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The Threat of Pandemics (MLA13 Boston: Plenary 4: Laurie Garrett)

May 11, 2013 4 comments
A woman dressed in black standing at a podium in front of a white lighted circle stating One Health.

Laurie Garrett giving her presentation.

The final plenary, and indeed, the final non-CE class or tour event of MLA13 Boston, was on my list of events to blog for the official conference blog.  I summed up the entire presentation.  As stated previously, I can’t reproduce those posts here on my personal blog, so please go over and take a look at that summary before reading my responses to and thoughts on the presentation.

Got it? Good!

Ok, so, what was my reaction to this lecture?  Well, first, honestly I had a bit of a panic.  I felt frightened, unsafe, and like the world is doomed.  At first I thought that was just my anxious-prone self over-reacting to the presentation, but after discussing it with friends and colleagues who were also there, I realized that Garrett seems to have actually sought to pull out this fear in people.

Why?

In a presentation that ends with pleas for us to fight fear and panic, why did she spend so much time investing in frightening us and very little (if any) spent in reassuring us?  Why focus so much on pandemics just a single mistake away, germ warfare close at hand (although, not really since 3D printing of germs isn’t happening yet).  I don’t know.  I don’t know what would make Garrett think making people feel this way is a good thing.  Maybe she’s fallen prey to the idea that the only way to get people to pay attention to your cause is to frighten them.  I know people in various movements who use that tactic.  It’s not one I’m a fan of.  Maybe she didn’t intend to gloom and doom the people present.  But I think she did.  Given that her own speech pointed out the dangers of panic and unwarranted fear, I find it odd that this was her intent.  And yet there you have it.  A room full of frightened librarians.  Think I’m exaggerating?  Check out just a few of the tweets from during her presentation:

Screen shot of a tweet "Nothing like wrapping up a conference with a presentation that will haunt attendee dreams..."One Health? Garrett's doom-scenario suggests we're on course for One Ill-HealthLaurie Garrett is scaring us all to death about pandemics and biosynthesis and germs etc...@Laurie_Garrett is one of the best speakers I've seen in a long time.  Also one of the scariest.YES! RT @mandosally I'm feeling creeped out. Anyone else?I think I'm going to use a 3D printer to make a bubble house and never leave it...Everyone has their own style, and I certainly learned a lot from the presentation and wasn’t bored.  But.  I’m not a fan of nonfiction presentations (aka not horror plays or movies) inciting fear and panic in the audience.  I think it’s counter-productive when talking to a room full of intelligent, educated individuals.  Librarians aren’t 5 year olds who need to be told about icky germs in order to get us to wash our hands.  I’m sure there could have been a way to give this presentation with truths and realities that could be frightening without actually inciting this level of anxiety.  Even just a little positivity and more hope for the future would have been nice.  You don’t want a populace that is exerting all their energy preparing for Armageddon.

I should also mention that I stood up to ask a question of Garrett at the end.  With all the talk of synthetic biology, I wanted to know what her opinion was on GMOs.  I admit, this is not an issue I am yet clear-cut on myself.  I generally prefer organic, but I also understand the value of say rice that has been modified to have more vitamins in it for an at-risk population.  But on the other hand I get the concern of manipulating something at a genetic level and what that might do to our own bodies when we ingest it.  It’s something that just doesn’t have enough long-term studies yet to really show if it’s truly safe or not, and it concerns me that it’s mostly the poor, at-risk populations who are being used as guinea pigs eating it.

In any case, I asked Garrett at the public microphone about her stance on GMO foods and the movement to label them.  Given all of her doom and gloom talk about synthetic viruses, I was shocked at her answer.  She believes that GMO foods are necessary because as more of the world becomes middle class, more of the world is eating meat, and meat eating just cannot be sustained on the land we currently have available, so we must turn to eating synthetic foods.

Um, EXCUSE ME?!?!

