What Comes Next

"Are you moving?"

It's a common question when I tell people I'm retiring from UAB this fall.

I explain that we moved into Lynn's dreamhouse 17 years ago, that it's stuffed with artwork and books, perched up above a pretty little lake with swans and great blue herons, that Marian and Josie live just 20 minutes away, and that for all of our state's flaws, we're very happy in Alabama.  Plus, Lynn just installed a touch-action faucet in the kitchen.  She's quite giddy about it.

So no, we're not moving.

"What are you going to do?"

That's the other obvious question.  I point out that I'm retiring from UAB, but not from the rest of my life.  I'm still on the editorial boards of several journals and I enjoy that quite a bit.  I'll be able to spend more time on OSI.  There's the steering committee for Metadata 2020, a project that I think is very important.  I'll keep pushing for open data and a more open, affordable and transparent scholarly communication ecosystem.  I'm not going to go looking for consulting gigs, but if some interesting projects came my way, I'd certainly be open to them.

I hope to do more writing, both professional and personal, starting with posting on the blog more often.  And see what else develops.

I'll gradually increase my daily exercising.  I'm very consistently doing 25-30 minutes a day of stretching and leg strengthening and it makes a tremendous difference.  I'd like to increase that to an hour.  My goal is to walk with confidence for two to three blocks using only the walking stick for support.  That won't happen soon, but there's no reason to think I can't get there eventually.  "Neuroplasticity."  My favorite word.

I'll have more time for guitar and harmonica.  I can awkwardly strum my way through Helpless and Bird On A Wire now, although I wouldn't want to do it in public.  That's another goal.

I'll pick up making dinner another night each week (I do two nights a week now) and I'll take over most of the kitchen cleanup.  I still don't have enough touch sensitivity and hand dexterity to trust myself with the good glassware, but I can handle the rest and it's a chore that Lynn really hates.

All that being said, having watched a good number of my friends retire in the past few years the one constant seems to be that the reality is different from whatever it is they thought it would be.  So I have plans -- I don't want to wake up one morning wondering, what now?  But I'm not going to hold myself too tightly to any of them.

Except that I did promise Lynn about the dishes.

 


Data Wranglers in the Edge of Chaos

I love these lines from Rex Sanders:

If the data you need still exists;

If you found the data you need;

If you understand the data you found;

If you trust the data you understand;

If you can use the data you trust;

Someone did a good job of data management.

It encapsulates the goal as well as anything I've seen.

I used it to lead into the first of what I intend to be more or less monthly informal discussion sessions with the folks I'm somewhat tongue-in-cheek referring to as Data Wranglers.  We gathered in the Café at the Edge of Chaos (conveniently just a few steps from my office).   I scheduled it for 4:00 with beer in the fridge and wine on the counter, gave a five minute intro to some of the issues (essentially, what does the institution need to do to facilitate good data management) and opened it up for discussion.  These folks are not shy.

Included among the dozen who came were an Institute of Medicine member who is a staunch OA advocate and leads several biostatistics groups, the PI of a very large multi-institutional longitudinal study of stroke risk factors, a computer scientist who runs a multidisciplinary team engaged in brain mapping, the director of the clinical data warehouse, an expert in decision support systems, and a woman working with NASA to link satellite, EPA and public health data.  The others were equally diverse and distinguished.  A fascinating group, all of whom have a keen interest in how we manage research data.

We touched on a number of key themes:

  • Concerns about data sharing contrasted with the value of data sharing
  • The limitations of metadata in supplying sufficient context for data re-use
  • The dangers of one-size-fits all policies
  • The need to provide good information support to investigators in response to imminent federal funder requirements for open data
  • Information sharing vs data sharing
  • Role of commercial interests

I have an ever expanding list of (currently about 40) people from across the campus that I'm inviting to these sessions.  My overarching goal is to build a community of interest, make connections among people who have similar concerns but may not know each other, and use these discussions to drive priorities and strategy.  It's a Wicked Problem, which is what the Edge of Chaos is all about.

