I'm looking forward to my debate with Rick Anderson at the Charleston Conference in another few weeks. We did a session at the North Carolina Serials Conference a couple of years ago and it was great fun. Rick is one of the most creative thinkers in libraryland these days, he's got an entertaining style, and he's very quick on his feet. I'd be happy to hear him speak on any topic in any venue, so when he contacted me early in the summer to see if I wanted to reprise our NC debate in Charleston I was quick to agree.
We titled the session, "Open Access: Good for Society, Bad for Libraries?" and sent in this abstract:
Resolved: As open access becomes more widespread, and more scholarly material becomes available either in open access journals or institutional repositories, libraries will become more marginalized in higher education institutions as funds formerly devoted to collections are diverted to other institutional priorities.
It's intended to be hyperbolic, of course, and in reality I don't think there's a tremendous difference in Rick's and my actual views on the issues. But that's kinda the fun of doing this sort of a debate -- you can push a particular proposition further than you might otherwise and perhaps in doing so unearth some ways of looking at the issues that might otherwise remain unexplored.
As the inveterate librarian optimist, I think that expanding OA presents some great opportunities for librarians, but there are plenty of potential hazards along the way. It's been a disappointment that there's been so little substantive discussion (at least that I've seen) about the possible consequences for libraries.
One of the last manuscripts that I read as editor of the JMLA was an article by Karen Albert, Open access: implications for scholarly publishing and medical libraries, which was subsequently accepted and published by my successor. It's a good survey of the state of the open access debate as of two years ago (it was submitted in August 2005) and I have no doubt that I would have taken it as well, but I might have negotiated a slight change in title because it doesn't really have much to say about "implications for medical libraries."
What Rick and I will try to do, in what I hope will be an entertaining and lively fashion, is explore some of those potential consequences, good and bad. One thing that I am pretty sure of is that those librarians who see their primary role as building collections may want to consider signing on to the PRISM principles, 'cause they're in trouble. In an OA world, "collection development" is an anachronism.
Of course, I've long maintained that building collections is simply a means to a greater end for librarians, so this doesn't trouble me much. Nonetheless, the reality in many of our institutions is that the people who control the funds see the collection building function as primary as well, and it is going to be very tough to convince them that they need to continue to fund our other activities, and that we have critical contributions to make beyond purchasing or licensing content.
And it just occurred to me that I don't think that Rick and I have sorted out who is taking the pro and who is taking the con position in our debate. I'd better give him a call....