Walking the walk may be trickier than it first appears: An open access publishing story

So I’m pleased to report that an article I wrote, “A Preliminary Methodology, and a Cautionary Tale, for Determining How Students Seek Research Help Online,” has been published in the April 2014 issue of portal: Libraries and the Academy.  Because of a variety of factors, the article is available in its final published version (PDF link) here on my own web page.

But this blog post isn’t really about “hey isn’t this cool I had an article published.” It’s really more about the process of how that article got published, and how it came to be that I’m able to post a copy of it on my own web page, and how difficult that was, even in 2014, even for someone who’s reasonably well-informed about issues of open access and who is even pretty strongly committed to making her own professional work publicly accessible.  This blog post is, if you will, a cautionary tale.

Part One: Where to Publish?

A little more than a year ago, I had an almost-manuscript and I was looking for a place to publish it.  I wanted to publish it in a disciplinary journal, instead of a library journal, because I think it’s important for library research to reach a wider audience of faculty and other readers and not just stay within the library-science echo chamber.  Since the article was at the intersection of library science with educational psychology and distance education/online learning, I was looking at journals in the latter fields in particular.  I managed to find five potential journals whose scopes matched the topic of the article to greater or lesser degrees:

  • Journal A was published by Taylor & Francis. They have a “pay to make your article OA” option which, even if I had grant funding to pay the several-thousand-dollar fee, I’d find odious.  If I chose (“chose”) not to pay the fee, I could still deposit a copy of the article in an institutional repository (which my institution doesn’t have) or in a subject repository.
  • Journal B was published by Springer. They have a similar “pay to make your article OA” option, or I could deposit in my (non-existent) IR, or I could self-archive on my own web page, but only after a 12-month embargo.
  • Journal C was from Elsevier, so that was an immediate no-go.
  • Journal D was published by a scholarly society, which was initially appealing, but they said up front that the initial manuscript review process took at least 5 months, and I didn’t have that kind of time before my tenure portfolio was due.
  • Journal E was also published by a scholarly society, but said up front that they had a 17% acceptance rate. Under the circumstances, that didn’t seem like a particularly good bet.

So there I was: a nice bouquet of bad options for someone who wanted to publish in a particular field, needed to publish relatively quickly for reasons of tenure, and was committed to keeping her work accessible.  I suddenly had a lot more sympathy for the choices that faculty make, the pressures they face, and the limited options that are available to them.  I felt trapped and panicky.  At this stage in the process, I didn’t have a lot of bargaining power — any bargaining power, really — and that’s kind of the point.

Eventually, I gave up on publishing outside of the LIS field, so I re-evaluated the LIS choices and settled on portal and Johns Hopkins University Press, whose default publishing agreement allows self-archiving and institutional repositories (but not subject repositories, unless required by the terms of a grant, i.e., the NIH mandate or similar).  And luckily for me, they reviewed the manuscript expeditiously before accepting it (provisionally, and then definitely) for publication.

Part Two: “Please sir, may I have some more?”

So then at the conclusion of the “revisions, editing, back-and-forth with the managing editor” process, there finally came the moment I was waiting for: the publishing agreement.  Now, I knew going in that no matter what, the default agreement said that I’d be able to self-archive the article, so I was covered there. But, I was pretty sure that the default agreement also would require me to transfer my copyright to the journal, and I was more than a little disinclined to do that.  And, sure enough, when the agreement arrived in my email, that’s exactly what it said.

So I wrote back to the managing editor, and I’m going to quote my email below:

Dear [Name]: Thank you for sending the publishing agreement for Johns Hopkins University Press and portal. I’m very pleased to see that I will retain the right to post a copy of the article on my personal or institutional repository or online site. Retaining the copyright to my professional work is also important to me, so I’m wondering if there is an alternate agreement, or if the current agreement can be altered, so that I retain the copyright but the Press still has the ability to do what it needs to do with the content. If not, the current agreement is fine and I will happily sign, [etc.]. But if an alternate agreement is possible, I would prefer to pursue that option. Sincerely, etc.”

This was a really scary and difficult email to write, and that’s why I’m copying it here, so that if others want to use it as a template they can.  (You totally can! Copy freely!)  It was difficult because I was aiming for a very precise tone: I didn’t want to sound cranky or troublesome or rude or like a “problem,”1 but I also didn’t want to just accept what was being offered without at least asking if what I really wanted was possible.2  It’s a delicate line to walk.

