In which your blogger loses it about the library field

I got into an internet argument, and wrote multiple long comments about library technology, subscription services/collection development (because I’m doing that now apparently), and how the library field has screwed itself.

What brought this on?  Well, for those of you who are living under a rock, Elsevier has sued Library Genesis and SciHub for copyright infringement and millions in damages.  The editors of Lingua, currently published by Elsevier, resigned en mass over the cost of open access publishing with Elsevier.    In response, open access advocates have posted an open letter, which you can read here.

I have been spending the last few weeks working on a subscription model for our library that will save us many tons of money, get us more journals overall, and give us a lot more flexibility.

This brings me to the point where I got into internet discussions about scholarly publishing and libraries.  The main point is as follows:


A certain publisher quoted us a price in the 100,000 range for journal ACCESS. not a subscription where we own the content… ACCESS.

Another lowered their rate to 27k after being 35k for years because we got a group discount. We pay for access on a system that only works nights and weekends on campus.

When people can’t get access to their articles, they yell at the librarians. We, being librarians, are not made of money and can’t pay 5k for ONE journal.

I have many incoherent feelings right now, but they generally form the shape of a middle finger

Part of the issue is that libraries don’t have much leverage, because we gave vendors that power. Here’s how:

  1. Don’t provide adequate training to library students, instead focusing on technology basics from the late 80s early 90s.
  2. Don’t pay librarians to code and innovate even if we can, because if you can code, you’ll go to one of the vending companies. Paying a librarian well to do something that would provide this substantial benefit is apparently too much money.
  3. Decide that paying for a company to do this is easier than paying a librarian or even working with open source solutions, which do exist.
  4. Cut your staff so even your skilled librarians do the job of 3 or 4 librarians. (Eg. I’m the college archivist (The reason I was hired). I am also the college record manager(other hiring reason, fine makes sense, whatever). I also am a reference librarian and outreach librarian, the digital publishing/copyright librarian, the nursing librarian, the biological sciences librarian as well as being in charge of English and History. I am also a system admin and do collection development. I report to two people, my actual boss, and her boss and they never agree on anything so I just do whatever needs doing 90% of the time and assume they’ll just argue and stay out of my way).
  5. Because the librarians are doing 50 bajillion jobs, no one bothers to read the contracts, they just look at money. For example, Ebsco just quoted us 5k to do something they already do for us (index ACS journals, not full text, just index) and we may have gone with it if I hadn’t caught it.

We should and often try to work collectively and collaboratively, but the massive brain drain from low wages along with a lack of time and training for those who are willing to learn means that these efforts are frequently stymied when the lead developer or a majority of the coders go to our vendors because they are paid and appreciated for those efforts.

The fact that I’m now looking at our subscriptions (even for part of our collection) SUPER critically for the first time in years is a huge step for my institution. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. Basically, libraries have somewhat fucked ourselves on this one with administration joining in who want everything but don’t want to pay for it to be done by their own staff because that would require us to be paid what we’re worth.

We’re making bricks without straw or mud.

(Edit: And regarding that nights and weekends system, it was in place long before I got here and my boss refuses to argue with the vendor about it because she’s not very confrontational. I, on the other hand, am very confrontational which is why I’m not allowed to negotiate that particular service, which is probably for the best.

Also, in hindsight, I should have made this whole thing look like an ASCII middle finger, but I’ve got misconceptions to remedy in my email and knowledge to drop.)

Open Access and Breaking into the Ivory Tower

Democratizing information is the way of the future. This is especially evident when you look at under-served areas of study, such as minority studies, women’s studies and LGBT studies. Since so often the dominant narrative erases these populations or devalue and misrepresent their contributions, open access resources invite more scholars and laypersons to the table that has been traditionally hidden.

Into this comes open access, a way for these students to understand and get access to their history and how they fit into the larger scheme of things. Open access helps them see themselves in history, in society and gives their experiences weight and validity.

Nota Bene: The examples I am using are of people who are either publishing outside of academic journals or not from academia. I am aware of great Open Access journals out there like Southern Spaces, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Image from

A great example of this is MedievalPOC. ( The blogger focuses on art and art history that shows persons of color in ancient to modern art, with a specific focus on medieval and renaissance art. She also discusses the historiography; how we learn history and how history has often been edited to erase persons of color who do not fit into the dominate and quite racist conception of an all white Europe ignoring the trade, social ties, and existence of persons of color. The blogger uses resources that are readily available to the public and talks about the way that historical narratives are constructed.  MedievalPOC is a perfect example of the democratization of academia as a way to empower those who would otherwise feel disenfranchised by dominant narratives.


Janet Stevens Youtube Page

Janet Stevens Youtube Page

Another great example is Janet Stevens. An Amateur Archeologist and hair dresser she’s best known for discovering how roman women did their hair, with the help of Ornatrix. In 2008, she published an article theorizing that the accepted translation of the Latin “acus” was probably inaccurate, and didn’t mean a single pin for hair, but rather needle and thread and also that it would have been completely possible for a Roman woman to use her own hair for the elaborate styles, rather than wigs. She based this on her own desire to recreate the hair styles, and her knowledge of hairstyling techniques. She now is a published academic author and also posts tutorials and recreations of Roman hairstyles on her Youtube channel.

Recently, a 19 year old college student discovered 500 year old music and then published it on tumblr. Not in a journal article, not presented at a conference, but on tumblr. You can’t get much more democratic than that.

While the sciences have been actively involved in Open Access for some time, the humanities shows great promise for the future of Open Access. As MLA Director of Scholarly Communication Kathleen Fitzpatrick said, (and I paraphrase poorly) “Humanities must show value, and we can’t do that if everything is locked up.”