Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
West Virginia University Libraries
Morgantown, West Virginia
I have been thinking about lifelong learning and libraries, and how access to the tools needed for lifelong learning have changed over the past 20 years. When library instruction was known as bibliographic instruction, I would show students print indexes to the literature and assure them that for the rest of their lives they would be able to use what I was teaching them and access the sources I was showing them. Now, in our library at least, any researcher not affiliated with the university must pay a fee to use the online databases and to check out books. With the addition of online reference works, our reference collection, which was covered in dust, was weeded extensively, so library visitors no longer have access to that content. As more and more print materials are stored or withdrawn and become accessible only on electronic platforms, those leaving the university will have less and less access to research content. Access to content is becoming ostensibly under the control of publishers rather than librarians who were once considered the keepers of information. Is open access the answer to the challenge of lifelong learning?
In the science classes where I do information literacy instruction, I tell students that they are privileged to have access to the thousands of dollars' worth of databases, electronic journals, and electronic books. When they go to work as scientists for private companies, they will still have access to some resources but not to the extent they experienced as university students. Students will hopefully use the information skills we teach for the rest of their lives for professional and personal research; however, they will no longer be able to access the very expensive resources taught to them during their professional education.
Last week as part of International Open Access Week, I spoke to an undergraduate English class about resources available to them once they separated from the university. I started with the quote from Stewart Brand, "Information wants to be free." Providing background for the discussion with a few slides on the history of publishing, I pointed out the escalating cost of journals and of the actual cost of some science journals. Showing these trends contextualized the need for open access. We had a lively discussion and the students, most of them journalism majors, asked probing questions. They were interested in the evolution of librarianship during my professional life. They wanted verification that one year's subscription to a scientific journal, Brain Research, could actually cost over $13,000. "Who are these readers?" they wanted to know. I showed them the LibGuide I had created for the class (http://libguides.wvu.edu/OASources) in which I had links to the Directory of Open Access Journals, the Directory of Open Access Repositories, and resources for finding books in local libraries. I believe that before this presentation the students actually thought the resources they had available to them were free and had no idea of the cost of these materials. One student thought that she accessed articles for free in Lexis Nexis. "Information has value," anyone?
I told the students several stories about people I knew who tried to do research without the support of a college or university library. I briefly told them about a Wired Magazine (Koerner 2009) article championing a father who sequenced his disabled daughter's DNA without government grants and without the supporting structure of an institution of higher education. This citizen scientist chose to research his daughter's medical condition independently. How are these researchers accessing the current literature in their areas of study? Are they paying the publisher for each article which can cost up to $50? Are they asking friends and colleagues who have institutional credentials to steal for them?
It is heartening to see the expansion of quality open access journal content encouraged by federal legislation, in part, to make the results of publicly-funded research available to all citizenry after a 12-month embargo. Hopefully, the ACRL will be successful in persuading Congress to continue to make publicly funded research readily available. Maybe someday the profit lines will disappear, and information will be freely available to all citizens as they continue their pursuit of credible information. Perhaps we will arrive at the Star Trek means of obtaining information: "Computer, give me all you have on Klingon/human marriage." Open access appears to be the answer to our students actually having access to research as they engage in lifelong learning.
Association of College and Research Libraries. 2007. ACRL legislative agenda 2016. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/acrl/issues/washingtonwatch/legagenda
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