California Dreamin’

an image of a poster with alternate access points to Elsevier articles including OA Button plugin, Google Scholar, the libraries, and reaching out to authors.
Alternative Access to Elsevier Articles Graphic from UC http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/alternative_access_graphic.pdf

Yesterday, the University of California publicly walked away from negotiations with Elsevier to take control of their research and the narrative. You can read the release from the Office of the President and the statement from the Faculty Senate online. While there are many takeaways from this move- and I’ll be watching the scholarly resources marketplace reaction- what strikes me most is the clear and significant coordination of this effort, which is inspiring.

Let’s be honest- I love a splashy and strategic play- and we don’t get tons of those in libraries. We should see more. It’s a significant victory for the Open Movement, no matter the long-term outcome. It’s clear from Elsevier’s statement (scroll down) that the giant sees opportunities to bring UC back to the table, but not much else in it is clear. That’s their Elsevier M.O. though, who cares.

As an academic librarian, I see this roll out as the establishment of a bit of a playbook for future such activities and there are takeaways to help both individual institutions and systems.

Coordinate Communication. 

This maybe isn’t a sexy point- but it should be. Da-a-a-amn, am I impressed with how clearly prepared the whole UC System was to put this out. The President’s message dropped right after the Faculty Senate and Libraries memo dropped. What a signal of support and groundswell commitment.  The link that ends the President’s statement takes you right to the Office of Scholarly Communications website. Most of the big system libraries also had their statements ready to go, and everyone’s messaging aligned around the future of OA but also around their support of the decision to stop negotiations.

It’s not a small compliment to make that this whole team of professionals had their act totally together. It’s like watching a good heist movie, really.

And all of the statements from stakeholders spoke in direct support of library leadership of the negotiations and access to research. That’s the future of collections right there- not an invisible process that facilitates access without contextualizing the costs. It’s all about how we demonstrate the value of our work by making it visible, which requires this kind of integrated communication and outreach to be successful.

Believe the Pitch. 

And I mean the pitch around open knowledge but also the pitch that we’re qualified and ready to make the call as to when to walk away. Many libraries are forever on hold with open work, or negotiating harder, waiting for the right time or the right faculty partners to show up. As scholarly communications agents, librarians in every area of library service should be pitching ourselves and our work to spark the conversations necessary to get this level of buy-in. The buy-in that made this cancellation possible was built over years, and we might consider the actual culmination the Declaration of Rights and Principles to Transform Scholarly Communication the University Committee on Scholarly Communication released in 2018. It gave the players a document to lean on, and the document was built on the investment in the idea and pitch of open knowledge but also library leadership.

“Knowledge should not be accessible only to those who can pay,” the memorably succinct quote from Robert May on the UC Faculty Senate, is clear evidence of the deep resonance of the pitch. We can believe it because it is true.

UC believes it, and they’re moving forward. They’re pitching all of us. And I definitely believe it.

Prepare Paths to Access.

Directly linked to coordinating communications and pitching is real preparation, the libraries have resources already up with info on how you can get to Elsevier content as needed. One shortcoming I see when we communicate with researcher stakeholders around collections is that we talk about how they won’t truly lose access to anything without actually outlining what that access will look like.

It’s a big enough leap without the additional uncertainty of an unfamiliar access point. In the libraries statement, there are bullet points clarifying what access is affected and what is available. There is a straight forward website about getting to what you need. All of these were in place and in front of UC users in advance. It makes lots of library labor visible which gets me to my next point quite nicely.

The Library Leads. 

Who did the pitching? Who did the coordination? Who managed the negotiations?

It’s really a masterclass in what library leadership can accomplish when directed and aligned. And at every level again, the library’s work is visible and valued, clearly communicated by campus partners. I would love to point this out to any librarian who has ever told me that our resources are there and our researchers just don’t know about it.

Pull No Punches. 

In the Elsevier statement, it is clear there is every opportunity for UC to come back to the table. But the “unilateral” decision to cease negotiations has definitely landed with the publisher. In a way, UC has set the table for all upcoming negotiations with Elsevier that will follow. Elsevier will be eager to avoid more public ends like these, which is the crucial lesson to my mind. The California Digital Library and UC librarians did a tremendous job sharing information about negotiations that Elsevier typically tries to keep as quiet as possible.

Being loud and sharing information is central to the strategy for any Elsevier negotiation moving forward. Let’s make a ruckus together, see what happens.

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