The managing editor wrote back and said she didn’t know, but she’d look into it, and a few hours later, I had a different, far more agreeable publishing agreement in my inbox, whereby I retained copyright and granted the press a non-exclusive royalty-free right to publish the article. Bingo!

And then, a day or two later, my good friend Iris and her co-authors did the same thing, and got the same agreeable agreement.

Part Three: Not really a conclusion

So I guess all this is to say: it’s hard. In some fields, in some situations, it may be harder than it first appears. It’s possible, though, if you’re lucky and if you ask for what you want, and then you’re lucky again.  I hope this blog post goes some way towards enabling others to take similar steps.

Postscript: Good articles make good neighbors

Before you go and (if you’re so inclined) read my article, be sure to read my good friend Iris Jastram and her co-authors’ article, that appears just ahead of it in the table of contents.  Excellent stuff there, too!

 


  1. I wonder how much of that is gender socialization. Do male researchers/authors/scholars worry about this?
  2. In between when I wrote this post, and when I published it, this whole mess happened, which I think is definitely related to the gender socialization piece, which is also related to the idea that women don’t negotiate. It’s turtles socialization, all the way down.

What I did during my summer

(The title of this post was going to be “What I did during my summer vacation” except I’m on a 12-month contract.)

Maura Smale posted her #summerIdidlist on her blog recently, so since this has been a particularly busy summer, I thought I’d do the same:

  • Submitted an article manuscript to portal.
  • Facilitated a conversation among all of our librarians about how instruction went during the past year under our new liaison model: what went well, what we want to do differently, whether the division of labor was equitable, etc..
  • With my coworker Suzanne Hinnefeld, presented a poster at ALA Annual.
  • Organized and facilitated a half-day in-person meeting of the statewide committee that, as of the close of that meeting, I no longer chair.
  • Organized and facilitated a daylong regional Unconference on information literacy instruction for librarians in northern Indiana, as a function of that committee.
  • Built a search widget for, and got said search widget installed on the library’s home page, that searches Primo Central (our discovery layer), without breaking the library’s home page while messing about on the live production server because we have no test server for the library website.
  • Assumed the role of coordinator for my campus’s new first-year seminar, and worked with other gen ed coordinators to plan a day of faculty development during the week before classes started.
  • Had my article manuscript accepted pending revisions.
  • Served on a search committee for a reference/instruction/liaison librarian position.

and (drumroll, please)…

You know it’s been a busy summer when you’re looking forward to the first day of class because that’s when things will start to calm down.

Update: here’s the pen-and-paper version.

How we done good

Two Fridays ago was a busy day for me.  My campus is trying to start up a first-year seminar (FYS) program as part of our new general education program. We’re working on recruiting faculty to teach courses in the program, which has been a bit of a stumbling block for a wide variety of reasons. We have a budget, however, for faculty development around the first-year seminar, as well as the critical thinking and information literacy outcomes that are “housed” within that seminar.

So, knowing that — again, for a wide variety of reasons — bringing in “experts” or consultants wouldn’t be the most effective strategy on our campus at this time, we decided to bring in five ordinary faculty members, from three different liberal arts colleges with long-established, strong FYS programs, to work one-on-one with some of our faculty who are developing FYS courses, and also to do a lunch panel for the faculty as a whole on why teaching a FYS is the Bestest Thing Ever.

The fact that the “experts” were also our faculty’s peers gave them credibility with our faculty, and also gave them an intimate understanding of the challenges we face in getting our program off the ground.  In each case, our program is slightly different from their campus’s program, but the common elements — first-year students, a seminar format, creative and interdisciplinary topics, the integration of critical thinking and research skills, the struggle between “coverage” and skills — were the same.

I was coordinating that visit, handling everything from travel arrangements to catering orders to scheduling the guests’ meetings with our faculty members.  It all came together last Friday, and from everything I’ve heard from those who participated in the events, it went really, really well.

One of the things I kept hearing from people on my campus, though, was how surprising the whole idea was.  The word “innovative” was even used once or twice.  The idea of bringing in “experts” who were also peers, to work one-on-one with our faculty and also to address the faculty as a whole, didn’t seem to have occurred to anyone, but it seemed kind of like a no-brainer to me.

