Plan S: An American Librarian in the Netherlands

One of the many self-realizations I’ve come to through this experience is that I am an essentialist. I am not incredibly interested in sweating the details, and I prefer to boil down concepts, ideas, and my scholarship to the basics. I’ve avoided leaping into the fray over Plan S partly because I am a guest and an observer during my fellowship, and also because I don’t feel particularly qualified to speak on the topic of what is required or mandated of researchers in Europe. But, after speaking with a friend from home who encouraged me by saying “dude, can you acknowledge that you’re such a badass?” I came to another self-realization… I’m a gotdamn Fulbright Fellow, studying “open” policies in Europe, with nigh a decade of experience in the U.S. advocating/activist-ing for open access, and my humble opinion might could provide a bridge of insight across the Atlantic.

The Amersfoort meeting on Plan S

Plan Statement

It’s been a minute since the global publishing/scholarly communication field has had a bold statement to argue about. In the U.S., things have been pretty dull since around November 2016, and the open swell that the OSTP memo created seems to be crashing mildly on the shores of University Research Compliance offices. Things are moving, but mostly in eddies and pools (with the exception of the tidal wave that is OER.)

Europe’s many Declarations paved a clear path for a statement of this scale. We have Leiden and Berlin. Amsterdam and Mallorca [PDF]. The support from the EU toward open science is broadly evident, and there are a glut of projects, programs, people, and pressure to make it so. For all the pomp and circumstance, the major hurdle that I’ve observed is that the incentives are still lagging and the punitive measures are loosly, if at all, enforced. Grand statements from collective meetings are well and good, and awareness is rising slowly, but, pulling on the purse strings has gotten everyone’s attention.

Plan S is the statement we deserved, and it is the statement we needed. I was at the Amersfoort meeting where four researchers lectured a crowd of ~250 about the failure of Coalition S in consulting them. Their arguments were sound, yet still echoes of every excuse I’ve heard from those who voice support for open and yet refuse or are lax to change their own practices.

Now, an international coalition of research funders have added their voice to the choir. In response, universities have spoken, professional societies have spoken, researchers have spoken, and publishers have spoken. The next phase of open knowledge is on crescendo, and each player will have a part, either in discord or in harmony.

Plan Stakeholders

The most shocking, although unsurprising, ripple from Plan S is the clarity of who the primary stakeholders in this system are. Researchers. Funders. Publishers. Almost every report, brief, news item, and meeting I’ve encountered focuses on these. To my chagrin, libraries are still on the outside, wildly gesticulating with our evolving organizations, solid support programs, and deep expertise. However the chips fall, its clear to me that libraries will be picking up the pieces, and its disheartening that we have yet to find that sweet spot and leverage our position in this system as core and essential. There are many singular examples of libraries at the center (ex. Utrecht University, MIT, Universities of California), but I’m speaking more generally about the sector. The comforting flipside is that a repeated refrain in open science and Plan S discussions is the dire need for training in emerging open research practices. You’d be hardpressed to point me to a library that is not offering some sort of workshop series that provides basics of open access, open data, research impact metrics, or Open Science Framework 101.

Researchers, of course, cannot and should not be pigeonholed. Some nuance is necessary in examining the stake they hold for Plan S, and the future of open research. Another shock, although unsurprising, is observing the demarcation in early career researchers and the establishment. The Young Academies and Open Science Communities have opinions and ideas [PDF], but it also feels like they have clout. Plan S reflects principles and practices of a new professorate, although through a glass, darkly. If, (underline-bold-italicise-asterisk) IF the implementation of Plan S can also affect the structures and systems that currently constrict early career researchers, I believe we’ll be talking about a new tipping point in the years to come.

A quick aside: every meeting on open scholarship that I’ve attended since becoming a librarian has devolved to the question of tenure and promotion. In light of Plan S, and thinking about where power lies with the various stakeholders, it feels like a ploy to see if research compliance for funding can sway university evaluation standards. Bold move. Another tact: when and how can we organize efforts to chip away at those T&P guidelines from the inside out?

Plan Simple

Recently, Roger Schonfeld asked if Europe will lead a global flip to open access, especially through the “first mover disadvantage” in the Read and Publish OA Big Deals that are already looking more common several months later. Adding together the consortial deals like those just announced in Germany, the vocal researchers, binders and binders of EU policy-makers and their reports, the massive investments in multitudes of infrastructure, the ready-and-willing ubiquitous library community, and, yes, the throes and thorns of Plan S, the numbers certainly add up.

So what about the States? Will rugged individualism and bootstrappism find a course through the continental divide of “open” culture change? From my limited, short-sighted, and early career point of view, I’m optimistic that the defining feature of open scholarship in the U.S. will be less an overarching agenda like Horizon 2020, and more regionally flavored coalitions or statewide cooperatives; “y’all” or “yinz”, Deep Dish or Thin Crust, Joshua Tree or Shenandoah, Route 66 or I-95, Disney World or Disney Land, corn or flour, Gulf or Great Lakes, Biggie or Pac, Beltway or Rust Belt, Ramones or Black Flag.* What works for Harvard and MIT may taste different for UT-Arlington or Oregon Health and Science University.

As an essentialist, I’m not concerned about a close reading or line specific annotation of Plan S. I will hope and work diligently for a time when my colleagues at NC State are familiar with the arguments on either side, and recognize the library as a place where they can ask uncomfortable questions and get honest answers. As the rhetoric heats up, lets remember that there are always bigger fish to fry (climate change, social justice), and that, whether through repositories or journals, Plan S or the 2.5% Commitment, a global transition to 100% open access has the potential to make our world a better place to live. The simple point that I plan to return with is this — alignment is the new hustle. When Plans, Programmes, and Policies align with Sustainability, Stability, and Standardization then we’ll be riding a wave into the setting sun, whistling while we work on locavore open knowledge (to fully integrate all my ridiculous metaphors.)

peak nederlands

*can you tell I’m a wee bit homesick for the sprawling culturescapes of the good ole U.S. of A?