Manufacturing Serendipity: Research Data Services at UW-Madison

Hello. My name is Dorothea Salo, and I teach at the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. With my other hat on, I co-lead a small research-data consulting and training skunkworks called (big surprise here) Research Data Services. I’m here to tell you the story of how we built Research Data Services, which honestly amounts to what I’m going to call “manufacturing serendipity.”

This is a how-the-sausage-got-made presentation. I’m going to be honest about how we got where we are, and how far that is from where I think we need to be, if we can get there. I do this partly to give you hope. At a lot of events, what you see are the Purdues and the California Digital Libraries and the UC-Berkeleys, the places that are light-years ahead of the game. I’m not. I’m just barely keeping my head above water, and I think a lot more libraries and librarians are closer to where we are than to where UC-Berkeley is. So I hope that our story will be helpful and encouraging to those of you whose organizations are on similar paths.

When the NSF Data Management Plan requirement came down in late 2010, Research Data Services’s response looked like X-marks-the-spot, the more so because a lot of high-level campus administrators and major campus players in the research-computing space hadn’t even heard of us prior to that. This led to a few amusing comedies of errors, which isn’t all that surprising coming from a gigantic decentralized research university, but the point remains: we were ready, and our readiness surprised a lot of people.

Was it really just serendipity? Did we just happen to be in the right place at the right time? Either way, what does it mean for you? That’s for you to decide, but I’ll try to pull out some morals-of-the-story at the end.

When I started my new institutional-repository-manager job in the UW-Madison Libraries in 2007, almost exactly five years ago now, the very first committee I was put onto was something called the Scholarly Asset Management Initial Exploratory Group. SAMIEG was sponsored, funded, and mostly crewed by our central IT unit, the Division of Information Technology, and it took the form of a number of focus groups with faculty, where we asked them openended questions about their data practices and needs. As is the way of such groups, the results were written up into a report which as best I can tell nobody at our institution actually read, though I know people outside our institution sat up and took notice, because I’ve seen it cited a fair few places; you can find it on our institutional repository. I hope it was helpful! But so much for that report.

The next thing that happened to us in this space was the CIC “Librarians and E-Science” conference in 2008. The libraries sent half a dozen people to this, IT people and librarians, myself included, and it was a real turning point for us; several of us came back thinking “yes, the writing is on the wall; this is going to be A Thing and we will have to come up with a response to it.” Notably, and here’s where we differ strongly from what’s happening at places like Purdue and Michigan where there have been significant organization-chart shifts with respect to research support, the people who came back thinking this were rank-and-file employees and line managers. They were not campus IT administrators, not library administrators, certainly not campus administrators, just ordinary bottom-of-the-heap schmos like me. There was no way we were going to reorganize the whole library org chart to create a separate arm and a separate dean for research services! And there are a lot of research and research-computing stakeholders on our campus, so there was no way that everybody was just going to fall in line behind the library. So if anything was going to happen, it would have to happen from the bottom up, and in at least two different campus organizational silos: the library, and campus IT. Maybe the Grad School too. Kind of a tall order.

So in 2009, some of the same people who had been on SAMIEG started what I mischievously call Son of SAMIEG, but which was properly called the Research Data Management Study Group. Instead of focus groups, this was a set of more in-depth interviews with faculty, with a more robust interview instrument. As is the way of such groups, the results were written up into a report which nobody at our institution read, though I know people outside our institution sat up and took notice, because this too has been cited a time or two.

Does all this report-writing seem pointless? Well, maybe. But in a crowded environment where everybody has too much to do, this is sometimes the only way that the rank-and-file can light a fire: by writing reports that nobody reads so that they serve as administrative cover when real opportunities come along. Because a thing that happens in large organizations when something difficult and messy and futuristic comes up that nobody wants to deal with, is they tell you, “Scram! Go away and do some market research or user research or needs assessment or something and write us a report.” Look, we all know nine times out of ten nobody will read that report, much less act on it; it’s pure organizational theatre. But in our case, we’d done all the report-writing already, so nobody could reasonably tell us to go do it again. So writing the reports nobody read freed us up to make something happen when opportunity arose.

And arise it did. In late 2009, the new campus CIO started a campuswide IT strategic planning process designed to be very bottom-up. A lot of big open meetings were held where people could bring up issues they thought were important for campus to address. And this is where we, this little group of rank-and-file librarians and IT pros who thought research data management was important, really went to town on manufacturing some serendipity. We went to those meetings, we said our piece, we pointed to the reports from SAMIEG and Son of SAMIEG as evidence that this was important, and what do you know, we got ourselves a strategic-planning charter!

So in 2010 our charter group did some pilot projects working with faculty data, which given that research data management is a whole-lifecycle thing, there’s not much you can really have to show in less than a year, but we did our best. And we started putting together a website, and a business plan, and all that other good stuff.

From where I was sitting, the interesting thing to watch was the behavior of the charter sponsors, who were administrators from all over campus. They just didn’t really quite get what we were doing, or what problem we were trying to address, or why it was important to address it, but to their credit, they weren’t quite ready to stop us doing it. Part of this is that the research-data lifecycle and why it’s going to have to change and how huge an impact that will have on the research enterprise and how much and what kind of help researchers will need to do this right, all this is really hard to explain to people. Honestly, we still have administrators on our campus who look at us like either we or they are holding a banana to the ear! But if you want to blame us for not explaining all this well, I’m completely willing to agree with you.

They did shush us a bit, though. Well, kind of a lot, really. They didn’t want us making waves. Don’t go talk to the research-computing people; they’re really busy. Don’t go talk to deans; you’re just a pilot project. Stuff like that. So they were nervous about us. That’s what happens when these processes are bottom-up instead of top-down. The top worries, doesn’t want to commit itself—and doesn’t want you to turn into anything they might be forced to commit to.

I’ll step outside my own frame for a moment to say that last week I talked to some young librarians who have been hired into e-science and data-curation positions, and they’re telling me that they are being pretty systematically shushed. I don’t even see the point of that. This is a change-agent position. You cannot allow anyone—not your administrators, not campus administrators, not your existing staff, not nobody—to shush your change agents if you want them to, you know, actually create change! If you’re a library administrator and you’re not backing your new people good and hard, and listening to them and helping them when they run into stonewalling or shushing, shame on you.

Anyway, for us, because we’d been shushed so much, when the NSF lowered the boom and we leapt on the opportunity with a website and a consulting service, it really did feel to a lot of campus that we sprang out of nowhere, like Minerva from the head of Jove! When it was really the result of four long years of patient, opportunistic serendipity-manufacturing that we just hadn’t been allowed to tell anyone about.

