Librarians in the age of open access: An evolving role

By: Saskia Hoving, Thu Jul 4 2024
Saskia H

Author: Saskia Hoving

How has the role of libraries and librarians changed during the last decade’s rise of open access (OA) publishing? And more recently, with OA gaining momentum in the United States, what should librarians in this region keep in mind as OA becomes an inherent part of their role? In a special webinar titled The Inside-Out Library, librarians shared how they view their new and evolving responsibilities and what the OA transition has meant to their role.

In the webinar on librarians’ changing role in the open access (OA) transition, Keith Webster from Carnegie Mellon University and Mathew Willmott from California Digital Library shared insights from their experiences as early adopters of OA in the United States. With additional speakers Caroline Nevison, Director for OA Agreements at Springer Nature, and Bob Boissy, Account Development Director for the United States and Canada at Springer Nature, they provided context and meaning to the rise of OA in the United States and how it affects librarians.

Librarians in the OA transition

Librarians – as key members in the research community – have seen dramatic changes to their role with the rise of OA. Substantially, the adoption of transformative agreements (TAs), a model that combines reading and publishing fees in one licence, enforces monumental transformations to the responsibilities, competencies, and objectives of librarians’ work. A case study by Springer Nature explored what these changes have meant to three organisations in the United States, with representatives sharing on the process of migrating licences, the impact on working practices, and advice they’d offer.

To get a better idea of how the role of the librarian changes with the transition to OA, we asked Bob Boissy, Account Development Director for the United States and Canada at Springer Nature, for his input. Traditionally, he explains, librarians focused on managing the acquisition of outside content to be acquired and then circulated inside their campus. But with the rise of OA, librarians are being asked to help manage aspects of the distribution of local research to the outside world.

Having been with the library/information community for 40 years (!), Bob has performed duties ranging from training to technical support, standards, data exchange services, and licensing. He’s experienced firsthand the rise of OA and the new aspects it brought into the work of librarians. These include, according to Bob, the evaluation and subsequent curation of OA resources, the direction of local research results into OA publication via OA agreements, and an increased obligation to teach information literacy, including guidance about misinformation threats, predatory publishing, and threats to research integrity.

The role of librarians: From outside-in to inside-out

During the webinar, Keith Webster from Carnegie Mellon University argued that what it means to be a library has fundamentally shifted with the rise of OA. Formerly, libraries were designed to bring scholarly content from outside the institution into the campus, by acquiring books and journals for the community to use. While this is still an important part of librarian’s work, today libraries are enabling and encouraging university members to share their work from inside the university environment to the outside.

With the transition to OA publishing, librarians have the added responsibility of advocating for OA agreements that are negotiated between libraries and publishers to cover publishing fees for authors from participating institutions. Promoting OA agreements to the researcher community means a lot more communication and engagement with researchers, to make sure they are aware of the agreements and understand what they mean for their publishing.

“A benefit of these OA agreements has been the amount of advocacy work required on campus to ensure that our community is aware of and up to date with all of the agreements we have in place, so that we can track the uptake and the impact of that work” - Keith Webster, Dean of University Libraries at Carnegie Mellon University

Intensified engagement with researchers

Indeed, the primary shift in the librarian’s role in the transition to OA has been greater engagement with faculty and researchers, according to Mathew Willmott from California Digital Library. The publishing process was previously conducted mostly outside of the library. Librarians had little contribution in questions such as journal selection or the publication process. With OA agreements, the library suddenly has an active part to play throughout the process, from negotiating and signing the agreements, to helping authors navigate the various options and requirements, and implementing OA policies.

“Librarians, said Mathew, translate information into practical terms for researchers and educate them on OA publishing.” This has added importance because educated researchers are empowered, in turn, to advocate OA publishing with their peers, thus further supporting the transition to OA.

“Our engagement with authors is also an opportunity to try to effect positive change by helping authors consider equity of access to research results when choosing where they're publishing.” – Mathew Willmott, Assistant Director for Open Access Agreements at California Digital Library

Keeping up with the times: Updating librarians’ competencies

Caroline Nevison, Director for OA Agreements at Springer Nature, another speaker at the webinar, reiterated the need for librarians to now understand the publishing workflow in its entirety, from conducting the research through to its dissemination and discovery. But how could these substantial changes to the role of librarians be best captured? We caught up with Bob Boissy, Account Development Director for the United States and Canada at Springer Nature, to ask how – and by whom – the changing role of librarians can be framed to more accurately reflect its new and exciting responsibilities as discussed in the webinar.

Bob has done volunteer industry work with NASIG, an independent, non-profit organisation working to advance and transform the management of information resources, serving as NASIG President in 2012-2013. With the OA transition clearly under way, he encouraged NASIG to update the evolving requirements of electronic resources librarians in their competencies document.

The practical acknowledgement of the shift from electronic resources librarians to full blown scholarly communications librarians was represented in NASIG’s 2017 Core Competencies for Scholarly Communication Librarians. These include, for instance, knowledge of publishing costs (article processing charges and their coverage), working with more stakeholders also outside the library, and involvement in negotiations (as also discussed in the webinar).

Recognising the magnitude of librarians’ role in supporting OA

The evolving responsibilities of librarians are essential for a healthy OA transition, but this journey is not without challenges. Librarians need to navigate an increasingly complex landscape. Given multiple OA agreements with various publishers that have differing offers and policies, and funders with varying requirements, things can get confusing. Librarians must continuously engage with researchers to understand their needs, ambitions, and pains, so they can move forward in the OA journey in a responsible and productive course.

You can watch the full webinar to explore further insights from the speakers. Learning from experienced librarians and industry experts and engaging on the fundamental questions to the profession are invaluable to understanding and performing as a librarian in the age of OA.

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Saskia H

Author: Saskia Hoving

In the Dordrecht office, Marketing Manager Saskia Hoving is chief editor of The Link Newsletter and The Link Blog, covering trends & insights for all facilitators of research. Focusing on the evolving role of libraries regarding SDGs, Open Science, and researcher support, she explores academia's intersection with societal progress. With a lifelong passion for sports and recent exploration into "Women's inclusion in today's science", Saskia brings dynamic insights to her work.