Category Archives: Growly

Some things never change, and still don’t work

On Monday I got a call from a publisher asking me to check on the renewal status of several periodicals. This is an old tactic; we don’t work directly with publishers, we work with a subscription agent, and when we cancel, the publisher often calls the library asking if we’ll please go check to see if we really truly meant to cancel that because surely we meant to renew?

We never meant to renew.

But it’s a shaming tactic, and one that relies on librarians to be the kind of eager-to-please business “partner” who says, “Oh, dear, that must have been an accident.” I’m not that librarian. Also, I’m the Director, not Collection Development Coordinator, at least update your records before you call…

And then today I got this email:

Ms. Rogers,

You recently spoke to one of my colleagues asking for a list of [our] titles that might have been cancelled.  I wanted to email you back to let you know which titles we were calling about.  This way you can reach out to your representative at EBSCO and figure out the status of each title.  Here are the titles listed below:

·         American XXXXXX XXXXXXX
·         XXXXXXXXX
·         Journal of XXXXXXX Research

Please let me know the status of the above titles.  Thanks and if you have any questions please feel free to contact me.

-Carol

This tactic should never have worked, and it won’t work with me. And I’m tired of it. So I replied:

Carol,

Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough on the phone. I am the Director of Libraries. I am not responsible for the day to day operations of our serials office, up to and including whether or not we’ve chosen to cancel a title, and I did not ask for any information. Additionally, I have the utmost confidence in both my librarians and our representatives at EBSCO. If you did not receive a renewal, it is because we chose to cancel the title. Any errors will be caught by our processes in-house. I have no question about the status of these titles, and I will not be checking on the status of these titles, as I have faith in my staff and their work. If you have a legitimate billing concern about our business relationship, please send the appropriate documentation so I might follow up with the appropriate staff.

Generally speaking, I have always viewed calls from publisher sales staff asking about the status of a subscription as cold calls in which you are attempting to “encourage” me to renew a subscription we have cancelled. I see no reason to view this call differently, and would appreciate it if you never call me without details of a legitimate financial concern again.

Best,

Jenica

Carol replied promptly with an apology and revealed the best bit of the whole thing: She doesn’t actually work for the publisher. She works for an outsourced call center that is, it appears, cold calling all the people who canceled subscriptions, and assured me that while she will ensure I don’t get any more calls during this “campaign”, she can’t promise I won’t be called by the publisher after her company has done their part. I can only assume, then, that I’m correct: the purpose of their campaign is to “encourage” libraries who’ve cancelled titles to renew them.

If you still think that by and large the publishers are our partners, and that they have anything but their own best financial interests in mind, please think again. They are not. They are not our partners, and they are not acting in the best interests of library users. They are vendors with whom we have a business relationship based on money. In this case, just one more example of that, a publisher is paying an external company to make guilt and confusion-based sales calls to libraries in an attempt to overturn our collections decisions. If this was about internal bookkeeping of subscriptions and sales, the call to “clean up” the records would come from in-house. That’s not what’s happening: this is not an internal control or customer-relations exercise. This is sales, and it’s dirty sales, too, based in an assumption that we will question our cancellation decision when asked about it directly.

No. I won’t.

You shouldn’t either. Don’t honor these calls. Don’t listen to them. Don’t spend your time following up on a sales pitch you didn’t ask for, and which directly contravenes your reasoned and rational decisions about your subscriptions and collections. Don’t play their game. Don’t let them set the terms.

Note: Names have been changed to protect the innocent, and the vendor has been obscured because I’m not in the mood to fight about it.

Aaron Swartz was right

And today in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Peter Ludlow points it out. Amen, so say we all, and fuck yes.

Until academics get their acts together and start using new modes of publication, we need to recognize that actions like Aaron Swartz’s civil disobedience are legitimate. They are attempts to liberate knowledge that rightly belongs to all of us but that has been acquired by academic publishers through tens of thousands of contracts of adhesion and then bottled up and released for exorbitant fees in what functionally amounts to an extortion racket.

When Swartz wrote his manifesto he pulled no punches, claiming that all of us with access to these databases have not just the right but the responsibility to liberate this information and supply it to those who are not as information-wealthy.

“Those with access to these resources—students, librarians, scientists—you have been given a privilege,” he wrote. “You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not—indeed, morally, you cannot—keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world. And you have: trading passwords with colleagues, filling download requests for friends.”

The whole enraging tragedy of Aaron Swartz is something I haven’t known how to talk about. I still don’t. But here’s the core of my resonance around his death: He did a right thing, per my moral and philosophical code about and around information access. He did a right thing. And our legal justice system persecuted him for it, in my opinion, so that corporations could continue to profit.

I don’t want to live in that world.

And as I said at NLS6, I spent 11 years paying ACS invoices because in my case, at my institutions, my professional responsibility to do right by my users meant I needed to keep paying. Last year I encountered a rare moment in which my professional responsibility and my philosophical beliefs about my profession lined up, and I had the opportunity to not only continue doing my job well, but to do it right. We in libraries don’t have those moments all that often, those moments when we can do it right guilt-free, in a profession in which the rest of academia drives many of our decisions… and the rest of academia has been ignoring the reality Swartz saw and railed against. But maybe they’re seeing it. Maybe we’re all seeing it. Maybe, just maybe, they don’t want to live in that world either.

And so maybe, just maybe, we won’t have to.

