Relational communications: Developing key connections

Micah Vandegrift; Gloria Colvin

* Contact Claire Stewart—series editor, head of digital collections and scholarly communication service at Northwestern University—with article ideas, e-mail: E-mail:

Two years ago use of the terms scholarly communication and open access on the Florida State University (FSU) campus was limited primarily to library administrators and a few library and teaching faculty. But, in a relatively short time, we have dramatically increased awareness of these topics on our campus and accomplished many of our goals. Our focus has been on promoting authors’ rights, the option to archive publications in open access repositories, and the evolution of scholarly publication in a digital environment, rather than a focus on the serials crisis facing libraries. Looking back over these past two years, the relationships that we developed along the way have been foundational to our success. Here, we discuss development of the FSU program and key steps we took, which we hope are instructive to others in developing a scholarly communication program.

1. Educate yourselves. Before embarking on a scholarly communication program, it is vitally important to understand the issues and the current state of scholarly publishing and the direction in which it’s moving. The catalyst for our scholarly communication program was the ACRL Scholarly Communication 101 Roadshow,1 which FSU hosted in July 2010.

The workshop raised librarians’ awareness of the crisis in scholarly publishing and the open access movement; introduced them to two leaders in the field, Kevin Smith from Duke University and Lee Van Orsdel from Grand Valley State University; and generated interest in developing a scholarly communication program on this campus.

Connections with ACRL, SPARC, and other organizations and leaders in this movement have continued to inform and educate the library faculty.

You’ll also need to understand the level of awareness and involvement in open access or scholarly communication issues among faculty on campus. At FSU, the College of Medicine pioneered a study on open educational resources (OER) in medical education, which led to the college’s involvement and interest in the wider campus initiative.2 Conversations between librarians and several key faculty in the humanities and the sciences led to identifying others with an interest in topics related to scholarly communication. An environmental scan of the FSU faculty, conducted in September 2011, revealed a low level of awareness about the details of open access, indicating the need for further education regarding self-archiving in subject and institutional open access repositories. This seven-question survey was e-mailed to all faculty through the provost’s office.3 A follow-up survey is planned to identify faculty members’ direct involvement in field-specific publishing practices.

2. Involve faculty. While the impetus for a scholarly communication push has come from the library, developing relationships with and involving teaching faculty has kept FSU’s initiatives from being solely library-driven. At some universities where scholarly communication initiatives have been introduced by the provost or president, the academic culture has had to adapt. As much of the literature on scholarly communication has alluded, support from administration is important, but faculty need to be intimately involved in the process. Similarly, efforts led solely by the library without faculty involvement struggle to gain wide support. In fall 2010, two librarians presented on scholarly communication to the Faculty Senate Library Committee and recommended the appointment of a Scholarly Communications Task Force composed of both library and teaching faculty.

Even early in our process, we understood that the involvement of well-credentialed and influential faculty and administrators was fundamental to success. When the Faculty Senate Library Committee charged a task force and appointed cochairs in January 2011, identifying faculty to include in the process was a primary goal. Final membership of that group included librarians and faculty from 18 different academic units across the arts, humanities, social sciences, sciences, law, and medicine. Considering the wide range of issues that are included in scholarly publishing, from circulating preprints to licensing rights, the variety of voices has proven useful.

The faculty who served on this task force were instrumental in drafting a resolution that was passed unanimously in the Faculty Senate, endorsing the principle of open access and its implementation at FSU and supporting “faculty who wish to pursue open access publishing whenever consistent with their professional goals.”4 These faculty continue to be involved in building support for scholarly communication initiatives across the campus, including presentations during Open Access Week and participation in an institutional repository pilot program.

3. Reach out to key players in administration. Strategizing outreach methods becomes a political task, as well as a public relations one. In addition to involving faculty who have real investments in this system, university administrators who guide the character of the school need to be involved in new developments early on. At FSU, we took a multipronged approach. Knowledgeable faculty and librarians led the task force in developing consensus and understanding of the complexities of open access and institutional repositories. At the same time, representatives from the task force began to schedule and hold meetings with key administrators, including the interim provost, dean of the faculties, council of deans, humanities area chairs, science area chairs, and more.

After identifying potential partnerships and those on the “need to know” list, maintaining a consistent and simple message becomes significantly more important. The outreach efforts in the middle stages of developing a campus initiative can be hindered if various levels of administration have poor or underdeveloped knowledge of the goals and focus of an institutional repository or an open access policy. In an effort to control the message, part of the work of the task force was to develop a “cheat sheet” and a two-to-three page information packet that task force members could consult for quick answers or simple, concise points about open access. Developing this type of resource early on, with the participation and input of a variety of players, customized to the specific needs and audience of the campus, is a key and foundational step. Existing “cheat sheets,” such as those complied by librarians at the University of Florida (UF), or the popular “What ____ can do to promote open access” campaign materials can be useful sources to adapt to your own purposes.5

4. Make connections outside the university. After building the framework of on-campus relationships, connecting with the growing community of open access advocates, scholarly communication librarians, and copyright lawyers is the next step. Not surprisingly, the scholarly communication community is relatively close-knit, constantly in conversation, and actively working to adapt to changes, for better or worse. Similar to the on-campus approach of communicating with various constituencies, there are multiple layers of useful professional communities with which to interact. ACRL’s Scholarly Toolkit, ARL’s Reshaping Scholarly Communications, and SPARC’s resources are good starting points. However, as open access has grown in stature in recent years, there are some productive and active virtual spaces that offer opportunities for dynamic exchange of ideas.

