Open Access books? I Thought OA was for Journals!

Libraries and Open Access Oct 28, 2016

“I thought open access was about academic journals – why are you talking about books?” This is a common refrain that I hear when begin talking about the importance of open access books, one that I myself made not long ago, and I suspect this remains the case for many other librarians as well. This open access week, while my colleagues continue to market and educate our researchers, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on how we – the OA educators, or alternatively, “those librarians asking more of us!” – are learning about open access.

Background: I am a newly minted librarian (class of 2016), meaning that I am entering the profession at a time when open access has become a normal part of the academic library lexicon, so my evaluation here may vary greatly, depending on your first introduction to the field. That said, despite the apparent common understanding that open access is vital if we are to be true advocates of information freedom (see the ALA OA toolkit), the most recent writing of the ALA Core Competencies includes no specific language regarding open access. What that means for our education as librarians, is that while we may have professors who make a point to discuss OA, you could, conceivably, make it through your entire program without a foundation in the principles of OA. In my case, I was lucky enough to have professors and internship opportunities that exposed me to the notion of open access, but that education was limited to the idea of open access journals, particularly with a focus on the implications of the NIH Public Access Policy (see the our LibGuide for more).

Problem: I was presented the opportunity to learn about open access journals and the argument(s) for them, but not once were open access books mentioned, much less argued for, during my years of education. I had to find out about the idea of open access books in the most millennial way imaginable: via Twitter, on a sniping, back-and-forth argument about whether any publisher would ever work “with no promise of profit”. This is obviously not an ideal way to first discover a new concept, particularly since there was a great deal of misinformation fueling the debate, but I consider myself lucky to have seen it, because it led me to discover some fascinating OA books (including the philosophy section from OBP) and inspired me to learn more about this important publishing outlet for my researchers.

Solutions: Over the past year, since discovering the open book movement, I’ve found that most of the conversation happening isn’t in the classroom or even formal online education, such as webinars, but through blog posts and organizational listservs. Simmons College maintains a fantastic list of blogs related to open access that I’ve had great success in combing through and if I could only recommend a single blog, it would be The Scholarly Kitchen, for the breadth and attention to detail. I won’t suggest that using solely informal resources, such as these blogs, to support our continuing education (as librarians, if we aren’t learning new things, we’re losing relevancy) is ideal, but in a rapidly evolving and often innovative area such as open access book publishing, it may be our current best option. Perhaps in the spirit of open access week, we should pledge to turn our educational efforts inward, build educational resources for the future of librarianship, and ensure that never again will an anger-fueled Twitter argument serve as an introduction to open books.

Matthew Noe

Matthew Noe is a Library Fellow at Lamar Soutter Library, University of Massachusetts Medical School.