“What is it that Research Data Services does?” you may well be asking. Well, notably, we don’t do storage or archival. We don’t touch storage, except to suggest existing storage services to people and provide suggestions for future storage services. We are purely an information, consultation, and training service. We do a lot of outreach and education. We don’t do storage. Frankly, storage is a political football on our campus—if we’d seriously tried to pick that football up and run with it, we’d have been tackled and stomped into the ground. It’s not that we don’t need usable working and archival storage on our campus—we absolutely do!—it’s that we knew we had no hope whatever of building it, so we didn’t kill ourselves trying.

“So what do we do?” you may be asking. We’re still doing NSF consulting, but in all honesty, it’s a lot less of our work than we originally thought it would be. We’ve just gotten hooked up with the DMPTool in California, and that is likely to reduce the direct-consulting work even further. We are getting referrals from a couple of our initial clients, though, which is nice! Are we okay with the reduction? Sure we are. We have plenty of other work to do.

Our website has gotten a fair bit of attention nationally, and requests to borrow material. Partly that’s first-mover advantage, but partly it’s that we got a few things right, and I’m proud of us for it. The site is also worth mentioning because maintaining it eats up a shocking amount of time. We’re in the middle of a redesign and re-architecture, and just don’t even get me started. Patricia Hswe of Penn State once called the NSF data-plan requirement the “mandate that launched a thousand websites.” She’s not wrong!

We’ve been doing a fair bit of consciousness-raising. There are really two parts to it: the “hey, this is important!” part, and the “hey, we can help!” part. We have a really gorgeously-designed poster we can take to campus events. I and others travel around giving talks like this so that we keep a national profile, because like it or not, that kind of thing cuts some ice with our brass. We’ve had pretty good luck with a series of videos of campus researchers talking about data, so we did a new series that we’ll launch this month alongside our website redesign, and since it includes the campus CIO, we’re hoping it will get some attention. We also launched a brownbag series that has done a lot better than I hoped. At the last one, we pulled 45 in-person attendees and 12 online. Pro tip: bring in talks about GIS!

While all the serendipity-manufacturing was happening, so was another thing: namely, I was starting to teach technology in libraries for the School of Library and Information Studies at UW-Madison. And because I didn’t embarrass myself in the classroom, SLIS and I started talking about the possibility of perhaps teaching other courses as well.

So, like Christine [Borgman], I’m now teaching a data-curation course; I’ve got the syllabus with me and am happy to share it afterwards. The key point for our purposes is that this course, like Christine’s, has a strong service-learning component, so it’s become a way to sneakily help people on campus manage their data without having to worry so much about approval from the Powers That Be. Serendipity-manufacturing in action! Last year we rescued a file drawer full of CD-ROMs containing photos of MFA art exhibitions; they now live in the library’s digital collections, and they’ll be added to every year as more exhibitions happen, because my students designed a process for that. So we didn’t just rescue a file drawer full of at-risk CD-ROMs; we kept that at-risk pile from growing. This year, I have a group of students working with perhaps the most high-profile research group on campus, the Living Environments Lab in the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, and they’re doing a fabulous job.

In what looks like parallel evolution, we are also getting into graduate student training, as other places are. I can’t speak for anyone else, but we’re doing it because when Jan and I went around talking to faculty and asked them about it, they all pretty much said “no one is doing this.” And then they all got wistful about all the data they’ve lost to their graduate students leaving messes behind them! So this summer I’m inaugurating a one-week, one-credit data-management bootcamp in Madison and Milwaukee. I’m glad Christine’s been getting standing-room-only, that’s great, but I haven’t. Frankly, this course may not make for lack of enrollment. I’ll let you know, and if it doesn’t go this time, I’ll try again next year.

I also have an enterprising SLIS student who’s also a Ph.D in chemistry who’s doing an info-literacy practicum this fall. All our info-lit practicums include a special-project component; she’s planning to help develop more data-curation materials. What’s not to like?

While I’m at it, I want to give a shout-out to the amazing people who have volunteered their time to Research Data Services. This is a pretty small, very brave group of people manufacturing serendipity with Jan and me. Note well, you cannot raid these people; I need them! Oh, except my students; them I cordially invite you to hire out from under me.

  • Co-leads: Jan Cheetham, Dorothea Salo
  • Librarians: Allan Barclay, Rebecca Holz (–2011), Keely Merchant, Ryan Schryver, Cindy Severt, Amanda Werhane (–2012)
  • IT professionals: Bruce Barton, Brad Leege (–2011) (Honorable mention: security consultant Allen Monette)
  • Others: Nancy Wiegand, Leah Ujda, Alan Wolf
  • Students: Kristin Briney, Andrew Johnson (–2011), David McHugh, Caroline Meikle, Jason Palmer, and all my digital-curation students

And where are we now, after all of that? Well, honestly, Research Data Services is still a nest of baby birds. We have no administrative home (though one has been kinda-sorta promised to us), the campus-IT half of the sketch is being funded one year at a time, we’re hearing disapproving rumbles from some top brass at the library, the CIO who started the strategic-planning process that led to our creation has left… so we’re hungry and we could die of neglect pretty easily. Or some big campus power or initiative could grab us out of the nest, rip us into bloody bits, and eat us, and we’ve had a few lately who are looking at us funny. So we’re trying to learn to fly. What else can we do?

You were expecting howling triumphalism? You invited the wrong speaker for that, sorry. I don’t know how this is going to turn out. “Badly” is a distinct possibility.


So what are the lessons here?

First, it takes time. Consciously and intentionally managing research data is a huge shift in mindset—for IT, for libraries, for researchers, for grant funders. Now, those of you who waited until recently to get going have a huge advantage we didn’t, namely, the NSF insisting on data-management plans; but even so, don’t expect to gin up a working, successful, respected, well-known service that bursts forth like Minerva from the head of Jove in a couple of weeks or months. It just does not happen that way!

Second, use what you’ve got. Recycle existing resources! And here I want to especially point out how important liaison librarians are to any effort like this. If you ask researchers, they say that what you need to have to work with their research data is disciplinary expertise. True or not, that’s what they think, and there’s only one place on campus with a broad pool of disciplinary experts covering most or all of campus. That place is the library. Take that expertise and use it, along with the relationships built by the liaisons who have it! As I said on Twitter earlier, the combination of a data-curationist with a liaison librarian-slash-domain expert is an incredibly powerful one.

