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Saying the Quiet Part Loud: Making incremental and big gains in library licensing agreements

🎧 A conversation with some of the folks behind the NERL Playbook and the Backflip deal with Elsevier (1 hour with transcript)
Published onMay 11, 2022
Saying the Quiet Part Loud: Making incremental and big gains in library licensing agreements
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In this podcast, we chat with NERL’s Lindsay Cronk, Maridath Wilson, and Liz Mengel about the recent Backflip open access pilot deal with Elsevier. The first of it’s kind, it aims to gain retroactive access to older publications, not just new ones in a sort of rent-to-own model. But this conversation goes far beyond just the deal itself: we talk about the importance of incremental change, identifying institutional- and consortial-level values, using resources wisely, and having a pizza party.

And we jump right into it because the energy on the day we recorded was high and fun!

Value-based Negotiations and Introductions

Lindsay Cronk 00:00

They [Maridath and Liz] are my long foils that keep me from going too astray in terms of high level ideas like, what if this was the vision were just pointed the right direction? And they're like "No, but it has has to be in the agreement, though." And that's honestly the piece of NERL that I cherish the most is the way that we can all bring our strengths to play as individuals and on behalf of all of our institutions collectively. It's it's definitely Voltron-esque, like a group of 30 institutions, some of the most prestigious in the country coming together to collectively leverage talent, this is a piece of the NERL story that I don't think gets taught told often enough. We all get obsessed with, "what is the quality of this deal that is different." And ultimately, what I think is different is our culture and our approach — and it's a piece that we think is replicable — is that it doesn't have to be Mortal Kombat. And it also doesn't have to be the veneer of professionalism run amok either. So those are some of my key observations as we get started.

Maridath Wilson 01:14

One of the things that I talk about a lot with, with these two ladies, so yes to everything that Lindsay said. But you know, when we talk about being more than a buying club, I think a lot in our industry about this concept of the purity test, and there's been a lot of buzz about this particular Elsevier deal. But it's really not the whole story, and it's certainly not NERL's whole story. It's certainly not even everything that we accomplished last year.

And so there's been quite a few conversations about, "is this a good enough deal?" Or, you know, so really heady talk about licensing, some really heady discussions about, "what the particular author rights designation means? Or what does it mean? Is it OA enough?" You know, that whole thing, and I just, I find this conversation so banal because I just really think that what our strength is (to Lindsay's point) that what we've created is is replicable, so other organizations can take what we're now calling the NERL playbook and use it at their local level, or with their consortial, friends, and neighbors. You know, that we've made a concerted effort to sort of reach out to peer and near peer consortia, these ideas didn't come from a vacuum.

I'm going to do the thing where I say the quiet part out loud: so part of the reason why consortia, I think, have gotten increasingly important and why they're gonna continue to be important is, we're all in some form of austerity budget given given COVID. Some of us were in that even pre-COVID, depending on our institutions, and the historical inflation on journal packages in general, has eaten into our ability to hire at our local institutions. So most of us that work in libraries are wearing many hats, which means that we don't have a lot of time. So I really value the time saving element of neural as well, which I know sounds, really basic. But I mean, I think it's huge, because the exact issue that we're trying to address with the preferred deal elements with doing this collective work. Is this lack of time and is this lack of resources that was created by the deals from the publishers that had the high up lifts every year, that we're trying to sort of slowly move the needle on? So I'll stop there.

Lindsay Cronk 04:16

I did realize we we jumped into this. We did not, we did not introduce ourselves!

sarah kearns 04:31

Yeah, I was just gonna step back a second to have you each introduce yourself and then describe a little bit about who and what NERL is and then we can jump back into those big conversations about preferred deal elements and values and community groups.

Liz Mengel 04:53

I'm Liz Mengal. I'm the Associate Dean of collections and academic services at the Sheridan libraries at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, I have been a part of NERL, probably for as one of the longest serving members of the NERL mighty Core 30. So, I don't even quite remember when I joined, I think maybe 2008 or something, something along those lines. So I've been doing this for for quite a long time. I think the group of people that we have now in NERL as the 30, core members, and the reps that, that the these institutions send is probably one of the strongest, most dynamic and most engaged group of people we've had, over the past, at least my tenure. People are very interested in trying new things, and trying to figure out how some of these situations that we all seem to have found ourselves in can be resolved in different ways.