After 15 years of working on these issues around the demands of my day job as LHL director, for the past nine months or so I've been able to dig in full time.  It's become clearer than ever that it requires strong collaborative efforts that cross institutional boundaries.  That is very tough to do, given the way that research institutions are organized and the siloed culture of those institutions.

In most places, it's the librarians that have taken the lead, usually in developing services around DMP requirements and, increasingly, tracking the new federal funder requirements for public access to publications and data.  But this is much more than a library problem.

I have been quite struck by how much my perspective has been shifted by the fact that I am doing this out of the Provost's Office rather than out of the library.  My focus is on engaging intensively with researchers across disciplines, the folks in IT and OSP and compliance, and using a very organic approach to surface issues and needs.  Out of that, we'll try to identify the things that the various components of the university can do to help us all do a better job managing research data.  My monthly Data Wranglers discussions are a key component of that approach.

I've come to appreciate that the challenges in achieving Rex Sanders' vision across the entire institution are practically insurmountable.  I've always had a deep empathy for Don Quixote's battle with the windmills.  That must be why I'm having such a good time.

 

 


We Are Librarians

He's in the family room, half dozing over his evening scotch.  He's feeling pleasantly sluggish from the football game and the beer.  His team won.  Now the kids are watching their latest favorite show.  He's not paying attention, hears the voices drift in and out.  Some silly sci-fi something.  Some group of quirky, not quite normal eccentrics, out to save the world.  Snatches of dialog drift in. 

"Who are you people?"

"We're librarians."

He snaps awake.  The memory comes back.  The one that has mystified him all these years.  Oh my god!  They're real!  I met them!

****

It was 2000.  I'd gotten one of those Marriott timeshare offers -- 5 nights in a deluxe villa near Disneyworld for some ridiculously cheap price.  The only catch was that before you left you had to sit through the hour-long sales pitch.  Why not?  We like Disneyworld.  We'd bring Marian along.  We'd be polite during the pitch.  Hell, maybe we'd even buy in after all (this was just before we found Lynn's dreamhouse).

The villas were quite nice and the vacation was lovely.  By the time we entered the sales office on the morning of our departure we were in a mellow mood.  We weren't inclined to buy, but we were willing to have them try.  It was all relaxed and low-key.  First a video, then we sat down with the very nice, professional agent.  He asked us questions about our likes and dislikes, trying to sort out which of his categories to slot us into.  No, we didn't golf or ski.  No watersports.  More interested in cities than mountains or beaches.  He flipped through the album of pictures of the various properties.

He started to talk about financing options, but Lynn stopped him.  "If we do this, we'll probably just pay cash." An eyebrow went up.  We could see him mentally recalibrating.

So do you travel much?  Quite a bit, actually.  And is that for business or pleasure?  A pretty even mix of both.

And what do you like to do when you're traveling?

"Have lunch," said Lynn.  He looked confused.  I elaborated, "If it's a day when neither of us is working, we'll sleep late and then try to find a nice place for a leisurely lunch.  Then maybe a bit of sightseeing or a museum.  Find an interesting restaurant for dinner and then maybe a local dive bar for drinks and some live music.  That'd be kind of a perfect day."

I could see that we weren't making this easier for him.  "So where have you been in the last year?"

"Oh, let me think...  Chicago, Cairo, New Orleans..." (It had been a particularly busy year). "London & Paris, Vancouver... DC, Charleston, Bucharest..."

He looked back and forth at the two of us as we sat quietly smiling at his perplexity.  "I'm sorry," he said.  "But I have to ask, what do you do?"

Without missing a beat, and in perfect unison, we said, "We're Librarians."

We didn't buy, but we left content with the knowledge that we had rearranged his impressions of librarians forever after.  I do hope that he sees the show and thinks of us.

****

I know the members of my tribe are split on the merits of the show but Lynn and I rather love it.  Some of my favorite lines:

"Dad? Who are those people?"
"They're librarians, honey."
"Librarians? Wow."
 
"Librarians win with knowledge.  Librarians win with science."
 
"What is a librarian?! [Sighs] They're the ones who protect the rest of us from the magic and the weird and the things that go bump in the night."
 
Story of my life.
 

The New Job

"Effective September 8, I'll be Director of Digital Data Curation Strategies reporting to the office of the Provost."  I've started sending this announcement around to the discussion lists, alerting the far-flung professional network to my change in circumstance.

There's been a nice assortment of congratulations and well-wishes.  But what has surprised me have been the comments from people who assume that this means they won't see me at the usual library conferences anymore.  What?  I'm still a medical librarian.  I'm still a member of MLA & SCMLA & MCMLA & ALHeLA.  I won't be representing UAB at the AAHSL meetings anymore, it's true, but I'll continue to go to the other conferences.  And given the increasing importance of data curation at research institutions I expect to be more involved with the work of some of my librarian colleagues rather than less.

Lynn reminds me that she went through a similar thing 25 years ago when she left UAB to work for EBSCO.  She had to work very hard to get people to understand that she was no less of a librarian just because she was no longer working in a traditional library job.  I guess I'll have to do the same thing.

John Meador, most recently Dean of Libraries at SUNY-Binghamton, picked up the reins as UAB Dean of Libraries August 5.  The challenge he has accepted is to merge the two existing library organizations -- Lister Hill and Mervyn H. Sterne -- into a single organization serving the entire university community.  Unlike some recent reorganizations (UNC & Florida come to mind), UAB's roots as a primarily biomedical research institution offers some unique opportunities.  The two libraries are similar in size of staff and budget, are located just a few blocks from each other on a compact urban campus, and serve an increasingly multidisciplinary institution.  So while services will continue to be delivered from both buildings, we anticipate that, over time, a single, seamless organization will be formed to provide those services.

It's a bit of a conceptual leap because even though most of the important work that librarians do now takes place outside of the building, we still think of the library organization and the library building as occupying the same space.  As I was trying to explain the goals of the merger to a faculty member he said, "But the biomedical literature will still be based at Lister Hill, won't it?"  I had to tell him, gently, "Actually, since we spend less than 1% of our content budget on print, that hasn't been the case for five years now."  The reference librarians do far more of their work by chat, email, phone, webinar, office hours in classroom buildings, or meetings & workshops around campus than they do in person in the building.  The building is still very important, of course, but basing the organization on the physical limitations of the building is an anachronism.

One consequence of the merger is that the two Director positions go away.  The Director, Lister Hill and Director, Mervyn Sterne functioned as deans, although we didn't have that title.  But we met as part of the Deans Council and had the same level of budgetary and personnel authority as the deans.  Now that there is a single individual with the title, as well as the authority, of Dean, those two director positions are superfluous.

So what has opened up for me turns out to be quite marvelous.  Every research institution in the country is trying to figure out how to effectively manage research data.  What services should the institution provide?  How do you effectively manage security?  How do you establish policies and monitor compliance with the full range of increasingly complex federal requirements?  How do you make data available for reuse in clean and well-structured contextualized environments?

A number of institutions have made some headway in sorting this out, but part of the challenge is that there isn't really a single entity within the modern research university that is the logical home for the full range of issues that need to be addressed and coordinated.  It requires true collaboration among the libraries, IT, the research office and the various pockets of excellence and expertise that exist across the campus -- often unknown to each other.

My task, for the next several months, will be to map what exists at UAB, to figure out who is doing what, to identify where there are significant gaps, and then to work with all of the various players to help develop strategies for pulling all of the pieces together into a coordinated whole.  From this vantage point it looks ridiculously complex.  

I plan to have a lot of fun with it.

 

 


Always A Librarian First

Long before I became romantically involved with Lynn, before I even met her, I knew her by reputation.  I was impressed then and have continued to be during these nearly two decades that she's been wife and friend as well as colleague.  Now she's bringing the colleague chapter to a close.  This just out:

 

IPSWICH, Mass. — May 16, 2014 — Lynn Fortney, Vice President of Medical E-journals and E-Packages at EBSCO Information Services (EBSCO) will retire on July 5, 2014. That date is her 25th anniversary at EBSCO.

Fortney says, “I have had an amazing career, but my successes have been because of the impressive colleagues I have been privileged to work with, librarians and other information industry leaders alike. EBSCO provided me an incredible opportunity to apply my understanding of the unique issues faced by health sciences librarians to what has become the largest suite of products and services in the information industry. Medical libraries today bear little resemblance to those from the early days of my career and neither does EBSCO. 1973 - 2014; my career has been an awesome, Walt Disney World's Expedition Everest roller-coaster ride.”  

Career Highlights

Fortney started her library “career” in the eighth grade, working as an aide in her school’s library, but it was not until she attended Grinnell College that she learned what a librarian could accomplish in terms of finding information. After graduating in 1972 from Grinnell with a B.A. in American Studies (with a minor in studio art), Fortney attended Emory University’s Division of Librarianship where she earned a Master’s degree in 1973 while working at the Central Library of the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System.

Her first professional library position was Medical Reference Librarian at the University of Alabama College of Community Health Sciences (CCHS) Library in Tuscaloosa. In 1975, she was appointed Chief Medical Librarian of the CCHS, and was instrumental in developing the plans for and eventually moving the library to Druid City Hospital (now DCH Regional Medical Center). In 1982, Fortney accepted the position of Associate Director of Public Services at the Lister Hill Library of the Health Sciences/University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she was deeply involved in the selection, implementation and training for the library’s first integrated library system (ILS), the Georgetown LIS.

25 Years at EBSCO

In 1989, Fortney was recruited by EBSCO to become the company’s first Medical Library Marketing Manager, and subsequently became Vice President/Director, Biomedical Division. In this role, she provided a biomedical library focus for the company by monitoring trends affecting academic medical center and hospital libraries, recommending new services specifically designed for health sciences librarians, and participating in product development and business planning.

She started her tenure at EBSCO at the dawn of MEDLINE on CD-ROM and the early days of email as we know it. In her 25 years at EBSCO, Fortney experienced the impact of the rise of the Internet, the World Wide Web, and electronic journals. A major focus of her career was working on  tools for collection development/assessment and journal price studies, specifically the Index Medicus Price Study (IMPS). In 1999, the Medical Library Association Collection Development Section awarded Fortney the first Daniel T Richards Prize For Writing Related to Collecting in the Health Sciences, for the “Index Medicus Price Study, 1998-1999”, which she co-authored with Victor Basile.

EBSCO Information Services President Tim Collins says Fortney has helped EBSCO shape its ever-expanding medical resources and provided EBSCO with a very valuable medical librarian perspective. “We have been fortunate to work with such a strong advocate for medical libraries for so many years.  Lynn has been a key member of our team for a long time and we believe medical libraries have benefited significantly from the guidance she provided."

Conferences, T. Scott Plutchak and The Bearded Pigs

Fortney has presented at events and conferences across America and around the world, including delivering the keynote address at the Australian Library and Information Association “Specials” Conference, Melbourne, Australia, 2001. She met her future husband, T. Scott Plutchak (at the time, Director of the St Louis University Health Sciences Library), in 1992, when she invited him to speak at a seminar for academic medical library directors she was organizing in Birmingham. Their wedding was the “featured entertainment” of the Midcontinental Chapter’s Welcome Reception in Kansas City in 1995. Plutchak (currently Director, Lister Hill Library of the Health Sciences/University of Alabama at Birmingham), Fortney and several of their musically talented friends in the medical library field formed a band, “The Bearded Pigs,” that played for many years at the MLA Annual Meeting (with incidental proceeds to the MLA’s Grants and Scholarship Fund).

Professional Associations

Fortney has been active in professional associations throughout her career, most especially the Medical Library Association (MLA); teaching MLA continuing education courses and speaking at symposia, serving on various MLA committees and task forces, and in leadership roles of several sections. She was a founding member and first president (1980-81) of the Alabama Health Libraries Association, Chair of the Southern Chapter/Medical Library Association in 2001 – 2002, served on the national MLA Nominating Committee three times (1997, 2004 and 2010), and was elected to the MLA Board of Directors for a three year term, 2000-2003. She says her greatest honor came in 2011 when she was named a Fellow of the Medical Library Association, which she describes as, “a rare tribute for someone who did not work in a library.”  Fortney has always refused to be referred to as “a vendor who used to be a librarian”. For 25 years, she happened to work for a vendor. But she has always been a librarian first.

 


What are librarians' views of Open Access issues?

I've cooked up a little survey that you can get to here.

Later this month I’ll be speaking at the AAAS meeting on this topic.  Although I know what the positions of our library organizations are, and what some individual librarians might think, I’ve never felt that I had a good grasp of what librarians in general think.  I suspect the range of opinion is pretty wide.  So I’ve come up with a list 15 statements that people can indicate their level of agreement with.  They're the sort of statements one reads and hears in presentations, blogs and discussion lists.  In some cases they may be too broad or simplistic for simple agreement or disagreement so I’ve included a comment block that people can use to amplify their answers or explain why they can’t agree or disagree with the statement as written.

I don’t expect to draw any general conclusions from this, but I hope that it will be useful in illustrating some of the breadth of opinion that exists in the library community.  I'll post a summary of the results here.

The survey shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to complete – although you can certainly take longer, depending on how much you choose to comment.

And, of course, if there are other things you think I should be telling the AAAS audience about what librarians think, I'd love to hear about it.


The Magical Thinking of Professor Harnad

One watches with awe the relentlessness of the hedgehog mind.  Would that I were as certain of anything as Professor Harnad is of his vision of the open access future.  Surely one can be sympathetic to his frustration at those who bring up irrelevant issues or divergent points of view.  To his laser-like vision they are so obviously wrong.   Again and again (and again!) he tirelessly trots out his facts – that it is only fear that keeps academics from depositing articles into local repositories and so we must have mandates which will almost instantly (because academics love mandates) result in nearly 100% OA, at which point publishers will cease publishing and convert to peer review management organizations, funded by the windfall garnered by libraries who will cancel their now unnecessary journal subscriptions.

It will be a glorious day, akin to the day when the movie studios shut their doors once most households had television sets (or was it radio that went out of business?)  Or maybe it was the day that cable put the broadcast networks out to pasture.  I forget…

But no matter.  In the meantime, we must be vigilant and focused.  We must keep the evil subscription (“toll-access”) publishers in business (for the time being) and not so much as whisper the heresy that librarians might cancel journals prior to the day of the singularity.  Is it supposed to come as a surprise to them when we suddenly drop our subscriptions?  How much time will they need to re-tool to become peer review only organizations?  So many questions…

Although the metaphor is inexact, there’ve been many times over the past year that the line whispering in my head has been, “And the revolution eats its young…”  The Finch report tore the OA community asunder.  Where previously it had seemed that gold and green might coexist and one could be friendly with both, suddenly the camps became like the true fans of the Crimson Tide versus the Auburn Tigers.  Allegiance must be paid.  Professor Harnad leads the charge, castigating “Fools Gold” and hollering even more shrilly for mandates, mandates, mandates which are easy to implement and which the researchers desperately want in order to alleviate their fears and make those deposits that they are so eager to do.  It is inevitable and it is almost here.

In this taking of sides, Gold OA must be opposed at all costs, so former heroes of the movement, like PLoS or Biomed Central, conveniently drop off the radar screen.  Immediate open access to the version of record is now perceived as a danger, vastly inferior to scattered deposits of the author’s manuscript version.  The OA goal has been turned on its head.

One of the ironies for me in all of this is that I would actually love to see much of the future that Professor Harnad envisions come to pass.  Indeed, many years ago, at a meeting of librarians and publishers organized by Marty Frank and Mike Keller, I said that I could see a future in which an organization like APS acted strictly as a peer review organization, putting their stamp of approval on papers that could then be deposited in any of a variety of repositories.  Marty laughed (as he tends to at what he perceives as my more outlandish ideas).  I still think it’s a nifty concept.  But anyone who has studied diffusion of innovation theory and history knows that the path forward as outlined in the voluminous Harnadian corpus is a fantasy. 

