Interview – Gwen Bird, SFU

Gwen Bird, Dean of Libraries, Simon Fraser University

August 2018

What defining institutional values or characteristics did you have to consider before launching an open access discussion on your campus? 
SFU started working on the open access policy in 2015. This was aided by an implementation of our libraries strategic plan where we identified core values for the libraries. “Openness” was one of the core values identified throughout the plan and is echoed throughout the plan. It had been part of SFU Libraries’ direction for many years. Further, as a community engaged institution, it is an important value to not lock up scholarship. It was easy to situate the values of the institution and the library in the construction of the policy.

What was the impetus for initiating a policy?
This was not the first time we considered an open access policy. SFU has history with an established OA fund that helped raise awareness about open access; faculty and students knew to come to us because we administer that fund. We are also the host institution for the Public Knowledge Project (PKP). We had a sense in all of this activity that there was support for an OA policy. We also participated in CARL ITHAKA Research Survey where we learned that support for open access from SFU faculty was the highest of all CARL (Canadian Association of Research Libraries) libraries so we knew there was great support.

What communication structures did you put in place to compel the University to consider a campus open access policy?
I talked to the VP Research about an open access policy. She was completely on board and supportive. Open Access was also in the institution’s research plan. [Noted the SFU Dean of Libraries reports to the VP of Research.] The VP Research also chairs the Senate Library Committee. She brought this forward at one of the meetings to gauge interest and expertise in this area. It did not take any convincing. We often talk about scholarly communications and open access at meetings of the Senate Library Committee.  

Please share your story of what you consider the most outstanding or significant milestones of your journey towards an open access policy.
With the VP Research and the Senate Library Committee’s blessing I drafted the terms of reference for the committee that would launch the policy work.  The membership of the committee included faculty members. It was suggested Juan Pablo Alperin, Assistant Professor in the Publishing Program and a Research Associate with the Public Knowledge Project at Simon Fraser University, should be included. It was also suggested that it was critical to have at least one Dean on the committee. The committee was comprised of the Dean of Education several faculty representing disciplinary spread that included people from Science, Communication Arts and Technology and so forth. The Dean of Libraries was the chair. 

The meetings began in summer 2015. We used materials provided from Harvard. There were no Canadian materials at that time. We had three meetings before finalizing a draft policy for consultation. We wanted to go bold if we could and aimed to have an opt out policy that would apply to faculty and students. This is where we began with our draft policy. The draft policy was brought back to the group to ensure it was palatable to all. We then mobilized departmental liaison librarians to present the policy at faculty meetings and talk about why it was needed. Town halls were also organized. We ensured a faculty member from the committee attended all faculty meetings and town halls. We felt this was important.

This encompassed 8 months of meetings and consultation. I would say this was the most valuable part of the process – where we had the nitty gritty conversations and served to educate our community on all manner of topics related to scholarly communications, open access, author rights. Discussion included explaining how the policy works; what does deposit in the institutional repository look like; how are you reaching out to grad students. We also answered direct email questions. The faculty association was also consulted. We also created a 3 minute video with a faculty member presenting “why I publish in OA” and “why you should support the policy.”

After about 8 months, we compiled all the feedback and started to realize some compromise needed to be included within the policy: The Faculty Association had serious concerns about a strict opt out policy. They were concerned with how the policy might be enforced. Their concerns eventually led to wording changes and a compromise. It was important that we take the policy through to Senate with support from the Faculty Association, not over their objections. So after careful deliberation, the committee agreed to compromise to a more aspirational policy in order to address these concerns.

When the policy went to Senate, we received another objection we did not anticipate from a staff representative that asked why staff were not mentioned in the policy. (Senate doesn’t have jurisdiction over staff so the policy did not include staff.) The version was endorsed at Senate with acknowledgement that staff are welcome to contribute as a footnote in the policy.

The debate at Senate was lively  – one of the liveliest I have experienced – with 20 minutes of questions.  It is worth noting that conversations we had from the beginning resurfaced, leading us back to the discussion we had earlier in our journey in the faculty meetings and town halls. It was a great great opportunity to dispel myths and promote the libraries help and explain what OA is and isn’t again.  In the end it was unanimously endorsed by Senate. 

At the end of the day, the real value of this journey was the conversation across the campus and at Senate. I had been labouring under the illusion that deposit would happen immediately once the policy was in place, but I’ve learned you really must be active in ensuring this happens. In hindsight the greatest value was all the conversations—well worth it from the point of view of raising awareness about scholarly communications and educating our community about OA. Did the policy really actually change behaviour? Only in a minority of cases. 

What was the biggest surprise? 
I probably should not have been surprised that the Faculty Association would be one of our biggest negotiations and that they would be opposed to a strongly worded policy. 

If you knew what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently?
I would have [taken the journey] more slowly. Things take time … (I’m learning that sometimes it is good to be patient). I would have set out a two year timeline. This would have allowed time with the Faculty Association and more grass roots support from faculty.  I’m not unhappy with what happened but this is my take away. [With more time ] I think we could have continued talking to the Faculty Association on a more strongly worded policy and had more faculty discussions.

Having adopted an open access policy what are some notable impacts that have evolved since? 
A more elevated conversation about OA generally. A slightly increased rate of deposit.

Given the pace with which open access and open scholarship evolves, what elements would you include now that was not anticipated when you began your journey?
The conversation about APC’s has moved on since then and the end game has evolved. What this road has led to has evolved since then. We are up to $150,000 a year now on our OA fund out of the Library budget. It would be very unpopular to remove it at this point, but is this is the best way forward? We could use the funds differently – for instance hire someone to help with deposit; infrastructure to support automating deposit etc.

What recommendations do you have for anyone embarking down this journey?
Be sure the senior leadership and deans are on board, as well as the Faculty Association. Work with the Administration, Deans Council and ensure the President is on board. à

Is there anything else you would like to share?
Post implementation – annual reminders from the VP Research are helpful to keep visibility on the policy, and encourage deposit. Enlist liaisons to help and the research office to link to the policy. Include the policy with ORCID. Our University President also wrote blog post to encourage people to read and abide by the policy, and to deposit their material in the repository. This was helpful.