I've been here long enough to remember people putting out press releases, saying “they just signed the big deal with Elsevier, and how happy they were that all these were things were going to be open for all their faculty.” And now when they back away, they're sending out the big press releases also saying, “we just broke away from the big deal from so and so. And we're so proud of this.” And that's fine. I think one of the things that we have figured out in NERL is that everyone to kind of has to do what works best for their institution. That's a kind of makes it a very different and likely more challenging consortia to work in. Because we do need to put our own institution hats on first, but then we have a bigger hat that goes over that. And that's the NERL hat. So it's for us at Hopkins, it is a very important Consortia for us to belong to. And I'll stop there and pass it to Lindsay.

Lindsay Cronk 07:20

So I'm Lindsay Cronk, I am I've been on the NERL Program Council, about five years executive committee of the program council for like a year now. helped write the playbook with Maridath and we designed right the process as a bigger group. Lots of people to acknowledge that I'm thinking, specifically Jessica Mirallas, and Katie Brady, Michael Fernandez. But you'll probably know me from being a sort of a loud person on Twitter, or from my work at the University of Rochester, where I'm Assistant Dean for scholarly resources and curation. Because sometimes you look out at an institution sees the value of what you do, even if you're a little bit of a loud, maybe even clumsy, person communicating things. And that's one of the things that I really appreciate about about NERL is I feel as though it is a safe space for putting forward radical ideas, but also for acknowledging — to the point that Maridath has made about — the purity tests, that for institutions like the University of Rochester, an established academic institution, we may not always be in the position to take the strongest position in terms of breaking the deal. And that may not actually be the thing that works strategically for us. You know, I love NERL for creating the space for us to have some of those tougher and more nuanced conversations and figure out how to bring them forward in the deals. And and sort of with that short introduction, I'm going to hand it off to Maridath, my frequent partner in crime.

Maridath Wilson 08:57

Thanks. So I'm Maridath Wilson. I'm the head of scholarly resources for Boston University Libraries. And when I'm not doing that, I get to work with Lindsay and Liz and some of the other folks that Lindsay mentioned over at NERL and while I have not been in it, as long as these two it's been, I think, kind of a really sort of ripe time to join NERL, kind of to Liz's point earlier.

So I've been with the organization two years, and then I've been on the program Council Executive Committee for say, eight months or so. Right. So not terribly long, but, a really sort of prolific and ripe period for for the consortium. So that's been a lot of fun. And whether it's skill sharing, whether it's thought partnership, whether it's personal camaraderie even there's there's just been so much that I've gotten out of it. And there's so much that my local institution at BU gets out of being part of this group as well. We are a pretty diverse group of member institutions. Some of us are public, some of us are private, — and when I say “some of us” I mean, the 30 core members — some of us have medical schools and law schools. So there's a lot of different value propositions at play, right? There's a lot of different strategic priorities at the local level amongst those 30 members. So what does that mean? I think the thing that could have really been the difficulty of our organization, that heterogeneity, we've actually figured out how to leverage as our singular strength. And what I hope we'll get into later is kind of how we did that, and how you can do that as well with your Consortium. You know, it's not been without a lot of labor, and a lot of conversations and a lot of writing and a lot of work, but it can be done. And I think the way that consortia do that, is they have a conversation about their values first. Yeah.

sarah kearns 11:23

Yeah, that's great. I feel like maybe sort of given that diversity that you have within your consortia — you mentioned that you've medical schools and public and private universities that NERL is representing — what are the goals that you have with NERL? And how have you been able to come up with that set of values in some of the deals (you say that you relied on what you call preferred deal elements)? So maybe speaking to how have you directed your aim as as NERL and what are your your goals with the consortia?

Defining Terms and Turning Them into Action

Liz Mengel 12:06

I think it starts with the document we wrote, I think it was in March of 2020, the NERL demands a better deal. A lot of that came from also came from the work that was done by our colleagues at MIT and California Digital Library. And also — I'm going to get the initials backwards — CRNK, the Canadian Research Network. So a lot of that came from the work that that they have done in laying out what was important to them and, and getting us talking about them what is important to us.

If you go back to 2018, we did a strategic retreat for NERL, and really started talking about what is it that we want this consortia to be. It took a little while for us to get there, we knew that we had some issues with governance, it was a little unwieldy. So working to try to move that forward, are really just thinking what our mission was, what is it that we really want to do? And how do you make or get 30 independent institutions with different models for budgeting, able to work and collectively buy things together? And then we did the NERL demands better deal. And then we started working on the preferred deal elements

Lindsay Cronk 14:10

Something I just want to jump in with, because I think we have a tendency to take it for granted, NERL is an acronym. It's North East Research Libraries. But we are not actually just research libraries in the northeast, included are Notre Dame, Stanford, it's 30 institutions, that are across the country. And we we care more about the work than the name.