But be aware of your limitations. I’ve been running institutional repositories my entire career in libraries, and I have to tell you, I cringe a bit when I see librarians touting institutional-repository (IR) software platforms as data-curation solutions. They’ll work for some data in some situations, sure, but if you think you can just repurpose most IR software and you’ve solved the research-data management problem, I’m sorry, you’re headed for trouble. As I’ve said and written other places, there are severe mismatches between what IR and digital-library software can do and what research data actually need. Be aware of that, and don’t oversell what you have. Also be aware that some among us are building better, more flexible IR-like systems. If you’re on DSpace or BePress or ContentDM, you should probably start planning for a migration if you’re interested in data repositories.

Finally, figure out how to feed your baby birds. It’s time for a gut check in academic librarianship. Either managing and preserving research data is an important research-library role that’s likely to persist for a good long time, well beyond the minor chore of two-page data management plans, or it isn’t. If you think it isn’t, fine, outsource to DMPTool. Don’t get involved otherwise, and tell all your people not to. If you think it is, though, you’d better not be starving your baby birds! They have enough survival battles they’re fighting—don’t make them fight you too! Yet that’s what happens to so many new things in libraries; they get smothered by bureaucracy, stonewalled by librarians themselves, or starved by lack of resources, because all the resources get shoveled toward the status quo. Don’t even argue with me about this—remember, I ran IRs for six years!

And let me mention one library human-resources antipattern that I lived through with institutional repositories and that libraries evidently didn’t learn from because young librarians are telling me that it’s happening with data curation too. It’s the “we’ll hire the New MLS Messiah to do it all, glory hallelujah!” thing. And no, you are not off the hook if your New MLS Messiah is supposed to “coordinate” his or her peers. You are not off the hook until those peers have gotten the word loud and clear that pitching in on this is not optional, because if they haven’t heard that loud and clear, they will sit on the sidelines, or worse, they will try to sell out or crucify your messiah. Don’t be stupid. Don’t plan that way. It didn’t work for IRs, and it won’t work for this.

Next, you can’t wait until everybody’s ready. Nobody’s ready. Nobody’s ready because nobody wants to be ready. Researchers don’t want to manage their data responsibly! If you read the million-and-one surveys that are out there now, that’s mostly what they tell you. For that matter, many librarians do not want to take part in this; I can tell you lots of horror stories when I’m not on the record. I’m telling you to race ahead anyway. You learn by doing, in this space.

So jump off the cliff already, and shove your people off it with you! Prefer action to demanding reports that no one’s going to read, and especially prefer action to analysis paralysis. I honestly don’t think you’re going to learn anything from local focus groups or surveys at this point that other people haven’t already learned; I hate to say it, but your institution is not a special snowflake. So read some of those studies and then act. Pilot projects, NSF consulting, system building, training programs, whatever makes sense and is feasible where you are, do something tangible to address this constellation of problems, something you can assess after a while and change direction if you need to. But do something. Seriously, do something.

And with that, I invite you all to go forth and manufacture your own serendipity! It’ll be different for every single one of you, and all of your institutions, but that’s half the fun!


Manufacturing Serendipity: Introduction

If the trajectory of any one of my talks spurred me to compile this book, it was this talk, first given for the Coalition of Networked Information symposium in fall 2011. After I delivered it for the second time for the e-Science Symposium near Boston in spring 2012, Regina Raboin and Rebecca C. Reznik-Zellen asked me to write it up as part of a combined case study, later published in the Journal of e-Science Librarianship.

To this day I can’t stand to read my own part of that article. During the peer review and editing process, I was bluntly told to brighten up the negative tone of my commentary and predictions. If I had been sole author, I would have dug in my heels for a fight—it wouldn’t have been the first fight I’ve had with an editor—or withdrawn the manuscript and tried to find another journal less given to censoring direct author experience. Rather than inconvenience my co-authors, however, I grumbled under my breath and complied.

The reality of Research Data Services while I was a part of it was always darker, less optimistic, less clear, less secure than that article portrays. My talk was and is far closer to my sense of the truth of the matter. I apologize to any readers of that article who felt disheartened at not measuring up to Research Data Services, or who imitated it and did not succeed. I didn’t succeed either, and I am sorry that I let myself be convinced to mislead you on that score.


Turning Collection Development Inside-Out

Hi there. My name is Dorothea Salo, and I’m the Research Services Librarian for the University of Wisconsin at Madison. This talk was originally intended for the Ontario Library Association Superconference twenty-eleven, but a grand Midwest blizzard kept me from getting there in time to give it, so I’m delivering it via video instead.

Collection development is a tough row to hoe these days! In public and academic libraries alike, its efficacy and efficiency is being questioned, sources of collectable material are changing rapidly as publishing industries change, and librarians feel under the gun, wondering how to adapt. I’m going to try to frame these challenges usefully for us, talk about what’s changing and what impact those changes are having, and then I’ll tell you where greater minds than mine think collection development is going. You’ll be seeing quotes from these minds briefly throughout the presentation; I don’t plan to read them aloud, because I know librarians are literate, and anyway if you want to contemplate one you can always pause the video, but I do want you to understand that I didn’t make this stuff up off my own bat, and I’m not the only librarian thinking along these lines. One voice is easily disregarded; the number of voices I’ll be showing you is harder to shrug off.

Public libraries

I’m an academic librarian by training and trade; let me just say that out loud. But public libraries are by no means exempt from these questions, so I’ll start with them. The big disruptor for the print world right now is ebooks, of course. The first big question is whether we can lend out materials to ebook devices at all; there is no first-sale copyright exemption in digital space, and publishers so far don’t seem to want to play with us. The next question is whether we can even afford to lend out content if we can legally do so! Right now it’s a small proportion of our users, and the content providers are asking for pretty big money. Even if we get past that, there’s the hassle of figuring out how all this works technologically, if it even does, and explaining that to patrons.

If ebooks weren’t enough, there’s Google Books. And no, of course it’s not a replacement for all our collections, but for public-domain material? And what will one-terminal public-library access really mean for our patrons? And anyway, this is a problem of perception as well as reality, the perception that “it’s all on the Internet, right?” True or not, public libraries have to cope with that perception, and it’s proving difficult.

Non-textual materials like music and movies are “format shifting.” Instead of videotapes, CDs, DVDs, and cats—well, maybe not cats—instead of these physical materials, our patrons are getting cheap digital purchases, online radio, and non-library-mediated lending services like Netflix that can afford much huger catalogs than we can. Now, you still can’t stream your cat, but you can stream almost everything else by way of mass-produced multimedia. Just not from your library.

