Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A commitment to librarians is a commitment to scholarship

I have seen the Enemy of the Library. I have seen it up close. And I have just seen it claim a victim.

The Enemy of the Library goes by different names. It takes on several forms. But you can recognize The Enemy by what it says, as each manifestation always says the same thing:  ideas are a form of property that can be brought and sold by private corporations. The Enemy opposes all those - even America's Founding Fathers - who suggest otherwise: that the field of knowledge is the common property of mankind.

There is a particular manifestation of this enemy who's movements I have been following with particular interest as of late. It goes by the name of Access Copyright.

Access Copyright exists in Canada as a legal body that collects payments from institutions that offer photocopying. These collected payments are then redistributed to publishers and to a pool of authors. Digital titles only represent only slightly more than 1% of the body of works that Access Copyright represents - but that hasn't stopped this organization for demanding a non-negotiable tariff be set upon universities at $45 per student.

This tariff is especially egregious because academic libraries have already negotiated and paid for many of the rights for digital works to be used in secured course management systems, library course reserve systems, and online course packs in support teaching and research. No matter, says The Enemy - only we can negotiate with publishers about how digital works can be used - not libraries.

I am very proud of the libraries and the administrations of the universities of Canada who have stood up against the heavy-handedness of Access Copyright.

I am especially proud of these institutions because opting out of Access Copyright does admittedly require more labour in the securing and communicating of the permitted licensed rights of the digital texts being used on campus. But this is work that can be done and it is work that is being done (I'm getting back to it as soon as this post is done).

I am particularly disappointed in the University of  Western Ontario for signing on to Access Copyright's terms. At 29,000 FTE (2010), it appears that by doing so, the university has committed to pay $1,305,000 annually for many of the digital publishing rights that had already been negotiated by its librarians and material already designated as Open Access. It is particularly disappointing because the librarians and archivists at UWO are currently on strike for equitable wages.

To commit to librarians is to commit to making available knowledge for all. It is a commitment to scholarly communication. It is a commitment to scholarship itself.

The Board of Governors of UWO has decided that it would rather spend $1.3 million dollars rather than pay their librarians and archivists a fair wage. This gives the impression that this was a decision that was made for ideological reasons rather than for being fiscally sound.

I call on the The President and the Board of Governors of UWO to make a sound investment in its commitment to research excellence and to negotiate a fair wage with their librarians and archivists so their work of collecting, organizing, preserving, communicating, and sharing the record of human knowledge can continue.

No comments: