Reading Diary: Open Access: What You Need to Know Now by Walt Crawford

Sometimes we Open Access advocates tend to assume everybody is already on our side. You know, all our librarian and scientist colleagues out there. Surely by now they've seen the light. They understand the main issues and flavours of OA, can ably summarize the major arguments for OA and refute the major complaints against.

Of course, reality is a lot more complicated than my dreamy, unrealistic wishes.

Convincing librarians to support Open Access, either directly or indirectly, is usually fairly easy but even we have a number of misconceptions and misunderstandings about what OA really means. After all, the legacy scholarly publishing system is one in which we have a defined role, one that we see as honourable and necessary. We like to see ourselves as battling evil publishers to provide access to our lily white patrons.

So, yeah, sometimes we have an unhealthy commitment to the status quo.

And what does the OA movement offer to librarians? Well, maybe if everything is free and we don't have to serve that all-too-vital intermediary role, well maybe OA offers us oblivion.

Of course, I don't think OA implies the death of libraries and librarians but it is a challenge to the way we've always done things.

And so, yes, even the librarian community harbours a lot of misconceptions about OA.

And don't get me started about the world of researchers. Lots of misconceptions there too, including the one that OA will mean that we librarians don't have a role anymore.

So, how to clear up all these misunderstandings?

A great way would be to read Walt Crawford's new book, Open Access: What You Need to Know Now. (ALA Store)

It's a clear, concise explanation of what Open Access is, what the movement implies and, most of all, what the myths are surrounding the movement.

While largely aimed at librarians that support scholarly research, it is also a valuable source of information about why OA is important across all segments of the library world -- because open access to scholarship is important across all segments of society.

In the various chapters of the book, Crawford basically covers all the important points you would expect in such a book:

  • Why we should care
  • What OA is
  • The issues in more depth
  • Controversies around OA and responses to those misconceptions
  • Getting involved and taking action
  • Learning more and keeping up

Virtually every page had ah "Aha!" moment for me, a moment of recognition, of joy to see a point well made, a starting point for further reflection, a provocation, a point to remember next time I'm talking to faculty.

There were also some quibbles about this or that, maybe the order things could have been presented or minor things like that. But really, nothing substantial or anything that would affect the validity of the argument that Crawford makes.

Because, yes, this book is essentially an argument. The argument being that libraries and librarians should be at the forefront of promoting Open Access in the scholarly community and beyond. And, thanks to Crawford, we have the arguments for, "Here's why!" gathered together in a convenient librarian-friendly package.

Crawford's done the library world a huge service with this book and we are all in his debt.

So, how would I recommend this book. First of all, every single academic library should have this book in their collection. It will be a valuable primer for librarians for years to come, a great resources to get up to speed. Other libraries that support scholarship and research should also have a copy. Large public library systems could also use a copy.

In terms of individuals, there is probably not a lot of reason for most librarians to buy a copy for themselves although I'm sure that many who see themselves as strongly tied to the movement might want a copy. As for buying individual scholars a copy, well that's probably not very useful. Unfortunately, they would likely see it as aimed at librarians rather that themselves and perhaps not take it too seriously. And of course, ones that would take it seriously are probably already in the OA camp. John Willinsky's The Access Principle might serve that purpose better.

Crawford, Walt. Open Access: What You Need to Know Now. Chicago: ALA Editions, 2011. 76pp. ISBN-13: 978-0838911068 (ALA Store)

(Reviewed using a PDF advanced readers copy, provided by the author)

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Except that The Access Principle minimizes and distorts librarian involvement in OA. I'd actually go for Borgman Scholarship in the Digital Age instead, chapter 5. The book isn't about open access the way Willinsky's is, but it's less polemical (faculty, like other human beings, don't respond well to polemic that doesn't fit their worldview) and is situated in a wealth of excellent context.

Thanks, Dorothea. Good point. I wonder if there are any other articles in particular that people would recommend for faculty? I know there are some at PLoS that might be good.

Thanks for the thoughtful writeup (and positive review!). I'd tend to agree that individual scholars probably wouldn't be targets for this brief writeup...and, well, what Dorothea sez.

You're welcome, Walt. And I think I have to read the Borgman book.