The Values of Scholarly Communication

The ways we distribute scholarship are centered on values. We may not think of publishing, paying invoices, writing, or any of these related activities as a part of our individual or collective values system; nonetheless, they are. Over the past few years, I have become interested in the ways values intersect with scholarly communication work, and recently helped to draft the NorthEast Research Libraries Consortium (NERL) statement demanding a better deal, which was based on a set of shared principles from member libraries.

I wanted to do the same for my own institution at Dartmouth College, so I set out to create a series of workshops that would help members of the Dartmouth community to understand how their own personal and collective values helped to shape the scholarly communication system. I hoped such workshops might also help the wider community to think more deeply about how to change the scholarly communication system to align with personal and institutional values. As noble as those goals may have been, I also discovered that since the world has been through a tremendous amount of trauma over the past few years, any event that touches on personal values requires a significant amount of prep work to make sure participants are able to focus their attention in the best way possible.

As a scholarly communication librarian who advises on issues both of open access and copyright, it is not uncommon for me to have a meeting with a faculty member about open access in which they tell me all about how supportive they are of getting their work out there and how pleased they are by readership outside their scholarly community. Then, shortly afterward, they ask me a question about how they can get more money from a publisher of a journal on whose editorial board they sit. Or they might tell me that they want me to look at an extremely anti-open access author agreement that they need to sign because they need tenure and the journal in question has a high impact factor. Clearly, there is a disconnect between the values of open access and the other issues such faculty members are facing.

If I am honest with myself, however, there is a similar disconnect not only in the advice I might give to these hypothetical faculty members but in my own decisions within the library. Many libraries now are faced with making decisions about transformative agreements, and often I am faced with advising my own institution about whether to accept a more expensive agreement, which works to make the scholarly communication system as a whole more expensive, or losing access to needed content which I know readers will protest. Many institutions also have APC funds which, while originally meant to help authors who are unable to pay fees themselves, often actually end up supporting the most well-funded areas of the university and leaving the very people who need the money the most without the resources they need.

With these disconnects in mind, I talked to a colleague of mine in Dartmouth’s school of public policy, whose research and teaching focused on leadership activities, and asked them to help me design a series of workshops. My intention was to pilot them at Dartmouth and then, after further tweaking, perhaps make them available for other institutions as well. The two of us developed three modules for the workshop. We first reviewed the HuMetrics principles and utilized them throughout the three modules.The first module  investigated personal values and what you felt was important to you. The second module brought those personal values into conversation with more collective values such as the team one works with or the institution more broadly. The third module situated those personal and institutional values within a broader system of other institutions, publishers, and other entities that may not share the same values as you do.

At the heart of all of these workshops was an understanding that people need to work through conflict. Personal values may conflict with institutional ones. Institutional values may conflict with publisher values. Team values within an institution may conflict with larger values at that institution. The workshop was designed to help people with these difficult issues. Yet, difficult issues outside of the workplace are also a part of life. Over the past two years, Americans have had to witness a global pandemic, acts of systemic racism, growing inequality, and civic unrest, to name a few. Talking about conflict can often trigger reactions from these broader issues within society. A workshop like the one I helped to run did not do enough preparatory work, and was less successful than it could have been. Therefore, I learned that one also needs to do a tremendous amount of preparation of participants for what they are going to encounter, what they need to think through, and how they need to work through the challenges they will need to confront in the workshop. Additionally, clear signposts about what is coming, what participants are being led toward and why they are being asked to do this work need to be made far more explicitly than one might do in other kinds of workshops. In other words, prep work and signposting are good practices for any workshop but for a workshop like this, such activities need to be made more explicit and done far earlier than an experienced workshop presenter might think necessary.

I still believe that working through our values as individuals, librarians, and scholarly communication professionals and participants should be a central part of our work. I am sure that some of the exercises, individual modules and pieces of the workshop my colleague and I prepared will be useful. The challenge is how to get people to work through these issues in ways that will move productive conversation forward. I hope that all of my fellow scholarly communication members will join me and the HuMetricsHSS Initiative in thinking about and facing that challenge. Values are central to scholarly communication. The question is how we as a profession can bring greater attention to them, despite and within external pressures, and move practices of scholarly communication forward so that our personal and institutional values are better aligned.