On JLA and supporting library-based publishing

Open Access Buttons; photo by author.

Its getting pretty close to the end of the semester and, as usual, I feel like I’m spinning plates. I’ve been watching out of the corner of my eye as more blog posts pop up in my Twitter feed responding to the resignation of the editor and the entire editorial board of the Journal of Library Administration (THIS ONE is a good place to start and there is some great information HERE). While I risk having a couple dozen plates crash all around me, I want to take a minute to applaud Damon Jaggars and the now former editorial board of JLA for taking such a brave stand for Open Access. I also want share what the whole experience has made me think about.

As an Open Access advocate, I probably would have watched this story anyway but I feel a special connection to it as I co-authored an article in the January Issue of the JLA with Micah Vandegrift. Micah was absolutely tenacious about getting a better author agreement out of Taylor and Francis and, if you haven’t done so already, you should read THE BLOG HE WROTE ABOUT THAT EXPERIENCE.

The most interesting part of that story for me was the creation of what Micah called the alternative table of contents. As each author was allowed to deposit a copy of their article in an open access repository, Micah was able to construct a table of contents that linked users to freely available copies of the articles creating, in effect, a totally free digital version of the issue.

It seemed like an afterthought at the time but now it strikes me as a model for the way we might want to do things moving forward. Essentially what happened was authors contributed content as a professional responsibility, professional networks organized and critiqued that content and libraries made that content freely accessible to the public. This is a real-life example for me of how  scholars/authors, OA journals and libraries can use digital publishing tools to work together to make information freely available without traditional publishers.

But while this is a really exciting moment for the Open Access movement, I think it is also a good time to consider a few challenges that we are going to have to deal with if we really want to see the open access movement present a truly viable alternative to the current system of scholarly communication.

First, most libraries will need more support if they are going to be publishers of digital content in a sustainable fashion. It is not the case that publishing can simply be pushed into a library and be expected to continue on as usual except for free. If the operation is to be sustainable and scalable, the library-turned-publisher will need hardware, infrastructure and people. However, it is equally crucial that libraries receive intellectual support from their parent institutions. Some libraries already house academic presses and others are experimenting with what is, in effect, academic publishing. Unfortunately, it often feels like the conversation about how to do this is happening mainly between libraries and library organizations. We are going to need support from all over campus and throughout academia in order to do this right.

Second, academic networks and employers of academics (and alt-academics) will need to find ways to support (and compensate) increased responsibility for scholarly communication. Publishers currently provide important bureaucratic and vetting functions for scholarship and I don’t see the need for these things totally going away. Micah and I had a truly amazing experience working with Barbara Rockenbach who served as the guest editor for the January issue of JLA. That is precisely the kind of work that we will all be doing more often if we can successfully open up and decentralize scholarly communication. I point to Press Forward as a really cool example of how an alternative system could play out. That being said, Press Forward requires plenty of intellectual labor as well. If this work is part of our professional responsibility – and I think it is – then we need to make sure it is officially part of our jobs.