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August 2006
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October 2006

It Gets Lonely Out Here

Part of the reason for my insistence on maintaining an independent and iconoclastic stance in the open access debate is that I find much of the rhetoric of those on "my" side of the issue to be so very unhelpful and offensive.  Peter Suber has collected some reactions to the anti-FRPAA letter that came out last week, and the example from Jonathan Eisen is particularly depressing.

I suppose that for Eisen the issues are so obvious and clear-cut that he simply can't come to any conclusion other than that those who oppose his positions must be acting out of ignorant, venal, dishonest motives.  He's long past the point of positive debate -- you're either with us, or you're agin' us.  One of the good guys, or one of the evildoers.  Great.

After slamming the letter as being full of falsehoods, and the arguments as being "ridiculous" and "absurd", Eisen goes on to say, "This collection of provosts and deans clearly do not care about accuracy or the truth."  [UPDATE:  Shortly after posting this, I was impressed and pleased to get a brief email from Eisen in which he agreed that his tone was "over the top".  He said that he had changed the tone of his post, and I see that he has indeed done that].  In his listing of the nefarious relationships of the signatories, he mentions that Robert R. Rich is Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Immunology.  He is also VP and Dean of Medicine at my university.

As it happens, I ran into Bob late Thursday morning when we were both on our way to the monthly lunch that our president hosts for the deans.    I mentioned the letter and he told me that it would be going out later that day.  We chatted a bit on the elevator about the complexities of the issues.   The topic came up during the lunch and there was a bit of lively discussion.  There was some good natured teasing of each other about being on the wrong sides of the issue. 

We've talked about all of this on several occasions, and I've noticed that Bob always frames his discussion by saying that he supports exploring new economic models for publishing (for example, he's had positive things to say about PLoS and the quality of their journals, though he's not yet convinced about their long term viability); what he seems to object to the most in FRPAA is what he perceives as a federal mandate to change the economic model without sufficient attention given to how the professional societies are going to manage the transition.  He and I may disagree on the merits and consequences of the legislation, but it is clear that his position is far from a kneejerk, anti-open access, anti-change point of view.   It comes from a thoughtful, considered concern over the possible unintended consequences that a rapid shift to open access could cause.  I've never heard him say so, but I'd guess that after a long and distinguished career dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge through support for education and research, it must rankle a bit to have what he considers to be a principled stand on a very important issue so cavalierly dismissed.

I bring this up only to make the point that on many of our campuses the issue is far more complex than "us against the publishers".  As I've said many times before, we need to find the places where we can establish alliances with the societies and come up with strategies to promote the issues that we agree on, and not let the disagreements divide us. 

So let me make a concrete proposal:  The Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries (AAHSL) and the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology (FASEB) should establish a one-year commission to investigate the alternatives, options, and implications for removing subscription revenue from the funding streams of society-published scientific journals.  The commission should include no more than ten individuals, half chosen by the executive body of each organization.  The organizations should provide sufficient funding for four in-person meetings during the course of the year, along with some funding for staff support (data-gathering, coordinating logistics, etc.).  Results should be presented at the 2008 AAMC meeting (as well as other appropriate venues).

The commission should be charged with identifying all possible alternate funding streams and constructing scenarios that would explore how likely the generation of such fundings streams could be.  FRPAA should be off the table, since the lines in the sand have already been clearly drawn.  The ultimate goal of the commission should be to identify, as concretely as possible, the real implications of removing subscription revenue so that we can have constructive debate on the cost/benefits involved in making radical changes to the current system. 

Let me be clear:  I firmly believe that funding scholarly communication via subscription revenue is an anachronism and that the societal benefits of changing the systems are worth pushing this as far we can.  But I also believe that the scientific societies play a critical role in the advancement of knowledge and that there is an equally important societal benefit in making sure that they remain viable as we go through this transition.   I assume that the leaders of those societies and those journals are at least as principled and honest as those flying the open access flag, and I think their concerns need to be treated seriously.   The concerns reflected in the anti-FRPAA letter can be fully addressed, but they are substantive issues that represent real risks and challenges. 