The ways that we all sort of collaborate, I would say it's a little bit different than some of the classic consortia (and I say this as a person who worked for LYRASIS), because they've evolved into a lot of things that feel like buying clubs. One of the key things that we took away from that retreat that later became the statement that became the deal elements, we set out those values that you mentioned, and then the preferred deal elements sought to translate those into actual license terms. And I think taking that opportunity to say like, what do we actually mean when we talk about equity? What do we mean, when we talk about transparency was one of the most important pieces for us.

NERL is not exactly northeast research libraries, but we are just a group of 30 institutions that even though we don't necessarily always agree on all of the things, we are focused on an aligned to answer: how do we push the conversation forward? How do we advance scholarly communication? What does it actually mean to support the research enterprise as a modern research library? And that's having a cohort of of such talented people engaged in those conversations, I do think of us as a little engine that is making the moves towards incremental change. Whereas sometimes the news and the reporting on scholarly communication focuses more on those sort of Titanic grudge matches, and we're not in the game of grudge matches- we’re in for incremental gains.

Liz Mengel 16:22

I think when Stanford and University of Miami joined, we started calling it Nearly Every Research Library.

Maridath Wilson 16:33

I didn't know that piece of history is the first time I'm hearing this, haha. There are so many things that are great about getting to work with Liz, and this is just one example. So I'm really delighted to know that that story.

When you have a group that is as diverse as us and you've gotten clear about the values, and then you've said, “Okay, well, now we have to have a tool, we have to have a way to measure these values,” which is how we came up with the PDEs. Part of why we had to do that is because, equity in schol comm is not gonna look like gold away for all of our institutions, right? And in fact, it's not going to look like that for the majority of our institutions. So then what does that mean? Well, then that means we have to we have to come up with new models, right?

I did a webinar recently where I griped about my disdain for the OA gemstones, because I feel like we love getting into these discussions about, is diamond better than gold and all of this stuff. And none of it is a silver bullet. None of it really solves a lot of the deep reservations that I think a lot of us have about the existing models, be they OA or not, but this also means that we get into some kind of word smithy discussion sometimes? Like, Liz and I had had a somewhat heated discussion once about, should we be calling our deals transformative or not? My, my response was, maybe not, because what does that even mean?

Lindsay Cronk 18:46

It's challenging because you want to be precise, but I'd say that the language and the importance of language around this is sometimes that pursuit of that good metaphor. The short-hand and the metaphors for models are not actually getting us to the clarity to advance the conversation, would be my central objection to some of the generalizations that get thrown around broadly about.

Let's stop dwelling on this deal tops that deal, or that work is better than this work. Because I think that it is actually suppressing some of the big conversations that need to happen across the the profession. People get really scared of being wrong and as a result they don't take risks or make changes. I've been there and I know what it's like to be concerned about it, but, like, use the wrong words and we'll figure it out together.

sarah kearns 19:51

Yeah, I really love that. What you just said about, Maridath about there being no silver, silver bullet for gold and diamond — a beautiful pun also. Appreciate that. So that just makes wonder how NERL has as a group has tried to go beyond the specific terminology or the specific sort of buckets of different models to see the bigger problems that you're trying to solve.

Lindsay Cronk 20:36

We just don't think that there's a good deal or a bad deal, right? I think that there's a better deal and a worse deal. And that's the piece we try to stress over and over again, again: pragmatism, incremental gains that take us towards a better trajectory. This is all about trajectories, the inflationary trajectory of the past was not sustainable, and it wasn't helping us. So when we're talking about sustainability, we are talking about costs, but we're also talking about the sustainability of our time, right to Maridath’s point. And so those are the the pieces that NERL just by existing helps dissolve. And the reason that we decided to sort of bring up the model and make it as open as possible, because we know if we're tearing our hair out at our tier one research institutions, I can't fathom some of the challenges — well, I can and they keep me up at night, thinking about — people at small, university’s being so concerned about getting it wrong.

Spending Resources — Time and Money — Wisely

sarah kearns 21:35

So I guess maybe stepping back into like what you said about saving time, what sort of like attributions are you looking for? What sort of values are you tapping into when you're thinking about making things more simple, but more straightforward, and more pragmatic for researchers and libraries?

