There’s a terrific amount to unpack here, of course. Ms. Rogers, wisely, is keeping her sights squarely on what for her library and her campus is the ACS’s chief perfidy, its predatory pricing and even more predatory accreditation arrangements. (This is not, to be sure, ACS’s chief perfidy toward Rogers herself; this Ruskin fellow has well-worn sexist behavior patterns and open contempt for librarians to answer for. However, the Loon will leave that aside for now, as Rogers is.) It’s the static Rogers is receiving from fellow librarians that the Loon wants to interrogate.
To review: Rogers clearly saw well in advance a moment of truth coming for her campus’s chemistry subscriptions, a moment when no further can-kicking would be appropriate or even possible. While the moment of truth held off, therefore, she carefully prepared her environment to accept it, educating local chemistry faculty (and, the Loon suspects, local university administration, though Rogers says nothing openly about this) on the shape of the problem so that the moment of truth wouldn’t come as a complete shock. Then when it arrived, she showed those educated, prepared faculty the situation, and they rallied behind her.
At which point, some librarians said, “how dare you not kick the can further down the street?” To which the Loon’s return question is, “does anyone who has been paying the least attention truly believe any library anywhere can kick that damnable can down the street indefinitely?”
The Loon thinks serials cans have been filled with concrete and left to harden, awaiting the unwary foot. Moments of truth will be a dime a dozen soon, if the intensifying lamentation the Loon hears from academic-library collection developers is any indication. Taking that as read (if you disagree, click away; there is nothing for you here), what are the possible moment-of-truth outcomes for librarians?
Well, there’s Ms. Rogers, near-unanimously acclaimed as hero, if we leave aside the ACS’s mud-throwing. “Hero” seems a fine outcome. Similar brawls have adorned librarians with hero’s laurels: California faculty love their library for tangling openly with Nature Publishing Group. The thing about the hero outcome, though, is that it takes a lot of outreach and education work to set up aright. Anyone besides the Loon remember California’s little scrap with Elsevier almost a decade back? That, and the quiet education campaign from the library that resulted, was preparation for NPG. The Loon suspects that Harvard’s announcement of its inability to pay escalating serials prices was a salvo in a similar education campaign. Library heroes aren’t born; they make themselves.
Faculty who haven’t been carefully educated and prepared, such as the ilk who comment ignorantly on scholarly-communication articles at the Chronicle of Higher Education, are quite likely in the Loon’s estimation to cast the library as “villain” when the moment of truth arrives. Unfair! Getting in the way of our work! You had it in for us all along and were just waiting to do this, weren’t you, you lousy librarians you! The Loon is being mildly facetious, but the danger is deadly serious, especially at institutions where librarians are not tenured. Angry faculty get librarians fired and libraries closed. The Loon’s seen it happen (though, she admits, not over journal acquisitions… yet).
Several subclasses of the general “villain” category come to mind. The “poltroon” does sheepish fan dances around the moment of truth, such as “we never thought it would get this bad; we didn’t want to bother you about it!” Faculty will despise poltroons, and rightly so. The “ignoramus” will not be able to explain the moment of truth save in the broadest and least satisfying terms, and may even be caught out in myths or other untruths—the general level of scholarly-communication knowledge and awareness among academic librarians is decidedly low—as at least a few faculty self-starters learn for themselves what’s really going on. Faculty will route around ignoramuses, or fire them with loathing for their ineffectual inarticulacy.
Last we reach the “bumbler,” whose faculty approach to say “you’re the librarian, right? an information professional, right? it’s your job to buy things and manage the money to buy things, right?” Er, yes? says the bumbler. “Well, look how you’ve bumbled it!” say the faculty. “We can’t buy anything, we don’t do collaborative purchasing [note: this may not even be true; faculty know nothing whatever about library consortia], we’re not doing this open access thing, whatever that’s about—we should trust you with anything more important than a first-floor library café why, exactly?”
So. Hero, villain, poltroon, ignoramus, or bumbler? Those would seem to be the choices. (Those who think “well-intentioned professional backed into an impossible corner” should be on the list have a great deal more faith in faculty attitudes than the Loon does.) Librarians who wish the dice to come up “hero” had better work on an estimated time of arrival for the moment of truth, and a plan for finishing the necessary faculty education by the time that moment arrives.
The Loon harbors enough schadenfreude in her battered old avian carcass to look forward, just a tiny bit, to what happens to at least some of the librarians who have repeatedly chosen not to learn and not to teach about changes in scholarly communication. It certainly seems unlikely that those handing Ms. Rogers kick-the-can static will handle moments of truth well. Whatever they get for it, the Loon thinks they’ve earned.
The Loon stands on her two webbed feet with the Beerbrarian: this is our job; it’s time we got to doing it.
Hero, villain, poltroon, ignoramus, or bumbler? by Library Loon, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.