Previous month:
June 2015
Next month:
November 2015

What We Share

I was in Frankfurt in 2006, having been invited to speak at the annual meeting of the STM association. It was a heady experience. I don't remember what I talked about (I hope it was useful) but I certainly learned a lot. I came away with the understanding that the commercial publishers were already knee-deep into the reinvention of scholarly publishing and they were eager to partner with librarians in that great adventure. But they weren't going to wait for the librarians to show up.

Sadly, the librarians never did. It was still the early days of Open Access publishing. But Mabe was at great pains to point out that STM was officially agnostic on the subject. I met Hindawi, who had recently joined. I had a long conversation with Velterop, full as always with his enthusiasm for what might be achieved with some goodwill and creativity and daring. Even Erik Engstrom, then CEO of Elsevier, told me in conversation that he was not at all opposed to Open Access. He just needed to figure out how to make it work as a business.

But in the years that followed, the librarians didn't show up. Led by ARL/SPARC they manned the barricades, determined to make this a holy war between good and evil. Fueled by anger over the affordability problem, stoked with rhetoric that characterized Elsevier's profit margins as typical of the entire industry, and willfully oblivious to the economic realities of publishing, the librarians found emotional satisfaction in castigating the evil publishers, writing letters to congress and investing portions of their scant resources in institutional repositories that their faculties have little interest in supporting.

Where are we now, nearly ten years later? The commercial publishers have turned OA into the business model they were beginning to envision back in Frankfurt. Springer claims to be the largest source of OA articles in the world. Elsevier launches a new OA journal practically every week. Every major STM publisher has a PLoS One clone.  The OA partisans conspicuously have nothing to say about PLoS's revenues.   It's become a huge publisher by adopting the strategies and utilizing the talents of some of the best in the publishing industry. It's now running a surplus that bests that of most of the commercial small fry and the OA partisans can't figure out if PLoS is still one of the good guys.

The partisans retrench into the incoherence of green OA. Since they can't stomach making payments of any kind to the commercial publishers (Harnad's painful pun of "Fool's Gold") they fly the flag for green, continuing to manage a splendid feat of cognitive dissonance by ignoring the fact that green is entirely dependent on the existence of a vibrant, healthy, subscription-based publishing infrastructure -- the very system they want to eradicate.

The partisans lob their attacks on liblicense-l. The latest comes after Robert Glushko posts a message asking if we can't all recognize that despite our differences we are all still in this together. "I'm hopeful that we can work to find common areas of interest, and that we can all work together to promote those areas. At our best, we do so much good."

The critics are quick to disparage such foolish idealism.  Prosser says,  "Gosh, I wish this was true. I wish that we were all just one big happy family striving to promote scholarship. But I don’t think we are. We all have different priorities and drivers and sometimes those drivers and priorities clash."  Guédon quickly chimes in:  "Hear, hear, David! The notion that publishers/libraries/scholarly are close relatives is completely fanciful."  Later, in his long post, he seems to temper this somewhat, "Let us concentrate our fire on the few, multinational, baddies and the rogue scientific associations, and let us see how we can repatriate publishing capacity within academe."  So not all publishers are evil -- it is the multinational baddies that we must go to war with.  I'm sure this is comforting to the struggling commercial and society publishers trying to avoid being caught in the crossfire.

At UKSG 2013 I gave the closing plenary, arguing that publishers and librarians share the same overarching  commitment to advancing scholarship through the distribution of new knowledge.  It's our view of the role of the market that puts us at odds.  Librarians see market forces as the impediment to distributing knowledge.  Commercial publishers see market forces as the mechanism for distributing knowledge.  This fundamental disconnect will continue to make our business relationships more difficult than they need be. And librarians are at a particular disadvantage because of our unwillingness to learn to deal realistically with the economics of publishing. 

But surely there can be more to the relationship than that.  The publishers themselves are fiercely competitive with each other, but still managed to get together to create CrossRef, which has done more to facilitate efficient movement through the scholarly literature than anything that librarians have put together.

I still believe that the best way forward is for librarians, publishers of all stripes, researchers, academics and members of the public to engage and argue and work together to build a scholarly ecosystem that works for the public good. Something that I believe we all want. The people who work in those companies that the partisans castigate as "the baddies" (and worse) are, by and large, good people who are committed to doing a good job and advancing scholarship.  They also want their organizations to be successful.  A sentiment that I believe is shared by every librarian I know.

There are some positive signs. While I'm still not seeing as much positive energy from the library community as I would like, the Library Publishing Coalition is doing very good work.   I'm still optimistic that SHARE can achieve some useful things, particularly as it works more closely with CHORUS. The deal that CHORUS just signed with ORCID is very positive and should give librarians something to get behind.

Most promising of all perhaps, is the energy I saw at the Society for Scholarly Publishing meeting in Arlington in May. SSP, more than any other association, has made a major commitment to bringing publishers and librarians together. They have just elected a librarian as president. Rick Anderson generates a lot of skepticism among librarians but he is librarian through and through.

The way forward will continue to be difficult.  But if librarians are going to influence that future they're going to have to show up and find ways to work with the people in publishing.  Writing them off with the kind of demeaning and insulting rhetoric that characterizes so much of what the partisans write doesn't advance anything but the would-be revolutionaries' sense of self-satisfaction.  A dose of humility and a willingness to listen would serve the cause much better.

 


Must Do More Cooking

Among the indignities I suffer following my bout with the peculiarly aggressive case of transverse myelitis is the gradual atrophy of my cooking skills. This might be slightly more tolerable if it were not for the fact that Tambourine Grrl's abilities have advanced substantially.

Three years ago, and for most of our life together up to then, we split the cooking duties. During the week, I handled suppers, working on the stove top. We ate pastas with a variety of fresh vegetables, stir-frys of endless variety, the occasional risotto, simple meals based on rice or potatoes or roasted vegetables. After a long day at the library, where I rarely had the satisfaction of simple completion, I loved the act of chopping and swirling and turning out a wonderful meal of fresh ingredients and big flavors in 30 to 45 minutes.

On weekends, Lynn took over the kitchen. Soups and stews and roasts and fresh breads and homemade ice creams. She filled the freezer with leftovers so whenever neither of us was in the mood to cook it was simple to pull out something lovely. When we renovated our kitchen ten years ago, stripping it back to the rafters and starting from scratch, she designed it around our two styles, with a 5-burner stove top, work area and dual sink on one side, and on the other a lower work surface and sink (she is short) next to the ovens. And we continued to grow as cooks and share ideas and learn from each other and from Jack Bishop and Serious Eats and I think we were pretty evenly matched and life was good. And meals were delicious.

Then came my collapse and Lynn had to take over all the cooking. Her skills continue to grow. Old favorites are even better now, as she subtly adjusts the seasonings. Every week there is at least one meal that is wholly new, based on some recipe idea she's seen somewhere. She was always better at presentation than me, and the plates are lovingly arranged. She thinks of colors and shapes in ways that I never bothered to.

I am so jealous.

Physically, I'm improving. I'm gradually doing a bit more cooking. I'll make a plate of linguine with clams for my lunch on a Saturday. For Mother's Day I did the grilled steak dinner. I've still managed the meatballs sauce for Christmas. With Josie's help I make potato pancakes for special occasions.  I'm teaching her to make her favorite Cacio e Pepe. But these are all long-time standards. I'm not learning anything! Lynn is so far ahead of me now!  

Case in point. Earlier in the week she made a dish with fresh tomatoes, herbs and linguine, the pasta cooked into the tomatoes. It was good (although not worth the amount of work the peeling and seeding of all those plum tomatoes required. She won't make it again). We had a lot left over. I offered to make a frittata with the noodles if she'd take the tomato drippings and make some kind of sauce. When I got ready for the frittata I drained the pasta and what was left was a little less than a cup of tomato drippings with a quarter inch of olive oil on top. I didn't have any ideas for turning it into a sauce.

I concentrated on the frittata. Simple. Eggs, grated parmesan, a little oil to coat the pan. The frittata was very good. And when we sat down, she brought a little gravy boat of smooth, thick delicious tangy sauce to spread over the top. How did she do that? She described what all she put into it and, frankly, I was simply so impressed I didn't process the details. But that's the kind of thing she can do now.

I am so jealous.

This weekend she's off to visit her Dad, so I'm on my own. Last night I made a big batch of the lemon chicken pasta so we can have that for supper when she gets home. It was good, but again, it was a dish I've been making for 20 years without variation. Today, though, for lunch, I had some leftover spaghetti aglio, olio and pepperoncino from Joe's and I was trying to figure out how to turn it into lunch. There were a few wilted scallions in the bottom of the vegetable drawer, so I trimmed those and cut them into half inch pieces. I put a little peanut oil in the wok, cooked the scallions for a minute, added the spaghetti to heat, and then put in a splash of sesame oil. It was simple.  It was delicious. It was fun.

My energy level isn't to the point where I'm ready to resume the weekday cooking, but I could step up for weekend meals more often.  I have so much catching up to do!

 

 


Confusing Criticism With Bullying

Jeffrey Beall is feeling bullied. This is unfortunate on several levels.

I was delighted when I read Berger & Cirasella's Beyond Beall's List: Better understanding predatory publishers in the March issue of College & Research Libraries News. Here was a well-balanced critique, lauding Beall for bringing attention to a serious problem, while also pointing to some of the justified criticisms he's received for the lack of rigor in his methodology and his clear antipathy to open access in general. As the title of the piece indicates, the authors recommend going "beyond Beall" to consider additional factors when making a determination about the quality of a particular journal.

I was happy to see it because I worry that some librarians and authors use Beall's list uncritically as definitive.   This article did a very good job of acknowledging the important contribution that Beall has made while putting it into the larger context of issues to be considered.

Beall didn't see it that way. In his petulant letter to the editor in the June issue, he complains about those who seek to discredit him.  He makes a number of interesting assertions, the most peculiar of which might be his claim that pretending that predatory journals don't exist is a "common strategy among academic librarians."  I do wish he'd provided some sourcing for this.  I try to follow this topic fairly closely and I've never seen any academic librarian anywhere make such a claim.

But it was his reference to "feeling bullied" by Walt Crawford (who he doesn't mention by name, but attempts to discredit by referring to him as "an author who writes and self-publishes his own non-peer-reviewed journal") that particularly caught my eye and raises issues about how critical discourse is conducted in our highly emotional and discordant times.

By using the highly charged word "bullied," Beall seeks to pull attention away from the content of Crawford's critiques to his own subjective sensitivities. If Crawford is being a bully, then right-thinking people need to come to Beall's defense, not because he's right on the merits of the critique, but because bullying is bad. By treating the critiques as if they were an ad hominem attack, Beall attempts to deflect attention from the substantive issues.  Make no mistake -- Crawford's criticism was strong and in-depth and surely must have stung.  But it was also rigorous and well-sourced.  Harsh, perhaps, but scarcely "bullying."

In the highly charged contentious playing fields of the internet we see this played out in many guises. In a discussion thread on the Facebook group ALAThinkTank about whether any white male would be acceptable as the next librarian of Congress, one of the disputants (female) castigated another (white male) saying, in essence, that he had no business even participating in the discussion because his privilege rendered anything he might say irrelevant. Certainly white male privilege affects one's views and needs to be taken into account, but even white males may have useful things to contribute to discussions treating of issues involving race and gender.

Similarly, I was struck by a comment in another thread from someone who, responding to some pushback on the point she was putting forward, said, in a tone of high dudgeon "So I'm not allowed to make the case for this?" Since the moderator hadn't deleted the comment it clearly was allowed. What wasn't "allowed" was that she be able to make the comment without encountering strong disagreement.

Alas, there is no clear line between criticism, even strong criticism, and personal attacks. The vicious mysogyny that infects so many online discussions, worse in some sectors, but rarely absent altogether, creates a hostile environment in which any woman might, quite rightly, flinch at even mild criticism, anticipating the vileness that may be in its wake. One can become inclined to treat all pushback as personally hostile, just to be on the safe side. 

The ease and immediacy of online communication seem to encourage this unhealthy conflation of emotion and argument.  When one's statements are questioned or one's opinions disagreed with, it's too easy to respond to the emotion, to feel personally attacked and to fight back, not against the issue or opinion expressed, but against the person.

In those quaint days of yore, when email was considered to be "instantaneous" communication, we sometimes cautioned each other to "write that angry email that you want to send, but then hold it overnight..."  That kind of caution, that sense that my first reaction might not be my best reaction, is eroding in the world of twitter and comment threads and Facebook discussion groups.  Beall's record of responding to his critics makes clear that reflection wouldn't have tempered his response much (although one can imagine that the first draft of his letter displayed an even greater sense of unjustified persecution), but his easy resort to the claim of bullying is very much in keeping with the tenor of discourse of the times.