So I got to thinking about why that was: why was this idea, that seemed so obvious to me, so foreign to my colleagues on the teaching faculty?

And I think it comes down to the culture of librarianship and the culture of faculty. There is such a strong culture of sharing expertise and communal problem-solving among librarians: we have tons of email lists devoted primarily to that purpose (ILI-L and collib-l are just two that I’ve been involved with, but there are many, many others).  We have whole corners of social networking spaces devoted to that purpose. We have wikis (that don’t get used much).

And we have conferences and professional journals.  How many conference presentations and journal articles have you read that fall into the category of what we sometimes derisively call “how we done good” presentations?  Those presentations or articles that describe a new or innovative service, talk about what need it fills, how it was developed, what barriers the authors encountered, etc., and then go on to provide tips and suggestions for replicating the program or service at your own library?

A lot, is my guess.

But the thing is, the teaching faculty don’t, for the most part, have these channels — especially not the formal channels of conference presentations and journal articles. Because of course, all conference papers and publications must be “research” in order to count for tenure and promotion — mere “helpful advice” doesn’t count.  Even the “scholarship of teaching and learning” folks often tend to emphasize the scholarship aspect over and above the “sharing practical wisdom” aspect — because, again, these folks are hoping that this scholarship counts toward tenure and promotion.1

So among our teaching-faculty colleagues, the conversations about “hey I’ve got this problem,” and “how do you handle this kind of situation,” and “wow, this thing I did in class yesterday was awesome,” and “you have got to see my colleague’s syllabus because it has completely changed the way I think about…” and “oh hey, that happened to me and here’s what I did” when they do happen, happen in the hallways at conferences, and in the hallways between offices, and other haphazard locations.  They’re not captured anywhere for others to read/hear and learn from.2

But the thing is, if you put two or more dedicated teachers in a room together and give them even the slightest provocation, they will start talking about teaching and learning and not stop until someone turns out the lights, turns off the heat, and takes away the coffee urn. Seriously. I’ve seen it happen. (I saw it happen two Fridays ago, and it was awesome.)

So how do we make that happen more often? How do we facilitate those conversations? How do we structure them so that they are informal enough to be inviting and “safe” spaces for talking about failures and challenges, yet structured enough so as not to descend into gripe-fests?  We do it reasonably well in librarianship; how can we make it happen in the (other) disciplines?

 


  1. And also, to be fair, because evidence-based efforts to improve teaching and learning are probably going to be more effective than non-evidence-based improvements.
  2. There are quite a number of blogs that do this, though, and those can be really valuable for capturing these conversations and broadcasting them to a wider audience.

Some new things I’m trying this semester

My last three posts have been about new things I tried last semester, and how they worked out. Now I’m going to talk a little bit about new things I’m trying this semester, and what I’m hoping for them.

Digression: I realized about a year ago that I needed a bit more structure to thinking about my teaching. Previously, I would sit down at the end of a semester and think about what I’d taught, and how it had gone, what had worked well and what I’d like to change. And I’d written some stuff down, and pinned it up on my bulletin board1 where I could see it. Then I would ignore it. Starting last semester, I have a more focused plan for each term, where I pick three or four things I want to work on before the semester starts, and then at the end of the semester, sit down and think about how well they worked, and then decide what I want to work on next semester. It’s sort of like “closing the loop” on the assessment cycle, but a lot more flexible.

So this term, I’ve got four items, three of which are related to classroom teaching, and one of which is a larger, curricular/liaison issue:

  1. First, I want to start following up via email with each faculty member I work with after the class session, as a formal “thank you” message and also to share with them whatever assessment results I’ve gotten from their students. I sometimes do this already, and occasionally faculty will follow up with me, but I want to formalize this process a bit more.  Partly this is growing out of our new liaison program, so there’s an added element of “I’m your department’s contact at the library,” as opposed to “I’m the instruction librarian.”  Most importantly, though, I want to be able to talk about what I learned from whatever classroom assessment tool I used, and clarify any points of confusion, etc.
  2. Related to that, and related to my failed experiment from last semester, I’m going to sit down with one of my colleagues who uses a wide variety of classroom assessment tools, and really give some deliberate thought to what other tools I could be using to learn more about what students are, and aren’t, learning in my classroom.
  3. I need to figure out what to do with the bibliographies I collected last semester, and the ones that I’ll request again this semester.  Kaijsa had a comment on that post about evaluating them using a rubric, but I don’t feel confident writing a rubric without seeing a bunch of examples first, so that I have some sense of the scope of what students are capable of.  Writing the rubric “blind,” when I’m not the person writing the outcomes for the course, seems like a recipe for pitching it too high (impossible for students to succeed) or too low (too easy for students to ace it).  Perhaps I’ll just collect examples for one or two more semesters in order to get a sense of range, and then develop a rubric.
  4. And finally, I want to open a conversation with one of my liaison departments about building curriculum-integrated instruction into their major’s curriculum.  We have a fantastic example in another department here at the college (which isn’t one of my liaison departments) that I worked with their faculty to develop, and I want to use that as a model for other departments.  There have been some staffing changes in my liaison department recently, and I think now might be a good time to open the conversation with them.  If I can get this going, I’ll be well on my way to eliminating some of my most frustrating instances of students with wildly differing levels of experience in the same class.

So that’s what I’m going to work on this semester.  In addition to, um, all the other stuff I’m going to work on.  It’s going to be a busy semester, but then, it’s my last full term before I turn in my tenure materials, so that’s probably to be expected.  What are you working on this term?

 


  1. Yes, I have a bulletin board, not a whiteboard. I am Librarian 1.o.

Some new things I tried this semester: the failed experiment

The third new thing I tried in the fall semester was to incorporate different formative classroom assessment techniques, in addition to my old standby, the minute paper.1  Minute papers are great, don’t get me wrong, and I’ve learned a ton of stuff from them, but there are other tools out there that you can learn different things from, and I’d like to try them.

The problem is, none of the ones that I thought about using seemed to fit authentically into my teaching. There’s a list here (sorry, Word document!) of assessment tools specifically tailored for information literacy instruction, and one of my colleagues has a list of six short and simple ones (including the minute paper) that was a staple of her previous library’s instruction program.  But some of them manifestly didn’t apply to the kind of instruction I was doing for a particular course, and others seemed either too time-consuming, too artificial, or too evaluative for me to be comfortable with them.

I’m going to make a point to talk with my colleague about the assessment tools that she uses, and how she integrates them into her instruction, to see if I can find ways to make these work better for me.  In the mean time, what do you do — in addition to, or instead of, the minute paper — to help you learn what your students have learned, and what you can change to help them learn better?

 


  1. If that last clause was gibberish to you, allow me to recommend a classic work on formative classroom assessment, which is Thomas Angelo and Patricia Cross’s Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers; the 2nd edition was published in 1993 and I believe there is a 3rd edition in preparation.

Some new things I tried this semester, Part 2: Summative assessment

So in addition to trying out a new lesson plan concept this semester, I also screwed up my courage and asked a few of the faculty I worked with to share their students’ bibliographies from the papers or projects they worked on. This is part of a concerted effort on my part to add summative assessment to my wheelhouse, which has previously really only contained formative assessment (and, to be perfectly frank, really only contained minute papers).

I was pleasantly surprised at how the faculty responded to my request. I had put notifications on my calendar around the time that the assignments were due, so that I could remind them and ask/beg them to send them to me, but two of the three faculty I asked sent me the bibliographies without my even having to remind them!

So now I have these bibliographies, and I’m not sure what to do with them. I’ve read through them, and they’re fascinating, especially without the body of the paper they’re attached to.  I can pretty easily sort them into three piles: those students who “got it;” those students who mostly got it but also had some issues; and those students who are still unclear on the concept.  But without anything to compare them to (previous classes’ bibliographies, bibliographies from classes that didn’t get instruction — a control group, essentially) I don’t exactly know what to make of them.  I suppose I could just sit on them for a semester or a year until I work with these faculty again and have another group of bibliographies to compare them to, but that seems like a long time to wait — never mind the potential confounding factors in comparing the two classes.

One thing I did learn from one of the two classes, though, is that of the students who clearly “got it,” nearly all of them wound up citing journal articles from databases in their bibliographies. We talk about finding journal articles in the class session, but it gets a really quick, slapdash approach, and we spend a lot more time on other issues. Seeing how many of the successful bibliographies use articles makes me think that we need to switch things up and spend more time, and be a lot more deliberate, in our explanation and exploration of databases.  So that’s something I learned, at least!

