Open Access Rants: On the wagon with Henry Ford & Steve Jobs

Yes, it has become a trilogy. The two Twitter rants I recapped here sparked more angst and anguish in me, prompting me to write a third rant.

As it became ready for Twitter publication and approached 800 words, it also became clear that this particular rant was fast outgrowing what I could reasonably expect people to follow on Twitter, easily over 40 tweets worth of text. As many epic fantasy series can attest, these things can get out the control of the author quite easily. At least I'm not pulling a GRRM and taking 6 or more years in between installments!

I did sent out a tweet last night asking for advice and it was unanimous. Go straight to the blog version.

So here it is. While not unleashed on Twitter, I hope it's taken in the same spirit of fast and loose commentary. With an edge, yes, but also open to discussion and debate. Not a final word, not even necessarily exactly what my own final thoughts will be on the subject, but quick and dirty meant to start rather than end the discussion.

Here goes, exactly as it would have appeared on Twitter:

Initiate final installment in the Open Access Rant Trilogy.

How do we hang together on the goddam bus? How do we start getting from here to there? What roles do the different stakeholders need to play for a truly open scholarly communications system to become a reality? There are already lots of organizations holding lots of meetings every year, all with the goal of making OA a reality. There are also already lots of organizations holding lots of meetings each year hoping to to keep things from happening, or at least slowing down progress.

Sadly, bringing all those people together and making universal OA happen is way above my pay grade.

But I think I can at very least share some small bits of half-baked semi-rational “advice” for the various stakeholders.

Funders: The golden rule. You have the gold, you can make (or at least nudge) the rules. The key is to find a way to aggregate the funds coming from different sources and make sure it ends up supporting the ecosystem not the rent-takers. Biggest problem? Disconnect between how money gets to publishers etc via libraries etc vs how research itself is funded. APCs solve some of that but create other problems too.

Scholarly societies: It seems to me that OA is something where you should absolutely be world-beating leaders, not foot-draggers. Lead, don’t follow. That’s what your membership (and scholarship and society) deserves even if they don’t articulate it that way. Virtually every society mission statement has something about the public good. C’mon, do some good!

Academic libraries/librarians: We’re in a tough spot. If all goes well, our currently well defined role in scholarly publishing (ie. wallet) will largely disappear. We need to find a new role, whether that’s some other kind of wallet, host, archive, publisher, navigator, guide on the side or likely some combination of all of them. My advice? We need to reconcile ourselves to wanting the old wallet role to go away because that’s just best for everyone. Think of it as those stages of grief, playing out over the next 5-10 years. It’s too easy to be in denial or anger, we need to bargain our way into the bigger conversation with the other stakeholders and get to acceptance.

Authors: It’s hard to remember sometimes that the real reason for research isn’t to advance our careers but rather advancing our careers is a by-product of doing good work that advances the human condition in some way. Authors *are* the academy and can work towards saner research reward & incentive systems in academia.

Institutions: Have institutional OA mandates. Support funder mandates. Make it easier for *all* your faculty and researchers to follow the various mandates, full time and part time. Work with *all* your scholars to make tenure/promotion/career path management incentives and rewards more open-friendly.

Commercial publishers: Be the mammals, not the dinosaurs. There’s plenty of money to be made in scholarly publishing. But you knew that already and the smartest among you are already reimagining what open business models can look like.

Publishing pundits & consultants: The good ones see the writing on the wall. Resist the temptation to take your clients’ money for fear, uncertainty and doubt. Get in the business of transforming dinosaurs into mammals.

Open Access pundits: Leadership without the “dancing on the head of a pin” and “my way or the highway” arguments would be nice even if sometimes the fine points are important. Let’s find a way to lead people forward, recognizing that a common goal doesn’t need a common path to get there. I like some of the Bolman/Gallos ideas on political & symbolic academic leadership.

To all the stakeholders: if you imagine that your constituencies aren't ready for this, or that it’s not really in their best interest or whatever rationalization you use to hang on to the status quo just a little longer, just remember what Henry Ford said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Or if you want the same idea from somebody who’s a lot more post-industrial, Steve Jobs, “People don't know what they want until you show it to them.”

This ranty list of likely irrational suggestions is only my own and therefore must be biased, incomplete and at least partially blind. I see myself in many of my suggestions to the various stakeholders. I admit to not being immune.

I welcome all your additions and corrections.

Hanging together on the goddam wagon with Henry Ford and Steve Jobs.

What’s got me all worked up right now? These two: &


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Very nice. One little tweak, however: "Libraries/librarians:" really does need "Academic" before it. There are a few tens of thousands of public and school libraries and librarians out there who have different sets of concerns and probably don't see their roles as primarily wallets.

By Walt Crawford (not verified) on 04 Sep 2014 #permalink

Hi Walt, Good point. I've updated.

The only irrational thing about your arguments is that you're hoping folks will do things for the Greater Good, and not their own benefit :)

On the researcher side, there's an obvious need incentivize openness in ways that benefit individuals. That's one of the reasons why altmetrics are so important, IMHO.

On the society side...well, sometimes I just want to shake my fist at them and their hand-wavey excuses of "WHAT'LL WE DO IF OUR JOURNAL SUBSCRIPTION INCOME GOES AWAY?! HOW WILL WE EXPECT TO KEEP THIS ORGANIZATION ALIVE?!" I know they face challenges and I'm sympathetic (to a point); but we've all got to get on the "goddamn bus" before it leaves some of us behind.