By Karen Diaz, Dean of WVU Libraries
The outrage, anger, and sadness of George Floyd’s murder is palpable in our community, nation and world. I share those sentiments and like many think “these killings have got to stop”. We know systemic racism and violence against Black people are not new problems, but we have reached a new crescendo.
I have struggled personally with how to respond from the WVU Libraries. I have been leery of creating yet one more statement in a sea of statements. It’s too easy to say something – but so hard to create meaningful change. At the same time, I recognize that there is a need to verbalize intention if we want to move our organization in a new direction. I was pleased that our university president has led with such a statement and has challenged me, as a part of the WVU community to act.
When I think about how libraries need to change to become truly anti-racist institutions, I see two sides to this. First is that it matters how we think of our role as a cultural institution. How do we create spaces, collections, instruction and programming that represents all voices, and that fosters a sense of belonging for all users? Next, it matters how we think of our role as an employer. How do we create accountability and structure our culture internally to ensure employees from diverse races and ethnicities are hired and feel a sense of belonging?
In thinking through these two big challenges, I recognize that they are inextricably intertwined with each other. I have been reading the works of and listening to colleagues in my own field these last several days. I have particularly been paying attention to Black leaders and I’d like to highlight some of their thoughts that inform my thinking.
This conversation between Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress and Lonnie Bunch, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution was informative in helping me think about our role as cultural institution. Each share how important representation in books and cultural artifacts prompted their interest in entering their respective fields. This representation then serves to inform the role cultural institutions have in helping to shape and change society.
This line of thinking has resulted in the fact that librarians see themselves as saviors or guardians of knowledge. Two years ago, our colleague pointed out a flaw in this thinking. Just because our mission is noble, it does not mean that we are above reproach and criticism in how we do our work and how organizations treat their workers. Fobazi Ettarh articulated our challenge as vocational awe, and how that awe stands in the way of making progress as an employer as well as cultural institution. Now is not the time for articulating how important we are to the cultural record. Now is when we must ask WHAT and WHOSE cultural record we are creating, amplifying and preserving. If our organizational culture is oppressive because it defaults to our racist and patriarchal origins, does that not become reflected in the cultural heritage we are preserving and protecting?
Finally, I’ll share statements and thoughts from two leaders of research libraries:
First fromVice Provost for University Libraries and University Librarian at UNC Chapel Hill, Elaine L. Westbrooks who states that becoming organizations fully dedicated to equality requires reckoning with our past. She promises to begin that reckoning at her institution and I look forward to learning what that will look like and what it might teach us at WVU.
Second from Vice Provost for Libraries and Museums and May Morris University Librarian at the University of Delaware, Trevor Dawes who acknowledges the value of statements, but recognizes that statements are simply not enough and that we must act.
I am meeting with my leadership team individually in the coming weeks to begin conversations about race and racism at WVU Libraries. I hope to pave the way for normalizing these conversations in a group setting so that we might begin to create meaningful change. I know it won’t be quick and I know it is complex. But I also know it is necessary.
I would also like to share resources compiled by a previous resident librarian and updated by our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Action Committee:
Here are statements from some of our professional organizations:
By Karen Diaz, Dean of WVU Libraries
For two years now, West Virginia University Libraries has been working toward bringing our materials spending in line with the new budget realities that we have faced since 2016. One of the biggest challenges in our reduction in funds is managing “bundled” journals subscriptions that historically provided us with more journal title subscriptions at less cost. Unfortunately, over time the inflationary costs of these bundle subscriptions have outpaced the size of our budget.
In 2016, when we were first presented with the need to reduce our spending, bundled journal packages accounted for 30 percent of our materials budget but only provided 6.2 percent of our titles. We recognized at the time that we would have to address this significant portion of our budget to achieve the necessary savings. We did so immediately by unbundling our Wiley subscription package which provided us with about $400,000 in savings at that time. Now we are moving to unbundle the remaining packages.
Remedies, Consequences and Negotiations
Our librarians have spent the last year and a half doing a tremendous amount of analysis on our bundled packages. We have looked at where there is title overlap between different packages we purchase. We have purchased a detailed report that helps us understand which journals our campus researchers are downloading from, publishing in, and citing in their published research. Based on that we have been able to rank in importance the journals for our community in a data driven manner. Our internal collections advisory committee has reviewed and adjusted this work based on extra knowledge gleaned from relationships they have developed with colleges across campus.
One of our journal packages – specifically ScienceDirect with Elsevier – currently takes up 36 percent of our budget but provides only three percent of our titles. Granted, these are high quality titles and many of them are heavily used by the campus community. Still, by taking such a large proportion of our budget, this package has left us with no flexibility to buy monographs on a regular basis, or consider emerging journal or database titles requested by faculty. We have consulted with deans, many department chairs, the Office of Research, and some faculty about this challenge.
After a very lengthy research and negotiation process with Elsevier, we are in the process of finalizing a new contract which unbundles the big package we had. This will mean a loss of new content for some, but not all, of their journal titles. We additionally did a thorough analysis of our usage and spending on the big package we have with Springer and have determined that we will also be unbundling that package. This will allow us to reduce the number of lesser used titles and reduce spending. These changes will take effect on or about January 1, 2019. We have provided complete lists of the Springer and Elsevier titles affected.
Still Delivering Effective Research Support
Because of these changes, the library is reinstating its subscription to SCOPUS (note WVU access will begin before January 1, 2019), a popular scholarly search tool that many lamented the loss of when we cancelled it in 2017. Additionally, the library continues to provide excellent Interlibrary Loan services and we are confident we can supply content that is necessary for the research needs of the campus. In many cases, journal articles can be supplied within hours of the request. There is never a cost to the researcher or the department for obtaining materials through ILL and we will soon be expanding this service over weekends.
We recognize that these changes may require some new research habits and up-to-date information on the quickest and most cost effective way to get what you need. Our liaison librarians are happy to meet with you by department or individually to ensure you know the latest.
A Shared Reality
It is also important to know that these challenges do not affect WVU alone. SPARC keeps an ongoing watch list of universities that have cancelled journal packages in a nod to the fact that these packages are becoming unsustainable. Many national and international organizations have been pushing back on the high costs that Elsevier, in particular, charges for access to scholarly content.
I am happy to discuss any concerns you might have regarding this decision. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-293-0304.
The following op-ed appeared in the Charleston Gazette on August 14.
By Karen Diaz, Interim Dean of Libraries
Libraries enjoy an interesting relationship with the public and our users. We are trusted, loved, and yet often underestimated. Folks think of libraries as the friendly place to get books. They are indeed that – but so much more. Libraries are neutral in the sense of belonging to the collective, and hosting different points of view. They are political in the sense of dedication to that cause and working against censorship. They are for the common good. They are places and they are virtual. And importantly they are run by professionals who are guides, teachers, partners, community workers and scholars all in one. A public library is a space where the local community can come to grow and to learn about societal as well as personal matters whether that be through books or events. An academic library is a “neutral” space that brings different disciplines together through collections, space and services.
Libraries have a lot in common – and yet are distinct from – organizations like art galleries and museums. In fact, the GLAM acronym is meant to represent the overlapping concerns of galleries, libraries, archives and museums. And when libraries think of themselves as GLAM organizations, interesting things begin to happen. Libraries become more creative and visual. They become not only holders of stories and research, but tellers of stories and research.
West Virginia University Libraries does this in many ways. Our West Virginia and Regional History Center is the premier collection of primary materials for the state and region and holds treasures that tell stories of our past. Exhibits are open for the public to glimpse highlights of the collection. The digital collections allow anyone to view documents, videos and photographs in the collection from anywhere.
This coming fall, the WVU Downtown Campus Library is pleased to open a highly interdisciplinary, strikingly visual and deeply significant exhibit on WATER. This exhibit includes over 20 collaborators from on and off our campus. As an essential source of life, adventure, and even devastation, water is a significant resource in the state of West Virginia. By bringing academic research from many disciplines together with community activism and artistic expression on water all together in one venue we are creating a truly unique opportunity for anyone in the state to come and “take it all in.” We hope this will spark new opportunities for research, innovation and collaboration.
Additionally we are working on a Public Arts Guide with the Art Museum of WVU, College of Creative Arts, Arts Monongahela and the Morgantown Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, for the city of Morgantown to provide citizens and visitors the opportunity to learn what art venues and opportunities exist in our community both on and off campus. You’ll find that some of these venues are in libraries! This work is funded in part by a community engagement grant from WVU.
WVU President E. Gordon Gee always reminds the campus that we have a mission to engage with and seek solutions to the many challenges of our state and region. Libraries can play an important role in being a crossroad, conduit and venue for such engagement. Expect it.