Speak up. Create Action.


One of my favourite albums in high school was The DecibelsCreate Action. (They had a brief reunion in 2013. You might be able to see me dancing to their cover of “That’s When Happiness Began” by the Grains of Sand in this video.) The title track, “Create Action”, is a good anthem of actually doing something. Yesterday when I was writing about SLA signing on to COAR, this song popped into my head. (A nice departure from “Wichita Lineman” which is usually in there.) That’s it for the rock and roll lesson.

So the good news from yesterday is that this morning I received an email from Doug Newcomb, Deputy CEO of SLA, that the association has joined all of those other groups and signed on to the COAR letter denouncing Elsevier’s new sharing policy. This is fantastic and I really appreciate that SLA took this action. I will renew my membership this month after all! You know what I’m happiest about though? Not just that they’re taking a stand for members on an issue that directly affects our mission and values, but that they responded to my letter.

Building upon my earlier post about showing you’re a radical through action, one of the most important ways to affect change is to speak up and create action. I don’t know if groups like ALA, SLA, SPARC, the EFF speaking out against the new Elsevier policy will make them change their mind but not speaking up will definitely yield no change. It’s why I took the time to write to the SLA Board of Directors and the Public Policy Advisory Council to ask them and take action on the issue rather than just leave it at my snarky, dismayed tweet. The tweet alone would have just been a small public stunt that would be lost in the void and there would most likely not be any further action. Emailing a lot of people I knew who could and probably would actually do something created the action.

This is a skill I think we all need to develop – the ability to listen to our conscience and speak up. In the case of this issue, it wasn’t just saying, “Hey! SLA, do something!” but taking the time to figure out appropriate channels and craft a message they will be receptive to while still communicating my intent. It’s totally a “the change your want to see” idea. There’s still a lot of work to do around the issues facing publishers, authors, and libraries with regards to Open Access. (John Dupuis just posted a good summary of where we are with the Elsevier policy.) So create action.

SLA: Speak up, I can’t hear you.

flickr photo shared by Ape Lad under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

Update: On 21 May, 2015 SLA signed on to the COAR statement. Way to go, SLA!

This morning an announcement hit my inbox from ARL about a number of library groups denouncing Elsevier’s new sharing and hosting policy.  (I wrote about it recently, so I won’t really address the issue again now.) I looked at the list of signatories to COAR’s statement hoping to see my library association of choice (SLA), but wasn’t really surprised when I saw they were absent.  It reminded me of FASTR and how they were slow to speak out against it, though after some prodding they did. This situation is different because this isn’t directly about legislation or regulation, but about a major publisher’s policies (that kind of relate to regulation).

The realist in me understands why SLA hasn’t yet (and likely won’t) comment on the change in Elsevier’s policy. This has been a somewhat tumultuous year for the association as we collectively figure out what SLA means and what the way ahead will be. If you’re a member of SLA, please go read the SLA Recommendations Report and comment on it! These sorts of advocacy issues may be relatively straightforward and require little effort, but they are not really a priority for SLA right now. We have bigger issues. There’s also the fact that it’s difficult to speak against a large “vendor partner”, especially when SLA needs to strengthen its relationship with vendor partners for survival reasons.

At the same time, I want to belong to a professional association that speaks up about these kinds of issues. I want them to advocate for access to information. It’s in the interest of many of SLA’s members and our library users. Not only would making these statements support members who are working on these issues, it would also position SLA alongside many other library associations like ALA. It’s a form of publicity or marketing, showing that we are interested in access to research that impacts everybody. If you’re a member and want SLA to do something on the issue, I recommend contacting the Board of Directors. I wrote them this morning.

And this is where it gets difficult for me to see how I fit in with SLA if they don’t speak up on these kinds of issues. After reading the recommendations, I felt somewhat out of place within the association structure, but I am used to that. I’m also used to SLA being conservative when it comes to policy positions, but I’m tired of it. I think this constant inward focus and reluctance to push back against policies that negatively impact the core mission of library and information centers needs to stop, but I also don’t think SLA is in a place right now to do it. That makes me sad. Many SLA members look to the association for professional development opportunities. Advocacy, for the profession and our services, is one of these opportunities we’ve been neglecting. It would be great if members could cultivate the skills to speak up when issues directly affect our professional interests, and learn to communicate respectfully with our vendors partners to establish mutually beneficial relationships.

I’ve seen many energetic and enthusiastic SLA members drop their membership in recent years because the association wasn’t for them. I understand there will always be churn, but it shouldn’t be from Rising Stars and Fellows. When the people who were heavily involved with making the association strong and viable for the future fade out because they feel their energy would be better spent elsewhere, it’s worrying. Everybody has reasons – money, time, other commitments, but the disagreement on direction is I think the most troublesome because it’s the easiest to do something about. Unfortunately, this might be the thing that makes me fade away. I hope not because I truly do value my membership with SLA and have benefitted greatly from my involvement with the association, but if it continues to go in directions that go against my values I will probably go elsewhere.

Confusion Reigns With Open Access Mandates. Thanks, Elsevier.

flickr photo shared by Ape Lad under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

One of the most tiring problems with Open Access (OA) policies is that the ground keeps shifting making it extremely difficult to be up to date. It’s easy to understand why so many authors (academics and researchers) roll their eyes and see these mandates as an obstacle, because they are despite the efforts of many OA advocates. Even with the White House’s public access to research memo, the road to implementation has been prolonged. One reason for this is the way many of the big, established academic publishers have “embraced” OA: too often the policies are cryptic, either frustrating or deceiving authors. Take for example this week’s announcement from Elsevier on article sharing. The always reliable Kevin Smith breaks it down:

Two major features of this retreat from openness need to be highlighted.  First, it imposes an embargo of at least one year on all self-archiving of final authors’ manuscripts, and those embargoes can be as long as four years.  Second, when the time finally does roll around when an author can make her own work available through an institutional repository, Elsevier now dictates how that access is to be controlled, mandating the most restrictive form of Creative Commons license, the CC-BY-NC-ND license for all green open access.

