21 March 2016

#fundTrove letter to my MP and the Opposition Leader

The #fundTrove campaign has gone up a notch today:

So I finally decided to get off my bum and write to my local MP (Labor's Graham Perrett in Moreton) and to Bill Shorten. Tim Sherratt is gathering statements from peak bodies, sample letters, and a list of things that we as individuals can do - thanks Tim! These are a great help if you want to write your own letter (which I would strongly urge you to do). My letter is below.


Dear Mr Shorten and Mr Perrett

I am calling on you to reject the proposed funding cuts to the National Library of Australia, to stop the detrimental impact it will have on the NLA’s Trove service.

Since these cuts were announced, there has been a huge groundswell of support from thousands of individuals and from a wide range of organisations. The growing list of national bodies expressing their dismay at this decision include the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA), the Australian Society of Archivists (ASA), the Council of Australasian Museum Directors (CAMD), the Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL), the Federation of Australian Historical Societies (FAHS), the Australian Academy of the Humanities,the Council for the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences and the Australian Historical Association Statement.

I work in the university sector. Many universities provide information to Trove about research publications, including journal articles, books, conference papers and PhD theses. Trove is an important access point, visited more than 25 million times per year, where anyone can easily discover Australian research across all subject areas. 

Under Australian Research Council policy and National Health and Medical Research Council policy researchers must make versions of their work freely accessible to anyone with an interest in that research. The rationale is that the Australian Government makes a major investment in research and that to maximise the benefits from that investment, publications resulting from research must be disseminated as broadly as possible to allow access by other researchers and the wider community. 

To achieve this, researchers deposit their open access versions in institutional repositories, which are managed by university libraries. Through a process called harvesting, universities provide Trove with information about these publications. Exposure through Trove means access to a wider audience for the research, enhancing the government’s investment; by capturing the links between publications and grants through university contributions, Trove also provides a mechanism for the ARC and NHMRC to monitor compliance with these policies.

Trove also helps university research to be more easily adopted by industry and professional groups. One such group is policy professionals. A 2014 report from the Swinburne Institute for Social Research found that research that is not published commercially, including reports, conference papers and theses, “is a key part of the evidence produced and used for public policy and practice… However, finding and accessing policy information is a time-consuming task made harder by poor production and management of resources and a lack of large-scale collection services”. The authors of this report argue that searchability via Trove is an important step in efficiently and cost-effectively helping policy professionals to find the information that they need.

The proposal to cease aggregating unique content from content partners (unless fully funded to do so) will damage Trove. The comprehensive nature of the contributions from Trove’s content partners makes it the world-leading resource it is today: as a gateway to aggregated content, regular updates from current contributors and the ability to bring on new partners are paramount.

New contributing institutions will be unable to add content to Trove without paying. This will be a major obstacle to exposing new collections. The NLA has also informed its content partners that they will require payment should any changes to our institutional processes and systems impact existing harvesting arrangements.

This effectively means that universities who are already content partners are now restricted in their ability to improve their underlying software and systems and to send new types of content. At my own institution we were already part-way through redeveloping our institutional repository at the time Trove cuts were announced. We are now faced with uncertainty about our ability to contribute valuable research content to Trove and to meet our obligations to the ARC and NHMRC; we are likely to need to find additional internal funding to ensure our data can continue to be harvested successfully.

The development of Trove as a platform has already proven to be of enormous value to organisations that want to maximise the investment in research and in cultural collections by exposing their unique content to the massive global audience that Trove has garnered. I urge the Australian Labor Party to commit in your election agenda to funding the National Library to continue to maintain and enhance Trove.

12 March 2016

A response to ALIA's consultation on journal publishing

The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) is consulting members and other interested parties about the future of its journals.

I would encourage all those with an interest in LIS publishing, particularly if you are an ALIA member, to consider providing feedback. This needs to be emailed to ALIA before next Wednesday 16 March.

The text of my emailed response is below.


Thank you for the opportunity to provide feedback on your discussion paper relating to the future of ALIA journal publishing.

I support some of the directions set out in the paper, including merging the two journals and continuing the Australian Library Journal’s practice of publishing some practitioner-oriented work without a full peer review process.