Do you regularly look over bibliographies from classes you teach? How do you handle the process? What do you look for, and what have you learned from it?

Some new things I tried this semester, part 1: The workshop class

One of the biggest challenges I have as a teacher is when I get a class where the students have wildly different backgrounds and experience with doing research.  Some of them might be second-semester first-year students who have never done college-level research before; others might be juniors or seniors with a number of research projects under their belts already.  (Others might be juniors or seniors who have never done college-level research before, and that’s a whole other set of issues right there.)

How do you address students with such disparate backgrounds? How do you avoid boring the experienced students while leaving the inexperienced students in the dust?  And how can you tell exactly how experienced and capable the students really are, anyway?

None of the strategies for this kind of class that I’ve tried have really worked all that well for my students, or felt terribly authentic to me as a teacher. So I tried something different this semester: I’m calling it a “workshop” class because it’s a little bit like what happens in a creative writing class when students bring in their writing, read it together, and work together to try to make it stronger.1

What I did this semester was, for several classes where I suspected this would be an issue, I asked the professor to ask the students to do some research ahead of time, with very little guidance on what, how, or where they should search, and to bring to class at least one source that they’d found and be prepared to share it with the rest of the class, in whatever format seemed most convenient.2  For classes where the students were working in groups, we asked each group to bring a source.

Then during class, we looked at a selection of the sources that students brought in, talked about what made them good or less-good sources, talked about how they’d found them, and used those as springboards to talk about places to search (databases, Google Scholar, Google tips, etc.), searching strategies (Boolean, keywords, etc.), and evaluating what they find.  It’s a way to meet them where they are, acknowledge the skills that they already bring to class, and give them tools and strategies to take those skills further.

How well did it work? Well, for a few classes it worked very, very well — but these classes were doing slightly different kinds of searching than most library instruction classes look for.  In at least one class, it worked sort of well, but not as well as I would have liked.  On reflection afterwards, the problem seemed to be that I had in my head several Platonic ideal “not quite perfect, but imperfect in useful and instructive ways” sources that I hoped students would bring to class, so that we could use them as examples and talk about how they were imperfect and what we could learn about them. And I spent far too much time trying to make the sources that they did bring to class into those kinds of sources, when they really weren’t.

So next time, I’m going to come in with a few pre-selected sources that really are “not quite perfect, but imperfect in useful and instructive ways” so that we can talk about them explicitly, and then move on to what they actually found. Or maybe do it the other way around.

Stay tuned for the next New Thing I Tried This Semester: Summative Assessment!

 


  1. I’m deliberately avoiding saying “students workshop their writing” because verbification drives me bonkers.
  2. Students universally chose online sources and shared them by putting them up on the projector screen. Not one picked, say, a book.

Stewardship, Librarianship, the ACS, and us

This blog has been dormant long enough that I think it’s probably okay for me to hijack it from its usual purpose (discussion of the hows, whats, and whys of library instruction) to address an issue that’s come to a head in recent days and weeks.

So a couple of weeks ago, the libraries at SUNY Potsdam went public with their decision to cancel their subscription to the American Chemical Society’s journal package for 2013.1  The ACS, as many academic librarians are well aware, is in the enviable position of both accrediting undergraduate chemistry programs, and selling access to a set of resources that are required (or nearly required) for obtaining accreditation.

Possibly as a result of this situation, the (non-profit,tax-exempt, 501.c.3) Society charges subscription rates for its journal packages that, for many libraries, dwarf the cost of any other resource they purchase. Details of the effect of the cost of the ACS package on the overall library acquisitions budget are provided in Jenica’s post linked above.

SUNY Potsdam’s decision was noteworthy enough that the Chronicle of Higher Education took note (the link is, ironically enough, only accessible to subscribers).  The Chronicle’s article was mentioned on various blogs and mailing lists, and discussion has focused especially on the quote from Glenn S. Ruskin, ACS’s director of public affairs, concerning his decision not to engage in public debate on the issues, preferring to confer by telephone or face-to-face with individual librarians.