Finally, I believe that the open access partisans, along with many of my librarian colleagues, have made a serious tactical mistake in placing ourselves in such unyielding opposition to the scientific societies.   Those societies that have maintained their publishing programs as low-cost independent entities should be applauded by librarians, even when we disagree on the open access issues.  The day that Marty Frank sells the APS publishing program to Elsevier because he doesn't think he can successfully keep it alive on its own anymore is a day when we all lose.


Persistence Is The Key

The Krafty Librarian points out that change management is a slow and difficult process, and discusses some of her own strategies for dealing with the very real barriers that we face in creating the kinds of organizations that we can envision. 

She's responding in particular to some points that Michael Stephens made in a recent presentation -- the post that Michael was basing those points on is here.   They are the typical sorts of things that people come up with to explain why they can't get from the here that they feel stuck in, to the there that they can envision.  What I particularly like in Krafty's post is that she points out that these are not just excuses -- these are descriptions of real barriers.  The question is what to do about them when we face them.

It is, I suppose, a natural human tendency to look at the people or situations we see obstructing us and paint them as ignorant, behind the times, just not "with it."    If it weren't for them and their bad, old-fashioned attitudes, we could really get something done!  But it's just not that simple.

Krafty says that when she runs up against one of those IT roadblocks,

I sulk and drown my sorrows in caffiene for an hour or two and I kibbitz with my best friend who is a librarian. After that, I gather information on new web technologies and services that I and other hospital departments could provide if we were privy to using these on our intranet. I build a new case and present it yet again a couple of months or so later, from a different perspective to my IT department. If I get smacked back down, I pick myself back up and go to the soda machine and start building a file for a future case.

When I worked for Judy Messerle years ago, she talked about "planting seeds."    Sometimes it takes a very long time for them to take root and grow.  So you plant them where you can, water them when you get the chance, accept the fact that some of them are going to wither and die.  I've had ideas percolate ten years before they bore fruit.  I've got a couple of backburner projects right now that I've been working on for four or five years -- when I see an opportunity to bring one forward I seize it; if it doesn't take, then it goes back into the queue until I see a chance to try it again.

It would be wonderful if one day every librarian woke up and "got it", and every IT person woke up believing that the library's objectives were the most important in the organization.  That's not going to happen.  The future we want is being created as we speak by people like the Krafty Librarian, who go back at it, day after day, looking for those small victories, and never giving up.


Continue reading "Persistence Is The Key" »


Managing Time

I'm sitting in a comfy armchair at center stage with the lights full on me.    To my right, standing at a podium, a theologian argues for the existence of God.  To my left, at a similar podium, his opponent argues that belief in God is nothing but an irrational cultural artifact.   There's a screen up behind me on which images pass that I can't see.  I want to speak, but it isn't my time yet.  I try not to fidget, so as not to draw attention to myself.  I watch the seconds tick down, waiting for the light to flash and let me know that I can turn to the microphone.  The minutes step by unbearably slow...

No, this isn't last night's dream, and it's not the beginnings of some post-modern, semi-science-fiction film treatment.  This is me on Tuesday evening, moderating the "Does God Exist?" debate at the Alys Stephens Center as part of the UAB Lecture Series.   Ironic, I suppose, that after writing just that morning about dealing with debilitating shyness, I should once again be putting myself into a position where I need to act as if I'm as calm and cool as can be.  But I'm pretty good at that by now.

I've been one of the three faculty members on the Lecture Series Committee for years.  It's a student-funded activity, and the students pick the speakers.   We're there to provide some guidance and continuity.  Periodically,  I'll introduce or moderate one of the events, which is how I ended up on stage on Tuesday.  This one wasn't nearly as surreal as the evening last year when I found myself interviewing John Heder and Aaron Ruell (from Napoleon Dynamite) in front of 3,000 people on a mock talk-show set, but it was a pretty out-of-body experience all the same.

Shermer & Geivett structure it as a formal debate, with a first round of twenty-five minutes each, then one of eight, then a last of five, before turning it over to the audience for questions.  My job was to introduce them, keep time, and moderate the Q&A.  The first round was the toughest -- two stretches of twenty-five minutes of just sitting there, trying to be inconspicuous, with the powerpoints flashing behind me, just over my head.  Fortunately, they're both excellent speakers, so they were able to draw the attention of the audience to either side when they were speaking.  I tried to pretend I was furniture.

I had a digital stopwatch, so I could surreptitiously watch the seconds tick down.  I'd flash them a 5 minute card, and then a 2 minute card, and then lean forward toward my microphone when their time was up.  They're good at this, so I only had to cut them off once or twice during the Q&A.  It gave me plenty of opportunity to contemplate just how long a minute actually is.

I'm constantly fighting the clock; there's always more that I want to get out of a day than I can possibly find time for.  The existential challenge is to try not to lose sight of the fact that the minute you're in is the only minute that you can really be sure of, and you'd better not miss it.  I try to remind myself of that when I'm dealing with the frustrations and inconveniences of travelling, or when I'm caught up in things (like doing the dishes) that feel like time wasters:  "This is the only moment that you've got," I whisper to myself.  "Pay attention."



It's All Acting

People who know me usually respond with disbelief when I tell them that I am almost pathologically shy.   "But you get up in front of crowds of people and play guitar and sing," or "You'd never be able to tell that when you're giving that presentation -- you look so natural."  That's the point -- to make it look natural.  But it's not. 

When I was an undergrad, the shyness was so bad that I couldn't bring myself to speak up at all.  For my philosophy courses, where discussion was so important, I'd have to go meet with my professors privately to be able to tell them the things that I couldn't bring myself to speak in front of the dozen people in the class.

I was working in a factory when I decided to go back to school to get my library degree.  I remember one fall afternoon, I was taking my break, as usual, by walking outside for awhile (I was too shy to go sit in the break room with the others).  As I was kicking through the fall leaves, I knew that I had a choice -- I could let my shyness rule and prevent me from achieving so many of the things that I'd like to accomplish, or I could figure out how to get past it.    I couldn't make myself be not shy, but I could keep it from stopping me.

I was thinking about all of this on Sunday when I was doing the media training session as part of my first MLA Board of Directors meeting.  Along with the president-elect and the other new member of the board, I spent six hours with several people from PCI, the firm that MLA contracts with, practicing techniques for handling media interviews.   The core of the training was being videotaped and then critiqued through a series of mock interviews. 

Paradoxically, I was the least apparently nervous and uncomfortable of the three of us.   A quarter century after that fall afternoon in Oshkosh, I'm not any less shy, but I have learned how to fake it pretty well.  The more structured the situation, the better.  I'm still pretty tongue-tied and miserable at a reception or cocktail party -- but the mock interviews were relatively easy. 

I have come to understand that my apparent ease is because it is not natural for me -- consequently, I am always focusing on what I'm doing, how I'm coming across, what it is I'm trying to accomplish.  And I endlessly critique how I've done, what I need to do better, what I might do differently the next time I'm in a similar situation.

I try to make this point, in particular, when I'm talking with library school students.  As a group, we lean toward the shy end of the spectrum, but we're at a point in our history where it is critically important that we not let that hold us back.  I know that I will never go into a classroom to do a lecture for four students, or into a ballroom to do a presentation for a thousand, without going through at least an hour or two of stomach churning misery beforehand.   But that's not the point.  It's not about me and my comfort level, it's about getting the job done.   And, as shy as I am, if I can do it, anybody can.  The first step is recognizing that it is not natural -- it's just acting.


Bearded Pigs in Atlanta

The Bearded Pigs will be playing after the banquet at the joint Southern Chapter/Mid-Atlantic Chapter meeting in Atlanta next month.  So there's been a lot of pigchat via email over the past few days.  What equipment can we bring and what do we have to rent?  Who's getting to Atlanta when?  What new songs do we want to try?  Is there going to be any time to rehearse?  This is rehearsal.