Smith also links to Elsevier’s 50-page document listing all of the different embargo periods for its journals. It’s no wonder why people are confused and frustrated.

For perspective, let’s use my local users as an example. We have a UC OA policy and the local UC Berkeley guide. Not all of our funding comes from federal sources, so the OSTP mandate doesn’t cover all of our publications though the UC mandate will (but not grad students, yet). Then you have to look where our researchers publish and want to publish – for transportation 6 of the top 10 journals ranked by impact factor are published by Elsevier. (I’m currently working on a data set to see how often we’ve published in these journals in the last decade, results forthcoming, but I can say from data collection it’s considerable.) Edited to add: I’ve run some preliminary data. Based on journals ITS researcher have published articles in 3 or more times since 2005, Elsevier accounts for 31% (150 articles), TRB is 27% (128), ACS is 8% (37), IEEE is 7% (32), and ASCE is 6% (27). So Elsevier’s OA policies are something I try to understand despite the confusion, and even I’m frustrated even though I’d say I’m a pretty optimistic OA advocate.

I’m not going to go so far as Smith as to suggest it’s time for another boycott because I know my faculty won’t really go for it, but I do think we need to have a conversation about what their choices mean and the cycles of publishing and tenure. It would also be great to have more OA options for them to publish in. The Journal of Transport and Land Use and the Journal of Public Transportation are great, but they only cover limited areas. So hey transportation faculty- if you’re reading this, let’s make a difference. Consider publishing OA and maybe even starting a new journal. I’m here to help.

Busy Signals: How to deal with “busy” and volunteering

flickr photo shared by Tom Simpson under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

Lately there’s been a lot of talk about the Cult of Busy, how to escape it, and why you shouldn’t use it as an excuse because we’re all busy.

I totally get it, especially for librarians who have to be involved in professional service. We all have our obligations that keep us busy. In addition to my actual job I am involved in SLA and TRB, and try to stay active in local civic hacking groups. There’s also my extracurricular activities; volunteering at a college radio station where I also DJ, playing soccer, organizing a neighborhood group, and a bunch of other miscellaneous things. (If I had kids, this would be a different list, but I don’t think the message would really change.)

The thing with professional volunteering/service, is that everybody’s busy. It’s also, by nature kind of voluntary. That means you have some control over the terms of your engagement. Want a more active role with more responsibility? Then you’re going to have to give more time and energy. Don’t have much time to spare? Then there are less demanding opportunities. These organizations depend on volunteers, but they really need volunteers who know how much they can commit and follow through with that.

It’s why I am pretty much over the refrain”I can’t because I’m busy” when the task in question is part of a commitment they made to the group. This is especially vexing from people in leadership positions because they should have known better. It’s human nature though – people don’t want to say no, many like the feeling of being in a position of power and responsibility, it looks good on a resume, you need it for promotion, and many other reasons. The thing I’ve learned (the hard way, through embarrassing disappointment), is that saying no or stepping down when it’s clear you can’t really follow through on the time commitment looks a hell of a lot better than drowning in deadlines and letting things just ebb. This is why when I was asked this year to step up to some pretty big things for one group I said no, because I already agreed to a very time intensive role for another group. I know my limits.

So if you know you’re busy and you have a bunch of stuff going on, just say no to more stuff. Or if you say yes, don’t be surprised when people expect you to do stuff. This is something they really should teach you in school, but it’s usually something you learn through experience.


#SU4T – Why we need to fund transportation.

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-ND ) flickr photo shared by avantard

Today, April 9 2105, Stand Up 4 Transportation and let congress know that we need to fund our transportation system for the long term. You might have seen something about it on Twitter under the hashtag #SU4T. There are press conferences and rallies all around the U.S.A. today spearheaded by the transit community to ask congress to pass the Grow America Act as the next transportation authorization bill. One of the big (sadly audacious) features of Grow America is that it’s for 6 years of funding. This is a departure from the sadly shortsighted cycle we’ve been stuck in for two long of 1-2 year funding cycles. We’re at a critical point (again) as the Highway Trust Fund runs out of money May 31. People have been campaigning to fix the trust fund, but congress won’t move and our infrastructure continues to crumble. John Oliver addressed this on his program recently – “infrastructure is important, but not sexy.” It’s not but we need it to function and we need to pay for it.

The how is a big question is how will we fund it. The federal gas tax has not kept up with inflation and congress refuses to raise it even though think tanks from both parties agree it should be raised. The main proposed funding mechanism are user fees in the vein of gas taxes or road tolls. This reflects how local governments have moved to try and fill their funding needs through raising the gas tax in their states or through more public-private-partnerships on toll roads. (I’m not even touching VMT taxes at this time, but they’re going to be a part of the solution.) User-fees for transportation funding makes so much sense that the Reason foundation is dismayed about the backlash against tolls.

So why I am blogging about this on my library blog? I’ve written before about the need to fund transportation research and this is pretty much the same thing. I think it’s also important to remember how much these huge, national programs depend on federal funding from congress. The issue isn’t just our anemic transit systems or overbuilt, crumbling highway system. It’s also the lack of a coherent plan (and the ability to execute the plan) that these short term funding cycles is really hurting the whole system. Long term research projects to help move our nation’s transportation system into the next era are being hindered by the uncertainty of our current situation, where considerable time is spent applying for funding for the next couple years, rather than the next decade or so. (Of course some of this is done for accountability, but that’s an excuse of poor management.)

So stand up for transportation, fund our system, and let’s plan for the future.