Liz Mengel 21:56

So one of the things that is almost impossible for libraries to be able to maintain is a kind of administrative work that has to be done for APC models. We don't have that kind of that amount of staff to be able to manage all that. So right away that any any model that is based on APCs, is not going to work for the for most of the consortia.

There's other things that can work. So it has to be simple, it has to be something that just can pass through. So many of our technical services departments have lost staff over the ensuing years. And they're not necessarily getting the staff lines back. So being able to pass through and pay these kinds of charges becomes a burden. And I would rather stay with a subscription model than to have to try to do that. So there's costs for everything. We generally don't know what the costs are for publishers. So it's always hard to estimate what those are, but I can figure out the cost of my staff time do you have to pay and in monitor for APC charges.

Lindsay Cronk 23:33

To my mind, part of the clarity and the transparency piece is just coming to the table equipped with some of the the data to you. And that's also a place where we have time savings there that I want to highlight. We have an incredible data team. And that really leverages talent from Kineret Ben Knaan at at Miami, Michael Kohn at Columbia, and others who have just done a lot of work crunching the numbers for us so that when we arrive at the conversation, we're prepared. Their methods and techniques are also things that we're trying to open up and make replicable and open to folks because we know that particularly citation analysis is not an easy one. It's a place where we all have to agree because the thing about research impacted citation metrics is it all sort of translates back into that? And so it just becomes a very powerful data set that we allude to a lot.

Maridath Wilson 24:42

Yikes. I wondered when we were gonna get there in this conversation and I feel like we've we've arrived at the research metrics portion of the talk sooner than I thought we would.

When I was thinking about some of the questions you had sent over ahead of time, just sort of “what do you wish people understood about the market, but you feel they don't,” I don't know, it was, was really, really interesting. And I was thinking about this faculty productivity metric space that that Lindsay's alluded to, and Liz. I also spend a lot of time talking about business resources, and how much time and energy those take to negotiate locally. I don't believe we've ever really done any licensing of say, financial data. And these are things that our business faculty or MBA students folks like that are asking us for locally. If there was ever a group of licenses where I would really want to leverage, it would be those sorts of products. Streaming video is another one, you know, I kind of feel the same way about streaming film right. We don't, we don't quite have a great model yet. We don't have a great way to sort of anticipate spend handled the administrative burden of all of those many, many bills coming in.

Liz Mengel 27:02

So I'm gonna say this sarcastically, but the one good thing about the intense consolidation in the market is that at some point, we will likely be dealing with some of the host business providers to do some things because there's fewer and fewer. There's getting fewer and fewer providers in the market, as you know, Clarivate just bought ProQuest. And you can start to see some of the changes in the licensing from from that acquisition, I mean, that the acquisitions have just been kind of insane.

Maridath Wilson 27:48

And the further encroachment to deeper and deeper and earlier and earlier into the research process. Do y'all want to talk about how that's made you feel? I mean, that's one of the things that keeps me up at night. So and this is a great example of what I get to do when I work with folks from NERL. This space seems stressful to me, what do you all think?

Lindsay Cronk 28:26

The other thing I like about NERL — and I will sort of address it while I'm talking about this example is — when we look at marketplace consolidations and we can tell that it's going to have impacts, sometimes it can be hard to think about what's the end user impact going to be. How am I going to talk about this in a way that doesn't just make me sound like a standard broken record library person, like, “why are they doing this to us? they why are they doing this?” That's not a strong position for me to bring to a campus conversation. Instead, I have to explain why it's going to hurt someone else and why it's going to be a problem for the institution down the line, and how the library can help in either case. That is essentially my job.

With the marketplace consolidations, I think that one of the most powerful conversations we can be having now is to open up and say, what's the institution spend now? Because then you leverage that in your conversations with publishers and vendors. We haven't had that clarity within our institutions. And I feel like that's the the frontier I want to see us all push into. I do have a strong relationship with my procurement office and they trust me in this. That's the place where our expertise, can be brought to bear a lot and and into interventions that ensure there is an upside to end users that doesn’t exploit them. And I think that there's still a win win to be had. But everyone on this call knows that I'm a big optimist.

