Intersections is an occasional series where community members reflect on what they are seeing in other parts of their professional world and what library publishers can learn from it.
By Shawn Martin, Head of Scholarly Communication, Copyright, and Publishing, Dartmouth Library
What are transformative agreements changing exactly? Are they promoting open access? Are they shifting the way libraries access and pay for collections? Are they good for small private institutions as well as large public systems? The answers to these questions are incredibly difficult, but as the head of scholarly communication at the Dartmouth Library, they are issues I need to contend with on a regular basis. Fundamentally, I believe that transformative agreements are about the values not only of open access, but also of individual colleges and universities. Values can be implemented in many ways and may vary depending on local conditions. Dartmouth is perhaps not representative of academic libraries broadly speaking. Nonetheless, Dartmouth Library has characteristics of both smaller liberal arts colleges and research universities that, I think, could help a variety of different institutions think about how they work through implementing the values of open access within the economic context of a transformative publishing agreement.
Dartmouth is, comparatively speaking, smaller than its Ivy League peers and is proud of its model for blending the qualities of a research university and a liberal arts college. The scholarly communication program itself is situated within the digital strategies unit, meaning I report to the same Associate Librarian who also oversees the library’s IT infrastructure and digital scholarship initiatives. Because of the library’s small size, however, I have the privilege of working with our collections team and being part of the collection steering committee, which determines how our collection budget is spent. I also meet regularly with the Associate Librarian of the unit overseeing collection strategies. Additionally, I have sat on committees at the Dartmouth Library that evaluated the functionality of databases used for scholarly metrics such as SCOPUS (Elsevier) and Web of Science (Clarivate). I have led discussions within the collection steering committee about the analytics that Unsub provides and how it might need to be supplemented in order to make data-driven decisions managing new budget. In other words, discussion of open access and scholarly communication at Dartmouth has been a hybrid of both a collections and an IT conversation (among others).
This intersection of my discussions within the library has also meant that I regularly work with those who are negotiating Dartmouth’s deals with publishers such as Elsevier and Oxford University Press. Additionally, since many of those discussions are part of larger consortia like the NorthEast Research Libraries (NERL) or the Ivy Plus Libraries Confederation, I have been able to be a part of the teams within these consortia reacting to larger developments going on with transformative agreements. Over the course of these meetings, I have come to the conclusion that fundamentally the questions we are asking about transformative agreements are not economic ones. Of course, recent economic changes have forced librarians to consider how library licensing negotiations can and should be altered, how the business models of publishers and higher education technology providers have shifted, and how institution-wide budgets might need to shift in order to meet those needs. These may be the proximate causes of such discussions; they are not, however the ultimate causes of the need for transformation in our models for the production and dissemination of scholarly research.
The ultimate cause is, in my view, a clash in values between libraries and the content providers with whom we are working. NERL has identified these values as:
How might these values be put into practice? I can’t give an answer for every institution, but I can give two examples we have tried to put into place at Dartmouth.
First, regarding the value of sustainability. Publisher backfiles have long been an issue for libraries and an additional revenue stream for publishers. We as an institution, and more broadly as academic librarians, believe that it is necessary to preserve the scholarly record over the long-term regardless of format. Yet, subscriptions to more recent content does not necessarily provide us with needed perpetual access to backfiles, and in some cases, libraries are even forced to purchase backfiles of publishers to gain such access. As a result, institutions collectively have paid many millions of dollars for a growing but stable collection of content in order to preserve the scholarly record. According to the NERL values I alluded to, the value of sustainability means that libraries should “prioritize agreements that move past historical pricing models and precedent. We encourage smarter, better, and often smaller deals that do not increase cost with unrequested content while providing clear and transparent pricing models.” So, Dartmouth has been proposing (in alignment with this value) that libraries no longer pay for these historical backfiles. Rather, publishers should honor the perpetual access clauses in our agreements by making their backfiles open access. In turn, we are suggesting an incremental flipping strategy similar to how libraries supported publishers in the transition from print to electronic access. The goal at the end is to have an open access scholarly record that will enrich scholarly publishing for the global scholarly community, regardless of economic ability to pay for the access to these rich resources.
Furthermore, if all of this research is made open access, every institutional repository manager knows that there are often embargoes on content and one has to be able to find the author’s manuscript version (not the published version) in order to post an article into the institutional repository. Moreover, for articles from a long time ago when the faculty member may have moved on to a different institution, retired, or even passed away, finding such a manuscript may be impossible. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if an institutional repository manager could simply work to preserve the entire scholarly record of their institution (e.g., all scholarly articles produced by Dartmouth faculty) in their institutional repositories? According to NERL’s value of equity, this should be possible because of the “rights of all researchers to participate in the scholarly communications ecosystem as knowledge creators.” Since authors do not maintain rights over their content, since institutional repository managers wish to preserve the content of their institutions, and since Dartmouth is already advocating for making the backfiles open access, it makes sense to eliminate one of the most significant barriers to achieving the goal of preserving backfile content in institutional repositories, author rights. Dartmouth Library has also been advocating for releasing the rights of this backfile content back to the authors so that researchers can give permission to make their scholarship available in institutional repositories and for libraries to preserve the scholarly record over the long term.
These are just two ways that the Dartmouth Library has been working to instantiate some of the values that NERL has articulated. No doubt the work will continue as negotiations move forward. Nevertheless, I think it is quite clear that the examples I mention would not have happened were it not for the sustained dialogue between members of the scholarly communication team and the members of the collection team. Some libraries may already have these kinds of relationships in place, others may not, but as long as the discussions about the values of open access and the day-to-day collection management decisions remain separate, it will be harder to put these values into practice. The intersections between collections and scholarly communication at the Dartmouth Library have, from my perspective, been tremendously valuable, and I hope that if others have not considered such a dialogue between these departments, that these examples can help to begin such conversations.