Friday 14 December 2012

Is there a role for libraries in open access?

Deborah Shorley, Director of Library Services at Imperial College, provided an illuminating overview of the impact of open access developments on the library at the recent Beyond the Rhetoric: new opportunities in open access seminar. Current challenges for the library community are manifold. There is an evolving role for libraries. Looking ahead, does open access offer a dead end or an open road for libraries?

At Imperial, their collection is 98% digital due to the subjects taught at the university. They unashamedly have very few books left in the collection. They have fantastic feedback in the student survey and from the institution, yet they don't 'own' anything in a traditional sense. Shorley even went so far as to propose that the concept of libraries and collections has gone. A move away from big deals and the demise of print, combined with the development of powerful discovery tools, is shrinking the traditional role of libraries.

With green open access, there is a rise in institutional repositories. This in turn creates a sophisticated metadata demand and the need for expert data management. Shorley pointed out that librarians are quite good at metadata. If they are sensible, they will grasp it, do it better and in new ways. With more journals saying they won't publish unless underlying data is open, there is an opportunity for librarians to help make sense of this.

With gold open access, there may be a role for librarians managing article processing charges (APCs). They are in a good position to give advice to researchers and understand budgetary constraints. At Imperial, they have a small budget - they are going to manage the transitional funding of c.£700k from RCUK - to facilitate the transition.

Is this a role that librarians could adopt in future? At Imperial, they have two people advising the researchers and administering the cash. This is something they are keen to keep: after all, librarians tend to be very good at processes, systems and being honest! Based on these insights, in an open access world, new responsibilities for libraries might focus around advocacy, bibliometrics, and in-house publishing. New skills will be critical to this approach.

For Shorley, the Finch report is fine as far as it goes: it has encouraged librarians to think about things differently, and has spurred RCUK to put its money where its mouth is. But she doesn't see how APCs solve anything. They put the money in the same hands, but in a different place. There must be a different way for universities to invest their money and what they do with how they publish their research.

Shorley closed with a note of caution: in the years of transition, it will be expensive, uncertain, disruptive, but well worth the pain. Science makes things better and this is a better way of doing science. Publishing skills are publishing skills. It's where they sit that's interesting. Whatever happens, they should be used to publish well.

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