OLH OA Award Kudos, Followed by a Well-Organized CD Rant

Congratulations to Ann Hidalgo and her colleagues at Claremont School of Theology for winning the Open Library of the Humanities Open Access 2020 Award. The Open Access Digital Theological Library (OADTL) is a brilliant example of what Collection Development can and should become within an increasingly Open Access world.

The OADTL is a great counter-example to show by contrast how, in the name of providing access and in the midst of an Open Access revolution in academic publishing, libraries are still spending an inordinate amount of time, energy, and money propping up a digital infrastructure primarily and intricately designed to limit access and maximize vendor profits.

What are the key features of this infrastructure of Toll Access Digital Collection Management?

  1. Captive-Consumeristic. Libraries focus on paying for academic publications, more and more through non-OA licensing of electronic content rather than purchasing print books.
  2. Price-Gouging. Libraries are often forced to pay more for access to electronic content than are members of the general public, and vendor offerings and sales platforms are set up in a way that prohibits or preempts price negotiations.
  3. Opaque. Vendors typically disallow negotiations or contracts with libraries to be shared with others or publicly disclosed.
  4. Divided. Purchasing is often done by individual libraries or (somewhat better) institutional or regional consortia.
  5. Legalistic. Digital license terms and related negotiations are absurdly complicated and protecting university interests in such licenses is tremendously difficult.
  6. Redundant. Acquisitions are almost always held by other libraries or consortia, but not as actual downloaded copies that keep the content safer.
  7. Unoriginal. Catalog records are typically copied from other libraries or from vendor supplied records without substantive improvements, and libraries rely on vendors to describe and organize content as vendor-branded items and/or collections.
  8. Insecure. Libraries are typically dependent on the whim of vendors for titles being continued as part of packages.
  9. Restrictive. Acquisitions typically only benefit a limited pool of readers currently affiliated with a university or consortium, and even then often with additional restrictions on the number of simultaneous readers.
  10. High Maintenance. Librarians have to spend a lot of time and energy troubleshooting Electronic Resource Management issues related to vendor systems, links, and proxy servers.

How about the key features of Open Access Digital Collection Management, as being practiced by the OADTL?

  1. Creative-Adventurous. Focused on producing new digital academic content or finding digital content that is hidden in information silos and by a lack of good cataloging and linked open metadata.
  2. Equitable-Empowering. Flat fees can be shared among multiple libraries, funds focused on publishing research locally, and the general public enlisted to help fund and find open academic publications.
  3. Transparent. Pricing, contracts, and licensing are open to the public.
  4. Collectivist. Funding new academic publications can bring together libraries, grant funders, and members of the public.
  5. Simple. Creative Commons licenses greatly facilitate matters of negotiation and usage.
  6. Preservationist. Libraries and repositories can store local copies to protect digital content.
  7. Original. Catalogers get to spend time creating new records or significantly improving records, as well as organizing new shareable collections.
  8. Secure. Open content is inherently persistent and reliable.
  9. Liberative. Freed content benefits the whole world of potential readers.
  10. Low Maintenance. It’s relatively far easier to maintain links to open and openly resolvable content, especially when publications and data follow the FAIR principles.

Which approach is more faithful to the Five Laws of Library Science as elaborated by Dr. S. R. Ranganathan?

A reflection question for librarians, especially library administrators:

How much time, energy and money is your library spending propping up the exploitative and wasteful infrastructure of Toll Access Digital Collection Management vs. bringing into existence the freeing and frugal infrastructure of Open Access Digital Collection Management?

And lastly, an inspirational call: what new academic-discipline focused, open access discovery platforms can libraries and library consortia collectively create?

OADTL is awesome, but theologians shouldn’t have all the fun. 😉


Tom Phillips at Claremont School of Theology graciously provided a freshly updated OADTL Factsheet and also responded to a draft of this post with the following comment.

In essence, our  concern is that institutions (archives, repositories, non-profits, scholarly societies, government entities, universities, museums and others) are wisely investing great sums of money in OA content, but they are unwisely isolating that content in a legion of relatively obscure digital silos. Sadly, this means that the only way to discover all of this important OA content is through commercial search engines, that is, through search tools with invisible search algorithms which are designed to serve the commercial interests of their parent companies.

At the OADTL, we use OCLC software and public MARC records with libraries and librarians providing professional curation and non-commercialized discoverability for OA content. The OADTL is engaged in the central task of librarianship, curation of collections. Our mission is to make all OA content in religious studies (and related disciplines) discoverable through a single search experience in a non-commercial environment which is free for everyone, everywhere forever.