Open Access, Culture, and Modeling the Way

I believe gobsmacked is the word I’m looking for.

David Lewis, Dean of the University Library at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, is an accomplished library administrator and a thoughtful commentator on library issues. His 1988 “Inventing the Electronic University” is a seminal article in the field.

And perhaps that’s why I was so troubled by what happened recently.

On April 21th I participated in an Association of Colleges and Research Libraries (ACRL) webinar in which Lewis discussed a number of key challenges and ways forward for academic libraries. He described our future as a winding, sometimes unclear, pathway but with a number of very critical decision points. These were specific directions necessary for academic libraries to remain successful.

His not so subtle message was that our unique “value proposition” was being undermined and we need to respond vigorously if we are to remain relevant.

The talk was overflowing with interesting and valuable insights. Here are three:

1. We need to transition the academic library and the academy to open access as the normative mode of scholarly communications (a transition that requires new financial models, better support for campus scholarship, and new services).

2. We need to support processes and infrastructure that make scholarly e-monographs less expensive to produce and available as open access.

3. We need to actively work to change cultures to enable the above two imperatives (among a number of other imperatives Lewis mentioned). Since culture change is massive and difficult, Lewis recommended starting not with our most demanding users (faculty) but with the less demanding undergraduates.

While that last bit of advice is disturbing (undergrads as guinea pigs) what really concerns me is something else.

Lewis seems to forget that real, transformational cultural change starts with us. It starts with our own personal attitudes and behaviours.

Here’s the issue.

In May Lewis will publish his ideas in a print monograph from a commercial publisher with no open access option. Yes, you read that correctly. “Do what I say, not what I do.” Or more importantly, as Pogo (remember Pogo?) used to say “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

If library leaders cannot model the way, why would faculty even listen to us about open access let alone change their behaviour.

There is still lots of work to do. And that work needs to start with us.

Cheers, Mike Ridley
Editor-in-Chief, Open Shelf

From the Editor is a regular column from the Editor-in-Chief of Open Shelf. The views express here and throughout the magazine do not necessarily reflect the views of the Ontario Library Association or its members.

  • Ron MacKinnon

    … and let’s start closer to home. As Chris Landry pointed out here in Open Access (February 2016; only 13 of 29 CARL libraries have an OA policy posted on their sites. That’s a jaw dropper, if not quite a gobsmacker, and I suspect many more are “doing” OA cultural and technical change work, but not the crucial piece of telling the world they are. David Lewis at least “talks the talk”. The majority of CARL libraries appear not to have said their first “mommy” yet.