Think about it: newspapers, magazines, music, film, university presses, trade book publishers, scholarly societies, commercial scholarly publishers. These are all industries whose business models and distribution systems are under intense disruptive pressure.

It seems to me that an emerging important question is, “What’s there going to be left to collect in a radically different media landscape?”

John Dupuis

So the question becomes, what media do libraries circulate in a streaming universe? Probably not cats! Playaways, sure, but what else? And I know about the digital-divide arguments here, and no surprise, I agree with them, but in a streaming universe, will libraries be allowed to redress the divide? And even if we’re allowed, do we have the tech-savvy, particularly in heavy digital-divide areas, to do it? Will we even have the bandwidth, for that matter?

Academic libraries

Academic libraries are hardly immune to change. Many of the same issues facing public libraries affect us too, but we have some other questions to confront as well.

If our goal in collection development is to pick things we know our patrons will use? We’re failing. We know from circulation studies that a large percentage, one-third to over one-half, of what we buy never circulates, not even once. And how surprising can this be, given that mindreading is not really a librarian superpower? (We have others, just not that one!) And given how few faculty will actually give time to this?

Approximately 45% of print monographs in the CUL collection published since 1990 have circulated at least once to date; approximately 55% of these books have never circulated.

—Report of the Collection Development Executive Committee Task Force on Print Collection Usage, Cornell University Library

To make matters worse, we know that patron preferences have shifted to electronic, off-premises access. This is increasingly true even for the humanities, our old stalwarts. So what is the value of a local monograph collection that practically nobody comes in from the park to use? What is our cost to keep a little-used physical resource?

These are awkward questions. We don’t like to ask them. Sometimes our patrons don’t like us to ask them—but we’re asking them!

We used to think, particularly in research libraries, that another thing collection development did was make our libraries unique special snowflakes. Our library has more books than that library, so it’s better! One library specializes in this area, another specializes in that area, so we’re all different! And different makes us special!

Many of the assumptions about running a library—that the measure of a library’s quality is the size of its book collection, that there’s value in keeping even infrequently loaned books on the shelves, that library staffing decisions shouldn’t be questioned—are outmoded and need to be set aside.”

—Corwin, Hartley, and Hawkes, “The Library Rebooted.” strategy+business 54, p. 3

What we’ve found, though, especially in these days of ubiquitous approval plans, is a ton of collection overlap across institutions. Research libraries aside—they’re a bit of a special case—our collections just don’t make us distinctive the way we thought they did, and bigger is not always better measured from the point of view of actual collection use.

And then there’s the Big Deal in serials. Who are we shaking hands with when we negotiate journal-access contracts? Are they even human any more? If you ask me, the Big Deal is teetering on a precipice, exactly the way many housing markets were in 2005. Publishers can smile and deny all they want right now, but we know what our budgets are like. We don’t want to say no—we never want to say no—but we’re about to be forced to, many of us. It’s a long way down for purveyors of the Big Deal.

So you might ask, considering the precarious serials situation, where is the open-access bus taking collection development? When does Open Access get us out from under the heel of the Big Deal? Does it? And if it does, what are our serials people going to do with their lives?

Well, okay. Who owns open-access materials? Who preserves them? Who collects them? Who pays for preserving and collecting them? Often it’s not us! The open-access agenda is moving out of our hands, for good or ill (and I think it’s for good; we haven’t done as much as we should). But that means we don’t have the materials. We don’t have a collector or caretaker role. If we think we should, we’d maybe better step up!

And then there’s space: the final frontier. You might not think at first that physical space is a collection-development problem, but it surely, surely is. We’re bursting at the seams, especially in research libraries, and public-service space is finding new uses. Some of that is separating patron spaces: noisy group work or cafes kept away from quiet study and work space. This of course requires more space than everybody being in one space. Technology wants space too, but we’re not talking about your old-school computer lab any more. Technology is smaller, more flexible, and more ubiquitous. Patrons want to cluster around it, consult over it, plug it in—they don’t want to be stuck in fixed rows staring straight in front of them! And that takes space. Lots of it.

So one of the things we’re looking at is whether offsite warehouse storage gives us better bang-for-the-buck. We’re also asking ourselves how much sense it makes to use incredibly scarce, valuable campus space for books that aren’t circulating, even when we do have to keep them because they’re part of the scholarly record. Jury is still out on how all this will go down, but indications are we’ll see this more and more.

Collection development

So that’s a laundry-list of challenges to what collection developers are used to. Let’s step back a moment and ask ourselves: What has collection development actually done? What have we collected, and why? What is it for?

The way that we commonly think of collection development is that there’s a huge world of information out there, from which we select materials very carefully for a library’s designated patron community. We have a sense that our patron communities differ a lot from one another, so we need to select different things for them. But how ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm now that they’ve seen Paree? All our patrons are becoming accustomed to what looks like a limitless information sea. We know it’s actually not, but they don’t, and they’re becoming more correct every single day. Momentum matters here. Direction matters.

And the direction right now is toward openness. So now that the world is holding and accessing more and more materials in common—in what’s slowly becoming a true common, a worldwide common. Now that more and more materials don’t have to be shared through libraries, either because they’re open access or because the gatekeepers have shut libraries out, maybe Thom Hickey is right, and we really are at Peak Books—peak physical media generally.

Here are some measures of library activity that may have already passed their peak:

  • Physical books circulated
  • Budgets for physical material
  • Title selection by librarians

Some that probably haven’t, but may soon reach their peak:

  • Physical book purchases by libraries
  • Books printed
  • Physical books/volumes stored on campus
  • Physical interlibrary loan

Thom Hickey, OCLC

These aren’t, by the way, all of Thom’s predictions, so I do suggest you go read this post if you haven’t already. If you’re a librarian or a library educator—and I am both—I think this short little post gives at least as much to think about as the recently-released ARL scenarios.

Inside-out collection development

Now, it’ll be a while, I grant you that, before we really start to notice a decline. But I still think that one important part of the future of collection development for all of us, certainly and obviously academic libraries, but public libraries as well, is inside-out!

Instead of collecting commodity materials from the world for our patrons, we collect unique materials from our local patrons and hold them in trust for the world! And it almost goes without saying that these days, a lot of these local unique materials are born-digital. So part of this new collection-development puzzle is learning how to collect and preserve born-digital materials. Academic libraries have a head start on this, no question. I do believe public libraries will have to sort out how to catch up.