In the real world, change happens in fits and starts, is messy and incomplete, results inevitably in a series of unintended consequences and is a matter of balancing pros and cons.  It is never as neat as Professor Harnad wants it to be.  For my part, I view the desirability of immediate open access to the permanent, curated version of record to be well worth the continued involvement of the commercial publishers.  I'm skeptical that the repository movement advances us very far.  But I'm not dogmatic about it.  

In a recent exchange, when asked by Jeroen Bosman what the reasons are for his speculations, he says, “Speculation, but grounded in the pragmatics, logic and evidence of what it actually going on today.”  In the magical thinking of Professor Harnad it is obvious and inevitable.  How frustrating it must be for him that so many of us fail to see it.

 

 


Not FASTR Enough

While the publishing industry continues to explore numerous avenues for providing full Open Access to the stewarded versions-of-record of the scientific literature, SPARC once again offers up the hope that the US Congress will save us from the evil paywalls.  Is  this really the best they can do?

Springer is now the largest commercial OA publisher in the world.  The publishers on the Highwire platform make over 2 million articles freely available within twelve months or less.  CrossRef is playing an increasingly important role in this space, most notably with the FundRef initiative.  NPG, AIP, and others are launching mega-journals built on the PLoS One model.  Wiley announced just today that they are moving two of their established journals to open access.  Even stodgy conservative Elsevier now publishes a couple dozen fully OA journals.

SPARC has changed the name of  their bill.  Yay!  Let's write our congresspeople!

There was a remarkable scene at the STM Annual Meeting in Frankfurt last October.  I was moderating the closing session, a discussion of the value of emerging models of scholarly publishing with Kent Anderson as the main speaker.  Always eager  to be provocative, Kent was being sharply critical of eLife, BioMed Central, PLoS One and the notion of open access in general (this will come as no surprise to readers of his pieces in the Scholarly Kitchen).  What resulted was significant pushback from many in the audience, who argued that not only were the various OA models financially viable, but that moving to OA was the  right thing  to do -- that it represented the values that had brought so many of  those people into publishing in the first place.  Imagine that -- 300 STM publishing executives in a conference room with a significant portion of them (and seasoned professionals at that) vociferously defending open access.

Alas.  I think I was the only librarian in the room.

The tide towards open access is inexorable.  Many in  the publishing industry recognize that and are actively engaged in making things happen.  Wouldn't it be nice if librarians were a part of that?  But SPARC, as the librarians' advocate for OA, would have us sit on our hands (well, one hand, I guess -- we're supposed  to use the other to write to Congress) and hope for a legislative solution.

The previous FRPAA versions of FASTR haven't even been able to get a decent congressional hearing.  It's easy enough for a congressperson to sign on as a co-sponsor, but  there doesn't really seem to be much legislative muscle behind it.  And even if it were, somehow, to get through Congress in the current session, think of  the time and money that will be wasted on building the infrastructure necessary for each agency to comply.  All for the sake of "freeing" manuscript versions of articles, many of which publishers are already making available.

I suppose you can't blame librarians too much.  If all they know about publishing is what they read in SPARC press releases it's natural to think that publishers are evil demons bent on hoarding knowledge to the detriment of civilization as we know it.  The slogans about publishers getting everything for free and making the taxpayers pay twice are compelling if you don't look at them too closely.

I'll agree with SPARC on one thing -- we've got no time to waste in moving the open access future forward.  Too bad that while publishing professionals of all stripes are working to make that happen librarians seem content to sit on the sidelines waving cardboard sabers.

 


What value do publishers bring to public access articles?

The complaint that publishers add little or no value to the scholarly publishing process is one of the most common soundbites used by the OA partisans.  And yet, if this were true, why would the NIH Public Access Policy or FRPAA be structured the way that they are?

Although the phrasing that is typically used is along the lines of "taxpayers fund the research so they are entitled to read the results of that research at no additional charge" that's not exactly what the mandates are actually after.  Several commentators have suggested that the public's entitlement could be met by making the research progress reports that are required by all funding agencies available.  Some agencies already have systems available to do that. 

