down barriers to information. Happy Open Access Week!