Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Dustin Fife. Dustin is the Director of Library Services and Online Education at Western Colorado University.
I love Open Education and Open Educational Resources (OER). I have helped faculty adopt OER for the last six years at two different universities, I have researched CC0 licenses from Creative Commons in relation to public libraries, I teach my classes using OER, and I have served on the Colorado Department of Higher Education’s Open Education Council for the last several years helping write policy, plan conferences, distribute grant funds, and create legislation. None of that makes me an expert per se, which many others in this community and throughout our profession are, but I do consider myself to be dedicated to the conversation, and am well versed in some of the intricacies.
Recently, I experienced something that is not unique to me, and that, to some extent, is what makes it worth discussing. After finishing a research project and the first draft of a subsequent article, my co-authors and I decided that we preferred to submit our work to open outlets. We did some simple searches to find appropriate options and came up with a very short list of journals. While there are multiple open journals related to librarianship, they do not all cover the same topics or research areas. There was one journal of particular interest to us that was open and did not charge authors fees. We submitted our work and were asked to revise and resubmit. After resubmission, we were politely rejected.
Now, the purpose of this story is not to complain about being rejected. That process helped us considerably and we made our article stronger because of it. However, when we returned to our list of open journals, the topical fit for our research with the titles remaining was tenuous at best. We were left with the choice of submitting our research to outlets that did not exactly fit, which seemed like a waste of time for everyone involved and not likely to lead to publication, or turning to a traditional subscription-based journal. We chose the latter option. The article was accepted for publication in a respected journal and, to be fair to the journal, we were given the option to publish our article open access. Unfortunately, however, the fee to do so was several thousands of dollars.
While we did not have the financial support to publish this particular article open access, this did lead me to consider how limited publishing options continue to be for many academics and researchers. This made me think about the conversations that I have had with colleagues over the years about defaulting to open and how I might not have given their experiences sufficient space and consideration.
What I usually meant by defaulting to open was that you should look for an open option first. My co-authors and I did that and we ran out of options quickly. It reminded me that in some fields and in regard to some topics, defaulting to open might be a list of one or two journals, or it might still be a list of none — not to mention all the hurdles inherent with trying to get an article published in a single particular journal. My experience with this one article reminded me that I need to listen more carefully to the experiences of my colleagues and the pressures of their fields. It can indeed be that options for open publishing remain limited in particular fields or for those with no access to institutional or philanthropic funding.
The second thing this experience has me considering is my own field in particular. I have worked in libraries for over a decade and, while there are incredible open options for both trade and peer-reviewed scholarly publications, they are not comprehensive and do not represent sufficient space for all the needed perspectives in librarianship. Library workers play a large role in open conversations and movements. They are well represented on committees and within organizations in my experience and have significant roles on campuses both in promoting OER and journal openness more generally. I have heard library professionals, myself included at times, advocating for strictly publishing in open outlets. While I still believe in this aspiration, because I want knowledge to be accessible to all, I know that we do not have the capacity yet to make this a reality. We should continue to have strategic conversations about moving to open, but acknowledge and respect the current landscape where that simply is not possible. We should give ourselves the space and grace that we individually deserve, and need, if there is not an open publishing outlet available to us — or, honestly, if there is a subscription-based journal that we have always wanted to work with or publish in. We can strive for openness, but we may need to accept that individuals may not be able to achieve this aspiration.
While I know that I am articulating what might be a common experience, I believe that it is essential that we are realistic about the options truly available to researchers and discuss them transparently and honestly. I will maintain a default to open mindset, but I am more aware of the limitations in some fields and in regard to some topics. I want to help build equitable publishing access and practices, but I will never expect unsupported researchers, who are required to publish or perish, or libraries, which are underfunded relative to the breadth of their mandates, to find thousands of dollars to pay for open access. Open should create more spaces for more perspectives, not limit researchers and writers to an artificial pool of publications.
The conversations must continue and equity in publishing should be prioritized; however, I myself pledge to do a better job of creating space for the experiences of other researchers and different fields in the future.