Chicago Collaborative Rules of Engagement
Searching for common ground: public access and the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable

Breaking Down the Mental Models

It hasn't been my geographic region for fifteen years, but every year I pay my own way to the MCMLA conference.  My history with the chapter is deep.  I go principally for the people, but every year I'm reminded what a great job they do with content.  Last year, the keynote was the amazing T.R. ReidThis year it kicked off with the tag team of Lorri Zipperer and Paul Uhlig.

 Lorri is well known for her work on patient safety, and this was the point of the presentation, as reflected in the title,  New Possibilities: The Catalytic Role of Librarians as Front Line Partners for Transforming Clinical Care.  But unlike other work I've come across over the years that discusses a more active clinical role for librarians, Lorri and Paul focused on the cultural barriers to this kind of collaboration, and emphasized the kinds of interactions that need to happen if it is to be successful.  I'd woken up that morning thinking about how I might respond to Marcus's comments to my previous post and it seemed to me that the challenges to effective librarian/physician interactions paralleled quite clearly those affecting librarians and publishers.

 They emphasized the ways in which we get trapped by our mental models.   This is not just librarians, of course; it affects all professions.  So we end up having warped views of those we interact with who are not part of our own tribe.  Lorri told the story of talking to someone not long out of library school and recommending that she read some of Atul Gawande's books.  The librarian responded, "I'd never read anything by a surgeon!"  Lorri told her she was in the wrong business.  An extreme example, perhaps, but reflective of how too many librarians think of physicians.

Paul put it succinctly:  "We are who we are because of the way we interact, who we talk with...  We create our realities in our mutual interactions."

So it is with librarians and publishers.  As librarians we create mental models of publishers that puts us in opposition to them.  Marcus says, "The traditional publishing model ... really should be at risk."  I scarcely know a person in publishing who doesn't agree with that -- but the tone of Marcus's comment reflects the notion, prevalent among librarians, that publishers are trying to defend and protect a traditional publishing model.  Surely it's the case that there are some who are trying to hang in there, hoping for retirement before it all collapses around them -- just as there are librarians who still think their job is to build & manage collections and worry about how to get people into the library.  But most of the people I talk with in publishing are trying just as vigorously as smart librarians to figure out how to transform their organizations so that they remain vibrant and fruitful in the digital age.

Marcus asks, "How can we credibly align the interests of publishers and librarians?" and in an email message to me he suggests that "the interests of the two groups are on a collision course..."  I think many librarians feel that way, but it has become very clear to me, through my work with the Chicago Collaborative and the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable, as well as so many of the numerous other conversations and interactions that I've had with publishers over the past decade that our interests are aligned in many more ways than they are in opposition.  But you'd never know that if the only conversations that you ever have are with somebody who is trying to get you to pay a price that's higher than what you want to pay. 

I'm a library director, so it's my job to worry about money and the health of my organization -- but of course, that's not ALL I worry about.  Publishers worry about research fraud, professional ethics, the development of young scholars, preservation and archiving, using new technologies to enhance communication, and developing better discovery and analysis tools to further the impact of research.  And, yes, they worry about how to get the scholarly literature into the hands of those who can benefit from it the most, which is why all of the major commerical STM publishers are experimenting with at least some kind of an open access or public access option.   The Roundtable's core recommendation is:  "Each federal research funding agency should expeditiously but carefully develop and implement an explicit public access policy that brings about free public access to the results of the research that it funds as soon as possible after those results have been published in a peer‐reviewed journal."  Every publisher in the room agreed with that -- the core disagreements had to do with how much government intervention is advisable and necessary.

I don't expect to agree on all issues with my colleagues in publishing.  For heaven's sake, Lynn and I just celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary -- I know about having disagreements with people that you care about.  

Lorri and Paul made a very compelling case for how much can be improved for patients when the people involved in patient care -- including the patients themselves -- are part of a broad conversation that exists in an atmosphere of trust.  They also pointed out that creating that atmosphere is something that takes time, patience, hard work and a willingness to listen and to challenge one's own mental models.  Those of us who care about the future of scholarly communication can achieve a great deal as well, but we have to have that same willingness.




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