So the lady who just spent over an hour and a half talking about how dangerous synthetic biology could turn out to be turns right around and says that meat eating isn’t sustainable to feed the entire globe (which it isn’t, see this article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition) turns right around and says that well we have to eat GMOs to feed everyone because people won’t just give up meat.  Right, ok, if someone is so concerned about the possible bad consequences of synthetic biology don’t you think she might possibly take this opportunity to espouse a vegetarian, vegan, or even just more plant-based diet to combat the global food crisis instead of relying exclusively on GMOs?  Apparently not.  Apparently it’s really great to fear-monger about pandemics and international relations but when it comes to what we eat, the basis of much of our health, that’s too controversial.

Well, at least it was an interesting final couple of hours of MLA13, although I can’t say I really feel that it was very useful to librarians or working to promote true global health.

YouTube, Cochrane, Research Stories, and More (MLA13 Boston: Section Programming)

May 11, 2013 Leave a comment

At the meeting, librarians present their papers that were accepted to the conference.  These are organized into groups of four sponsored by one of the MLA’s sections.  The presentations are timed so that you can see the first presentation in one section then go to another section to see the second, etc…  I wasn’t able to take notes at all of the section programming I listened to, because some of the rooms looked like this when I switched into them:

Image of full seating and people lined up on floor along walls.I thus will post what notes I was able to acquire, but bare in mind I actually got more out of these sections that my notes reveal.

International Congress on Medical Librarianship 2: Trustworthy and Authoritative Publicly Available Information Section

“Trustworthiness and Authoritativeness of YouTube Videos on Smokeless Tobacco” by Donghua Tao, Prajakta Adsul, Ricardo Wray, Keri Jupka, Carolyn Semar, and Kathryn Goggins

  • Use online media as a tool to educate health care users
  • a future study could use a survey of real YouTube users and test their hypothesis
  • Methodology of published papers doesn’t discuss how they searched YouTube
  • See how videos connect to each other (videos referencing other videos)
  • 3,603 unique videos brought up, randomly sampled 433, of which 278 were used based on inclusion criteria

“Twenty Years of the Cochrane Collaboration: A Legacy of Trustworthy and Authoritative Publicly Available Information and Plans for the Future” by Carol Lefebvre, Julie Glanville, Jessie McGowan AHIP, Alison Weightman, and Bernadette Coles

  • 2013 is Cochrane’s 20th anniversary, and they have a special anniversary website.
  • Cochrane Collaboration crates the Cochrane Library
  • plain long summaries, free, multiple languages
  • 4 million downloads in 2010
  • 6 million downloads in 2012
  • New publishing agreement with Wiley
    • February 1, 2013 to the end of 2018
    • gold open access –> author pays a publication fee then article is available immediately
    • green open access –> no author payment but there is a 1 year embargo
  • impact of Cochrane Reviews
  • We’re not here to decide if we publish clinical data but how
  • 20 years ago:
    • only 20,000 RCTs indexed in medline
    • no RCT filter in medline
  • Now:
    • new MeSH term for quasi-RCT: Controlled Clinical Trial
    • 1996 Central launched
    • medline’s retagging project supports Central
    • proliferation of search filters
    • Cochrane Handbook has grown
  • Future:
    • registration of clinical trials
    • move toward single portals
    • increased access to clinical study reports
    • PubReMiner will increase use
    • text mining increase
    • strengthen relationship with other organizations
    • challenge will still lie in discoverability

Federal Libraries Section: The Role of Librarians in Evidence-Based Medicine: Part One

“Telling the Research Story: A Role for Librarians in Analyzing Research Impact Based on Evidence” by Terrie Wheeler and Cathy C. Sarli AHIP

  • Genesis project (Not really sure what this is.  Had trouble seeing the slides and hearing).
  • citation analysis
  • “It is no longer enough to measure what we can–we need to measure what matters.”
  • Found a lot of gray literature using Google
  • use clean data –> clear linkage
  • explanation of the h-index
  • explanation of the g-index
  • explanation of the tapered h-index
  • all index factors have one limitation or another
  • can we produce future science with publication data? Maybe.

That’s all of my notes I managed to get.  I’ll have to figure out how to better juggle notebooks/pens next year.  Or maybe MLA can get us more seating.  Up next, the National Library of Medicine’s Update.

