Reading Diary: Open Access by Peter Suber

Scholars who grew up with the internet are steadily replacing those that grew up without it. Scholars who expect to put everything they write online, who expect to find everything they need online, and who expect unlocked content that they may read, search, link, copy, cut/paste, crawl, print, and redistribute, are replacing those who never expected these boons and got used to them, if at all, looking over their shoulder for the copyright police. Scholars who expect to find the very best literature online, harmlessly cohabitating with crap are, inexorably replacing scholars who, despite themselves perhaps, still associate everything online with crap.

Some lazy scholars believed that if something is not free online, them it's not worth reading. This has never been true. However, it's gradually becoming true, and those who want it to become true can accelerate the process. (p. 164)

First, lets get the important stuff out of the way. Peter Suber's book Open Access is an important book. You should read it, you should buy (or recommend) a copy for your library. You should buy a hundred boxes and give a copy to every faculty member at your institution.

And not just because it's a blazingly wonderful book -- although it mostly is -- but because it's a book that sets the stage for an intelligent, rational, fact-based discussion on the future of scholarly publishing. It does so in language familiar and accessible to faculty and administrators, particularly those beyond the sciences who might be unfamiliar with and skeptical the idea of open access. It makes OA seem reasonable and progressive, it makes it's advocates seem calm and forward-thinking. It makes the wholesale transformation of scholarly publishing into something more open seem almost inevitable.

Based in part of various of his other writings about OA, Suber very systematically covers all the main aspects of the topic, from a definition all the way through motivations, varieties of OA, policies, scope, how OA and copyright interact, economics, casualties and what the future may hold for OA.

Some of the topics that Suber covers that I found particularly important include how OA affects scholarly books, the importance of OA beyond just for human uses into areas such as text mining. I also really like how he clearly explains what OA is not -- basically dispelling a lot of the myths around the movement. He ends the book with some words on how scholars can make their own work more accessible.

Which brings me to...yes, as I implied above, this book is definitely aimed at scholars rather than the general public. While of great interest to higher education administrators or librarians, the goal of this book is to spread the word to faculty and researchers.

For librarians reading this book, it is definitely a plus that Suber doesn't take the condescending route and proclaim libraries and librarians to be casualties of increased OA. On the other hand, libraries as institutions that passively pay exorbitant subscription bills tend to figure more in the text than librarians as active participants, leaders and allies in reforming scholarly communications. Although I'm sure it's not intended to read this way (and there are a couple of good plugs for libraries & librarians in the last chapter), it's not hard to imagine faculty members reading this book imagining that their libraries need rescuing rather than coming away with the idea that their libraries are full of librarians who would be happy joining them storming the barricades. Change will happen faster and better if we hang together.

The librarian's perspective on learning about and advocating for OA, Walt Crawford's book is a better bet. In fact, the books are complementary more than competing so both books are useful to have.

It's also worth noting that although this is more of a professional trade book rather than an academic monograph and thus not really the focus of the OA movement, Suber and MIT Press will make this book open access six months after publication. Which was somewhat controversial to the Scholarly Kitchen crowd. Which, to say the least, I disagreed with. On the other hand, the process of me reading this book and preparing the review certainly inspired a few of my recent posts about scholarly communications, either directly or indirectly.

Finally, who would I recommend this book to? First of all, this book is a must-have for any academic library. No question about that. And even many public libraries would find it of interest to their patrons. And it would certainly make a great gift or prize at any library/faculty event. And I'm only half joking when I suggest giving a copy to every faculty member on campus.

Suber, Peter. Open Access. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012. 242pp. ISBN-13: 978-0262517638

(Review copy supplied by publisher.)


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Many thanks, John. I appreciate it.

On the role of librarians in the OA movement, here's a comment I made in a July 2011 interview with Richard Poynder: "Librarians lobby for OA mandates. They write to their representatives in the legislature. They make phone calls and visit. They network and organize. They communicate with one another, with their patrons, and with the public. They launch, maintain, and fill repositories. They write up their experiences, case studies, surveys, and best practices. They pay attention. On average, they understand the issues better than any other stakeholder group, including researchers, administrators, publishers, funders, and policymakers...."…

I've said similar things many times in the past. I'd be very sorry if my attempt to paint the picture of the serials pricing crisis led anyone to see librarians as passively paying exorbitant prices rather than actively strategizing to change the system.

If my picture does inadvertently leave that impression for some readers, I'll look for ways to fix that in my page of updates and supplements. For example, I'll start by including the comment I quoted above!

By Peter Suber (not verified) on 27 Sep 2012 #permalink

Thanks, Peter. I appreciate your reply and I think that what you quote is exactly what I was hoping to see! And maybe it stuck out that it wasn't there because I was always pretty sure it reflects what you actually think.