Fran Groen: Open Access and Library Values

December 22, 2015 at 1:53 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

We have one more blog post from a NAHSL professional development award winner!  Rebecca Reznik-Zellen was inspired by our last NAHSL conference speaker, Fran Groen. Read what Rebecca writes about Open Access and Library Values.

Fran  Groen: Open Access and Library Values

Blog post by: Rebecca Reznik-Zellen

Lamar Soutter Library, University of Massachusetts

The NAHSL 2015 Annual Conference, Health Science Libraries: Anchored in Excellence, was a wonderful tribute to the role that libraries and librarians play in promoting literacy and health literacy within our communities, and I am grateful to the NAHSL Professional Development Committee for the award that enabled me to attend it. The first two plenary speakers explicitly lauded the role of libraries in literacy, but I was inspired by the closing plenary given by Frances Groen, Trenholme Director of Libraries Emeritus at McGill University and former president of the Medial Library Association (1988-1991).

In her talk, Fran Groen had an important point: that the future of libraries depends on the degree to which we participate in change. She cautioned however that we cannot meaningfully participate in change if we do not understand and uphold our values. For her, the core values of librarianship are literacy, preservation, and providing access to information to all who need it. Of these three values, the one closest to my daily work is access.

In an academic health science library, it is easy to get bogged down in the details of Open Access—whether one is implementing an Open Access Policy, steering authors away from predatory publishers, interpreting journal policies and procedures for authors, or troubleshooting NIH Public Access Compliance.  So, it was nice to be reminded of why we value access to information in the first place and the role that we play as medical librarians in ensuring that access is not dominated by the interests of publishers. As she writes in her book Access to Medical Knowledge (2007, Scarecrow Press):

“As long as information is viewed merely as a commodity, the economics of supply, demand, and profit will actively work against the idea of open access to information. The flow of information should not be considered part of the economics of property for the simple reason that, unlike commodities, the production of information is not self-limiting…. Information and the knowledge that it creates is a continuing, enriching resource. Unlike the Amazon or Yosemite Valley, it cannot be destroyed by a surplus of visitors or consumers to the information commons.”

Fran Groen cited the recent study by Vincent Lariviere  on the scholarly publishing marketplace—a study which starkly demonstrates the increasing dominance that a handful of commercial publishers has over the scholarly publishing marketplace. The question of who preserves and controls access to information is a very real and pertinent question for the future of libraries. Increasing costs of scientific publications combined with shrinking library budgets are a great threat to our value of providing access to information to all who need it.

As librarians we need to talk about the benefits of open access to society; we need to revitalize this discussion in our communities; and we need to be vigilant. As she said, “Open Access gives us hope.”  Libraries are not alone in the struggle to reclaim access—authors, writers, and editors have a role to play here as well—but we can carry the drumbeat.

How? Libraries of all sizes and missions can participate in Open Access by contributing to institutional policy and practice; by individually self-archiving and or publishing in platinum open access journals; by advocating for open access to authors who have questions about the publishing process; by steering faculty and students away from the trappings of hybrid and predatory open access journals; and, critically, by encouraging faculty to take responsibility for their own intellectual property. Educating our faculty and students to be aware of the intricacies of the publishing process and to understand the benefits of Open Access can help us maintain our values through changing times.



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