Heather Saunders, copyright and scholarly communications librarian

You’re starting a new job in January. Tell us about it!

I’ll be covering the University of Winnipeg’s Scholarly Communications and Copyright Librarian, Brianne Selman, while she is on research leave. This is my first time supporting an institutional repository, which allows me to engage with open access in a new way. I’m also excited to join a faculty union, having served as a librarian representative on a special joint committee of a faculty union in a previous position that led to librarians becoming members shortly after I left. I never got to enjoy the fruits of my labour, but I feel like I can do so now, only in a different institution.

Will you be in Winnipeg in person, and how does the job relate to your background?

The position is remote, which is less disruptive than it would be otherwise since I won’t be required to move from the neighboring province of Ontario. Someday, I would love to spend more time in Winnipeg. The last time I was there, for the ABC copyright conference, I got a taste of the local color en route to cultural institutions like the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which conference attendees toured. Given your readership, I want to digress by sharing this inspiring quotation of Rumman Chowdury, referring to artificial intelligence — her area of expertise — from the webpage that follows the museum’s landing page: “The purpose of technology is to aid humanity.” I couldn’t agree more, and for me, open access is a means to that end.

Back to Winnipeg, while I was in the city, I offered a free workshop on DIY archiving for artists and I interviewed a curator about grey literature in Canadian arts publishing for a blog that I wrapped up last year after 10 years. I’ve long been committed to making free content available to the public. It stems from my values as a librarian and from repeated personal experience of a fee being a limiting factor in participation. For example, it was hard not to berate myself recently for paying to attend an online launch for a book I had reviewed, because I’d already paid to attend a launch of the same book through another organization, albeit with different arts personalities interviewed by the author. I can only make so many choices like that, to be responsible, while I’m between positions.

To bring the discussion back to OA, I will also share that the last time I was between library positions, I co-wrote my first peer-reviewed article (Saunders and Taylor 2012). I couldn’t afford to pay the OA author fee, since I wasn’t affiliated with an institution that offered funding. I regret it, because it’s available strictly by subscription and perhaps for that reason has been only been cited once, although the citation was favourable.

It must be hard applying for jobs in the current climate. How did you keep your CV up to date?

First, I researched how to approach gaps between jobs strategically on Your Library Career, a teriffic site maintained in part by my mentor, Susanne Markgren, and then touched base with her over Zoom. Next, I took a day for slow-paced reflection. In classic library style, I sketched a Venn diagram of my current interests: art, disability studies, and scholarly communication. This led to combing through WorldCat to determine which publications hot off the press blend these subjects, for the purpose of writing book reviews. I appreciate that book reviews can be written without being tethered to an institution — even at zero cost when open access is involved. I recognize that I’m simplifying here, as there are costs to creating content, like environmental consequences of making computers.

While in quarantine after returning to Canada from the US, I pondered how adversity could be an opportunity, which prompted me to write a guest post for the Art Libraries Society of North America Art of Diversity blog about working in the US as a Canadian during Trump’s term. Although blogging has had a history of being scrutinized on academic CVs, I’m determined to keep advocating for its validity. Also in quarantine, I kept busy with professional development, by taking an introductory module about indexing, and starting a certificate, which is ongoing, in art law.

If you’re reviewing books, you must have access to the book you’re reviewing — right?

It’s a combination. Some are online and open access, some I have in hand, and some are in transit. I was hoping to emerge from quarantine with a few hard copy books I found on WorldCat, but some were delivered in error to my former address, where they sat in a puddle. The publisher replaced them, but the process was protracted. Imagine how much faster I could have read them had they been online as OA.

From my WorldCat search, the titles that were OA made a substantial difference to my budget because it brought down the overall cost per title. I still get sticker shock even though I’ve been conducting collection development for over a decade. As an indication, there is a report by the Humanities Indicators and Departmental Survey that shows the inflation of book prices in the humanities and beyond. It may be considered outdated, but it covers the time period when I began collecting beyond my specialization of art, so it’s of personal interest.

How did the prices of scholarly books get so prohibitive?

Since I’m not a book historian, I hesitate to answer that, but I can refer readers to a study that breaks down university press costs for publishing monographs by Scott Smart et al., available through a Creative Commons license (CC BY 3.0). Honestly, my sense of cost has become skewed: I’m coming from an institution that acquired rare books such as limited edition facsimiles of Medieval manuscripts — with velvet covers, edge gilding, and equally rich supplementary texts.

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading the OA version of Reassembling Scholarly Communications: Histories, Infrastructures, and Global Politics of Open Access (The MIT Press, 2020, edited by Martin Paul Eve and Jonathan Gray). One of the first observations I made was how many of the authors reference each other’s writing (often from the anthology in question), revealing the synergy that is possible when access is unencumbered. (Small world, I see that your latest interviewee was Martin!)

Reviews must raise the profile of OA books, making them more likely to come to the attention of other libraries and course tutors?

If the reviews themselves are open access—for example, if they’re published in OA journals or as OA in hybrid journals—that should increase the likelihood. I tend to conceptualize reviews as supporting librarians who conduct collection development, but if tutors, teaching assistants, or instructors discover the texts too, great!

Is there anything else you’d like to highlight?

In March 2021, my chapter, “Getting a Seat at the Table: Art Museum Libraries as Open Access Stakeholders,” will be published in The New Art Museum Library (Rowman & Littlefield, edited by Amelia Nelson and Traci E. Timmons). I was invited to contribute after speaking about OA at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art last year in association with the Internet Archive, and I am delighted and honoured in equal measure to contribute to best practice.

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