lrts: Vol. 54 Issue 1: p. 59
Book Review: Scholarly Communication Education Initiatives
Karen Fischer

Karen Fischer, University of Iowa, Iowa City; karen-fischer@uiowa.edu

The SPEC Kit series, published by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), serves the unique purpose of providing current research library practices and policies guides for working librarians. Scholarly Communication Education Initiatives, SPEC Kit 299, surveys ARL libraries on scholarly communication education initiatives with the purpose of finding out “what kind of initiatives ARL member libraries have used or plan to use to educate faculty, administrators, students, and library staff at their institutions about scholarly communication issues” (19).

The survey was conducted in May 2007, and since then there has been a flurry of activity to start education programs in academic libraries. Despite the fact that the book was published two years ago, it provides useful information that could help libraries who are planning or newly implementing a scholarly communication education program. Without a doubt, most (if not all) library administrators are grappling with how to best instruct their librarians on these complex issues, with the intention that librarians will in turn educate others in their academic community.

This book focuses primarily on which person or group is spearheading education efforts and how they are doing so in regards to six targeted audience groups: faculty, nonfaculty researchers, institutional administrators, graduate students, undergraduates, and librarians or library staff. The 123 ARL member libraries were surveyed, with a 59 percent response rate, and 55 of the libraries indicated they had engaged in scholarly communication education activities. As with all SPEC Kits, this one is composed of three parts: “Survey Results,” “Representative Documents,” and “Selected Resources.”

“Survey Results” begins with an executive summary that painstakingly covers each of the six audience groups noted earlier. The survey asked respondents to answer the same set of questions for each targeted group; it is likely that the authors were looking for granularity and diversity between the groups, but there were not significant differences between the groups regarding the topics addressed in the outreach efforts. (One-on-one conversations were the most effective forms of outreach to the most audience groups, with the exception of education librarians, where formal presentations were used most often). For each audience group, the authors detail the scholarly communication topics addressed and the methods by which librarians conducted their outreach efforts. While there could be redundancy in such a presentation, the authors include quotations and comments from respondents that enhance the numbers and put them in context. This adds considerable interest and value to the summary. (The executive summary is free on ARL’s website, www.arl.org/bm∼doc/spec299web.pdf).

The most interesting portion of the executive summary addresses challenges related to education initiatives and outlines barriers to educating library users and staff. Helpful to anyone considering or conducting outreach efforts, knowing existing challenges is important. As expected, educating faculty presents the broadest range of challenges, ranging from concerns about promotion and tenure to a lack of interest in the issues and satisfaction with the status quo. Additionally, no respondents indicated success in “alleviating faculty concerns about the effects of open access publishing on promotion and tenure” (17). However, given that in just two short years we have seen faculty senates at several prominent universities mandate open access for their institution’s intellectual output, the concerns about open access may be waning, which is good news for education initiatives. The survey identified that the “biggest challenge for librarians revolved around having adequate staff, time, and funding to devote to an SC campaign” (15). Given the budget woes that all academic institutions are currently facing, the challenge of staffing will not likely be alleviated any time soon.

“Survey Results” includes a segment called “Survey Questions and Responses,” which is worth browsing to see the free-text responses from the respondents. Some of these responses are excerpted in the executive summary, but reading them in their entirety is revealing, though it does require some effort to put the comment in the context of the question asked.

The “Representative Documents” section constitutes about thirty-five pages of the book and serves to highlight the most useful and illustrative documents related to the topic of the survey. The documentation includes position descriptions for scholarly communication librarians, websites and blogs on scholarly communication and copyright, newsletter examples, and presentation materials. Many of these are screen shots from the Web, which are less than desirable to read on paper, but which serve to capture the content as URLs and Web content can change rapidly. Unfortunately, in the copy I read, some of the websites are difficult to read because the print is too light and the font is too small. Most useful are the presentation slides that cover topics such as “Faculty/Author Advocacy” and “Publishing Issues: Access and Today’s Publishing Environment.”

The final section of the SPEC Kit, “Selected Resources,” offers a healthy list of articles and reports that address many issues related to scholarly communication, providing an excellent bibliography for either novices who want to learn about the basics of scholarly communication or experts who are looking for additional articles that they may not have read. In particular, there is spectrum of articles addressing faculty and researcher perceptions of the publishing environment. The selected resources also contain quite a few links to brochures, committee charges, and scholarly communication websites. Some of the links to university webpages no longer work, but no matter—there are still many working links to helpful information and examples.

Scholarly Communication Education Initiatives provides a practical assessment of the status of scholarly communication education initiatives in 2007; the fact that this book was published two years ago does not detract from the value of the work. While reading survey results can be a tedious task, it is not so in this case. For readers who want practical information on directions to take in initiating a scholarly communication program, the kit offers ample information. For others, it offers gems here and there that may inform their current scholarly communication endeavors, and it is definitely worth a look.



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