There are a lot of issues swirling around this particular incident: we’ve got the ACS’s potential conflict of interest in its role as both accreditor and purveyor of resources required for accreditation; we’ve got larger issues of ownership and access in scholarly communication; we’ve got issues of age, gender, and power in librarianship; we’ve got issues of the Serials Crisis and the Big Deal affecting library budgets; we’ve got issues of language and context and code-shifting and public vs. private communication; and we’ve got issues of libraries, and librarians, as stewards of scarce resources.

And it’s that last issue that I want to focus on, with a soupçon of reference to some of the others.

Because Jenica has gotten some pushback on — of all things in this glorious mess — removing access to needed resources from her campus.  The pushback hasn’t come from her own campus, mind you; she and her librarians did a great job preparing the affected users for the loss of these resources, explaining the reasons for the decision, and finding sufficient alternative resources. No, the pushback is coming from other librarians and chemists.  “That’s a bad decision,” she paraphrases her critics. “Your users need that content.”

And that’s the point that I want to work through here: yes, her users need that content. So do mine.2 So does every chemistry department. But you know what? Her users need a lot of things, and so do mine and so do yours. Libraries have limited resources to distribute, to steward, to meet all of our users’ needs.  And stewardship is complicated: sometimes it means making decisions that make people unhappy — even make their work or their lives more difficult — in pursuit of a greater good.

And librarians have a really hard time making people unhappy. We’ve been trying, since the first librarian who saw beyond the Gatekeeper model of librarianship to the Facilitator model of librarianship, to make people happy. To help people.  We are, after all, a female-dominated so-called “helping profession.”  It is very hard for us to say “no.”

But sometimes we have to, either because there is no other answer, or because we have to keep the larger picture in mind. We’ve been saying “yes,” and bending over backwards to do more with less, and attempting to give everyone everything they need for so long that we have nearly forgotten that there are models of librarianship other than Doormat and Faculty Helpmeet. We have nearly forgotten that we, too, have expertise and experience, and a broad view of the scholarly communication landscape, to bring to bear on these problems. We recognize that something has to give, that library collections in all disciplines other than chemistry suffer because of the untenable situation that the ACS has put libraries in, and because we know this, we must use that knowledge to inform our stewardship.

We cannot let Jenica Rogers and SUNY Potsdam be the sole standard bearers for libraries in this matter.  We cannot breathe a sigh of relief and believe that now that they have taken this courageous step, things must necessarily get better for the rest of us — because if it’s only them who take this step, things won’t get better.  Other campuses, other libraries, other chemistry departments, and other librarians must step forward and stand with them, must steward their resources in responsible and effective ways. This sounds like hyperbole but I am fairly confident that it is not: the future of scholarly communication rests, in part, on decisions like this. Let’s not blow it.

Update, Dec. 14, 2012: My college’s library, with the support of our Chemistry faculty, has cancelled our subscription to the ACS online journal package for 2013.  More details can be found in the Library Society of the World’s discussion.

 


  1. More precisely, the Director of Libraries, Jenica P. Rogers, went public with that decision in a post on her blog, Attempting Elegance. The distinction may or may not be relevant.
  2. Though judging by our usage statistics for our ACS package, they don’t need it a whole freaking lot.

RUSQ, Open Access, and Me

In the past week or so, there’s been a bit of a tempest in a teapot surrounding the journal Reference and User Services Quarterly (RUSQ), the peer-reviewed journal of the Reference & User Services Association (RUSA), itself a division of the American Library Association (ALA).  I’ll try to tell the story as clearly as I can from the beginning, though others (to be cited below) undoubtedly tell parts of the story better.

Back in 2006, RUSA announced, with a press release, that going forward, RUSQ would be open-access.  Or, more precisely, that in addition to the print journal, there would be an online “companion” at rusq.org where full-text articles would be posted simultaneously with the print publication. Quoting then-and-current RUSQ editor Diane Zabel, the press release says that “[g]uided by the philosophy of the open access movement, the online companion is open to all users, not just RUSA or ALA members.”

Fast forward to summer, 2011: faced with ongoing production costs for RUSQ, the RUSA board approved a decision to end the print version of RUSQ and go online-only, beginning with volume 51 (Fall 2011).  In addition, they approved a change in platform from the blog-powered rusq.org to the MetaPress (owned by EBSCO) platform.  The board also approved a one-year embargo on new issues of RUSQ, citing the fact that a subscription to the journal is one of the benefits of membership in RUSA, and that the embargo is a way of preserving revenues and underwriting production costs. This decision was communicated in the Editor’s column in RUSQ vol. 50 no. 4, as well as a short note from the then-president of RUSA (now incoming editor of RUSQ), Barry Trott.

