I am always amazed that people who have ideas to share don’t actually take steps to share them. Yes, academic librarians, I’m looking at you. Why is it that librarians agitate for open access and, at the same time, are content to put their own scholarship behind paywalls?
I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen a tempting reference to a recent article that appears in a journal to which my library doesn’t subscribe. Most of the time, that means I won’t read it. Our collection supports our curriculum, and we don’t have a library science program. You know something? Most academic libraries don’t. I could request the article through interlibrary loan, but if enough of my colleagues request articles from that journal, we begin to pay copyright fees that are usually quite high—high enough that it essentially means there’s a book we won’t buy so that I could read that one article. If I really need the article, I will likely pursue it, but if I’m simply interested, I probably won’t. Why on earth would we want to discourage one another from indulging in professional curiosity? That way lies missing the things we didn’t know we needed.
Presumably librarians publish at least in part in order to make their ideas public. Even if you choose to publish in a toll access library publication, most of them allow authors to deposit their work publicly in preprint or postprint form. (Personally, I wouldn’t submit work to one that doesn’t. There is no need for us to hide our lights under those particular bushels. The best bushels aren’t so unenlightened.)
Some librarians say they publish because they have to, not because they feel they have something valuable to say. I’m sorry for anyone stuck in a job where they have to do research against their will and perhaps under conditions that require something without supporting it. I’m even sadder that people in our profession—our fascinating profession—can’t find something about which to be systematically curious.
I’ve also heard librarians say our literature is rubbish. That’s not a particularly persuasive reason to avoid improving it. If you can’t imagine any way to write something valuable about what we do, then you probably really mean “I think our profession is rubbish,” in which case, there are a lot of good librarians out there who would like your job.
I suspect some librarians don’t post their work online because they don’t have an institutional repository. Guess what—you don’t need one! You can post it on your own institutional profile page or personal website, or deposit it in E-LIS, our very own professional repository. If you don’t know how to put stuff online, it’s well past time to learn. That’s fairly basic How To Be a Librarian 101.
Library school faculty, can I make a special appeal here? Why on earth don’t you make every single article you’ve published available to us practitioners? We have such a short time to be trained professionally in your programs, and you keep discovering new things after we graduate. We have to keep on learning even after we leave the training nest. Most of us will not be able to subscribe to the journals you publish in, so unless you are thoughtful and publish in open access journals, we probably won’t benefit from your work. Unless you are ashamed of your work or ashamed of the profession you are in, you should make your research public for the audience that can benefit from it. Those of you at public universities in particular—what are you thinking?
Also, you know how it’s really valuable to use a library as your patrons do, in order to get the user experience? It’s the same with scholarly communication. If you ever tell a faculty member in another department that journals are too expensive, that open access is a good thing, and your own work isn’t open access, set aside time right now to fix that problem. It’s not just so that you won’t be a hypocrite, though that’s a good enough reason. It’s so that you’ll get a feel for what’s involved and you’ll be able to help them through the process.
No excuses. Do it.