Liz Mengel 30:23

So I think one of the things I've been trying to really get folks to understand is me for years, the crisis in scholarly communications has always been kind of pointed to that it's a library budget problem. And it's not, it's a university problem. And at some point, the university has to decide that it is, dissemination is part of what their core mission is, and that they need to be able to look at it as a whole. And that's all the spaghetti noodles in that bowl. That's promotion and tenure. It's all this research metrics. Now, can Elsevier do a better job at developing these tools for research metrics than each individual institution can? Yeah, and that's why people are buying their stuff. But couldn't there be a way where — if the institutions looked at things from a higher level, if the provost and presidents really looked at that from a higher level — we could do that kind of work to? What is it that they that they all need? So I keep trying to get people to understand that if I can't buy your next your new Nature journal, it's not because of the library budget, it's because the university budget.

Lindsay Cronk 31:55

That's where again, to the instiutition, it’s the same bucket of money right was and like, the thing is, I think that part of what we haven't grappled with enough, and the crisis of scholarly communications, is we're still reckoning with costs on every side. I am not a cost equals value person, but some of the the cost arguments that I hate the most are the ones that appear to say, “it shouldn't cost that much.” It's knowledge, dude! It's all human knowledge and it cost to manage it, and the value is greater than the cost! But I don't love when we get into nickel and diming arguments on either side. Ultimately, if we're devaluing researchers we're also devaluing ourselves. And that role of dissemination to bring it back to what Liz was talking about.

Liz Mengel 32:53

We have to push the problem just to university Provost or president, I mean, I think we all have a role to play in it. But it has to be recognized at that level, that it is an issue and not just a library budget issue.

Lindsay Cronk 33:09

Hashtag not a library problem.

Maridath Wilson 33:14

That work to determine what is the real value, what is the real cost to create and host scholarship — which is what our publishers and vendors ultimately do — that's a question that we asked ourselves a lot during the Elsevier negotiations.

We’ve alluded to this notion of historical spend. I think, libraries really need to be bringing that up in their negotiations, be they individual local negotiations, or their consortial negotiations. How do we recognize the fact that we've had a 10, 15, 20 year relationship with publisher X, and, therefore, we've spent X amount of dollars. How much sense does it make to continue paying for the same content years over and over and over, at what point of view effectively bought that out?

There's another piece here too, which is centering the library on your campus as the manager of the relationships with these large companies. So having your contracts run through the library managed by your folks in collections and tech services, but partnering with your colleagues in the university sourcing and procurement department. NERL kind of uses different models that we may not all agree on, but regardless I feel really, really strongly about working closely with my sourcing and procurement office. I know, that's not not the case for everyone. But, you know, we were able to sort of say, here's the value that we can bring to your department. It's ultimately liaison work. Those of us that work in collections and are not public services, librarians are also still doing public services work. Like we're ultimately all managing relationships, and you gotta want to do that if you're going to do this work.

Lindsay Cronk 36:00

I feel like Morpheus in the matrix just being like, “what if I told you, we were all liaisons?” It's interesting to think about, something I wanted to circle back on, because with this notion of the historic spend over time right like me keep keep buying and buying the same stuff, because that's really thinking about it that way is what inspired the Backflip Deal.

Backflip Deal and Big Publisher Agreements

sarah kearns 36:36

Yeah, yeah, that's perfect. I was gonna tie this conversation into sort of why we're maybe having this discussion in the first place about your the NERL Backflip deal with Elsevier.

But maybe even before I get to that, something that you mentioned earlier that you do all this incremental slow work, but then you have this one massive deal with the big guy. And it just makes me wonder your opinion on: should we even have this hyper focus on so called big deals with these big five publishers? What's the what does that sort of like mean to you that this is the big deal and not some of — a lot of! — the other work that you're doing?

And then then we can then we can also discuss what the backflip deal is and how that negotiation process what that was like for for you.

Liz Mengel 37:47

A bit of an anomaly in as a librarian of collections, but I don't feel that the big deal is always bad. And so I'm not necessarily looking to get rid of them. But if I'm seeing my researchers use a lot of the content and thinking that it's not the worst thing, what we still want to be able to do is give them as much frictionless access to research as they need to drive the research enterprise.

There's three big deals, does that mean that they take everything from us? Or should we readjust some things and rethink those models? And I think we need to the journals that are in our historic spend, are not the same as we need now the way things are changing. I know everyone has heard me say this way too many times. But the increased number of journal that coming out? There just doesn't need to be that many coming out. In an electronic world, we are not taking use of the technology at all to keep doing the same kind of format that has been done in print for 400 years. So for me, the big deal is not a bad word. It just is like the business model underneath that big meal is that big meal like this In this model under that big deal is not the one that can be sustainable.