I fantasize about getting us all together in a house somewhere for a long weekend when we might actually have time to work through some arrangements instead of always making it up on the fly.  Practice time in Phoenix consisted of Bruce, Duke and I having lunch the day of the gig and talking about where we might put drum breaks and lead guitar in a couple of the tunes. 

But the logistics are daunting.   Time, place, expenses.  We're all pretty busy in the first place, and getting ourselves into the same place at the same time is a struggle in itself.  Piggybacking onto conferences that we're going to anyway is about the only way we can do it -- although for Atlanta, Bruce & SG are making the trip solely for the gig, and for Savannah we all (except for SG) went just for the chance to play. 

We got a very nice thank you from the Executive Director of the Medical Library Association for the contribution we made to the scholarship fund this year ($750).  But the Thicket Society funds only cover the direct expenses for the annual MLA meeting; whatever is left over goes to the scholarship fund, and we can't draw on it to support any of our other activities.  So any other times we might get together we've got to be willing to cover the costs ourselves.  We'll put the open guitar case out in Atlanta and hope that people continue to be generous.

The success of the band continues to baffle and delight me.  Every time we play, and I look out at the crowd of people who are very obviously having a great time I think, "But we're not that good..."  I guess it's similar to what happened with Liquid Prairie years ago in St. Louis -- we were pretty crude musically, but we put off enough goodtime energy that it didn't matter.  We were more fun to hang out with than many a more musically accomplished band.  The Pigs are like that.


Coming to Language

"Josephine," I say, pointing to the picture.  "What does Charlie Parker play?"

I'm trying to get her to say "saxophone" and I trace the drawing with my finger.  She frowns at me with that look that seems to say, "Well, it's obvious!  What are you asking me for?"

She says, "Be-Bop!"

I laugh.  "Good girl!" I say, as she turns back to the book.

Lynn picked up Chris Raschka's Charlie Parker Played Be Bop at the library and it's become Josie's latest favorite book.  I've ordered a copy for her own.   I can't quite figure out why certain books appeal to her and others don't, but it's clear which her favorites are.   She has a good feel for how much text is on the page -- you can tell that when she is "reading" to herself.  She'll sit on the floor and open up one of her books, and chatter rapidly for about the right length of time before she turns to the next page. 

I'm fascinated by how impressionable the critters are at this age (just shy of nineteen months) (and stunned, I'm afraid, to realize how easy it must be to damage them if they enter the world in a household full of strife and anger).  When she comes to our house, there is always music on, so even at the clumsy toddler stage, she has a good sense of rhythm and beat when she's dancing, and will often sing to herself if we're out walking.  Lynn's and my main recreation is reading, so when she tires of playing with her oversized Legos, or with the jacks-in-the-boxes (hmmm, I wonder what that thing is actually called), it's natural for her to go over to her bookshelf, pick out a book, and either bring it to one of us to read to her, or sit down on the floor and read it herself.

Her facility with proper names is increasing rapidly.  She knows which cats are which now.  Ghost kitty dashes past. "There goes Sasha!" she says.  "Sasha" comes out of her half-toothed mouth pretty clearly.  "Taxi" & "Beaches" are a little tougher, but they're recognizable.   Marian says she can almost always figure out what Josie is saying now, although there was something she was saying, very insistently, the other night, that Marian said she never did get, much to Josie's annoyance.  I'm not that good, but I'm getting better.  We're not quite conversing yet, but she very clearly understands everything that I'm saying, and I can catch most of what she's trying to clue me in on.

She's good with pictures and at naming what she sees.  I show her the pictures I took when we were in Gulf Shores awhile back.  There's one of her walking with Marian & Lynn -- "Mommy!" she says.  "Nonni!" 

She likes seeing pictures of herself.  I show her one of her in the white beach dress.  "Josie!" she says, and claps her hands. 

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Next up is one of her in the little outfit Lynn bought in Chinatown.

"Cute!" says Josie.

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