Fast forward again, to last week.  Trying to find a source I needed for another article I’m working on, I went to rusq.org, knowing that the journal was open access and that I could just yank the full text from there.  Except I couldn’t: rusq.org redirected to the MetaPress page for RUSQ, and when I tried to find the issue I needed, I found that I was only able to access four issues of the journal: vol. 50 no. 3 through vol. 51 no. 2.

Confused, I posted a query to an online professional network of librarians of which I’m a member, trying to sort the question out.  Over the course of the next seven days, we poked and prodded, checked the Wayback Machine, looked up old blog posts and comments, and sent out messages to members of the editorial board asking what was up.  I even took screenshots of my Google Reader feeds to assure myself that yes, the blog had, at one point, existed, and I hadn’t been imagining the whole thing.  Some blog posts were written in medias res, and then updates were added as additional information came to light.  If you want to watch the confusion and eventual resolution unfold in real time, this thread from the Library Society of the World sums it up fairly well and includes links to most of the things I’ve linked above, as well as additional information and commentary.

Eventually, Barry Trott commented on the Library Loon’s blog and, speaking for himself and Diane Zabel, clarified the situation: apparently, the crux of the confusion was an error in the MetaPress settings that restricted access to content that should have been open, and that error has (as of this writing) been corrected.

So, tempest in a teapot, all better now, right?  Well, sort of.

What does this have to do with me?  Well, last summer I submitted an article to RUSQ, which I’m delighted to say was published in volume 51, number 3 this past spring.  At the time that I submitted the article (June 2011), RUSQ was, as far as anyone knew, open access.  By the time the article appeared this spring, however, the actual situation was rather murkier than it had been when I submitted it, though the murkiness did clear itself up fairly quickly.

As you know if you’ve been reading this blog, I’ve made a public pledge that any solo-authored work that I publish will be available through some form of open access: green, gold, fuchsia, something.  Now, I hadn’t formally made the pledge at the time that I submitted the article, but I most definitely considered only open-access journals when deciding where to submit my article.  RUSQ’s change of course left me with the impression that I’d submitted the article under false pretenses. I could accept that RUSA might need to close access to their journal after experimenting with open access, but I felt that the right thing to do would be to close access to future content, not to content that had been submitted prior to the decision to close access. (The actual situation, with the one-year embargo, is a different matter which I’ll address shortly.)

One of the ALA’s watchwords is transparency, and one of the things Barry Trott mentioned in his comment on the Library Loon’s blog was the transparency with which the decision to change platforms had been made and communicated.  While it’s true that the decision was announced in RUSQ vol. 50 no. 4, at the time that the LSW was trying to sort all this out, that issue was, for some users at least, actually behind the MetaPress paywall!  (This issue has been rectified. For now, at least.)  In addition, and this is the more important concern: nowhere in either announcement is the phrase “open access” actually used.  The journal is described as “digital only” and “online only,” and there is mention of the one-year embargo, but that’s it.  I’d be a lot more comfortable with the decision if either announcement, or even Barry Trott’s comment on the Loon’s blog, for that matter, had said something along the lines of “RUSA affirms its commitment to the principles of open access and will continue to make backfiles of RUSQ available on the open web.”

Finally, on the transparency issue, the redirect from rusq.org to MetaPress raised all kinds of red flags — flags which were raised even higher when it turned out that rusq.org had, via robots.txt, been wiped from the Internet Archive.  The redirect is convenient, sure, but a) it does nothing for those of us who had rusq.org in our feed readers, where it simply withered away untended, and b) a placeholder page (or better yet, blog post, so that feed readers would pick it up) announcing the change and making a passive link to the MetaPress site would have done a great deal to clear up the confusion and suspicion.

The last question I want to raise on this matter is twofold: what do we mean by “open access,” anyway, and how permanent is it?  First off, can a journal be considered “open access” if there’s a one-year embargo on new articles?  I honestly don’t know the answer to this question, not being an expert on matters OA.  For my purposes, the one-year embargo is all right; I can still self-archive my article on my own web site (which I’ve done), making an end-run around the embargo and ensuring access to the article should RUSA change its mind again.

