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Open Access Proposals Made at an IU Faculty Forum on the Future of Libraries

What follows are the remarks and proposals that I offered during the libraries-focused event held today at Indiana University. Hosted by IU Provost Karen Hansen and Dean of the Libraries Brenda Johnson, the event was framed as “A Faculty Discussion on the Future of University Libraries.” I was one of eight members of the faculty invited to offer 5 minute reflections on the questions before the assembly. I took the opportunity to suggest that the time has come for the IU faculty to get moving toward a green OA mandate. A proposal towards that goal, and two related ends, are expressed in my comments, which I share here for those who might be interested. The opening remarks and slides by the Provost and the Dean did a nice job framing the issues and my fellow panelists all offered important reflections and goals. The event was very well attended and I thank everyone involved in organizing and attending the gathering. I think that the event was a good step forward towards additional discussions and the work ahead.

I want to thank Dean Johnson and Provost Hansen for their kind invitation to participate in today’s discussion. This afternoon, I wish to carefully offer three proposals while keeping to the allotted five minutes. This context explains my pre-preparation of these remarks.

I am not speaking on anyone else’s behalf, but my suggestions are conditioned by my past experiences, present commitments, and the collaborative projects on which I am working. My efforts as a curator, teacher, researcher, journal editor, library committee member, scholarly society board member, and collaborator working with disadvantaged communities still dealing with the legacies of colonialism, all shape my concerns and motivate my efforts as an activist for scholarly communications reform. My knowledge of the current scholarly communications system and its prospects have been profoundly shaped through my collaborations with librarians and technologists at the IU Libraries and I appreciate the many ways that they have supported and taught me. I have tremendous appreciation for all that the Libraries are doing to support my work and that of my students and colleagues.

I look forward to our discussions of the full range of topics surveyed by the Provost and the Dean, but my proposals focus on the activity that we once called publishing and the changing ways that the libraries engage with it. My hope is to provoke the faculty to take greater ownership in the work of scholarly communication and thereby to partner more meaningfully with our library in fostering a more equitable, ethical, sustainable and sensible communications and learning environment for ourselves, for the communities that need our work, for our debt-crushed students, and for every lifelong learner, regardless of their ability to pay to access our scholarship.

Later I will be very willing to provide needed background, but the most economical approach for me now is to just offer my three proposals for the faculty to consider. The IU Libraries are contributing in a number of key ways to an international effort to protect and improve the scholarly communications system, but without broader leadership here on our campus, there are limits to what can be accomplished. I have tremendous hope for what we might do by working together. Here goes:

  1. I propose that the Bloomington Faculty Council, in consultation with the Dean of the Libraries, the Office of the Provost, and the Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs, begin formal work towards what is known as a green open access mandate for faculty on the Bloomington campus. With mandates already in place at Harvard, MIT, California, Oberlin, Kansas and hundreds of other institutions worldwide, we are prepared to take advantage of the experiences of those who have preceded us on this path. Our leadership in IT, our international commitments, the prominence of our scholarship, and the stature of our library insure our success in such a venture. Delay wrongly suggests that we are not an institution of the first rank.
  2. I propose that the Dean of the College and the Deans of the other Schools at IU, in coordination with the Provost and in consultation with the Dean of the Libraries, investigate current cash and in-kind expenditures made in support of academic editors among the IU faculty. In such an inquiry, attention should also go towards better understanding the ways that Schools prioritize and implement funding decisions. Going forward into future decision-making about the support of new editorial offices, such an inquiry could support policy formation and strategic choices designed to strengthen those publishers and journals working most actively in the interest of our students, our faculty, our libraries, and the communities that our scholarship seeks to support. In a period of skyrocketing student debt and deep cuts to basic academic programs, subsidizing highly profitable corporate publishers in the production of journals that we already pay astronomically large licensing fees to lease (not to own) is a luxury that we can no longer afford. Hosting journal editorial offices at IU is one profoundly important means by which we shape the future of scholarship and signal IU’s stature as a major global university. Without disinvesting in such efforts, faculty and administrators can together make smarter choices through which we strengthen those publications most aligned with our institutional circumstances and our commitments to sustainability, diversity, equity, international outreach, human development, and community service.
  3. In the context of both annual review and the tenure and promotion process, and in keeping with current understandings of research excellence, I propose that the Bloomington Faculty Council develop recommendations strongly urging departments and schools to understand and acknowledge efforts on the part of librarians and faculty members who are consciously publishing their peer-reviewed scholarship in sustainable and open access ways. Such efforts are in the interest of students, of the university and its units, of the research community, and of the global public at large. Endorsement of such efforts would do much to empower those seeking to balance the pursuit of public good with the furthering of their individual careers.

I understand that it may not be readily apparent to everyone how these proposals articulate directly with the future of our library and of the teaching and research enterprise more generally. In future discussions, faculty and library colleagues on the panel and in the audience might wish to join in the work of unpacking the rationales that motivate my suggestions. It is not everyday that a rank and file member of the faculty has the chance to address a forum such as this one and I hope that my suggestions for future work are not out of place. In any event, I hope to discuss them with interested colleagues in the days ahead.

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