Establishing informal networks is a great way to share ideas and generate new ones. At FSU, we were fortunate to begin our scholarly communication work along a timeline similar to that of UF and as interest was building at other schools, colleges, and universities around the state. Christine Ross, UF scholarly communications librarian, organized a scholarly communication Interest Group (FL-SCIG), which has met semi-regularly over the past year. FL-SCIG has provided a venue to share information, coordinate efforts (such as a regional conference presentation), and make intrastate connections, and has led to a better sense of ways that scholarly communication programs are developing across a variety of schools in the political, cultural, and educational context of the State of Florida.

Additionally, the recently established Coalition of Open Access Policy Institutions (COAPI) was instrumental in involving Florida State in the national conversation around open access policies. COAPI,6 affiliated with SPARC and coordinated by the University of Kansas Libraries, is another example of an informal affiliation of like-minded institutions that are working toward the same goal from different vantage points. COAPI aims to provide peer support for institutions that are developing or implementing open access policies, as well as to provide a venue for information and advocacy around scholarly communication topics. Aligning with a network like COAPI or FL-SCIG, or creating one where it might not exist, is a great way to build consensus, and, if necessary, to demonstrate power in numbers.

5. Build outreach to campus. The publishing practices among faculty are well established, and promoting alternate modes of dissemination requires finesse and regular outreach programs. Creating policies and procedures for sharing scholarly communication information can help communicate a clear message on open access, institutional repositories, and the school’s investment in those areas.

Our efforts to inform and educate FSU faculty are ongoing. A scholarly communication component was added as a recommended duty to the list of expectations for librarians who serve as departmental liaisons. They are beginning to talk with faculty in their subject areas about retaining their rights as they publish articles and working with them to solicit publications for the university repository, DigiNole Commons.7 Several monthly liaison meetings have been devoted to scholarly communication, and information and articles are distributed via a electronic list to keep liaisons informed.

Specific outreach programs like Open Access Week provide another opportunity to share information about scholarly communication topics and about the university’s initiatives. FSU has held events for the past two years in conjunction with Open Access Week on topics including author’s rights, Creative Commons licensing, subject repositories, and digital humanities. Also, tapping into existing faculty-focused programs on campus provides a ready venue for outreach. In Fall 2012, scholarly communication will be the topic of an annual Faculty Luncheon Series, featuring speakers from the library and representative faculty from the humanities, sciences and social sciences.

6. Develop leadership. FSU is continuing to expand and implement its scholarly communication program, but without our early focus on building relationships, we might not have come as far along as we have in a relatively short timespan. After educating ourselves, involving and educating faculty and administrators, and reaching out to local, regional and wider networks, formal and informal, the goals of our initiative are developing to include formalizing leadership in and across these points of connection.

Many of the initiatives described herein can be laborious and time-consuming to plan. Devoting a position to scholarly communication allows the organization to continue to function while being able to expand services in this new area. At FSU, the hiring of a full-time scholarly communication librarian in January 2012 has further propelled our outreach and education initiatives. Additionally, the College of Medicine has freed up 50 percent time for one librarian to focus on open access outreach. As libraries place value on involving themselves in the creation and dissemination aspects of scholarly publishing, resources, and staff time should follow.

Expanding outreach efforts to an entire campus is a daunting task. Implementing scholarly communication initiatives in phases, and using connections with key faculty, task forces, and administrators makes the workload more manageable. We are building on those connections with a pilot project to populate the institutional repository with scholarly articles that will focus on departments and colleges that are already invested in open access at FSU. Rolling this project out slowly should create further opportunities to educate faculty on rights management and models of open access, in turn shifting the scholarly culture on campus toward solid understanding of the wider movement.

A final goal for any scholarly communication initiative, in the spirit of open access, is contributing to the community. Growing from development, through implementation, to leadership in this new area of academia is a sign of active and productive relationships between the library, faculty, and administration. Maintaining those relationships is essential to the continued success and growth of such an initiative. Purposefully engaging in connectedness grounds scholarship in communications, beginning to move academic publishing toward a greater collegiality between invested parties.

1. For more information about the ACRL Scholarly Communication 101 Roadshow, see
2. FSU College of Medicine Open Educational Resources Task Force Final Report:
3. Survey data and analysis are available in the Scholarly Communications Task Force Report at
4. The FSU faculty senate open access resolution is available at
5. USF Scholarly Communications Working Group: and
6. For more information about COAPI, see
7. See for more information about FSU’s DigiNole Commons.
Copyright © 2012 Micah Vandegrift and Gloria Colvin

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