SPARC’s new Open Access teasers send a message

A couple of weeks ago Peter Suber pointed to some new “teaser cards” released by the Scholarly Communication & Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) intended to promote Open Access among college students. The brightly colored cards are meant to be distributed wherever students hang out, “in library carrels, around the coffee shop, or around the department,” as a form of “guerrilla” marketing for Open Access.

There are six cards in all, with six different messages:

  • Access to scholarly journals can cost as much as a car, every year. Your library can’t afford it.
  • The article you couldn’t read might have earned your paper an A+. But you’ll never know.
  • While researching the newest cancer treatments for a family member, you can’t get past the abstracts.
  • Your research will continue after graduation — the same time your library card expires.
  • Our taxes funded the research you need. But you can’t read it.
  • The journal you need right now is at the library — 100 miles away.

By my count, four of the six messages could be interpreted as dissing the library. While SPARC clearly intends the message to be, “Our taxes funded the research you need. But you can’t read it because it’s locked away in a subscription database and publishers are greedy“, I think it’s just as easy to read it this way: “The article you couldn’t read might have earned your paper an A+. But you’ll never know, because your library sucks.”

It’s become accepted wisdom that librarians aren’t very good at marketing, and that if libraries are to remain relevant they need to develop better marketing strategies. But I think even the most unsavvy librarian would object to distributing fliers implying that the library does not have the resources students need. We work really hard trying to send the opposite message: “If you need something, don’t go to Google, come to us! If you can’t find what you need, ask us! We can help you get it!” Suggesting that the library does not have what students need completely defeats the purpose of our nascent marketing efforts.

That said, it’s true that rising subscription costs are forcing libraries to cut journals. It’s true that most taxpayer funded research is not available to the public. It’s true that students might write better papers if they had access to more scholarly work. I’m just not sure if students are the best audience for this message, in this form. What about faculty, who choose to publish in expensive journals? What about Congress, which is suddenly showing a lot of interest in the price of textbooks? Bringing students into the Open Access movement is a nice idea, but selling them on OA at the expense of their libraries is not going to do anybody any favors.

One thought on “SPARC’s new Open Access teasers send a message

  1. I agree, a few of them could be taken the wrong way (especially for “libraries-are-going-the-way-of-the-dodo” types). Like you said, it maybe would’ve been a little bit better to also get the “so what” on the cards. Probably would’ve been a bit difficult to convey the same thing in such a compact message (I think the design is clever), but the crux of the text in the left white box on the larger cutout would’ve been great to see (in some form) on each little leaflet. Perhaps simply listing the website on the back doesn’t go far enough.

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