Librarian radicals of the sixties
Breaking Down the Mental Models

Chicago Collaborative Rules of Engagement

It occurred to me while Liz and I were meeting with our Elsevier reps the other day that part of the reason that my perspective on publishers and publishing is so different from so many of my colleagues is that while I spend far more time with publishers than most librarians, almost none of that time is spent with sales & marketing people.   When Steven Bell, who writes prolifically about library matters had the opportunity to spend some extended time with publisher representatives, the encounter surprised him.  But, as he says, "My interaction with scholarly publishers has consisted primarily of short conversations at library conference booths."  This really has to change.

The Chicago Collaborative (CC) was designed to foster the kinds of conversations that can surprise both librarians and publishers when we sit down to talk about the issues that we have in common and quit thinking of each other primarily as buyers and sellers.  And in the five meetings that we've had so far, it's been extremely successful at that.  At the end of each day there's been a palpably giddy sense in the room.  We're all learning so much and there is a growing sense of how much we can accomplish when we work together, rather than being at odds.

But up to now, the library community has been represented exclusively by members of the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries (AAHSL).  (All of us are members of MLA and some of us are members of ALA or come from ARL institutions, but with the CC we're there as AAHSL reps.)  I've been pretty insistent all along that eventually this needs to expand.  The issues that we're trying to address are of concern to all librarians, not just those with a biomedical focus.

All the same, we all feel protective of our fledgling unorganization.  The adversarial approach that has been adopted by the OA advocacy groups has generated a great deal of mistrust in the community.  Too many librarians have an image of publishers as mercenary fat cats determined to "lock-up" scholarship, and too many publishers have come to believe that librarians would just as soon put them all out of business.  But when the CC meets, we have to put those notions aside, and work with each other in good faith, as people who are fundamentally dedicated to improving scholarly communication for everyone.

So we've drafted what we're calling the Rules of Engagement -- a set of principles that govern how we approach our discussions.  The rules refer to the Chatham House Rule (which I learned about when I joined the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable) and are designed to establish a baseline for candid conversations based on the idea that we are not there to push specific agendas, but to learn from each other and to work with each other.

It's a tall order -- we're trying to change the nature of the conversation that librarians and publishers and editors and scholars have.  But I remind myself that the CC is only a little over two years old and I think we're making progress.  I'm impatient because I feel that we (and by "we" I mean all of those in the scholarly communication community who care about making the most of the opportunities the digital age presents us) have wasted far too much time. 

Open access week is coming up.  Here's what I wish librarians would do -- if you really care about advancing the openness of scholarship, make a commitment to go to at least one publishers conference or meeting in the next year.  Introduce yourself to somebody other than your sales rep.  Go have a cup of coffee or a drink.  Ask them about what they see as the future of scholarly publishing.  And then listen.



I'm of mixed minds about this.

On one hand, it is very good to be moving past the acrimony and self-righteousness that have comprised many librarian-publisher relations in recent years.

On the other hand, the traditional publishing model--based on a time when articles had to be printed and mailed as the only means of distribution--really should be at risk. The idea of the library and university as publisher seems ripe. In addition to the costs associated with obtaining journals, there is huge amounts of staff time (to negotiate licenses) and IT time (to maintain proxy servers) devoted to maintaining the current system. These costs usually aren't accounted for because they are more hidden than the subscription fees.

So while librarians shouldn't demonize publishers, we should boldly explore new models. We can seek to productively work with publishers to do so but should leave open the possibility of going our separate ways. After all (to cite another example), most manufacturing is now overseas because it's much cheaper. Everything has to end at some point.


One notion I'd like librarians to reconsider is that of the publisher role in scholarly communication as merely one of printing and mailing. Publishers work to get content chosen, prepared, and distributed. While historically the only way to do that was in a print journal, that doesn't mean the goal of a publisher is to print and mail something.

With the mix of print and digital media - as well as changing opportunities and expectations in format and accessibility -, readers, authors, librarians, and publishers are all facing changed models. Let's find ways to work together to create the future of scholarly communication.


TRichardson, thanks for the corrective. It is true that publishers do far more than print and mail.

Here's a better way to say it: the relationships and norms between publishers and librarians were formed in that "print/mail era." There was only means of distribution (the publisher) and only one place to access the content (the physical library.) Obviously, all of this has changed. So is it realistic to think that relationships between publisher and librarians can endure in much the same form?

Publishers today are figuring out how to go right to the consumer, cutting out the library middleman. If I were a publisher this is what I would do too. Thus librarians have to be creative, and one possibility would be to publish directly. Any library that undertakes this will rapidly learn just how much more publishers do than print and mail. That doesn't mean it's a bad idea or shouldn't be tried.

I'm not averse to working together and may well be suffering from a lack of imagination. So I leave this as an open question: in the Internet age, how can we credibly align the interests of publishers and librarians?

T Scott

Marcus -- your comments raised enough issues that I wrote a new post to address them:

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