Escaping the Red Queen’s Race

Today at Islandora’s opening, I want to riff off a famous set of children’s stories, stories I’m sure most of you have heard of and probably read, involving a young girl as heroine.

Unfortunately, and at the risk of offending, I will not be using the famous children’s stories involving a young girl as heroine that Prince Edward Island is well-known for. Sorry about that; I just couldn’t quite make it fit. I hope we can be kindred spirits anyway!

The Red Queen, running while dragging Alice after her

Running and running and running just to stay in one place, to keep from falling behind. That has been the trajectory of the academic library over the last few decades, faced with the massive growth in scholarly literature, and the even more massive growth in the cost of scholarly literature.

What the University of Prince Edward Island is doing today—opening Island Scholar on the open Web to hold the intellectual output of the university—is part of a multi-faceted effort to break free of the Red Queen’s Race. I offer my congratulations to you all on this auspicious event; I hope you are proud!

On with our story, then…

Alice sitting in a tall chair playing with a black kitten

We begin our story with Alice the librarian, whose job it is to purchase and arrange all the books and journals and databases that Dr. Kitty needs in order to do her incredibly important research into string theory. (All right, all right, I’m sorry.)

The King and Queen of Hearts and their court

Alice doesn’t just buy library materials for Dr. Kitty, of course; she is responsible to all of Looking-glass University. Books on cards, books on spades, books on hearts, books on jades, as well as journals on all those subjects and more.

Most of this does not come free. In Looking-glass University, members of the court give their authorship and peer-review work away for free to journal publishers…

Alice speaks to the grumpy Duchess

… who then demand that Alice pay a great deal of money so that the court can see the work it gave away. Alice can only give the court what she can afford to pay for. If she can’t pay for it—the court can’t see it.

If this seems odd to you, well, remember, we’re in Looking-glass University here.

The Mad Hatter, Alice, the Dormouse, and the Rabbit at a tea party

And as more and more books and more and more journals came to be published, and their prices went up and up and up, Alice’s ability to provide the banquet of books and journals that Looking-glass University expected of her diminished. This earned her some odd looks from Dr. Hatter and the others, but poor Alice could only do what she could do.

Alice holds a bottle with a tag that says "DRINK ME"

A little under a decade ago, Alice the librarian was offered a new bottle of electronic journals for Looking-glass University. DRINK ME, said the bottle, and I will give you huge quantities of the journals you need for Dr. Kitty and Dr. Hatter and all the rest of the court of Looking-glass University.

“This sounds useful,” said Alice, “because surely I cannot afford everything I must buy any other way.” And so Alice drank from the bottle, and the label changed from DRINK ME to THE BIG DEAL.

Alice is trapped in a room too small for her

Alice soon found that while the Big Deal did indeed help her grow her library, she herself had been trapped. Some of the journals in the bottle were exactly what she needed; others were not, but she could not drop them without dropping the Big Deal. And soon the Big Deal became a bigger and bigger and bigger part of Alice’s budget, which shrank and shrank and shrank until poor Alice wondered how she would ever make ends meet!

Soon she found herself having to throw journals out of the window every year, just to make room in her budget for the Big Deal. Soon it became even worse than that, because she had to throw books and monographs out the window too. Reluctantly, Alice did what she had to.

A frightened-looking Alice swept away by water

What eventually happened is that Alice found herself drowning in costs, Big Deal or no Big Deal. She simply could not afford everything that Looking-glass University needed.

Alice swimming with the Dormouse

“Come with me,” said a fellow librarian, also trying to make some headway against the torrent of costly new literature. “We will band together, pool our strength, and surely we will be able to afford what our institutions need.”

The Dormouse talks to Alice and a group of birds

Led by her wise dormouse colleague, Alice the Librarian joined a consortium of libraries and librarians, to pool their resources so that they could buy what they all needed.

And this worked. For a time.

Alice throws up one arm to fend off an attacking deck of cards

Until the torrent of costs rose up again, overwhelming even the resources all of them together could throw at the journals. Desperately they scattered, Alice and rabbits and dormice and parrots and all.

The Red Queen, running while dragging Alice after her

And so Alice found herself in the Red Queen’s Race, doing everything she could think of just to stay even with the cost of the journal literature, constantly aware that for all her efforts, she was falling behind.

The Rabbit looks into a bag and hands a sandwich to the White King, while Alice looks on in dismay

To make matters worse, the court of Looking-glass University was becoming restless, because they began to suspect that they were missing out on things that were kept in bags that they couldn’t look into; they could see only what the publishers priced within Alice’s buying power. This bothered Alice a great deal, as you can see, but it didn’t help her stay even in the Red Queen’s Race.

The Red King sleeps by a tree

Worse still, the court realized it could no longer be sure that its own articles were reaching beyond its own borders, because if Alice couldn’t keep up with the Red Queen’s Race, who could? And what about those who didn’t belong to a royal court at all? How would they hear the court’s proclamations? Because after all, a court that isn’t getting its proclamations heard and heeded might as well lie down and go to sleep.

The Walrus and the Carpenter look at a group of oysters

And finally Dr. Walrus and Dr. Carpenter said, “Wait a minute. We have a great many pearls of wisdom to share, and we want to share them; the problem is that they’re locked up inside tough pay-for-subscription oystershells.”

And thus was born the open access movement.

A brief interlude

“Open-access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. What makes it possible is the internet and the consent of the author or copyright-holder.

