Monday, November 27, 2006

Ray English, or: the Open Access Genie

Of the many great pleasures of this year's Charleston conference - one of the highlights, for me, was the opportunity to meet the opening keynote speaker Ray English.

Ray's topic, building on the conference theme of Unintended Consequences, was Unintended Consequences of the Profit Motive: Or Why the Open Access Genie is Out of the Bottle.

In a nutshell, Ray is questioning whether the focus on profit - and the subsequent price increases for serials so far above inflation that today's 8% increases (still, far above inflation) are portrayed as "good news"- is the reason behind the unleashing of the open access genie.

This inquisitive open access librarian, meanwhile, is wondering: is Ray English the open access genie?

Ray has been one of the leaders of two of the most active associations in open access, since their inception: SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Research Coalition, and the Association of College and Research Librarians (ACRL) Scholarly Communications Committee (currently co-chaired by Joyce Ogden and John Ober).

In the words of Rick Johnson, Founding Executive Diretor of SPARC and currently SPARC Senior Advisor:

Ray has been a chief contributor almost since the founding of SPARC. As a member of the SPARC Working Group in 1998-99 and the SPARC Steering Committee since 2000, he played a crucial role in charting and guiding SPARC's course. He was -- and continues to be -- instrumental in introducing SPARC to libraries beyond ARL, which account for more than half of SPARC's membership. He has been a vital collaborator with SPARC staff in efforts to raise the profile of scholarly communication issues and build support for constructive change.

From my vantage point, Ray’s efforts appear to have been the catalyst for ACRL’s strategic engagement with scholarly communications issues. He is a natural coalition builder, and so it was only logical that a strong collaborative bond between the SPARC and ACRL scholarly communications initiatives would be a product of his efforts. He has served as the key link in the allied efforts of SPARC and ACRL. He has been a leader within the Open Access Working Group (OAWG), a SPARC-organized framework for collective advocacy of open access as a public policy matter. And now, of course, he is the chair of SPARC, following in the footsteps of Ken Frazier and Jim Neal.

Ray has been especially energetic in his support of expanded public access to taxpayer-funded research. He has been tireless in his efforts to mobilize library support and communicate this to the U.S. Congress. Ray’s work to leverage the influence of ACRL members across the nation has been absolutely essential.

Even when it comes to less glamorous activities, Ray is always generous with his time and support. For example, he has played an invaluable role in helping frame the SPARC-ACRL Forum programs at the ALA midwinter and annual conferences. His contributions invariably make our communications programs more topical and incisive and stir interest in important issues facing academic libraries.

Bottom line: he's amazing. I benefitted gratefully from his wise counsel throughout my years as SPARC's director.

SPARC did not begin as an organization for open access advocacy, of course - rather, the original purpose was, and remains transformational change in scholarly communications. In Ray's words, Open access emerged as a visible movement after SPARC got started and it's clearly become the most powerful strategy for transformational change; but we need to continue to address other issues in scholarly communications, such as finding ways to introduce competition into a marketplace that has not been feeling the effects of this force.

Ray's advice for the OA Librarian?
I think the most important thing anyone in the US can do at this point is to support the Federal Research Public Access Act. There are a variety of ways to do that, from individual letters to Congress to developing more organized support. In terms of access to information I think it's probably the most important bill that's ever been introduced into Congress. I'd also encourage all librarians to work at the campus level to inform / educate faculty about scholarly communications issues. The ACRL / ARL Scholarly Communications Institute is a great way to develop strategies and plans for doing that.

The ACRL / ARL Scholarly Communications Institutes fill up fast - the deadline for the December Institute was August 15th. Watch for the next one - and register early!

For all your contributions to transforming scholarly communications, Ray - past, and hopefully long into the future - thank you.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

No comments: