Transitions is an occasional series where community members reflect on the things they have learned while moving from one institution to another or one role to another.
By Karen Stoll Farrell, Head, Scholarly Communication Department, Librarian for South and Southeast Asian Studies, Indiana University – Bloomington
In May 2020, as the pandemic was steamrolling forward, I was asked to step in as interim head of the Scholarly Communication Department at Indiana University-Bloomington. I have been at IU since 2014; hired on by virtue of my background and training in things like Sanskrit to be the Librarian for South and Southeast Asian Studies. Later, I added Head of Area Studies Department to my title. While Scholarly Communication is far outside my area of expertise, this wasn’t my first time pinch hitting at IU; I had previously served as interim Head of Scholars’ Commons (think reference, workshops, programming), and I knew I enjoyed the opportunity to learn new things about our organization and about librarianship in general.
In all honesty, I had no idea what I was stepping into. I was completely lost for many months after joining the Scholarly Communication folks. I could blame it on the pandemic, or the new virtual work environment, or perhaps my own abilities, but I suspect much of this readership will know that I could just as easily blame it on the unwieldy boundlessness that is scholarly communication work, as well as the depth of technical expertise needed to fully understand any single piece of that work.
Over the course of that long pandemic year, I dove into as much as I could. Colleagues sent me links to core readings and to more organizations than I thought possible for one sub-field of librarianship, and walked me through many, many issues that I had only the most vague conception of. Eventually, I got a bit better; I know that because my colleagues, whose expertise I relied on so heavily, started to say things like, ‘that’s a really good question,’ or ‘that’s something I also think about.’ I wasn’t caught up, but I was at least gaining a grasp of the true problems and issues of scholarly communication work.
By spring 2021, I was attending more conferences that I could have imagined, and learning even more. I was impressed, in particular, by the level of international collaboration. I began to learn more about the groundbreaking history of OA in Latin America and country-wide journal publishing efforts in Nigeria. While I recognized in my pre-schol comm life that the APC model for publishing was problematic for our colleagues in the Global South, I finally began to understand the models that were most effective for them.
At the same time, I continued my work as a liaison librarian and collection manager, and definitely brought that thinking along with me to the schol comm world. I leaned heavily on my connections to other subject librarians, and tried to think about ways that we in scholarly communication could make use of the expertise and connections of those librarians. As I’ve learned from my ongoing studies of adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy, relationships are key.
In particular, I think about the ways that collection managers are key allies in working with publishers and in considering transformative agreements. The ‘big deal’ has been a thorn in the side of many a collection manager for years. I also think about the deep relationships that liaisons have built with faculty: what insights do they have about why faculty publish in specific venues or what it would take to convince them to go elsewhere? What ties do they have to the small society journal editors that we are hoping to convince to ‘flip’ to OA? How can we bring liaisons further into discussions about publishing models and where we hope OA is headed?
For the plethora of new OA publishing models that have come about recently, like OACIP, how do we bring collection managers into the conversation, as they often make final budgetary decisions about this level of purchase? For the larger scale OA models, collection managers are still critical to the decision making process – what advice can we give about how to make these purchasing decisions and how to prioritize various OA models?
In May of 2021, my term as interim Head of Scholarly Communication was over. But I found that I wasn’t really done with scholarly communication. With such an unwieldy and shifting landscape, but such critical work to be done, I found myself reluctant to let it go. I suppose I could have looked for ways to incorporate it further into my liaison and collecting duties, as I hope many of my colleagues will, but that just wasn’t enough for me. Instead, I agreed to step in permanently. While I retain my Area Studies title for now, I am prepping for a time when that part of my work is in the past and I can dive in full into the field of scholarly communication.
As our department looks ahead, we are exploring ways to make this endless work more sustainable, to view all of our work through a lens of equity, and to deepen collaborations with our collection manager colleagues. These are large and complex goals, but having seen the work of the broader community, and knowing that I am surrounded by so many experts from the local to the international level, I am thrilled to be giving this work my full attention.