—Peter Suber, “A Very Brief Introduction to Open Access

This will be review for some of you, but not all. There are two basic ways of making your work open access. The so-called “gold road” is simply to publish in a journal that does not charge subscription fees for access to articles. There are many of these in many disciplines; the most reliable listing of peer-reviewed open-access journals is the Directory of Open Access Journals. The “green road” is to place an appropriate version of your article in either:

  • a disciplinary repository such as arXiv for physics, math, and computer science, or E-LIS for information studies, or
  • an institutional repository maintained by your workplace, such as your brand-new Island Scholar.

To search articles that have been made available in this fashion, remember Dr. Walrus and Dr. Carpenter, and try the OAIster service.

Now, the sine qua non here is paying attention to the rights you have over the articles you write. What version of your articles is appropriate to archive depends a great deal on the agreement you sign with the publisher of your articles. If you do nothing else based on what I have told you today, I ask you to please read and understand the next publication agreement you sign. You may be shocked by what you discover—and your librarians can give you good advice about what to do if you are.

Now back to our story…

A kneeling Alice adjusts a chess-queen's crown on her head

Alice the librarian, rather nervously, opened an institutional repository just like Island Scholar, taking the technical work and responsibility onto her own head as though it were a heavy crown. Then she went out to speak to scholars and researchers like Dr. Kitty about the new service and what her hopes were for the scholarly literature.

A black kitten paws at a ball of yarn

Dr. Kitty, absorbed in her string-theory research, didn’t pay Alice the librarian much mind. After all, the system seemed to work well enough, and it had been around a long time. Why change? Why now?

Alice holds her hands over her ears, drums all around her

Sometimes Alice was deafened by tremendous drumbeats of protest. What about my favorite scholarly society? What if open access hurts it? Never mind that many society journals have been pushed out of the market by the Big Deal. What about multiple versions of my article? What about peer review? Which Alice thought was quite ridiculous, because about the same percentage of open access journals as subscription journals are peer-reviewed, but there you are.

Looking-glass world armies

Sometimes the result of Alice’s well-intentioned efforts was pure chaos. Everyone at Looking-glass University was familiar with the Red Queen, after all, and Alice was new to all this, and not someone the court was accustomed to heeding on the subject of professional publication.

Sleeping Red and White Queens lean on an uncomfortable Alice

Sometimes no one had time or leisure to listen to Alice, or to help her put new articles on the website. The Red Queen, of course, whose race had caused all the trouble, never had bothered to listen to Alice in the first place. And after a while of trying, Alice became so frustrated that she…

A pair of hands holds the Red Queen in the air

… picked up the Red Queen she’d been racing against in both hands and shook as hard as ever she could. And so it became clear that the fearsome Red Queen, whom Alice was trying so hard to tame…

A pair of hands holds a black kitten in the air

… was only Dr. Kitty, after all!

And that is my message to all of you, on the opening of your repository. For all the fantastic technical work that Mark Leggott has done on the technical platform he calls Islandora—and it is groundbreaking and brilliant work, and I hope all of you congratulate him as he deserves—it is every one of you, Dr. Kitty’s and Alices alike, who must make open access happen.

How you do that differs depending on who you are and what you do.

Ground under a tree marked up like a chessboard

The first thing is to have a sense of the chessboard. Don’t believe everything I’ve been telling you? Great! Go find out for yourself what your favorite journal costs, and what your library has been doing to afford it. Learn what your peer institutions and your disciplinary colleagues have been doing and saying about scholarly communication. I know this is yet one more thing in a crowded schedule of string-theory research, but the scholarly communication system is the air you breathe; one way or another, your career and your legacy depend on it. Go and learn.

Alice helps Tweedledum and Tweedledee put on household implements as armor

Changing such an entrenched system as scholarly communication is a tall order. There’s no getting around that many of you will have to gear up, take some risks, and do some things differently if you believe the system needs to change. Alice the librarian can help you put your armor on, but she can’t enter the battle for you. You have to be the one to fight. Pay attention to your publication agreements, and amend those that need it. Find out what your scholarly and professional societies are saying and doing about open access, and make your voice heard there if you don’t agree. Put your material in Island Scholar. Spread the word up the chain that Island Scholar is a service worth supporting.

Humpty Dumpty stands on a stool to shout in a man's ear

And you can all go and shout in other faculty ears! Alice the librarian doesn’t have much luck with this, honestly. Faculty heed their peers. It takes more shouting than you think. A 2004 workshop by Barton and Waters[1. Barton, Mary R., and Margaret M. Waters. “Creating an Institutional Repository: LEADIRS Workshop.” 2004.] suggests that it takes seven mentions of a service like Island Scholar before a potential user has enough awareness to check it out.

Seven mentions. Per faculty member. Get shouting!

Alice walks beside an elderly man in armor on a horse

If you are senior in your career, such that you have career authority over your fellow faculty, it is only you who can reward open access. You decide what journals you believe your fellows should publish in; some are friendlier to open access than others. You decide how they need to present their accomplishments to you; you can ask them to place their journal articles in Island Scholar for consideration. You decide what quality measures are valid; you can decide not to discriminate against online-only journals and newer open-access journals.

Alice the librarian is looking to you for leadership. Please provide it!

In closing, let me credit the wonderful illustrator John Tenniel, and the wonderful VictorianWeb for making his work available. This presentation will be available for reuse, talk notes and all.

And finally, once again, allow me to congratulate you all on the opening of Island Scholar, and wish you the very best of luck with it! Thank you very much for your time, and I’m told I have a little time to answer questions.