 

 

 

The Rise of Evidence-Based Health Sciences Librarianship (MLA13 Boston: Janet Doe Lecture by Joanne Gard Marshall, AHIP, FMLA)

May 11, 2013 Leave a comment

The third plenary is given by a librarian who is respected in the field, but who is not the current MLA president.  Last year, we had a fascinating lecture by Mark Funk in which he showed us his extensive research documenting what librarians talk about in our published literature.  This year, Joanne Gard Marshall presented “Linking Research to Practice: The Rise of Evidence-Based Health Sciences Librarianship,” which while an interesting title mostly came across as a list of names of people she considered important.  She also spent 5 to 10 minutes summing up Mark Funk’s previous speech.  I think my tweet from during this plenary sums up my feelings pretty well:

Screenshot of a tweet reading #mlanet13 ehhhh summing up previous yr's doe lectures isn't very impressive as a doe lecture itself As with any lecture, though, I was still able to glean some useful or interesting information from it.  I’ve listed them out below.

  • David Sackett founded Evidence-Based Medicine (EBM), and his textbook Evidence-Based Medicine: How to Practice and Teach EBM, 2e is considered crucial in the field.
  • Sackett defines EBM as, “The conscientious, explicit, judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients.”
  • Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) is influenced by three factors:
    • Best research
    • Clinical expertise
    • Patient values and preferences
  • The old indexing (in PubMed etc…) didn’t used to include type or level of evidence in the terminology.
  • Evidence-Based Librarianship (EBL) is advocated for by McKibbon and Eldredge.  You may see a free PMC article summing that up here.
  • Steps of EBL:
    • formulate answerable question
    • search for evidence
    • critically appraise evidence
  • The research section of MLA has a free journal, Hypothesis, that is recommended.
  • MLA has a research imperative that you may read here.
  • “Randomized Control Trials, contrary to popular belief, are not the only way to control variables.”
  • Booth and Brice are named as big names in EBL.  Their book is Evidence-Based Practice for Information Professionals: A Handbook.
  • There is a journal on EBL called Evidence Based Library and Information Practice.  It is free, but you must register to comment or receive email notifications of new issues.
  • Recommends the book Diffusion of Innovations by Everett M. Rodgers to help with where we are going in EBL.  Take the model presented and adapt it and truly make it work for us.
  • Research must be balanced and paired with professional knowledge.

While the information I garnered is good, for a one hour lecture, it’s not very much. I left off the lists of names of previous Janet Doe lecturers, for instance.  I believe that if Marshall had focused much more in on the topic of EBL and its connection to EBM, which is an interesting topic, that it would have been a much better lecture.  Instead this received only a portion of the time so that we could be subjected to the names of previous Janet Doe lecturers and of course lists of people to thank. I am pleased to have found two new open access journals to read for my profession, but I do wish the lecture had gone further.

Up next is section programming.

 

Medical Library Association (MLA)13 Boston, Intro and Plenary 1

May 10, 2013 Leave a comment
An assortment of library-themed buttons.

Library-themed buttons acquired from the vendor booths during opening night.

Hello all!

Most of my readers know that, in addition to being a book blogger and indie author, I also have a day job as a librarian for the academic library that serves a Boston-area medical school and and teaching hospital.  Since this is my day job, I’m a member of the Medial Library Association (MLA) and every year we have a conference that my institution graciously sends me to.  Last year it was in Seattle.  This year it was in my home city of Boston.  Last year I blogged quite a bit of the conference information here both to share it and to help me remember what I learned.  You can see the series of posts starting with this one in May of 2012.  This year since I had a year of conferencing under my belt, I applied to be an official conference blogger, and I got the position. Yay!  I was assigned to write 2 to 3 posts about the plenary sessions.  So this year I will still be posting some information from the conference here on my own blog, but I will also be linking out to the official conference blog, as I am not supposed to reproduce my posts for that blog on my own personal blog.  I also will be providing additional commentary on those plenaries on my own blog, though, so they will also be discussed here.

The first event I went to was the grand opening of the exhibit halls on Saturday night after I got off of work.  I only was there for around 45 minutes, due to my work schedule, so I didn’t get to see even half of the exhibits.  Ah well!  It was still a fun start to the conference.

The next morning was when the ball really got rolling with the first plenary session.  The first plenary introduces the theme of the conference and features the address by the current MLA president.  You can see my summary of it on the official blog here.

While  was excite about the international aspect of MLA this year (the meeting was held in conjunction with the International Conference on Medical Librarianship (ICML), the International Conference of Animal Health Information Specialists (ICAHIS), and the International Clinical Librarian Conference (ICLC) ), I was disappointed by the lack of content in the presidential address.  I’m not a big fan of “think positive” as a general message to begin with, but it also felt that Blumenthal really didn’t offer much practical advice from her extensive real world library experience to the rest of us.  I missed the enthusiasm of 2011/12 president Jerry Perry’s speech.

Stay tuned for notes from the 2nd plenary by Dr. Richard Besser, medical correspondent for ABC and one-time acting director of the CDC.

Boston Library Consortium Networking Day 2013: Strategic Thinking about Copyright for Libraries in a Digital Environment presented by Kevin Smith, J.D.

April 6, 2013 Leave a comment

This week I went to the annual networking day for the Boston Library Consortium, an association of 17 academic and research libraries working together to provide better information to our patrons.

The speaker this year was Kevin Smith, J.D., a lawyer librarian (yes, those exist) who is an expert in copyright law for libraries.  He works at Duke University and also writes a widely regarded blog on scholarly communication.  The following are my notes from his presentation entitled “Strategic Thinking about Copyright for Libraries in a Digital Environment.”  Please feel free to ask me for any clarifications (to the best of my ability) in the comments.

  • When we open a library and let the public in, we are taking risk. We plan and mitigate for them [risks]. Copyright should be no different. It’s not all or nothing.
  • Digital environment has rewards
    • opportunity to create new knowledge
    • new ways to reach community
  • Think about copyright in terms of the mission of your organization
  • In the past 5 years, there’ve been an unprecedented number of lawsuits [against libraries regarding copyright]. So far, libraries have won all of them.
  • Kirtsaeng vs. John Wiley
    • doctrine of first sale applies to any material manufactured with consent of owner in the US [ie it doesn’t apply to pirated copies]
    • this leaves the status quo in place
    • Courts like libraries. They understand and appreciate what libraries do.
    • Library Copyright Alliance
    • copyright cuts across partisan lines
  • New Challenges: MOOCs and mass digitization
  • Author’s Guild vs. Hathi Trust
    • AG argued that what HT was doing with the scans, not the making of the scans themselves, was what was wrong
    • AG argued that libraries shouldn’t be allowed to rely on fair use
    • Judge said no, libraries can rely on fair use
    • Judge said fair use can support a mass digitization project
    • Is it fair use to digitize for greater access? We don’t know yet/it depends
    • Courts like transformative use
    • purpose –> even if the work itself isn’t change, its purpose is now for a different audience
    • Judge said these instances are transformative:
      • indexing
      • preservation
      • access for persons with disabilities
  • Strategy for Mass Digitization
    • recognize some material is public domain
    • seek permission from prominent or large-scale rights holders
      • people who are most likely to object and are possible to find
      • watchfile –> writers, authors, and their copyright holders
    • rely on transformative fair use
      • improve the context of the transformation (frame it)
      • fair use supports good library practice and good pedagogy (teaching)
    • have a “talk to” policy
      • a talk to policy is not a take down policy
      • you can learn a lot from people who originally call angry
  • GSU and UCLA
    • 70 of 75 excerpts on ereserve were deemed fair use
    • strict length limit of 10% or 1 chapter, whichever is less, was used
    • if we’re within limit, the subsequent semester rule (ereserves can’t be duplicated from one semester to the next) is impractical and unnecessary
  • non-transformative fair use
    • not clear that new form of access is transformative
    • ereserves are generally not viewed as transformative
    • address with context and creativity
    • It doesn’t have to be transformative to be fair use. It helps but isn’t necessary.
    • 4 factors of fair use
      • purpose
        • usually in favor of libraries
      • nature
        • usually in favor of libraries
      • decidedly small
        • can go either way
      • impact on market of original
        • This usually weighs against as long as holder is providing way to get license for digital use. If there is no way to get a license then it weighs against the copyright holder.
  • Strategy for eReserves
    • balance forms of access
      • having all the readings available digitally looks bad
      • balance purchases, licenses, and fair use
    • for fair use, stick to small portions
      • 10% isn’t the law, but it’s a good rule of thumb
    • always keep course site closed
    • be creative
      • think about what makes your site a unique exercise in pedagogy
    • seek permission when larger excerpt is needed
  • Strategy for Streamed Videos
    • almost anything shown in face to face classroom is legal
    • students are not a market that rights holder is allowed to exploit
    • look for ways to enhance the case
      • works that are unavailable
      • works where it’s difficult to contact rights holder
      • special pedagogical needs ie language instruction
  • Strategy for MOOCs
    • two separate MOOC tracks:
      • teaching content
      • course readings
    • teaching content
      • clearly transformative fair use but it’s more limited
      • be as obvious about transformative use as possible
      • link to original when possible
      • seek permission
      • Remember creative commons is a form of permission. Use creative commons when possible. For example, if it can be illustrated with any picture of a tomato, find a creative commons one.
    • course readings
      • when seeking permissions, talk to the marketing guys! MOOCs are a great marketing opportunity
      • MOOCs are new and are a huge opportunity
      • remind faculty of open access options, such as putting their author’s final draft into the institutional repository
  • Conclusion
    • balance risk with reward
    • If we don’t take at least some risks, we won’t get any rewards
    • Avoid extremes
  • Q and A
    • Tiered pricing has no legal support for academic use
    • fair use argument is harder to make the larger the scale. ie if it’s for a 30,000 person MOOC as opposed to a 25 person face to face class.
    • copyright law defines fair use for educational purposes as “teaching activities in classroom or similar space normally dedicated to instruction”
    • Dissertations are a work of public scholarship. The university can set what requirements they want to for issuing degrees. Indefinite embargoes should not be accepted, although a case could be made for the traditional 6 month, 1 yr, 2yr, or 5yr. 5yr should be an exception though.
    • Gray markets, such as ebay and Costco, are very important industries.

For more information on fair use, copyright, and libraries, please see my posts Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries and On Open Access (OA) and Institutional Repositories (IRs).

Book Review: Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China by Paul French

January 17, 2013 2 comments

Black adn white photo of a young woman above the skyline of Peking.Summary:
In 1937 the entire world is on the brink of war.  In Peking, China, the Japanese invaders are encroaching.  In the midst of this chaos the adopted daughter of British consulman is brutally murdered, her body found in the shadow of the Fox Tower, universally viewed with suspicion by the Pekingers as haunted by spirits.  Due to the special circumstances, the murder investigation requires the presence of both a Chinese and a British investigator.  They must race to find Pamela’s murderer before the Japanese engulf the city.

Review:
This true crime novel takes a bit to get things set up, but once they are, oh my how it sucks you in.

My fellow librarians will appreciate the backstory of how this true tale was discovered by French.  In the Afterword he states that he was digging around in some archives and stumbled upon a box of evidence that Pamela’s father sent off to the government, which was never really looked at and just put away in storage and then into archives.  It was through libraries that he even discovered this fascinating, intersectional true crime.  I think that’s encouraging to any librarian who has ever spent hours making a finding aid for archives.

So just what makes this true crime more fascinating than others?  Pamela was the adopted daughter of Werner, and her adoptive mother died at a young age.  She had been away at boarding school in Tientsin and was home for the holidays.  Because she was born in China but was also adopted by British consulman, there is an interesting assimilation into Chinese culture going on in her life that we don’t often see in Western novels.  Peking itself featured the legations and white districts for multiple different white Western countries.  This means that because Pamela was technically a British citizen murdered on Chinese ground both the Chinese and the British police force had to be involved and work together in the investigation.  Officer Han and DCI Dennis certainly make for a unique investigation team.  In addition, Pamela’s body was discovered in the shadow of the Fox Tower, and this led to speculation about fox spirits, which in Chinese tradition show up as wily women.  Of course quickly the seedy underbelly of Peking is implicated, featuring a multicultural bunch of addicts, dope dealers, brothels, and more, and naturally some of the classy elite start to be implicated into that underworld as well.  Add in the fact that the Japanese invasion was encroaching and toss in the first rumblings of Communism, and it makes for a story that is impossible to not find fascinating.

