Does the American Library Association (ALA) support open access and, if so, are its journal publishing practices congruent with open access journal publishing and self-archiving?
What is the American Library Association?
For non-librarians, a brief overview of the American Library Association (ALA) from its Web site may be helpful before considering its open access policies and practices
The American Library Association is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with more than 64,000 members. Its mission is to promote the highest quality library and information services and public access to information.
ALA’s Mission and Strategic Plans
Several key documents outline ALA’s mission and strategic goals:
Although the ALA’s mission and goals have become less library-centric over time, there is no explicit statement of support for open access in any of these documents.
ALA Memberships in Organizations That Support Open Access Initiatives
ALA is a member of at least two organizations that support open access initiatives: (1) the Alliance for Taxpayer Access (ATA), and (2) the SPARC Open Access Working Group. (ALA is not a member of SPARC, but its Association of College and Research Libraries division, known as ACRL, is.)
Information about these ARL memberships certainly exists in the ALA Web site, but it is deeply buried and difficult to find by navigating the site’s menu structure (see the Google site searches for ATA and the SPARC Open Access Working Group).
ALA’s Journal Copyright Agreements
ALA has two copyright agreements: (1) Copyright Assignment Agreement and (2) Copyright License Agreement.
In the Copyright Assignment Agreement, the author: "hereby grants to Publisher all right, title and interest in and to the Work, including copyright in all means of expression by any method now known or hereafter developed, including electronic format." ALA then grants back to the author one broad self-archiving right: "The right to use and distribute the Work on the Authorâ€™s Web site." It also grants a narrow right: "The right to use and distribute the Work internally at the Authorâ€™s place of employment, and for promotional and any other non-commercial purposes." Authors who use this agreement cannot self-archive in public sections of institutional repositories or in disciplinary archives.
In the Copyright License Agreement, the author retains copyright and then grants to ALA the rights needed to publish the article, with the only restriction on the author being that: "Author agrees not to publish the Work in print form prior to the publication of the Work by the Publisher." Authors who can choose this option can self-archive where ever they want.
ALA publishes a number of serials. This section only considers its major journals. Since it is impossible to determine from their Web sites if some ALA journals are peer-reviewed, there has been no effort to distinguish peer-reviewed journals from those with other editorial policies.
- Children and Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children: The Web site provides no table of contents information or online access at all, although there is a link that says: "Click here to subscribe to Children and Libraries online now!" The Policies and Procedures page says: "All material in CAL is subject to copyright by ALA and may be reprinted or photocopied and distributed for the noncommercial purpose of educational or scientific advancement." There are no links to the ALA copyright forms. Verdict: Not an open access journal and, since it is unclear whether the Copyright License Agreement is accepted, it may only support limited self-archiving.
- College & Research Libraries: There is a six-month embargo period, after which issues are freely available at the Web site. Volume 57 (1996) through volume 66 (2005) are freely available. The journal page solely links to the Copyright License Agreement. Verdict: Not an open access journal, but fully supports self-archiving.
- Information Technology and Libraries: Recently, the journal’s access policy changed. There will be a six-month embargo period, after which issues will be freely available at the Web site. Selected articles from volume 20 (2001) through volume 23 (2004) are freely available. The home page links to both ALA copyright agreements. Verdict: Not an open access journal, but fully supports self-archiving. (Disclosure: Since ALA Annual, I have been on the Editorial Board.)
- Library Administration and Management: Web site only provides access to table of contents information. No discussion of copyright agreements in Author Instructions. Verdict: Not an open access journal and, since it is unclear whether the Copyright License Agreement is accepted, it may only support limited self-archiving.
- Library Resources & Technical Services: Web site provides access to table of contents information and the full-text of volumes 44 (2000) through 46 (2002). Instructions to Authors page links to both ALA copyright agreements. Not an open access journal, but fully supports self-archiving.
- Public Libraries: Web site provides free access to volume 42 (2002) through volume 44 (2005). There is no discussion of copyright in the Public Libraries Editorial Guidelines page, and there are no links to the ALA copyright forms. Verdict: Not an open access journal and, since it is unclear whether the Copyright License Agreement is accepted, it may only support limited self-archiving.
- RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage: Volume 13 (1998) (of the prior journal) through volume 6 (2005) are freely available. No links to ALA copyright agreements. Guidelines for Submission of Articles to RBM page states: "Articles published in RBM are copyrighted by the American Library Association, and subsequent inquiries for reprinting articles are referred to the ALA Office of Rights and Permissions." Verdict: Not an open access journal. Since it is unclear whether the Copyright License Agreement is accepted, it may only support limited self-archiving.
- Reference & User Services Quarterly: Web site only provides access to table of contents information and article abstracts. Information for Authors, Advertisers, and Subscriptions page links to both ALA copyright agreements. Not an open access journal, but fully supports self-archiving.
- School Library Media Research: Web site provides free access to all issues. Manuscript Policy page links to both ALA copyright agreements. An open access journal under the most liberal definition of that term (i.e., free, immediate access without using a Creative Commons Attribution License or similar license) that fully supports self-archiving.
- Young Adult Library Services: Web site only provides access to table of contents information. Author Guidelines page states: "A manuscript published in the journal is subject to copyright by ALA for Young Adult Library Services." There are no links to the ALA copyright forms. Verdict: Not an open access journal and, since it is unclear whether the Copyright License Agreement is accepted, it may only support limited self-archiving.
It should be noted that the Science and Technology Section of ACRL publishes Issues in Science & Technology Librarianship, a freely available e-journal whose Instructions for Authors page does not discuss copyright at all; however, ALA does not list this journal on its American Library Association Periodicals page, which "is a list of the various newsletters, magazines, and journals published within the American Library Association, including those which are only available over the Internet."
This brief investigation has not attempted to determine whether the divisions of ALA more vigorously support and enact open access principles than the parent organization. The Association of College and Research Libraries is certainly known for its general support (e.g., see ACRL Taking Action, Principles and Strategies for the Reform of Scholarly Communication, and Scholarly Communication Toolkit).
A user starting at the ALA home page would be hard pressed to find any information that suggests that ALA is an advocate of open access without using the search function. Yet, there are a number of pages on the site that deal with it, although many are ACRL Web site pages or serial articles.
ALA’s mission statements and plans reveal no explicit support for open access; however, ALA belongs to at least two organizations that support it: (1) the Alliance for Taxpayer Access (ATA), and (2) the SPARC Open Access Working Group.
Out of ten major journals that it publishes, ALA only publishes one open access journal: School Library Media Research. Two journals (College & Research Libraries and Information Technology and Libraries) have a clear six-month embargo policy. Two more (Public Libraries and RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage) may also be operating under an embargo policy. One provides free access to a subset of older back volumes (Library Resources & Technical Services). The rest only provide table of contents information, some with abstracts, or, in one case, no information at all.
Five journals (College & Research Libraries, Information Technology and Libraries, Library Resources & Technical Services, Reference & User Services Quarterly, School Library Media Research) clearly offer authors the option of the Copyright License Agreement, which fully supports all types of self-archiving. For the rest, it is unclear from the journal’s Web sites if this option is permitted, and only the Copyright Assignment Agreement may be available, which only permits self-archiving on the author’s Web site or on internal systems at the author’s place of employment (presumably including an access-restricted part of an institutional repository). It may be the case that all ALA journals permit the use of the Copyright License Agreement; however, this is impossible to determine from some their Web sites, a subset of which have language that appears to indicate otherwise.
As a whole, the American Library Association appears to support the open access movement to a limited extent. If this is incorrect and its support is strong, ALA appears to be having difficulty making its commitment visible and "walking the talk."