Some Brief Thoughts on Scholarly Communication and Open Access

Scholarly communication has been a buzz phrase in libraries and universities for the past decade, with as many interpretations as interlocutors. For us at Boston College Libraries, our initial foray into this world explored whether a paradigm shift was occurring, with content produced by professors and researchers moving from traditional publications to "open access" resources. Frankly, this early focus was on whether scholarship could be made more cost effective, because the current model where faculty produce research and publishers make huge profits selling it back to university libraries cannot be sustained economically. Recently, our analysis suggests that open access will not result in substantial cost savings without several truly radical developments. These developments range from changes in the promotion and tenure process to the rethinking of the academic journal as the primary source of scholarly output. Ultimately, such changes are faculty dependent, and without faculty buy-in, the current system perpetuates.

On a related point, people sometimes ask why librarians care so deeply about these issues. Librarians have long held a very Jeffersonian viewpoint in their staunch support of "freedom of information" as absolutely essential for an informed electorate, the foundation of our democratic society. Consequently, the idea of "open access" within the milieu of scholarly communication has not been a hard sell for librarians. At Boston College Libraries the support of open access runs even deeper, as we equate the Jesuit Mission of social justice to the concept of open access.

Thus far, my experiences at Boston College have not shown any broad interest in open access, with several notable exceptions. A range of very reasonable circumstances contributes to these lacunae. However, the single biggest reason seems to be that researchers do not have time or incentive to educate themselves about open access issues. Clearly, the Boston College Libraries have more work to do.

Many of our peer and aspirant universities have already had campus-wide conversations about open access, and many of them have a process (or policy) to have scholarship and research produced at their universities openly accessible via their institutional repository. Moreover, many publishers allow for open access, either within the university or to the world, as well as providing some room for negotiation with regard to copyright.

As all of you realize, we have an incredibly intelligent and dedicated staff of librarians at the Boston College Libraries. Their work entails instruction, collection building, subject based research guides, research consultations and many "other duties as assigned" to assist faculty and students. In the coming year, I am asking them to aggressively promote the myriad of issues and services that fall under the rubric of "scholarly communication." By redoubling our efforts to become more knowledgeable about the wide range of concerns and developments in the area of open access, I hope we can collectively facilitate a better understanding of these important issues and explore ways we can generate a campus discussion about open access. Additionally, we will soon be implementing a new platform for eScholarship@bc, Boston College Libraries' institutional repository, and expect to introduce a streamlined process to populate the site with faculty research.

So this fall, look for a renewed emphasis on scholarly communication and open access, as well as exciting developments in the affinity area of digital scholarship, as we continue in our aspiration to "add value beyond discovery."

As always, please feel free to contact me with concerns, suggestions and ideas.

Thank you all for another wonderful year, and best wishes for a restful and prosperous summer.

Tom Wall
University Librarian