French unfurls the story well.  He quotes only when it is fairly certain what was said, but summarizes scenes well.  A clear picture of both Pamela and Peking are rendered fairly early in the novel.  I also appreciate that he spent time at the end talking about what happened to all of the key players and discussing how all-encompassing the Japanese invasion were.  I think what he handled best though was presenting people as individuals and not representative of their race or nation or even class.  In a true crime as multicultural as this one, that is important.  It’s also nice that in a story that could have easily turned into victim blaming, which happens so often when the victim is a young woman, he eloquently avoids any hint of that:

Pamela wasn’t perfect; she was making the same mistakes many girls do when experimenting with their independence, their newfound power on men. Her tragedy was to encounter the wrong men, at just the wrong moment. (location 2834)

I did, however, feel that the beginning was a bit lacking.  It took a bit to truly get into the story.  A faster pace or a more clear this is where we are going set-up would have been nice.  At first it felt like the rather dull story of some poor little imperialist rich girl.  But that’s not the story at all.  The story is that of an adopted girl in a country where she just so happens to be the color of worldwide colonizers, but it is instead the story of a diverse group of people horrified by the brutal murder of a young woman by a diverse group of sick, twisted people.  It would be nice if that was more clear from the beginning.

Overall, this is a well-told, historic true crime novel that manages to avoid victim blaming and also embrace multiculturalism.  It will be of particular interest to anyone with a fascination for Chinese or WWII history.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

Buy It

On Open Access (OA) and Institutional Repositories (IRs)

October 19, 2012 Leave a comment

I recently went to a town meeting on Open Access (OA) and our Institutional Repository (IR).  (Universities and colleges have our own town meetings, because we’re basically our own mini-towns).  This meeting spurred me on to do a bit of a blog post on OA and IRs.  I’ll first give a brief explanation of OA and IRs, including links to some resources for more information, and wrap up with my own thoughts.

OA is the concept and movement within academia that access to academic literature should be free online and free of most copyright restrictions.  The idea is that for knowledge to flourish the exchange of ideas should be as free and fluid as possible.  Because this is a concept and movement this means that not everyone agrees with this idea.  Agreement and support of OA also varies drastically by area of specialty.  The sciences are the most supportive of OA, particularly Physics.  This is evident by the existence of the website arXiv.org, which provides “open access to 792,606 e-prints in Physics, Mathematics, Computer Science, Quantitative Biology, Quantitative Finance and Statistics.” The humanities are less so.  This has to do with the culture of the different disciplines. The sciences are more focused on teamwork and sharing new knowledge as quickly as possible, whereas the humanities tend to be more concerned with ruminating on ideas.  The pace is simply faster in the sciences than in the humanities, and OA is more useful in that environment.

Utilizing and supporting OA comes across in a few different ways.  There are OA journals, which are free to use, but not necessarily free to submit an article to.  To those concerned, the submission fee does not guarantee acceptance of an article.  It is simply there to help the OA journals function.  Studies on the percentage of OA journals charging a fee vary rather widely on their final numbers.  These fees are of concern to faculty members, though, because they can quickly go through grant money that could have been used in other ways just paying submission fees.  Although there originally was concern as to the quality of OA journals, OA does not negate peer-review.  There are many peer-reviewed and respected journals; the PLOS ones in particular spring to mind, but you can see a listing of all OA journals at the Directory of Open Access Journals.  Academics can support OA both by submitting to and reading OA journals, and institutions can support OA by giving articles published in OA journals equal consideration when doing tenure reviews.

