Open Practices within the Library and Information Profession

Librarians have a long history as successful advocates for open access. The library is often the locus of the infrastructure and practices which enable open knowledge within our institutions, as the home of institutional repositories and open access presses, as drivers of open access policies, and as the source of expertise on open data, open publishing and open education.

However, in our own research and professional practices, we often fall short of the behaviours we advocate to our clients. Scholarly communication within the library and information profession rarely fully models the F.A.I.R principles or the ideals of the Budapest Open Access Initiative which enshrine a set of standards to ensure the equitable and free exchange of scholarly ideas and research outputs.

As practitioners and researchers, when we publish our work how many of us actively use the Directory of Open Access Journals to locate open access publications in which to distribute our research. There are currently 121 journal titles listed in the subject areas of Bibliography, Library Science and Information Resources, many of them highly ranked within their field according to the Scimago Scientific Journal Rankings (SJR) (for the sake of brevity I’ll leave aside here the very real concerns about traditional journal ranking systems and their incompatibility with a truly open and equitable scholarly communication system). There is also the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA) membership criteria which sets ethical and quality standards for open access journals. As part of our normal practices, do we look for OASPA membership as a criterion for the journals we publish our work in (or indeed that we promote to our clients, or select for our library collections)? Similarly the SPARC Open Access Spectrum Evaluation Tool measures journal openness against six criteria, that remind us that ‘open’ is actually a complex concept involving a raft of copyright, legal, financial and technical rights for both authors and readers. As LIS professionals this is a tool we should use regularly as part of our choices in disseminating our own work.

Of course many librarians are employed as academics and professionals within tertiary institutions and are subject to the same pressures which drive other researchers in their scholarly communication practices: the need to publish in ‘prestigious’ publications, and to measure research performance and impact against traditional metrics which often favour established practices and older, paywalled, publishers.  This may predicate against publishing in open journals for some LIS professionals. As a profession we need to address the fact that many of our discipline’s key journals are published by the major traditional publishers as part of closed knowledge systems. This is a difficult issue, given these journals are often the products of smaller and society publishers who have been most vulnerable to takeover by large publishers in an effort to survive financially, but if we do not correct this course our authority as open access advocates rests on shaky foundations. In the meantime, as individuals, we can use – and encourage others to use – the SPARC author addendum to amend publisher licence agreements in a manner which will allow authors to keep key rights to their articles and to redistribute their work broadly.

Of course distribution of librarian publications via repositories is also an area in which LIS professionals could take a leading role as exemplars of the practices we advocate for others. How many of us as academics or practitioners deposit a version of our work in our own institutional research repository? Somewhat ironically, the IKM profession or GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) sector does not appear to have a strong, international repository like arXiv for physics. Surely an achievable outcome given our stewardship role of our own institutional repositories. Perhaps SSRN (Social Sciences Research Network) was considered to be an adequate substitute for a specialist, interoperable system of openly available LIS research, but the recent acquisition of SSRN, along with Bepress by Elsevier, shows how careful we need to be in whom we trust to provide the infrastructure which will provide a stable, guaranteed open, and non-commercial outlet for scholarly communication. Librarians need to be aware of, engaged with, and act upon, the principles of a sustainable and open knowledge commons, articulated recently by the Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR), in our own individual practices and within our sphere of influence as academics and practitioners. At a disciplinary level this will ensure that our own research and scholarly communication practices support the free, equitable sharing of LIS knowledge upon a sustainable platform. More broadly it will mean we fulfil our mission as LIS professionals to support a global commons of research outputs residing on a stable and open architecture.

As academics and practitioners, LIS professionals have opportunities to contribute to the openness agenda in ways beyond the distribution and sharing of published research outputs. We also use and generate educational materials. How many of us deliberately seek out, reuse and remix openly licenced educational content, such as the growing range of open textbooks from OpenStax or BCCampus OpenEd . As academics in the classroom and as practitioners delivering educational and instructional programs in information and digital literacies, this should be a default setting for us, but is often not the case. When we do create our own educational resources, how many of us take the time to clearly assign it a Creative Commons licence and share our work as part of a global exchange of open educational resources (OER).

We also generate large amounts of research data, as part of specific research projects, or, for practitioners, often as part of our operational processes in monitoring services and systems which could be of value for other researchers in ways we may not yet have conceived of. It is pleasing to see that a quick keyword search for ‘library’ in Research Data Australia delivers a large number of results, with many of the datasets provided by libraries or librarians from their own data. However, it is notable that the vast majority of these datasets are not open.

In our current LISRA-RADAR Project we are examining the open practices and attitudes of academics within the humanities and social sciences. As an outcome of the research, we hope to be better informed as practitioners on how to develop programs and services which will forward open practices amongst academics. However, it is also an opportunity to reflect as a researcher and practitioner on my own – less than exemplary! – practices, and to consider ways both big and small in which I can contribute to a more open scholarly communication environment within my own discipline and profession.

Belinda Tiffen on behalf of the LISRA-RADAR Project Team

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