Lindsay Cronk 40:09

I don't necessarily think the — from a standpoint of major research institutions — the big deal is always your enemy. Where I get annoyed, and some of the sort of discourse I see around it is that I think it actually is a straw man and then it prevents us from engaging in some of those conversations. It makes us myopic, around it. And so I really like when we can move to a partnership and project based model that says, I think that there's a positive outcome to be had for researchers particularly. We have a shared responsibility to research and knowledge. Sharing this mindset brings us back to a place where it becomes less a fraught Rock’em Sock’em robot opposition framework and becomes one where we can think more broadly and creatively. If all we have to say is, “this is bad,” we're not demonstrating the remarkable depth of knowledge and expertise that I know, exists in the profession, expertise in a really crucial area of scholarly communication.

Maridath Wilson 41:46

Yeah, and I think that myopia, I also find myself feeling a bit distressed by it as well. I also find it to be somewhat of a strong man argument as well. I think it must come from this idea that making the big deal, or canceling your big deal, whatever your big deal work is is just all theoretical, right? It's all about a thought exercise, right. And, and what I think is really interesting is a lot of the folks who I find to be like, “No, big deal bad, small deal better,” are these very sort of broad strokes arguments.

When they learned that NERL was moving in a direction of doing value space negotiation, there was a lot of chatter of like, “oh, well, isn't that just all theoretical? And isn't that all pie in the sky,” and like, sort of. Broad strokes saying the big deal is bad for all institutions everywhere, for all time, with all pricing schema, you know, is is is just as problematic. And so we are trying really hard to sort of bring values based negotiation, and not “let's just burn everything down.” I mean, I sort of love burning everything down. It's kind of my personality, but like, it's also just not interesting, and it's also not sustainable. And it's a distraction for us doing the work of being more than a buying club, ultimately.

Liz Mengel 43:49

Yeah, and the ecosystem is not ready to be burned down. Though many of us may wish it were so.

Lindsay Cronk 44:00

Exactly. So that's where the the sort of incremental piece of this becomes crucially important: you point towards more sustainable, open, equitable future, and you accept those gains. And that let’s you refocus on other deals, because if it is just three to five big ones, and they're taking all of your time, that's also not sustainable for your institution.

When we freed ourselves from the purity test, the straw man, the big deal as Ultimate Big Bad, we weree able to think about, “what would a deal look like?” And that's where the backflip originated. What if we said the spend on the subscription was an investment in scholarly infrastructure with the materials themselves in the long term, preservation of knowledge? And we turned that with publishers and as we worked with Elsevier, we found that they were open to that conversation. I would say that it didn't necessarily surprise me, given what we've seen from them in that space. And it made me excited because all of those little gains are things that we can take back to others who resisted the argument previously. As soon as a model is in the marketplace, you've already shifted the conversation.

And that's what I that's what I love having been in the profession, like 10 years, sometimes it felt like disruption was the thing that was working against my work. Streaming video is a perfect example, I remember DDA I wanted to pull my hair out, but I figured it out. You know, we figured it out. But all these things were happening and then inhabiting the mindset of WE can be the disruptive force, a small disruptive force has been really cool with NERL.

sarah kearns 45:59

Yeah, no, I love that idea of having small like small disruptions. You can't just like burn everything down and like rise, like, you're not Phoenix. We need plans and steps to move forward. So I think that that's really powerful to be able to set that precedent.

Liz Mengel 46:25

There's too many pieces of spaghetti in the bowl, that until those can get straightened out a little bit more, you can't burn everything down. There's still too much that is dependent. So much of this ecosystem. It's not. It's just, it's, you can't just scrap on part.

Choose Your Pizza Toppings

Maridath Wilson 46:49

What Liz is talking about is all of our Italian food metaphors that we use. She's gonna think about the different you know, tendrils of the of the noodles in the bowl, which I just I love that image so much. Then you'll get in a room with Lindsay and she'll talk about the PDEs, which she refers to as our pizza toppings. So every every deal that we set out to make… not every topping goes together on every pizza. But every pizza should have, you know, two or three toppings ideally. So I'm not not sure not sure what that says about us, right?

Lindsay Cronk 47:36

We're hungry and we like to talk about food! But I really like pizza, it’s festive. Again, why go about negotiating your big deal, like it’s torturous and like a slog. NERL is is full of folks who love a metaphor. And so with the PDE, it was the notion that a good pizza can look a lot of ways. I've had I've had pizzas with — I don't know how we all feel about a Hawaiian pizza around these parts, but like — a spicy pepperoni with a pineapple? I can get down, and there are flavor combinations I haven't found yet. It's more expansive thinking. And, again, if you can get people into that headspace, I think most of us love a pizza party. It's just something a little bit joyful, a little lighter than your press release about how you've got to walk away now from this big deal.