I think libraries have to change their view of the world 180 degrees. Libraries should no longer aim to be the portal to the world of information for a local audience. Libraries should try to be the portal to local information for a global audience.

Peter van Boheemen

I’ll give you some examples of what I mean, starting with public libraries.

The marvelous thing about history is that it’s fractal. No matter how close in you draw the circles on the map, there’s more history to keep and share! The more that public libraries can work on collecting local history, public history, the more they can put their collections online, the more they will become ambassadors for their communities to the world: for the people in their communities, and the creativity in their communities, and the knowledge in their communities.

Or we could… find untapped sources of content created by our local users and work together to create a single publishing platform and rights-management tool to allow easy creation and access to local content.

—Kathryn Greenhill

What you may already have and can get into your local archive, even if it’s not nearly so grand as the library of the Parliament of Canada, can also be your library’s and your community’s portal to the world. Who in your community is producing information? Well, who isn’t? And who’s going to collect and preserve it in many places, if not libraries?

good newspapers aggregate and curate information for their local readers. they simplify or enhance, when required. they think about the local population when going through the sked. the go out in the local area and solicit feedback from people. they are the record of a place, a time, a citizenry.

good newspapers and good libraries have a helluva lot in common. i have always thought we should be working together more closely. how can we do this?

Amy Buckland

Oral history counts too! History is more than the written word. If you do guest lectures at your library, and especially if you already record them, why wouldn’t you put them online? With your lecturer’s permission, of course.

There’s also a growing interest in and concern about personal digital archiving. We’re seeing a fair few online services fold; Geocities was a huge example, obviously, but the bookmarking service is also threatened, and any service can die if its business model fails. I think this is a tremendous service and education opportunity! Show people how to back up. Show people what responsible archiving looks like. And then, if you’re smart, you can use this as a collection opportunity too. See something good? Ask if they’ll donate a copy to the library!

Now, here’s an outfit that I think should be an example to us all. The Chicago Underground Library is a nonprofit explicitly aimed at collecting examples of local culture, especially local digital culture, describing and cataloguing them, preserving them, and disseminating them to the world through the web. How amazing is this? And for pity’s sake, why wasn’t it a public library that thought of this first? I am happy to say that a fair few librarians are participating in it, as educators and cataloguers. I’m especially happy to say that because there’s so much ignorance about what librarians do. What better way to make that clear than by inviting the public to do it alongside us?

CUL… not only places them in a collection that values their work, but through our catalog instantly locates them within an interconnected map of the city’s history… The Underground Library isn’t just a community archive of things past. We are constantly reaching out, connecting with new people and their work, and providing a home for what they do.

—Nell Taylor

And now academic libraries. What do we do to stay afloat?

I’ll start with open access. So, quick refresher: green open access is open access through archiving of researchers’ work on the open Web. In academic libraries, that’s usually in the form of the much-reviled institutional repository. Which as they’re often run, are essentially cardboard boxes sitting empty waiting for stuff to magically show up in them. This is broken. It’s just as broken as putting up a building with a lot of empty shelves and calling it a library! Sitting passively waiting for stuff plain old doesn’t work. It doesn’t work in the analog world; I’m really not sure why anyone thought it would work in the digital world. Self-archiving is a failure; nobody just gifts us their publications, not even with mandates. Have you seen the infrastructure Harvard put together to implement their mandate? Did you read about the University of Minho in Portugal, bribing faculty outright to follow their mandate?

So, really, what these things need is a little conscious collection development and arrangement, if you ask me! And just so you know, in my experience as an IR manager, local communities find and really love whatever’s in there about local history, local flora and fauna, local geography, local policy—anything local. So developing this kind of collection has real tangible benefits for town-gown relations. What we don’t need is any more failures on this front—and I say this as a notable failure!

Another place we can inject our collection-development expertise, and hopefully a little sanity, into the system is by becoming publishers. Again, this is inside-out! Instead of collecting the products of the publishing process for readers, we’re collecting the inputs to the publishing process, so that our campus authors present their best face to the world!

The role of libraries in research institutions is evolving from a focus on reader services to a focus on author services (an insight first voiced by Kimberly Douglas of Caltech).

—Christine Borgman, “Research Data: Who will share what, with whom, when, and why?

In a fair few research libraries, this is happening by libraries combining with or taking over university presses. But that’s not the only way it can happen, so I’m going to mention the University of Nebraska here, with its tireless champion Paul Royster. Not only is Paul a successful institutional-repository manager, he’s successfully shepherded several peer-reviewed journals to open-access publication. That’s journals that our strained serials budgets don’t have to pay for, so thanks, Paul!

Now let’s take a look at special collections. There’s a fair bit of buzz in academic-library circles about special collections these days, because if it isn’t our regular old collecting that will make us special, maybe our special collections will! Now, the mere fact of special collections is meaningless. (Special collections librarians can hate on me later, but I really do believe this.) Access to special collections, discovery of special collections, is what matters. So locked doors between interested patrons and special collections don’t cut it. And these days, “analog-only” means “locked door,” because “it’s all on the Internet, right?”

So if it isn’t on the internet, you’d better put it there. Given the amount of materials we’re talking about here, that probably means More Product Less Process. And I’m proud to say we have a pioneer within the University of Wisconsin System. Archivist Josh Ranger of UW-Oshkosh has experimented with more-product-less-process digitization, and he’s also asked his special-collections patrons about the tradeoff between beautifully digitized and described collections and more collections available online. He’s gotten pretty good feedback to the effect that more is better than better, and I think we need to take that seriously.

Instead of dismissing researchers who want to see more of our collections on the Web, we must acknowledge that these expectations will be an increasing reality… Let’s consider giving our users what they want.

—Mark A. Greene, “MPLP: It’s not just for processing anymore” American Archivist 73 (2010): 175–203

Data curation. Is this the new special collections? In the States we’re all fussed about this because our National Science Foundation is requiring all grant applicants to include a data-management plan in grant proposals, but don’t worry, Canada, your time is coming!

In some libraries… library attention, resources, and research are being directed toward locally produced digital collections… Original research data sets produced by campus faculty are thus moving out from the fringes of this evolving collection activity and into the periphery of prospective library practice.

