For those who don’t know, the Big Deal is an arrangement with ejournal publishers to bundle their entire content into a large package of ejournals, while charging less than the full content would cost a library through individual subscriptions. An example is Elsevier, which provides something called the “Freedom Package” to academic libraries. For a relatively small percentage of what a library pays for Elsevier subscriptions, the library get access to everything Elsevier publishes. That’s the upside. The downside is that, once locked into multiyear licenses for these Big Deals, libraries are unable to reduce their number of subscriptions or lower their ejournal costs if they need to.
Many of you are probably familiar with the TV movie The Librarian: Quest for the Spear or its sequels. For those who aren’t, the lead character, Flynn Carsen, is a man in his thirties who has never left college. He obtains 22 degrees before he’s finally kicked out. He’s then recruited to be “The Librarian,” the head of a secret, enormous museum of strange and magical artifacts. Recently I was engaged in an online discussion about whether there are or can be a basic set of skills that all librarians should master. I have yet to see a persuasive argument for any particular library-specific skill that absolutely every librarian or library school graduate must have, and I’m pretty sure that’s because no such argument can be made. Most claims about what all librarians need to know or do or think rest on the assumption that there is a mythical creature—The Librarian. However, The Librarian doesn’t exist.
The White House recently released a memo entitled Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research. According to the memo, “the Administration is committed to ensuring that…the direct results of federally funded scientific research are made available to and useful for the public, industry, and the scientific community.” To clarify “direct results,” the memo continues: “Such results include peer-reviewed publications and digital data.” Along with the recent Congressional bill The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), the country is possibly one step closer to open access scholarship.
In December, Ithaka S+R released a study on Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Historians. It has advice for librarians and archivists on supporting research that’s worth reading. For now, I want to take a look at parts of the document that confirm my belief that we’re all in this together. But what can that mean in practice?
When I consider the current state of American copyright law, I often think about the 19th century French economist Frederic Bastiat and his “Petition from the Manufacturers of Candles, Tapers, Lanterns, Sticks, Street Lamps, Snuffers, and Extinguishers, and from Producers of Tallow, Oil, Resin, Alcohol, and Generally of Everything Connected with Lighting,” usually referred to as the Candlemaker’s Petition.
In my last column, I outlined part of the intellectual history behind research universities and academic libraries, and argued that the goal of higher education is the “free scientific investigation of every subject in the light of human reason” and that academic libraries “support a scholarly mission to create better human beings and a better society through the creation of knowledge in all areas.” That is my brief attempt to come up with a philosophy of academic librarianship. That is why we do what we do, but it is still abstract. How do we get from that philosophy to our practice?
Last month In the Library with the Lead Pipe published a long essay asking What Do We Do and Why Do We Do It? It calls for a philosophy of librarianship, noting that people have been calling for such a thing since at least the 1930s. Having read around in the literature, including many of the works mentioned in the article, I’m not sure there can be such a thing as “a philosophy” of librarianship, but there can definitely be philosophizing about librarianship. Since the article didn’t address my philosophizing about the topic, I’d like to continue the conversation.
The difference between a research assistant and an academic librarian lies in the teaching function of the latter. We don’t do people’s research for them; we teach them how to do their own research better. We serve the faculty, but we don’t serve as the personal research assistants of individual faculty members.
A couple of years ago I argued that one way to improve the user experience in libraries would be to develop sympathy with library users, which in academic libraries means primarily the faculty and students we serve. Librarians tend to be so comfortable in their own libraries that they forget what it’s like to use [...]
Back when he was vowing never to drop out of the Republican presidential primary race, but before he conceded he would not be the rock upon which the Republican nomination was built and dropped out anyway, Rick Santorum claimed that American colleges were “indoctrination mills.” This sort of accusation is often made by right-wing critics [...]