An “open” discussion


What does “open” mean? There’s a general acknowledgment among librarians, publishers, and various funding bodies that the term “open” describes a complex continuum, rather than defining a specific set of criteria when used to describe items in our collections.

What has become entirely unambiguous, though, is that libraries are now expected—by researchers, funders, faculty colleagues, and especially end-users—to provide services that support open materials and workflows as fully as any other kind of content.

OCLC Global Council delegates work on behalf of the OCLC membership to reflect the needs of member institutions. At their meeting this past March, delegates expressed their strong interest in additional focus around this issue. With their advice, we established a cross-organizational work team to benchmark current OCLC activities and investigate new ways to support the library community throughout the Open Access (OA) life cycle.

Better discovery for library users

For many libraries, the first goal for open content was one of discovery. As for any kind of content, libraries wanted to make sure that students, scholars, and other users had the ability to find and utilize as many materials as possible.

But libraries are now also involved in the creation, curation, and preservation of unique open materials—ranging from digitized special collections to preprints and post-prints of research articles. They publish open research journals and manage access to key research data sets. There are many different flavors of open, and this nuanced and sometimes confusing landscape makes both open access creation and acquisition tricky. Add in the overlapping roles of private publishers, government entities, institutional funding bodies, and faculty, and it becomes an even more complex discussion.

This is where we believe OCLC can have the most impact—helping to clarify libraries’ current commitments to open content programs, priorities, and plans. From there, we can work together on charting a path forward that reflects the thinking of as many libraries as possible.

OCLC’s Councils emphasized the need to explore the impact of open access/open content in libraries. #OCLCnext Click To Tweet

Where we are, where we’re going

OCLC’s Global and Regional Councils work to reflect the interests, issues, concerns, and challenges that OCLC members face, worldwide. Every year they select an area of interest to explore further, and this year, as I said, they emphasized the need to explore the impact and use of open access/open content resources in libraries.

Current OCLC activities that impact this area include:

  • The ability for WorldCat Discovery users to limit search results to a subset of source databases known for providing open content, with full-text Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) informed by Unpaywall.
  • The Digital Collection Gateway, which is used by libraries, publishers, and other organizations with OAI-PMH-compliant repositories as a self-serve way to add metadata about their open collections to WorldCat at no charge.
  • The inclusion of millions of records of OA content and collections from libraries, publishers, and third parties in WorldCat; over the past decade, we’ve added 320 collections of OA materials representing hundreds of providers to our knowledge base.
  • OCLC research outputs, which are entirely open; we publish them on our website, for anyone to read and use, with most having DOIs for easy linking. They are also now available as a collection OCLC member libraries can add to their WorldCat Discovery instance.
  • Specific research that centers around Research Data Management and Research Information Management, for which open access issues are an important piece.
  • Active membership in associations that support open access progress, including COAR, SPARC, IIIF, ORCid, and DataCite.

I’m also excited to announce that a new survey on open access and open content will be available on 7 November 2018 for any library of any type to take.

Hearing from as many stakeholders as possible on this topic is so important. For example, in a recent Distinguished Seminar Series presentation, we heard from Char Booth (Associate Dean of the University Library at California State University San Marcos) about how open access can help address issues of information privilege. This adds dimensions of social and economic justice to the conversation, as well as more practical and professional considerations. The discussion guide for Char’s talk is a great way to explore the subject with your staff.

This is a complex topic. But I believe our plans become more productive when they are more open and inclusive. I’m excited about how our ongoing work with OCLC’s Councils—and the upcoming survey—will bring more voices into this important conversation.

The survey mentioned above is now live and will be available until 15 January. It addresses the goal expressed by OCLC Global Council to provide an open invitation for any type of library, anywhere in the world, to help us explore:

  • Current efforts and investments in open content activities;
  • Ambitions for the future;
  • Ideas on how OCLC can assist in leveraging those efforts.

The scope of the survey is intentionally broad, as issues related to open content can refer to a complex range of freely available, unrestricted, online content. If access to open content is important to your library, we hope you’ll participate.