—Newton et al., “Librarian Roles in Institutional Repository Data Set Collecting,” Collection Management 36:53–67

People are asking me if the NSF is going to build a big data barn the way that the National Institutes of Health built PubMed Central to host publications covered under the NIH Public Access Policy. Early days yet, but it doesn’t look that way. So some of us will have to build local data barns. I honestly expect that a lot of this work will eventually be done consortially, or even at a national level in many countries, as it is now in Australia. Still, there’s always something! But sometimes we’ll be handing data off to disciplinary data barns, and that’s fine.

Either way, we’ll always need people to herd all those cows into the barn they belong in (have I run this metaphor into the ground yet?), and realistically, that’s not going to happen on a national or consortial level. That will be people inside institutions, collecting local materials and making sure they’re where they need to be. Doesn’t that sound like collection development to you?

Pioneers in this effort include the Digital Data Curation Center at Purdue University, and if you’re interested in this area and you haven’t checked out their website, you really, really should. They’re taking a very pragmatic approach to helping faculty and collecting data, and their experiences and guidance should inform all of us in this area.

So that’s my collection-development future, in which we appreciate, collect, and preserve what’s valuable from our local patron base. Inside out? Maybe—but let’s let a million unique and beautiful umbrellas bloom.


Turning Collection Development Inside-Out: Introduction

I never gave this talk live. I wrote it for Ontario Library Association’s annual conference in 2011, but a Midwest blizzard shuttered airports, preventing me from arriving on time. I did manage to make the technology-trends panel I was also scheduled for, at least. I made it into a screencast as the best alternative I had.

So much has happened with trade and academic publishing since I wrote this talk that it probably feels the quaintest and most out-of-date of anything in this book. Ah, well. If I could foretell the future I’d be terribly bored.

The “inside-out” formulation of collection development developed legs, however, most notably in the work of OCLC’s Lorcan Dempsey. As best I can tell, this was a case of parallel evolution; I don’t remember reading or hearing the phrase anywhere before I used it, and I certainly have no reason to think anyone in particular learned it off me.


Who Owns Our Work? Introduction

A rather astounding succession of low-probability events surrounded this particular talk, given for the 2010 UK Serials Group conference. The most dire one was the first: I went to the emergency room with what turned out to be a kidney stone about two weeks before my travel date. I had to grovel a bit before the doctors would let me travel at all.

Since one doesn’t get to Scotland every day, my spouse came with me, and we took a tour up to the Isle of Skye, despite an Edinburgh ATM deciding to destroy my ATM card. On the second day of our tour, word came down about the Eyjafjallajökull volcano eruption. On the third and last day, it became clear we’d be stranded in Edinburgh.

I called British Airways; we were rebooked for a flight six days out. UKSG kindly got in touch to ask if they could help. By the weirdest and loveliest concatenation of librarianship, friendship, and social media ever, I was able to answer that we were all right.

As one does, I had put out word of our plight on social media. A librarian friend of mine from Wisconsin happened to have a law-librarian social-media friend in Edinburgh, who happened to have a friend in educational technology who was in the middle of moving apartments. This friend, after meeting my spouse and me, offered us use of her soon-to-be-former apartment the entire time we were stranded, refusing to accept payment.

If there’s a better argument for social media, or for the excellence of librarianship, than that, I don’t know what it could possibly be.


Who Owns Our Work?

Hello, and thanks for that very kind introduction. You have no notion how glad I am to be here; if you really want the gory details, ask me afterwards. Now, I’ve been asked to give a sort of view-from-thirty-thousand-feet context for some of the discussions we’ll be having today, and so I found myself pondering four short words: “who owns our work?” because they’re such simple words and yet they add up to such a very vexed question.

And the more I pondered, the more I hated this question, because the less it seemed to capture.

  • Who is the “we” here doing the work? We authors, we reviewers, we editors, we copyeditors and typesetters, we librarians, who?
  • Is ownership really the question here? Putting my cards on the table, I think “ownership” is a proxy for what the stakeholders really want out of all the various actions and transactions involved in the scholarly literature.
  • And when we say “work,” are we talking about actual labor, or the tangible product of that labor? In the case of actual labor, who’s doing what work that they expect to be paid for, and must they have an ownership stake in the result to get their money? Concerning the products of labor, what forms are ownable? When in the process does an ownable product emerge?
  • And what happens when the who isn’t a who, but a what? How do governments, corporations, funders fit into this question?

So after revisions, I ended up with the title “Who or what has a stake in the intellectual and craft labor and the products of that labor represented in the scholarly literature in all its forms?”

This is just a bit unwieldy as a title.

And honestly, the process of putting together this talk has left me with more questions than I started with, certainly more questions than answers. Let’s walk through the process, then—again, from thirty thousand feet—and see what we can learn.

We will start with Dr. Professor, doing an experiment in his lab. This is the paradigm case of science, the lone genius in a laboratory pumping out discoveries and inventions—yet already we’re in trouble, because much research not only is not but cannot be done this way. The level of collaboration necessary for much of modern science is unprecedented, and it’s only growing. This, you may well imagine, complicates questions of ownership.

Look at the sign on Dr. Professor’s door: “KEEP OUT! EXPERIMENT IN PROGRESS.” A quick question: why is that sign there? Whom is our researcher excluding, and from what? Well, if you ask Dr. Professor, he’ll tell you that he’s defending his IDEAS, from nefarious scientist-ninja competitors who might steal the credit for his ideas, and perhaps from industry who might steal the commercial value of his ideas.

So let’s talk about ideas and how they are owned, legally. When we say “idea” at this early, pre-publication stage in the game, we’re talking about methods, tools, study populations, preliminary results, that sort of thing. A lot of this, if it’s fixed at all, is only fixed in the form of a more or less unpublishable lab notebook. So as you’d expect, copyright doesn’t have a lot to say here. Ideas are not copyrightable, only their expressions are. Instead, the patent system governs the kind of idea that our researcher is afraid of having stolen. And that pretty much leaves the scholarly publishing industry out of the ideas picture. The only thing publishing can do to a patent is invalidate it if done too soon. Libraries have little place here either. We search patents, we hold patent databases, but that’s pretty much it.

But that state of affairs may not last, because the model in which a principal investigator owns all ideas associated with a research project is already too simplistic to live. People from system administrators to poor desperate postdocs to disciplinary colleagues and collaborators—even the occasional librarian—all contribute to the ideas that Dr. Professor supposedly owns. And because credit and prestige are hugely important to these contributors as well, they want some kind of credit.

In some disciplines, there are rules about the construction of author lists, such that some of this work would be recognized, but not all disciplines have these rules and even those that do find that they’re a crude instrument; they just don’t solve this problem. So we get all kinds of arguments about who “deserves” to be in the author list. While publishing didn’t create this inequity, publishing may be asked to help solve it. One thing I’ve seen suggested is a movie-like “credit roll,” where contributors are recognized by name and by contribution. Will it work? I don’t know, but I find the question a fascinating example of the “sole ownership of ideas” paradigm changing, into something closer to a recognition of intellectual and craft labor.

This played itself out recently in the emerging digital humanities area, with Tom Scheinfeldt of George Mason’s Center for History and New Media asking how to reward the “third way” of doing digital humanities, the way that’s more concerned with tools and applied methodologies than with ideas per se. Bethany Nowviskie of the University of Virginia Scholars’ Lab followed up shortly thereafter asking explicitly about compensation for this kind of work!

Now, let’s be clear, neither Tom nor Bethany is talking directly about money. They’re talking about credit and prestige, the other academic currency. The lesson for the publishing industry is this: if you folks don’t find some way to get Tom and Bethany what they’re looking for, Tom and Bethany will find another way to get it—and that means that the publishing industry’s stranglehold on career prestige may be broken.


Posters, conference presentations, unrefereed conference papers, slideshows, working papers, preprints—everything that libraries call “grey literature” happens when Dr. Professor wants to talk to people about his findings for whatever reason before he runs the journal gauntlet.

Note that at this point, Dr. Professor absolutely is creating copyrightable objects. But I’ve never heard of a copyright lawsuit over a conference paper or a slide deck, and I honestly doubt I ever will, because that’s not how ownership works itself out in this arena. Instead, you either get completely open dissemination, usually over the Internet these days, or it’s treated as a sort of trade secret, as at some scientific conferences that tell people not to blog or tweet conference sessions. (By the way, you’re all welcome to blog or tweet this one. Please do!)

Another thing worth noting is that pretty much all the work that goes into grey literature is done by Dr. Professor and his colleagues. Editors, peer reviewers, publishers, librarians—all that work comes later. So it’s quite clear at this point that what Dr. Professor made, Dr. Professor owns. There are no competing claims. Exceptions, yes—there are a few stick-in-the-mud publishers who won’t publish anything that’s seen the light of day in any form previously. They are few in number, their small number is shrinking further, and by the end of my career, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see that number hit zero. Dr. Professor really isn’t going to put up with prior ownership claims on his half-finished work much longer.

Another question, incidentally, is to what extent this pre-publication literature is coming or will come to serve as a substitute good for the published literature. As acquisitions budgets continue to fall, as subscription costs continue to rise, how many Dr. Professors are going to satisfice with a working paper, rather than maximizing via an expensive-to-acquire published article?

There is also a new kind of grey literature a-borning, called Open Notebook Science. Steve Koch and his students post their lab notebooks online, with their methods and equipment lists and data and everything. Where is the ownership of ideas here? Well, if you think about it, part of what’s happening with Open Notebook Science is that people are still claiming their ideas, planting their flags—they’re just doing it earlier than publication and online. Again, what does that mean for publishing’s lock on career prestige?

Who owns all this? Is it even ownable? In the United States, as a “collection of facts,” a dataset is entitled to only the loosest of copyright protections, if any at all. Moreover, unlike a publication, a dataset is mostly useless by itself, in isolation from other data. In fact, almost the only time that an individual dataset becomes useful on its own is frankly when it’s being used to try to detect scientific malfeasance! This is not the ordinary case, I hope! No, what we’re learning about digital data is that they’re useful precisely because they can be combined and recombined and re-evaluated and evaluated over time. All ownership can do for data, all access controls can do, is put up a roadblock that keeps data from being used, from being useful. So journals who are collecting data, libraries who are collecting data, take very careful note: as Adam Bly remarked yesterday, data really want to flow freely in order to help create knowledge.

(For those interested in data and data licensing, I recommend the Panton Principles, also of course Science Commons.)

You might well ask how Open Notebook Science solves the credit problem I mentioned earlier. Well, it’s easy to pop some credits onto a wiki page! The infrastructure to measure these contributions doesn’t exist yet—there is no bibliometrics for data—but that’s probably coming, and this is the first step.

Notice also that in addition to credit happening much earlier in the research process, credit can accrue to other things than formal publications. Publications might cite something like this, or might include it some other way, but the publishing industry needs to be thinking about this, because it seems to me a data citation means something different from a literature citation, which says “I read this and it was useful.” A data citation means “I used this.” Lots of juicy implications there, but I don’t have much time, so let’s move on.


So what happens when these ideas do run the gauntlet and are transformed into formal published journal articles? In whatever form you like, paper or pixels. Well, what happens is that new stakeholders show up!

  • peer reviewers
  • scholarly societies
  • publishers
  • aggregators
  • funders
  • libraries
  • governments, and of course
  • readers

All these folks want to do things with the published results that appear to require some degree of ownership. So the dilemma of our time in publishing is how to get all these players what they want while containing costs, and while avoiding calling any of the players in this business pirates or other nasty names, because that is not a polite or productive way to behave.

The unfortunate result is that all these stakeholders start throwing up roadblocks in each others’ way, talking about ownership all the while, even though ownership is in my view only a proxy for what the stakeholders really want. I’ll give you some examples.

In the typical publishing transaction, in the course of turning ideas into print or pixels, Dr. Professor’s control over his ideas is broken completely, transferred to his publisher or scholarly society. And Dr. Professor is fine with that most of the time, because having established primacy over his ideas by publishing them, he doesn’t have to worry about who owns the publication. And in fact historically, he hasn’t worried, and he’s only starting to now. The reason he’s starting to now is the question of reuse. Researchers reuse their work and that of others constantly: classroom reuse, republication in another format, dissemination beyond what the publication venue reaches, and so forth. Dr. Professor’s lack of ownership of the publication can throw a roadblock in the way of what are today very ordinary, very normal uses and reuses.

Yet neither the publisher nor the scholarly society has any intrinsic interest in preventing reuse! It’s no skin off their back if ideas circulate! No, what they want is to be paid for their work, their production and management labor, and for many, it seems as though the only way to achieve payment is by claiming ownership and policing reuse. This is, to say the least, unfortunate. Libraries should be able to ensure that university classes can have articles on electronic reserve without being sued. Researchers who want to start a journal club shouldn’t have to panic about copyright. Publishers shouldn’t have to feel that they have to restrict use and reuse in order to cover their costs. The whole permissions market, securing reuse rights or trusting to fair use or fair dealing, is a source of significant friction and frustration for researchers. That’s the world we’re in right now. It would be nice to move beyond it.

Another locus of ownership conflict today pits research funders on the one hand against publishers and scholarly societies on the other. Now, when I say “funder” I’m speaking broadly; I don’t just mean grant funders, though of course they play an important role in developments; I’m also talking about institutions of higher learning themselves. Now, what funders are after in all this is impact; since they’re funding research, they want to be sure it makes its proper mark, both in the research world and outside it among practitioners and policymakers and so forth. Some are also looking for broader access to the results of research, typically government funders on both sides of the pond who are keen to see taxpayers get their money’s worth out of government research funding.

Once again, neither publisher nor scholarly society has any intrinsic objection to these laudable goals that I’m aware of. It’s quite difficult, in fact, to argue against so self-evident a public good as public access to publicly-funded research. The problem again is money. Publishers fear that if they don’t hold on to ownership for all they’re worth, they won’t make back their nut.

And who gets stuck in the middle of this strife? Poor old Dr. Professor! On the one hand, his funders are telling him that no, he can’t give over all his ownership rights to his publishers, because the funders need him to reserve some! On the other hand, his funders really aren’t giving him a whole lot of help in this negotiation process, and since he feels that his publishers have a lot to say about the course of his career, he is understandably loath to play hardball with them. All this ferment creates even more day-to-day headache for Dr. Professor, and if there’s anything Dr. Professor neither wants nor needs, it’s more friction.

Again, this is deeply unfortunate. Researchers feel whipsawed, funders can get a bit self-righteous about all this, and publishers are stuck playing the heavy. What I’d like us all to take away is the idea that access is not the problem, impact is not the problem—it’s really publishers’ rents at issue here.

Another locus of ownership conflict is between libraries and publishers. There’s a key difference here, though, which is that ownership of copyright is not much at issue here. Libraries almost never hold copyright in the material they make available—of course, now that libraries are ourselves becoming publishers, that is changing somewhat, but even so—and we’re fine with that. What we care about is appropriate ownership in the copies we purchase, and that has become a significant bone of contention as scholarly publishing has moved electronic. Whether it’s interlibrary loan rights or Big Deal bundles or being stuck with grotesquely bad search interfaces because that’s the only route into necessary content, libraries are finding that not having very many rights over their purchases is causing problems both for us and our patrons.

We don’t have the option of just going back to print. Researchers and students have spoken loudly and clearly: they want electronic access, and most of them are not even interested in print! So we can’t in libraries go back to owning print, tempting though those first-sale rights are. We have to move forward, and sort out what to do with electronic journals and databases.

Another arena in which ownership, or lack of it, matters is preservation. In the print world, preservation was explicitly a library issue; save for the question of archival-quality materials, it was clear that publishers published and libraries preserved. In the digital realm, of course, publishers who want to lease digital materials have no choice but to preserve them. As a librarian, this scares me. As someone who used to work in electronic publishing, it scares me even more, because I met and worked with any number of publishers who don’t know a RAID array from an air raid.

Still, I’m happy to say that in this area I am seeing progress, and it’s a result of collaboration between libraries and publishers. I love to see Portico and controlled LOCKSS and the Directory of Open Access Journals collaborating with the national library of the Netherlands. I say to both libraries and publishers, if you are not participating in initiatives like these, you are abdicating your responsibility! So get involved today. In a larger sense, though, these collaborations prove that we don’t have to quarrel over ownership to get work done! Yet we so often do.

Now, here is an unpalatable truth about libraries: we are terrible negotiators, and we really don’t like to cause trouble. So the perilous fix we’re in, with acquisitions budgets dropping and awareness of our services among researchers at an all-time low, is substantially our own fault. Not entirely, because publishers and aggregators have enforced some information asymmetries and offered us very limited choices, but largely.

I see signs that the worm may be turning, though. Librarians that I would never have suspected of any kind of radicalism, ordinary collection developers and liaisons, definitely not frothing-at-the-mouth open-access advocates like me or “liberation bibliographer” Barbara Fister, are starting to say words like “boycott” louder than a whisper. We’re almost ready to confront Dr. Professor and tell him we can’t afford his favorite journal or database any more. We are almost ready to speak out in public against the worst abusers, the price-gougers, the unconscionable limitations, those who refuse to release metadata for metasearch and other improved discovery tools. I could be wrong—the signs I’m seeing are still very faint—but I urge you to take this possibility seriously.

One final note: researchers are mostly not talking with each other about this (or about anything else, really) on the Web. The recent Ithaka report made that pretty clear. Librarians are, however; we are talking to each other and we’re starting to engage the public, and you need to take that seriously, because we do have an audience there and we do support and reinforce each other’s decisions.

And on that subject, a word of advice for publishers, aggregators, and other library vendors. Let me recommend that you learn to engage in public on these issues—not behind proxies or sock puppets, not one-on-one. Start blogs. Show up on Twitter and Friendfeed and in comments on blogs. The thing not to do is use private email or the telephone, and especially do not involve workplace chains-of-command. When you do that, it looks like you have something to hide, and word will get out—these are bloggers, after all! When you do this, it can look like you are trying to shut down open discourse, or even intimidate your detractors, which is not an image you need to project. So engage publicly, not in secret. You can’t hush us up, and you don’t own our words.

Here’s the thought I want to leave you with: These days, being a roadblock is a very poor business model. It’s said of the internet that it views censorship as damage and routes around it. I would change “censorship” to almost any form of path-blocking or gatekeeping—and we librarians are instinctive gatekeepers, but we’ve had our noses rubbed in the fact that our patrons do not want us getting in their way. The same is true, I think, of the relationship between researchers and publishers. Publishers do a signal service, and researchers recognize that… but when publishers use ownership rights to throw roadblocks in the way of access and reuse, and especially when they create difficulties around researcher compliance with funder mandates, they are increasingly damaging their own brands.

Back in the day, this didn’t matter so much, because the traditional roadblocky kind of ownership model was the only game in town. But now it’s not. Now there are repositories and open-access journals that provide a lot of the same services roadblocky publishing does, but without the roadblocks. I do believe that open content will create ever-greater gravitational pull, such that closing off access will become a genuine liability for publishers looking to make arguments about impact and prestige. I do believe that barriers will continue to fall, and the ownership question will continue to shift away from publishers back toward researchers and the public, over the course of my career in libraries.

Whether you believe that or not, I hope I’ve given you something to think about, and a useful way to think about it. Thank you!