Gavia Libraria


The open-access movement has always had its… characters. Zealots. Kooks. Scary people. People who just Aren’t Our Sort, Dearie. Any old loon can start a weblog, after all; at least one Loon has done so. For all the differences the Loon has with some of OA’s other characters, she stops short of wishing them gone. It takes a certain amount of kookiness to provide energy sufficient to get anything done sometimes.

Moreover, engaging publicly with kookery is often a fool’s game, at best analogous to teaching pigs Mozart arias, at worst lending kooks credibility they do not deserve and should not be permitted to have. So OA tolerates its kooks, usually with kindness, sometimes with a politely blind eye or deaf ear… and that is largely as it should be.

Why did OA let Beall get away with his act so long? no one has yet asked, probably because the answer the Loon has just given is so patently obvious to those in the movement as not to need saying. (If the Loon had to characterize the attitude of those in the OA movement who noted Beall’s deep-seated antipathy toward OA months or even years previously—evidence was available for the persistent and perceptive—she would say it was “oh, him, he’ll blow himself up someday.” As, in fact, he has.) Nonetheless, there is a lesson in this that the movement could do with taking to heart: do not let your enemy control a visible, high-mindshare product or service in your space.

If not for Beall’s list, Beall would never have been anything but another easily-ignorable kook. If a suitable group of individuals, or an organization, had taken on the job of publicly calling out bad practice, Beall would have sunk back into easily-ignorable kookdom. Instead, we have… this, whatever this is; “embarrassing evitable mess” is the Loon’s first instinctive characterization.

The Loon will mercilessly mock and possibly savage any commenter waltzing in here with “oh, well, nobody actually believed Beall; he had no real influence.” That is arrant nonsense, and the greatest pity is that it is arrant nonsense spouted by those most deeply steeped in the OA movement and most desirous of its success.

If the above paragraph describes you, the Loon loves you dearly—you know she does!—but must remind you that people like you are so few as to be fringe still. It often does not feel so on Twitter, true, but academic Twitter itself is a rounding error compared to all of academe. You cannot measure what academe understands by what you understand, nor how academe gets its news by how you do. (You use a feedreader? You digitally-brainwashed solutionist kook, you.)

In the Loon’s prior professional world, Beall’s list was an enormously valuable convenience, and because of that, Beall himself enjoyed considerable credibility, such that his least pronouncement was freely email-forwarded everywhere. Every now and then this was plainly passive aggression against the Loon herself (she has mentioned how deeply her prior workplace loathed her and all her works, correct?), but by and large, it was ignorance crossed with homophily among librarians to whom OA and its advocates felt like a threat. The Loon’s workplace was no sort of outlier—well, except insofar as many, many academic libraries still boast insufficient knowledge of or interest in OA to bother forwarding communiqués about it.

Those OA advocates who wonder why libraries are not more active in the OA movement need wonder no more. The Loon boggles particularly at one currently-circulating notion that academic libraries will just take over scholarly publishing wholesale. Not in an environment where Beall’s frothings circulate as freely as water churned up by migrating flocks of waterfowl!

Fortunately, the Loon can’t think of any other major OA showpiece services run by OA’s enemies. (OA and hybrid journals at toll-access publishers are insufficiently influential to count at this juncture.) We can at least hope that an analogous situation will not arise again. If it does, though, let us please intervene earlier. Keep what is valuable about such services by all means, but let us not allow their proprietors to fuel further apathy and anti-OA agitation.

3 thoughts on “Characters

  1. deejbah

    Do you think some people underestimated his opposition because he could quite easily pass as uncontroversial in the cultural and political setting of the US, whereas in places his underlying motives were a bit clearer because the language and rhetorical tropes he used were perhaps more obviously those often connected to protecting entrenched interests?

    I think it is true that many librarians didn’t really scrutinise his activities outside of his list, providing additional comment or resources from elsewhere is something I have made a point of when having discussions or doing current awareness for colleagues and other staff on the matter of Open Access and publishing in general.

    1. Library Loon Post author

      Perhaps! On reflection, though… the cultures Beall needed to pass unseen in were librarianship and academe. If academe had found him out, he would have quickly been laughed to scorn (as has now happened). Librarianship is harder to predict; our culture of silence and go-along-to-get-along weighs against public scorn.