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Substantial and Enduring Roles for Libraries in Article Sharing: Part 1

5th April 2016
By Guest Author

hinchliffe_lisa (1)Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe is Professor/Coordinator for Information Literacy Services and Instruction in the University Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is also an affiliate faculty member in the University’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science.  Lisa served as the 2010-2011 President of the Association of College and Research Libraries, which launched the Value of Academic Libraries Initiative during her presidency, and current candidate for President of the American Library Association. See for additional information.

Having participated in the STM Association Consultation on Article Sharing, I was an enthusiastic reader of Nicko Goncharoff’s piece Why We Have to Work Together on Article Sharing. I’m pleased to see efforts that facilitate sharing and recognize it as critical to scholarly and scientific progress. I am deeply disappointed; however, that libraries are almost invisible in the Voluntary Principles for Article Sharing on Scholarly Collaboration Networks.  Libraries have far more substantial and enduring roles in article sharing, and in the scholarly communications ecosystem, and publishers and researchers alike will benefit as those roles are recognized and valued for their current and potential contributions.

Young toekans sharing food – via Wikimedia Commons

I know from serving as the 2010-2011 President of the Association of College and Research Libraries—and as a current candidate for President of the American Library Association—that libraries too “would like to make sharing of subscription and licensed content simple and seamless for academic researchers so that it is consistent with access and usage rights associated with articles while enhancing collaboration” (Principles).

I commend the working group for the revisions that were made between the draft and final versions of the Principles. In particular, I am pleased that the Principles no longer exclude members of the general public or commercial researchers in the concept of research collaboration group. This is critical both because of the heterogeneous nature of research collaboration groups, the multiple affiliations any given researcher may have, and the public engagement missions of our academic institutions.

Given our commitments to open and seamless access to information, I suspect, however, that many librarians also share my continued concern that the new Principles will be treated as the maximum of the sharing to be allowed rather than an example to expand upon. My concern stems from conversations among librarians and publishers in a previous era that seems to have enshrined “10 percent” as a maximum ceiling for fair use of copyrighted works in the United States rather than as an heuristic consideration. (See The Law of Fair Use and the Illusion of Fair-Use Guidelines for a helpful analysis of the history of fair use guidelines and their relation or lack thereof to the law of fair use.) Indeed, there are publishers that already allow article sharing that exceeds that outlined in the Principles. It would be disheartening to see this curtailed.

In addition, I believe that the principles should encompass additional use cases beyond article sharing within research groups. For example:

  • In law and public policy development processes. Research-to-policy pathways are notoriously weak and only made weaker by restrictions on sharing articles with government workers and policy makers.
  • For public health protection and promotion. The recent moves by publishers to share articles in response to the Zika and Ebola crises are laudable; however these moves occur after heavy media attention to epidemics. In many cases, the researchers themselves would be more aware of the relevance of their own work as situations develop and better able to judge what should be shared quickly, even before media coverage.
  • To defend scholarly work in the media and courts as necessary. It is the nature of new knowledge to be contested—and at times controversial—and scholars and/or their institutions should be able to make use of their own work in defending that work without paying use fees.
  • Beyond the lifetime of the researchers. Understandably discussions currently focus on contemporary researchers but as they retire it would be reasonable that their research collaboration group to be able to continue to use their work.

Nonetheless, with or without these additional use cases, libraries are positioned to contribute in useful ways to article sharing and in ways not acknowledged by the Principles. In Substantial and Enduring Roles for Libraries in Article Sharing, Part II, which will be published next week, I will turn my attention to the challenges that authors face in article sharing and more specifically detailing the current and potential roles of libraries.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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