Keep on believing. Keep on asking hard questions. Keep on challenging authority. Keep on fighting.

And, this I hope: May no more idealists be driven to suicide by an irrational, over-reactive, and hysterical government and industry response to challenge. EVER.

we are not the ones who failed

On Facebook, in comments online, and face-to-face, a few librarians and chemists have expressed sadness, dismay, or concern that we’re canceling our ACS content. The message, uniformly, is “That’s a bad decision. Your users need that content. You need to reconsider.”

So here’s the thing. I don’t disagree with two of those three points. It’s a crappy decision. Our users do need that content. But I cannot reconsider.

I’m notorious in a small SUNY circle for insistently saying the following:

“A good deal that I can’t afford is still a good deal, and I still can’t afford it.”

The difference with the ACS is that I don’t think it’s a good deal. I think it’s a bad deal, and I know I can’t afford it. So I cannot reconsider. And there’s been a suggestion that I should feel guilty for failing to prioritize teaching and learning for our students, instead choosing to make a big public statement about how our libraries and faculty are failing our users. I have one answer to that:

I am not the one who failed to prioritize teaching and learning. I am not the one who should feel guilty. Neither are our faculty.

Librarians and faculty did not price the ACS content out of our ability to pay for it.

Librarians and faculty did not insist, repeatedly, for seven hours of face-to-face ‘negotiations’, that any compromise was outside the established pricing model.

Librarians and faculty did not insist that there should be only private discussion of the matter, and no public debate.

And, to take it bigger picture, librarians and faculty did not reduce State funding for New York’s institutions of higher education.

So I repeat: We are not the ones who should feel guilty. We are not the ones failing to prioritize teaching and learning. And speaking out about that conflict, that injustice, and that frustration does not mean we don’t value those things. It means we do.

Respecting your customers

I made clear my institution’s stance on the American Chemical Society, and our reasons for it, in this post. I was as fair as I could be, I gave credit where they deserved it, and I discussed how the facts of the matter impacted our campus. I then wrote a follow-up about how comparatively even-handed the internet response has been, and how impressed I was by it.

When Jennifer Howard of the Chronicle of Higher Education asked for a comment from the ACS on the matter, they said this:

“We find little constructive dialogue can be had on blogs and other listservs where logic, balance and common courtesy are not practiced and observed,” Glenn S. Ruskin, the group’s director of public affairs, said in an e-mail message. “As a matter of practice, ACS finds that direct engagement via telephone or face-to-face with individuals expressing concern over pricing or other related matters is the most productive means to finding common ground and resolution.”

Well. I’ve spoken on behalf of my institution. Now let me speak on behalf of myself. Aside from the personal insult of being accused of a lack of logic, balance, or common courtesy, I guess that statement makes clear how they feel about interacting with librarians in our professional discussion spaces. As a matter of practice, the ACS feels that interacting with customers in their spaces is unproductive. I’m accustomed to old guard folks thinking that blogs are a cesspit of youthful indiscretion, but seriously… listservs? Email discussions have been a mainstay of librarians’ and academics’ professional networking and discourse for decades, and apparently, they too lack courtesy, logic, and balance. Sometimes they do, of course — everyone’s seen the spectacular disasters that sometimes occur — but these conversation and information sharing spaces are a staple of our professional discourse, and the ACS has chosen to write them off entirely as unworthy of participation.

To quote a friend, it’s often hard to have meaningful discussion when you refuse to engage in the discussion in the first place. Which perhaps explains why the ACS is so out of touch with what their customers think of them.

new frontiers sometimes suck

I just did something I’ve never done before. I deleted a tweet. You can guess which one.

I’d left it up because it’s a legitimate part of the record of my actions and communications, and while I’d preferred, on an emotional level, to delete it, I thought it mattered to leave it up as a part of the integrity of the whole debacle. I advocate for owning your shit, and so I was trying to do that.

But I’m done trying with this instance. The people who want to crucify me have it in screenshots. It’s cached wherever it is that the internet powers cache things. And I’m tired of making it yet easier for people to snipe at me, so it’s gone. Ask each other for copies of the screenshots if you need it, or screenshot it out of the post in which I apologize for saying it. Have at it.

The thing that I find most frustrating and disheartening is that yes, I said a crass and offensive thing about librarians. I’ve said equally crass and offensive things about my ex-husband, politicians, helicopter parents, anti-vaccine activists, American voters, Karl Rove, anti-environmentalists, racists, birthers, drug lords, child abusers, anti-choice activists, Westboro Baptist Church, you name it, if I feel passionate about it, I’ve been pissed off about it. And I’m passionate about libraries and librarianship. And I was pissed off. The difference is that in this instance I was angry and publicly vocal, I was angry and publicly vocal about my own profession, and I was angry and publicly vocal about my own profession before I spent any time figuring out what the underlying issues were. Any one of those three steps is my point of failure. I screwed up more than once, there.  And then I admitted it and apologized.

This is, apparently, not enough, and here’s where my frustration and disheartenment come in. Apparently it’s not enough to acknowledge that you screwed up, and apologize for it. Apparently, I need to do something more.

What that might be, I have no damn clue.

And at this point, I’m not inclined to care. There is no discourse here. There is no integrity. So to hell with it. Tweet deleted. Apology uttered into the vasty deeps of the internet. Accept it if you will, or keep posting screenshots and anger if you won’t.

May we all emerge better people tomorrow, and learn from our mistakes.