It feels a little fraught, in some cases. Maybe you are going to walk away from the deal for a couple of years. And yes, it's going to cause headaches and, and issues. But let's get to a place where we can actually talk about this, because if we're not actually talking about it, we're also all missing one another. What I want is for us to have the direct and tough conversations that need to happen around what pizza is possible.

Liz Mengel 49:31

One of the things we've tried to be clear with publishing partners is is that we we believe we're here together for the long run, and we really believe in sitting down and having these very challenging conversations and to keep having them and to keep trying different combinations of pizza. I mean, I'm not sure I would like to pineapple and spicy pepperoni but… I’ll give it a try.

Lindsay Cronk 50:01

That's a good partner, that's a good friend! And it's actually something that Jessica Morales said, I'm just gonna cite her directly here: If we're stuck with publishers, they're also stuck with us. I just think I just think we haven't necessarily always owned the sort of Aikido strength of the position. It's a piece that for me, when that flipped in my own mind, a little weight came off my shoulders. All of a sudden, again, I was able to have a little bit of joy back in my work. And I hope that that is true for others as well.

Maridath Wilson 50:37

I think joy is the best way to describe what the last two years has been for me with NERL. It's the stuff that we've been able to accomplish. You know, yes, the Elsevier deal is historic and there are things about it that, like an artist, you never knows when the painting is done. There are times where I go back and look at it and “go, whew, man, I would have asked for this instead, or I would have maybe tried for that.” But, you know, we were able to sort of pilot this new model it was the fun pizza party, it was an adversarial. And it's a lot of fun to get on a call once a week with, you know, eight or nine of your favorite people to talk to you. Right, you know, who gets to do that? And then you get paid to do that. I mean, wow, that's, that's the dream.

I think this idea that our survival as libraries, as research enterprises, is intrinsically linked and tied up and that of the publishers is, is definitely on that list of things that I wish other people knew. And that I and that I wish other people would sort of employ in their discussions with vendors and publishers, because it's real. And that can be, again, a source of strength versus versus a challenge.

Liz Mengel 52:14

I think it's interesting finding joy, especially during COVID When everything was so hard and so challenging. That this is the work we chose to do during that time is to completely upend our negotiating ideas and and try for something different. But maybe it was exactly the right time.

Maridath Wilson 52:40

So I think it was because COVID: talk about disruption, right? COVID disrupted everything about our lives. Everybody's been talking about that for two years. I don't need to go into that too much. We know what that looked like. But I think people were in faculty governance, when they run meetings on on Robert's Rules, and all of that there's a moment where a faculty member is sort of allowed to stand up and say, I'd like to call the question. And that's when the debate sort of ends, you know, the philosophizing ceases, the oration concludes. And that's when folks sort of say, “Alright, so what then what do we do with this? Do we take a vote? Do we form a committee? How do we address the things that have been discussed in this meeting?” And I was really pleased with the speed of the negotiation, I was really pleased with how we would have these ideological discussions, but there was consistently moments of calling the question and saying, “Okay, that's really interesting. So what do we do with that? How do we operationalize that?” And, you know, I think the disruption of COVID and how it disrupted our lives, it called the question on so many sort of inherent paradigms that we all sort of hold, not not just at work, but in our lives, where that line is between our work and our lives, all of that. And so I think, I think we were all sort of primed and ripe for those questions to be called.

sarah kearns 54:20

Yeah, I love that especially bringing joy into into your work and into your lives and levering the disruptive moment, and bringing positive changes to to institutions. I think you've all you've all said, putting the power back into the hands of researchers and libraries. These big publishers have control but they only have it because we give it to them. They depend as much on researchers and librarians for their models inherently so it makes sense that it’s not going to be surprising that they're going to work with you because at the end of the day they have to.

As like a final wrap up question for the three of you. Maybe I'll ask what do you what do you think that the future holds for licensed content and for these relationship building conversations in academic libraries or not just academic libraries, just scholarship and research in general? That’s a big question, so how about what's the next pizza topping? What's the next food, haha?

Liz Mengel 55:32

Wow, that's a tough question.

