A Day of Scholarly Communication: A NERCOMP SIG Event
by Kevin Williarty, Wesleyan University
The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) have given considerable attention in recent years to practices of scholarly communication. In particular, the ARL and ACRL have identified a crisis in the system that currently links scholars, libraries, institutions and publishers, and they have proposed a number of strategies to rectify that system. Notable elements include promoting author rights, open access journals, and open access institutional repositories. As part of their program to educate librarians, faculty, publishers, and information technologists about these strategies, the ARL and ACRL regularly and jointly host three-day Institutes on Scholarly Communication. An explicit goal of these institutes is that participants ”become fluent with scholarly communication issues and trends so that [they] are positioned to educate others on [the] library staff, engage in campus communications programs and other advocacy efforts, and work collaboratively with other participants to begin developing an outreach plan for [their] campus[es].”
The recent NERCOM SIG event, “A Day of Scholarly Communication: Developing Your Institutional Plan,” was a direct response to that imperative. The presenters at the NERCOMP SIG were graduates of an ARL/ACRL institute, and their purpose was largely to convey the experience of the Institute (on a smaller scale) to a local audience that had, for the most part, not had the opportunity to participate one of these institutes.
The day was divided into main sections on author rights, institutional repositories, scholarly communication, and a practical session on drafting a plan for one’s own institution.
After a brief introductory session by the SIG organizer Marilyn Billings (UMass Amherst), Elizabeth Kirk (Dartmouth) offered a whirlwind introduction to copyright. The bottom line is that scholars typically sign away all of their rights when an article is published, even though, as Elizabeth explains, there is no good reason to do so.
Advantages to faculty of the Open Access model include the ease of using Open Access materials for classes, the freedom to include one’s work in digital repositories, and increased exposure of one’s published (or unpublished) work. Disadvantages from the faculty perspective include the potential perception among colleagues that open access work is less rigorous, the questions of whether and how Open Access publishing counts for tenure, questions about how to finance publication in an author-pays model, as well as concern about a model where publication depends on an author’s financial resources. And finally, who has the time or expertise to start negotiating with publishers?
One way to alleviate the burden of individual negotiation is to use a ready-made author addendum such as the SPARC addendum or the MIT Ammendment to Publication Agreement. If authors do not retain rights, they may not be allowed to post their work to a repository. In order to determine whether a published article can be placed in a repository, librarians and/or authors can turn to a resource like SHERPA/RoMEO, a database of publishers and their permissions policies. They can also visit a publisher’s web site or contact the publisher by email.
Dan Schnaidt (Wesleyan) introduced and problematized a number of issues surrounding the establishment, population and maintenance of institutional repositories, especially from the perspective of a small liberal arts college. Marilyn Billings then presented ScholarWorks, a Digital Commons installation at UMass Amherst.
Among the questions Wesleyan is facing as the library and IT collaborate on a digital repository are:
- Is it best to have one all-inclusive repository or specialized repositories for different types of content?
- How can faculty be encouraged to contribute content?
- What kind of content (scholarly and/or administrative) should be included?
- What does it mean to archive something in perpetuity?
- Who will finance the repository?
According to a 2002 SPARC position paper, “The Case for Digital Repositories,” institutional repositories need to be “open and interoperable” (see, for example, the Open Archives Initiative) and “cumulative and perpetual.” At the same time, faculty need to have a clear sense of benefit to themselves. Some institutional repository services are customizing their metadata to optimize their Google performance (which in turn powers searches for a service like OpenDOAR, the Directory of Open Access Repositories). Still, placement in particular journals influence an article’s prestige and its value for promotion or tenure. For this reason, Dan suggests that academic publishers need to have a seat at the table as well.
For the moment, Wesleyan’s repository is focusing on undergraduate theses, but even this seemingly unproblematic text-type has raised some interesting challenges: students may wish to embargo a piece that is being considered for publication, for example, and graduate school applicants may worry that their original ideas will be vulnerable to theft.
Marilyn Billings, meanwhile, reported on a sabbatical study she conducted to learn how different schools are approaching institutional repositories. In connection with the Faculty Senate Research Library Council at UMass, she has reported on an online survey of faculty awareness of and attitudes toward institutional repositories. One interesting finding of the survey has been that faculty are interested in archiving not only texts but conference proceedings, including, for example, links to PowerPoint slide presentations.
- Facilitating the creation of departmental collections, a feature that enjoys enthusiastic faculty response
- Allowing for pages that feature the work of individual scholars
- Providing a platform for scholarly journal publication
David Seaman began the day’s keynote presentation by reviewing academic libraries’ strengths and successes with regard to institutional repositories. Next, he surveyed important failures and he concluded by recommending the collaborative leadership approach as an antidote to some of the problems that have plagued institutional repositories.
Academic libraries have excelled at the technological aspects of handling scholarly communications. They have also been admirable advocates of authors’ rights and increased access to content. Where libraries have failed is in understanding the motivations of the faculty and students whose content they are working to make available. In particular, libraries have not yet given sufficient attention to issues of “prestige, reputation, and professional rewards systems.” The result, according to the Census of Institutional Repositories in the United States, a report from the Council on Library and Information Sciences (CLIR), is that repositories are largely underpopulated. An interesting table from that same report shows that at institutions that have implemented institutional repositories (see the column labeled “IMP”), there is a strong feeling that institutions will need to rely on “mandates regarding mandatory contribution of certain material types, e.g., doctoral dissertations, master’s theses, faculty preprints.”
From David’s perspective, collaborative leadership techniques offer the best hope for improving the situation. The idea is to bring all the stakeholders to the table. Only by taking faculty concerns seriously, says David, can librarians hope eventually to achieve the symbiosis between librarian and scholar implicit in the vision of the institutional repository.
In his response to David Seaman, Bruce Wilcox made a case for including academic publishers as one of the stakeholders in institutional repository projects. As libraries seek to combat the predatory pricing policies of large publishers, they should turn to the academic presses, who tend to be non-profit, have experience with peer review, etc. Bruce cites Project MUSE at Johns Hopkins as an example of a productive library-press collaboration. Materials distributed through Project MUSE are not free, but the pricing is designed to be affordable even while it enables sustainable, high-quality publishing.
Drafting Your Plan
The final session for the day (save a short brainstorming round at the very end) gave attendees the chance to work with presenters on creating a concrete plan for implementing an institutional repository. Presenters, each with a particular focus, moved from table to table answering questions and raising practical issues. To a large extent the exercise involved thinking about who the stakeholders would be at a given institution and how to sell the idea of a repository to them. As a starting point, attendees had prepared in advance the Environmental Scan Exercise available from the ARL.
 See http://www.arl.org/sc/institute/instres.shtml (accessed November 16, 2007).
 See Kirk’s PowerPoint slides for more information.
About the Author
Kevin Wiliarty is Academic Technology Coordinator for the Social Sciences at Wesleyan University where he helps faculty apply digital technologies to their teaching and research. He holds a Ph.D. in German Linguistics from the University of California, Berkeley and has taught at Berkeley, Wesleyan, and the University of Connecticut. He has also worked as web technology coordinator for the Henry Carter Hull public library in Clinton, CT. His current professional focus is to explore and promote scholarly and pedagogical uses of web technologies including blogs, wikis, RSS, and social bookmarking.
originally published by Academic Commons in 2006.