Most of us who work in libraries are familiar with the Myth of the Free Gift—otherwise known as the Kittens-or-Beer Conundrum. Free Beer is a gift that requires nothing of us but to consume it. Free Kittens don’t cost anything to acquire, but they entail ongoing costs as you keep and care for them.
I have for years been a huge fan of the WAC Clearinghouse—a remarkably deep collection of open access resources for those who teach writing across the curriculum (WAC) and want to share scholarship on the teaching of writing. That’s in part because there’s a lot in common between writing instruction and information literacy programs. But I’m also a fan because it’s such a good example of high quality open access publishing. I decided this week to contact Mike Palmquist, founding editor of the Clearinghouse, to ask him how it all works.
Last weekend I went to Spring Green, Wisconsin for a treat I’d been anticipating most of a year: a double-bill of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead at American Players Theatre. I drove home from the theater with lines and themes from the play pulling together disparate threads in my mind, such as opportune moments and their opposites, MIT’s report on its behavior during Aaron Swartz’s prosecution, the Biss bill as the latest twist in the movement toward open access to scholarly literature, and sundry other past and present information-related struggles in academe, and I want to share some of my musings.
Librarians always seem to believe they’re living through revolutionary times, and perhaps they are. The world of libraries, like the world in general, is constantly in flux. But let us assume revolutionary change has been the norm in libraries for the last few decades. It’s actually pretty easy to point to historical moments of significant change, analyze their motives, and see how things turned out. We have at least two technological revolutions in libraries that are now distant enough for us to gain some historical perspective.
The faculty of the University of California system have adopted an open access mandate. This is huge. Not only will it put a lot of scholarship from ten notable universities online for the benefit of all, it signals a shift in perception of what is normal academic practice. It’s interesting that it has happened on the heels of a major scholarly society issuing a draft statement arguing that digital open access to dissertations may harm young scholars, who should be allowed a six-year period in which to turn their research into a book contract.
I’m becoming increasingly convinced that everything we do in the presence of others is, among other things, language—and in the academic library, virtually everything we do is done in the presence of others. we are constantly doing things that send a message—sometimes explicitly, but more often implicitly. In fact, everything that we do sends a message. If we don’t pay attention to what I like to call our “organizational body language,” we run the risk of sending the wrong message inadvertently.
For the future of library education, watch today’s “topics” courses. I’m celebrating this week: after three years of teaching it, my Digital Curation course has at last graduated to the dignity of its very own course number! When I first suggested the course to the formidable Louise Robbins, then director of SLIS, she immediately shot back “Where are the jobs?” I dug up a few, so Louise agreed to let me pilot the course under one of SLIS’s generic “topics” numbers. Topics courses change all the time—that’s what they’re for.
Even when I was still a student in library school, I noticed that the library literature often included exhortations for libraries and librarians to change. However, too many of them, then and now, do more harm for their cause than good. Rather than analyze any specific calls for change, I want to discuss what I consider the differences between good and bad change rhetoric. The goal of such rhetoric is, presumably, to change people’s opinions. Both good and bad change rhetoric do this, but while good change rhetoric persuades people to consider adopting some change, bad change rhetoric lowers the audience’s opinion of the speaker.
Having written a column a couple of weeks ago expressing skepticism, even cynicism, about the prospect of the international diplomatic conference sponsored in Marrakesh by the World Intellectual Property Organization actually producing a treaty on copyright exceptions for the blind and visually impaired, I was both pleased and surprised to hear that such a treaty was agreed to by the delegates in the wee hours of June 25.