As Phil Davis points out in The Scholarly Kitchen, recent studies show that fewer than half of NIH-funded clinical trials actually result in published articles within 30 months.  So wouldn't access to progress reports be a huge improvement over a focus on published articles?   Given the ratio of funded studies to published articles it is clear that neither the NIH Public Access Policy nor FRPAA are or could be very successful in achieving the goal of providing access to all the results of federally funded research.

But that's not actually what those policies are trying to achieve.   It's only after a publisher has accepted an article for publication that NIH or FRPAA is interested in getting a version of it.  Argue all you want about whether or not the publisher adds value, but these mandates are very explicit that there is something that publishers do that is absolutely essential.

It has something to do with peer review apparently.  Although again the partisans are quick to point out that the reviews are done for free and the decision is made by an editor who is getting, at best, a tiny honorarium, and that whatever it is that the publisher contributes, it can't be very much or be very costly.

So why do we need the publishers?  Why doesn't the NIH policy or FRPAA establish their own independent peer review process if peer review is so important, but so cheap?  Then the publishers couldn't complain that they were providing something of value for which they are not being compensated.

But I haven't seen anything like that suggested anywhere.  The NIH policy and FRPAA absolutely depend on publishers contributing something.  How can something of so little value be so absolutely essential?

 


We Can Do Better Than FRPAA

SPARC's greatest rhetorical achievement has been to establish the equivalence of support for FRPAA with support for Open Access.  If you're on the right side of the issue and believe that the public must have free access to at least the author's final version of peer reviewed published papers, then you must be in support of FRPAA.  If you question FRPAA then you must be in the pocket of the evil publishers, deviously trying to lock away the results of federally funded research from the deserving public.

But I'm troubled by FRPAA's willingness to make do with the author's final manuscript and with the scant lip service that it pays to interoperability, data-mining, and preservation.  I think its one size fits all approach doesn't reflect the actual diversity of approaches to the literature among disciplines, and that its unwillingness to engage in some level of compromise with the publishing community sets up an us/them framework that has already done considerable damage to the scholarly community and that makes enemies of people who, in fact, have much more aligned interests than is generally recognized.   Most worrisome of all, perhaps, the fact that FRPAA is presented as THE solution to public access gets in the way of productive discussion about how we might achieve a better path to open access.

The report from the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable, now two years old, still reflects the complexity of issues pretty well, and I'm encouraged by the fact that OSTP's RFI process clearly reflects those concerns.   Although the report doesn't specify a particular policy approach it does outline pretty well the issues that ought to be balanced in the development of such policies.

There have been a variety of ideas floated over the years that are worth looking at in developing a policy approach that improves on FRPAA's flaws, in particular the linking proposal that was made by a coalition of 57 not-for-profit publishers to NIH back in 2005/6, as well as Stuart Shieber's 2009 paper "Equity for Open-Access Publishing".

Elements that might be incorporated into such policies would include requiring that grantees publish in OA journals (whether fully OA or hybrid), that metadata be submitted to granting agencies to link back to the Version of Record, that standards for data-mining and interoperability be developed across all of the federal granting agencies, and that publishers either adopt robust preservation/archiving strategies on their own, or participate in "trusted" endeavors (however those turn out to be defined).

Policies along these lines would privilege the Version of Record, eliminate the embargo period, and emphasize the development of standards for interoperability.  They would provide a mechanism to encourage subscription publishers to develop fully OA business models, while injecting a level of market competition that could help to hold publication fees down.

They would also bump up against some issues of academic freedom by limiting where scientists could choose to publish, they would result in providing subsidies to commercial publishers for moving to OA, and they would not necessarily result in government controlled repositories like PubMed Central. 

So there's still plenty to argue about in the details.    But now is the time to have those arguments.  With the publishing industry already experimenting in numerous ways with OA business models, with many publishers on record opposing RWA, while stopping short of endorsing FRPAA, and with the OSTP folks sifting through all of the comments in response to the RFI, now is the time to move past the limitations of FRPAA and try to engage fully with all of the stakeholders to achieve immediate open access to the Version of Record.  Why in the world would we want to spend the next year engaging in a legislative fight that, even if it was won, wouldn't get us close to that?