Which leads to the second question: what’s to prevent a journal from closing access to content that had previously been open?  Again, I’m honestly not sure.  I mean, PLoS is unlikely to suddenly make a deal with, say, Wiley and start charging $3000/year for access to its backfiles, but that’s because PLoS has staked its reputation on being an open access journal (and a damn fine one, too).  For the other journals, the ones who went out on a limb and honestly weren’t sure if they could make it work — what of them? What if, like RUSA, they decide their experiment isn’t working, for whatever reason, and they need to close access — what, other than the ethics of their editorial boards and the boards of their sponsoring organizations — prevents them from closing access, not just moving forward, but to previously open content?

Three shorts for Spring Break

Three things I’ve been mulling over lately, that probably aren’t enough to justify a blog post on their own but, put together, make a substantial post. Think of this as the tapas of blog posts.

Thing The First

I wrote up a lesson plan recently that contained the directive, aimed at myself, “and go from there.”  I posted this to a social network and then commented, “it’s either zen or chutzpah, and I’m really not sure which.”  My good friend Steve Lawson commented to the effect that that is, in fact, what teaching is: taking students from where they are, to another place.

More practically, however, it seems to describe how I’m approaching more and more classes this semester: I start off by getting the students to explain to me, in their own words, what their assignment is and what they’re being asked to do.  How they describe the assignment tells me a lot about where they are in the research process.1  I try to draw out of them their ideas about what kinds of sources they will need to use in their assignments, and where they expect to find those sources.  Then at some point I ask them, “so what do you most need today? How can we best spend the remaining time that we have here?”  And then, as I said, I go from there.

This approach is really modeled on Steve’s “zero preparation class.”  In my case, it often devolves into yet another “how to find peer-reviewed articles in EBSCO databases” lecture/demo, but at least if it does, I can labor under the illusion that it’s what the students wanted/needed in the first place.  Sometimes, though, we wind up going interesting places — not nearly as interesting as the places Steve’s students go, but more interesting than Ye Olde Database Demo.

Thing The Second

Recently, I taught a class where the assignment was to write a paper in which the students used theories they’d learned in class to analyze specific situations in topics/works that they selected themselves.2  They were also supposed to incorporate at least 10 peer-reviewed journal articles into the paper.  Now, to me, the requirement for outside sources seemed nonsensical: if you’re using specific theories to explain a situation, what do you need the outside sources for?

So that’s where we started in class: I asked them about their assignment, and the first thing they said was “10 peer-reviewed journal articles,” so I wrote that up on the board.  Then I asked again, and they started talking about using the theories to explain the situations, and I wrote that on the other side of the board.  Then I asked, “so how to we connect this (articles) with this (theories/situations)?”  We probably spent a good 20 minutes just talking about that.  The students were clearly as flummoxed as I was, but we struggled through and tried to connect the dots.  The faculty member sat in the back of the room and didn’t participate in the conversation, which was a bit disappointing, but s/he was definitely engaged and pleased with the direction that the discussion was going. I’m not sure I emerged any clearer on how the two pieces were supposed to be integrated, but the students had good ideas, and I think on the whole, the time was exceptionally well spent.

Thing The Third

The third thing I wanted to talk about was prompted by a conversation at the Library Society of the World’s Friendfeed room about  teaching students to sift through a list of search results to a) find what’s useful and relevant and b) use what you learn from those results to refine your search and get better results.  One of the participants framed the exercise as teaching students to navigate a world of information abundance, rather than one of information scarcity, which I think perfectly describes the issue.

I was going to write at some length about my thoughts on this topic for classroom discussion, but really, I can’t do much better than the commentors in the LSW, so just go and read it.  Some day when I’ve done one too many “How To Find Peer-Reviewed Articles In An EBSCO Database” demos for students who I suspect already know how to do exactly that, but don’t know what to do once they’ve found them, I’m going to go all guerrilla librarian on some unsuspecting class and do this instead.  When I do, I’ll be sure to post about it here.


  1. This can often have the bonus effect of making clear to the instructor of the class how much or how little they understand what they’re being asked to do, and how much or how little they need the instruction that the faculty member has asked me to provide in class that day.
  2. I’m being purposefully vague about the topic so as not to identify the course and instructor.