Librarians need to “Walk the Talk” on OA Publishing

This post discusses a recent article in In the Library with the Lead Pipe:

Librarian, Heal Thyself: A Scholarly Communication Analysis of LIS Journals by Micah Vandegrift & Chealsye Bowley

Librarians are at the forefront of many discussions and actions related to advancing the open access movement. We often talk about the need to change the culture of researchers in academia. Researchers need to understand the importance of the issues and their rights as authors – then put this into action by changing their scholarly communications practices. It is the researchers that have the real power to create change in academic publishing. By “researchers” though we’re usually referring to the disciplinary faculty we support… but what about researching librarians?

Increasingly, librarians are publishing researchers in their own right. Indeed, it is a job requirement of many academic librarians. So why isn’t there a stronger movement within our own community of scholars to change our scholarly communications systems, and culture, to be more open? Even though we preach to other researchers at our institutions about the benefits of publishing in gold OA journals, or archiving copies of manuscripts in repositories, we have a dismal track record of following through on this ourselves.

Vandegrift and Bowley review the literature in this area and conclude:

“Taken together, the research could lead one to think that academic librarians are invested in changes to the scholarly publishing system about as little as disciplinary faculty and are just as cautious about evolving their own publishing habits.”

So, there is a problem – but what is the solution? The authors of this paper hope to ignite this discussion among librarians with their analysis of the openness of the main Library and Information Science (LIS) journals in our field. They adapt the “How Open Is It?” scale produced by SPARC/PLOS to propose a new measure: the “Journal Openness Index” (J.O.I.). And proceed to code 111 LIS journals according to this criteria, then apply the J.O.I. Factor to 11 “prestige” LIS journals (as identified by Nixon, 2013).

Information Technology and Libraries, published by Library and Information Technology Association/ALA, comes out on top with another ALA publication, College & Research Libraries (C&RL), close behind (see Table 2). Unsurprisingly, commercial publishers land at the bottom of the list. An aside: In the Library with the Lead Pipe runs on a blog-style format which allows comments and discussion at the end of the article. There is an interesting back and forth in the Comments between the current editor of C&RL and Vandegrift.

The authors intend that this application of the J.O.I. Factor serves as a “proof of concept”, and encourage others to use their coded data on the 111 journals (posted as a Google doc and in FigShare). They end the article with this:

“It is our hope that this article prompts furious and fair debate, but mostly that it produces real, substantive evolution within our profession, how we research, how we assign value to scholarship, and how we share the products of our intellectual work.”

The article did receive a flurry of attention back in April 2014 when first posted (see some of the trackbacks in the Comments section), but this has now died down. I share the authors’ desire for furious and fair debate in this arena. However, I am continually surprised, and disappointed, by the apparent apathy of many librarians on scholarly communications topics – especially related to their own research output. How can we account for this?

Our C-EBLIP Journal Club met today to discuss this article and also the topic of librarian values regarding their own research/publishing activities. We had a wide-ranging and compelling discussion… but kept arriving back at the distorted importance placed on various metrics like the impact factor. We need to satisfy our tenure and promotion committees just as any other faculty member. So, long-standing traditional proxies for “quality” are slow to change.

We did not solve all the problems of the [academic] world at Journal Club today, but I think we came a little closer to some understanding of what some of those problems are.

Bowley, C., & Vandegrift, M. (2014). Librarian, Heal Thyself: A Scholarly Communication Analysis of LIS Journals. In the Library with the Lead Pipe. Retrieved from