Gathering Evidence by Asking Library Users about Memorable Experiences

by Kathleen Reed
Assessment and Data Librarian, Vancouver Island University

For this week’s blog, I thought I’d share a specific question to ask library users that’s proving itself highly useful, but that I haven’t seen used much before in library assessment:

“Tell me about a memorable time in the library.”

Working with colleagues Cameron Hoffman-McGaw and Meg Ecclestone, I first used this question during the in-person interview phase of an on-going study on information literacy (IL) practices in academic library spaces. In response, participants gave detailed accounts of studying with friends, moments that increased or decreased their stress levels, and insight into the 24/7 Learning Commons environment – a world that librarians at my place of work see very infrequently, as the library proper is closed after 10pm. The main theme of answers was the importance of supportive social networks that form and are maintained in the library.

The question was so successful in the qualitative phase of our IL study, I was curious how it might translate to another project – an upcoming major library survey that was to be sent to all campus library users in March, 2016. Here’s the text of the survey question that we used:

“Tell us about a memorable time in the library. It might be something that you were involved in, or that you witnessed. It might be a positive or negative experience.”

It wasn’t a required question; people were free to skip it. But 47% (404/851) of survey takers answered the question, and the answers ranged in length from a sentence to several paragraphs. While analysis isn’t complete on the data generated from this question, some obvious themes jump out. Library users wrote about how both library services and spaces help or cause anxiety and stress, the importance of social connections and accompanying support received in our spaces, the role of the physical environment, and the value placed on the library as a space where diverse people can be encountered, among many other topics.

To what end are we using data from this question? First, we’re doing the usual analysis – looking at the negative experiences and emotions users expressed and evaluating whether changes need to be made, policies created, etc. Second, the question helped surface some of the intangible benefits of the library, which we hadn’t spent a lot of time considering (emotional support networks, the library’s importance as a central place on campus where diverse groups interact). Now librarians are able to articulate a wider range of these benefits – backed up with evidence in the form of answers to the “memorable time” question – which helps when advocating for the library on campus, and connecting to key points in our Academic Plan document.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Advocating for Change in an Unsustainable and Inequitable Journal Publishing Market

by DeDe Dawson
Science Library, University of Saskatchewan

I’ve been thinking a lot about how librarians can most effectively support researchers in their scholarly communications activities and bring about meaningful change in a largely dysfunctional academic journal market.

In a recent planning meeting at my library, the topic of advocacy for open access (OA) came up. It has always seemed to me to be a natural role for academic librarians. We know the underlying issues better than most, and have the professional responsibility to raise the awareness of these issues among our faculty colleagues on campus. Indeed, librarians at many institutions have led the way in advocating for OA for more than a decade now. And much progress has been made: OA is quickly becoming the default (for journal articles at least) and there is no going back – especially now that major national funders are mandating it.

So, do we really need more advocacy for OA?

OA now seems to have a life of its own. We no longer need to advocate for it so much as support the researchers at our institutions in complying with the mandates of their funders to make their research outputs (publications and data) openly available. There are many practical tools and resources that librarians can introduce researchers to that will help them in this. And of course there are still many persistent myths and misinformation about OA that need to be countered. Roles for librarians abound! So, awareness-raising and practical support for compliance – but what of advocacy?

Lately, I am coming to the conclusion that our advocacy efforts need to be redirected to pushing for more fundamental changes in the journal publishing market. Let me explain:

Academic librarians have always been some of the strongest proponents of OA simply because we can clearly see the unsustainability, and inequity, in the current commercial journal market better than our any of our campus colleagues.

The system is unsustainable:

Publishers have increased subscription fees beyond inflation for decades, and make “obscene” profits from selling research papers produced by faculty at our institutions back to us. Library budgets have not grown at the same rate as journal subscription increases. For many years librarians have been able to maintain these subscriptions by reducing expenses in other areas and cutting spending on monographs – but this can only go on for so long. To make an unsustainable system even worse, many commercial publishers are now co-opting OA for their own financial gain. With “hybrid” journals, publishers charge authors high article processing charges (APCs) to make their individual papers OA, and yet continue to charge libraries subscription fees to that same journal (i.e. “double-dipping”). Publishers have essentially found a lucrative additional revenue stream in OA – this is not the outcome that the original proponents of OA had in mind! Currently our low Canadian dollar makes this unsustainable system even worse (since most subscriptions are paid in U.S. dollars). Libraries are at the breaking point.
The system is inequitable:

This is also an ethical problem. Much of the research locked up behind commercial publisher paywalls is taxpayer funded, yet taxpayers cannot read the results without paying again. Taxpayers also largely fund the salaries of university faculty who peer-review and serve on editorial boards of these journals. The publishers generally do not pay these individuals for their services, nor do they pay the authors of the papers. To be blunt: commercial scholarly journal publishing is a racket. The tax paying public loses, practitioners and patients lose, independent researchers and journalists lose, academics in developing countries lose, scholars and students at poorer institutions lose, and now those at even the richest institutions are losing too. I could go on.

So, returning to the advocacy piece…

I believe we now need to advocate for more radical change in the entire scholarly publishing market. Imagine the millions of dollars per year that each institution could save if they could cancel all of these subscriptions. A portion of this money could be redirected to support innovative new OA publishing models, or simply support scholarly societies to take back their flagship journals from the commercial publishers (e.g. Cultural Anthropology). And the rest could be redirected to support research and student scholarships, or many other worthy needs on campus.

I’m not naïve. I realize this is not a straightforward task. But it is essential to the future of higher education and research institutions. And there are innovations already taking place (I list some below), but the key in this equation is outreach to researchers. They are the authors, the reviewers, the editors. They are the colleagues that sit on tenure and promotion committees. They are also often in administrative roles at universities. They have the real power to effect change. But, they are generally unaware of the full extent of the dysfunction in the system. Librarians have an opportunity, and a professional obligation, to raise their awareness on these issues, and advocate and support them in changing it to more sustainable and equitable OA models.

A few examples of innovative models of scholarly OA journal publishing:
Overlay journals
Open Library of the Humanities
Open Access Network

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.