OA can be pursued in traditional publishing as well, however.  Frequently faculty members do not fully understand what is happening with their copyright when they sign contracts with a publisher.  The creator owns the copyright of an item at the moment of creation. He or she does not need to register it.  This is not always clear to people because from 1923 to 1963 (in the US) you did have to register your copyright and re-register it every 28 years.  Anything published before 1923 in the US is officially in the public domain aka free of copyright.  This is why mashups such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies can happen.  What all this means is that the author of the paper owns copyright until they sign it over to the publisher, and they do not have to kowtow to all of the demands of the publisher.  OA advocates encourage authors to return the contract to the publisher unsigned with a SPARC Addendum attached.  This addendum gives the publisher some rights over the paper/article/book while retaining some for the author.  What this essentially means is that the author retains certain rights over his or her article that most faculty members think they have anyway.  Only now it’s legal.  For instance, this addendum gives the author permission to deposit their paper in an Institutional Repository or include it in a group of pdfs of publications on their personal website, as long as it is properly cited to the journal of first publication.

A popular way for publishers to support OA while still staying in business, beyond agreeing to SPARC Addendums, is the concept of an embargo.  An embargo means that articles are available exclusively through subscription and fees for a set period of time (usually from 6 months to 2 years), and after that point they are available through OA.  The qualm some advocates of OA have with this model is that for certain fields of study, particularly in the sciences, the embargo period is long enough that the article will be practically irrelevant by the time it is available openly, thereby defeating the whole purpose of encouraging collaboration and free flow of ideas behind OA to begin with.

If you are interested in learning more about OA, check out Peter Suber’s book Open Access.  You can also check out this this handout that explains the OA spectrum in an infographic style.

So what do Institutional Repositories (IRs) have to do with OA?  An IR is a curated collection of all academic publishing, as well as collections such as photographs taken by anthropologists, created by scholars associated with the institution.  The IR is the institution’s research portfolio.  It’s important for the institution to be able to demonstrate to interested parties the valuable work their scholars are doing.  The connection to OA is that the current restrictive copyright contracts publishers send to authors frequently make it impossible to include their works in the IR.  The SPARC Addendum addresses this, but an institution can also address this concern by making it a mandate that all scholarly work done while at their institution be deposited in the repository.  This gives the author a prior commitment that is usually already covered in the contract.  A pioneer in the world of IRs is MIT’s IR: DSpace.  Check them out to get a feel for what an IR is like.

So what do I think about all of this?  I can understand and sympathize with all three sides (universities, scholars, and publishers).  The publishers are concerned that they will go out of business if everything is available immediately in OA.  As an indie author, I can easily see how valid that concern is.  Frankly if OA does take off the way, say, literary zines have, most journals will go out of business.  Yes a few big name zines are still surviving, and most zines also sell a print version and do alright with that, but publishing as we know it must change for OA to take hold.  Of course one doesn’t want that in one’s own industry.

I can also understand the dual view scholars hold.  Academic journals are peer-reviewed, and while OA journals can be, they aren’t necessarily.  OA can seem like a scary free-for-all with no verification of facts or quality.  Things don’t always become popular because they’re good.  But on the other hand if your audience is other scholars, aka the peer part of peer-review, then it should work itself out anyway.  Not to mention the fact that OA journals can mandate peer-review if they want to.  Similarly, I get it that scholars usually want to share their work with anyone interested and to that end want to post the pdfs on their website.  The problem is, though, if a person can get your article just by googling it and going to you instead of the publisher then we’re right back to putting the publisher who published you in the first place out of business.  But if publishing changes the way we think it will, then that would be a moot point anyway.

As far as IRs go, I truly see their value for gray literature.  Things like posters from poster sessions, dissertations and theses that are frequently not available or searchable otherwise, etc… but I also think an institution obsessively collecting a copy of everything every scholar has done is a bit redundant.  Not that the institution shouldn’t ever broaden to that level of collection and archiving, but since IRs are so new, it might be better to focus in on the gray literature for now.

Overall though the change won’t really happen until institutions start accepting OA publications in the tenure process. Until that point all scholars must publish in traditional journals in order to secure tenure.  It seems to me that the power is really in the hands of the universities.  The universities must decide: what do we want true scholarship and academic achievement look like in the 21st century?

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