My comments here largely relate to ALIA’s approach to open access and the proposal to continue publishing the journal in a print format.

Approach to open access

I am an ALIA member whose primary role is as a practitioner. I engage with professional journals as both a reader and an author. 

As an organisation that in 2015 ran a high profile campaign for “a fair, open, democratic society where information belongs to everyone,” ALIA should demonstrate a commitment to open access to scholarly literature. ALIA can do this by adopting a journal publishing model that:
  • is free for authors to submit their work
  • is free for readers to access journal articles, including the version of record
  • promotes the use of Creative Commons licences, to ensure that re-use is maximised.
The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) lists more than sixty journals worldwide that meet these criteria, including well-respected publications like the Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication and the International Journal of Digital Curation. I would like to see the new Journal of the Australian Library and Information Association in this list. 

I strive to take an evidence-based approach to my work. I use the professional literature to identify new services and improvements to old services that could be implemented at my place of work. I refer regularly to research and practitioner case studies when producing documents such as business cases, project proposals and service reviews. I am lucky to work in an academic institution that provides access to paywalled journals (including ALJ and AARL) but this is not the case for many practitioners with an interest in the kinds of topics covered in the journals. While versions of some content may be available via an institutional repository or academic sharing network, this is by no means guaranteed.

The open access policies of publishers are an important factor to me in deciding where to publish work. I have been invited to contribute to ALJ in the past and have declined. I am unlikely to publish in an ALIA journal when open access outlets are available that offer quicker turnaround times and greater reach, and that sit more comfortably with my professional values and interests.

ALIA’s current approach to journal publishing tacitly supports a broken business model that is already unsustainable for many of ALIA’s institutional member libraries. Taylor & Francis take a more positive approach to open access than many publishers, however ALIA should still explore alternatives that better reflect the values that underpin our profession. 

This might also uncover some interesting opportunities in areas such as collaboration and professional development. Some of ALIA’s academic library members offer journal publishing services to the high standards required for journals to be included in national research quality assessments. Has ALIA explored this kind of partnership? The offerings of international open access publishers including the not-for-profit Open Library of Humanities and commercial Ubiquity Press could also be explored. 

Open access publishing might also attract a different set of volunteers than currently contribute to ALIA activities. The current model restricts participation to a few roles that require a high level of expertise (editor, editorial board member, peer reviewer). There are many new and established library and information professionals interested in improving their employability and gaining relevant transferable skills in writing, editing, and publishing. A more open publishing model could benefit members by providing internship opportunities and an additional way to earn points in the PD scheme alongside other association contributions like committee work. 

Publishing in print format

The consultation paper indicates an intention to publish a print and online journal, supplemented with further online content. I do not agree with this approach and think ALIA should be transitioning away from print as soon as possible. 

The results of ALIA’s member surveys seem to have disappeared in the latest website refresh so it is difficult as a member to assess the value placed on these journals by the membership as a whole. It is also not clear whether any consultation about format preferences has taken place, and if so, if the costs and benefits of different formats have been communicated to members as part of that consultation.

There are cases of smaller organisations losing membership and advertising dollars as a result of poorly-communicated transitions to e-only, and I understand that there may be concerns about this. However, these risks need to be considered in the context of the costs of a hybrid model. These are include:
  • the direct additional costs relating to printing and distribution, which will only increase per unit as more institutional subscribers move to e-preferred or e-only policies for journal acquisition, and
  • opportunity costs - maintaining a print journal will consume resources that could otherwise be used to extend or enhance a single online journal. 
Electronic journals also offer a richer environment for the presentation of work. This is especially the case for those that take advantage of web standards rather than attempting to replicate the print environment with PDFs as their primary format. Better mechanisms for citation, live links to cited works and other resources, and the inclusion of supplementary content not suitable for print (e.g. multimedia and datasets) are just some of the benefits.

These journals also open up a space for conversations between authors and readers that go well beyond the ability to send a letter to the editor. Enabling readers to easily share content via social media is also important in a world where the majority of professional networking takes place online and where engagement with a broader audience outside of academia is vital to our profession.

Thank you again for the chance to provide feedback. I look forward to hearing more about the results of the consultation.