I think, trying to disambiguate some of the parts of the scaly ecosystem and being able to deal with some of the inherent inequities, and work values. So you know, our faculty do the research, they write the articles, they peer review the articles, sometimes they have to pay to have the articles peer reviewed. And then we buy it back from a publisher, there is value in what a publisher does. And so don't get us wrong, we want to state that very clearly. But there is also incredible inequity in the work that goes into this process that we are not giving that accounted for. So I'd like to see that change a little bit more.

I also, again, hope that at some point in the future, we actually use technology to rethink the what is a journal? How do we disseminate and really think about dissemination in a very different way than just either book format? Or journal format? So what does that mean? And how could that be done in an electronic world? It's, it's changed so much, since the very first like, let's just turn all these journals into PDFs, and then they can be searchable. Yeah. So I'd like to move away from a print framework.

Lindsay Cronk 57:37

I would say whatever the future looks like, the thing I'm most hopeful is that it will not look like the past. That what we can do is by moving almost any new model and represent the possibilities, because they are like, what it could look like is almost anything that pizza could be a flying saucer. And I want to believe that we, if we think collectively in these consortial ways, which are opting in about what that future is like with intentionality, it's going to be better. And so when I think about what is the next pizza topping is answering “What if the backfile opens far enough?” Think about the beautiful and glorious possibilities of that. That’s one thing that is very clear to me. The other thing that is very clear to me is, we got to be thinking really intentionally about how we're investing. And I think that one of the obvious frontiers to me is for libraries to at least be acknowledged, as investors in the scholarly infrastructure that publishers “own” because I think that what we have done for years. It's a place where we've reaped a lot of technical debt, but where that technical debt could be erased, is if that that ownership were truly understood in a more cooperative framework. So that's just one that I think about a lot.

Liz Mengel 59:12

And none of this is going to be easy, because there's companies making a lot of money on this. And when that happens, change comes very, very hard.

Lindsay Cronk 59:22

That's the other thing that libraries and publishers have in common. We're both giant iceberg of institutions sort of roll in across the land.

Maridath Wilson 59:33

I think so when I think about the future. Heh, I mean, I think about a lot of different things. But the one that I keep going back to in my mind is how important it's going to be at our individual institutions. Right because there's, there's no there's no consortium there's no NERL if If we don't continue to maintain the the staffing levels and the integrity of our local institutions, right.

So if we start there, I think about how important it's going to be for us to continue to center the library as the heart of campus. The particular flavor of that centering right has changed over the last 20 years or so, and will change over the next 20. I'm not talking about like the Learning Commons model or anything like that, what I'm talking about is what some have referred to as our interstitial value. That means that we no longer just collect stuff, which is probably an odd thing for a collections librarian to say. You know, yes, of course, we do collect things. But think of the library as the Grand refer on campus a great university library, that I think would and should have a lot of value to university administrators, is the one where any student or faculty member can walk in, and they sort of broadly have a question about the university, and the library knows where to refer them to. So being more integrated into students support and things like that. Also being the place that whether this is in our digital spaces, or this is in our physical spaces, being the spaces that researchers find each other for cooperation. I think libraries would be wise to not farm that out to the vendors. There's so there's so much about those earlier stages of the research process that we're seeing more and more encroachment from the vendors.

And I must say something spicy, y'all. Part of the reason that we're in the pickle that we're in with OA right now is we didn't watch that eight ball enough back. And so you know, the barn door is open, the horse has been stolen. And and now what what we're trying to do is now think of new models for OA, because the ones that we have are broken. Okay. So I'm really concerned that that's now going to happen with some of the things that we've talked about on this podcast, right? So faculty productivity data, the preprint space, this could be a whole separate podcast, I know. But I think the way that you insulate your library and your library workers in your institution from that, is you can you continue to assert that your staff are the experts on campus in these spaces. So when these sorts of products are being looked at, you're at the table, and part of how you do that, personally, I think is you have a close relationship with your sourcing and procurement department. So I'll get off my soapbox there.

sarah kearns 1:03:18

Yeah, I feel like that's a maybe a daunting, yet full of potential way to end this conversation: noting that it's not just about publishing. It's about the whole scholarly and research process that it goes far beyond just publishing and accessing journal articles. It's many, many other things within a university and scholarly research context.

Lindsay Cronk 1:03:45

Hashtag not a library problem.

sarah kearns 1:03:53

Exactly. Well, thank you free for having this conversation with me. This has been super fun. Thanks for getting us together.

Maridath Wilson 1:04:02

Thanks for having us.

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