Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Open Access in Public Libraries: a Report from the Frontline

It was announced yesterday that academic papers would be made freely accessible at local libraries. Now read on.

A small local library. In the corner a stressed young mother is trying to interest her child in a brightly coloured book about a duck. The librarian is stamping returned books and tutting occasionally. 
An elderly woman enters with a pull along shopping trolley and a handful of academic papers. She approaches the desk. The librarian looks up.

LIBRARIAN: Yes? Can I help you?
WOMAN: I want to complain.
LIBRARIAN (defensively): Oh?
WOMAN: Yes. I came in last week to get the latest Mills & Boon. I was really looking forward to it. Defence of Her Realm it was called. I like a good romance.
WOMAN: Well you didn't have it in. It was already on loan, and there was a three year waiting list.
LIBRARIAN: Well they are popular, the Mills & Boons.
WOMAN: That's as may be. Anyway, you suggested I try these instead. (She hoists up the pile of academic papers, and they slam down on the counter. The mother turns in alarm and her child starts crying).
LIBRARIAN: It's always good to broaden your horizons. Did you not enjoy them?
WOMAN (picks up the first paper and reads the title): 'Analysis of relative gene expression data using real-time quantitative PCR and the 2 -ΔΔCT method'? What do you think?
LIBRARIAN: That's one of our most popular titles! It's been cited 27,524 times! How can you say you didn't like it?
WOMAN (sniffily): Well it's not exactly Barbara Cartland is it? And this: 'Wireless Sensor Networks: a Survey'. I hoped for great things from this, what with it mentioning a 'sensor'. I thought there might a bit of sensuousness. Maybe with a robot. I like a bit of filth. But look! It's all about the convergence of micro-electro-mechanical systems technology, wireless communications and digital electronics!
LIBRARIAN: Very important in the modern world.
WOMAN: I don't care about the modern world! What I want is something set in the Regency period. Preferably between a beautiful but poor farm girl and a passing duke who becomes infatuated with her.
LIBRARIAN (picks up 'gauge theory correlators from non-critical string theory' and flicks through it): Hmm. I can see that these might not be what you're looking for, then. (To herself) Maybe this Open Access initiative isn't all it's cracked up to be. Maybe these should be - I don't know - freely accessible in a university library, or somewhere...
WOMAN: So what are you going to do about it, young lady? Don't you have any Catherine Cooksons?
LIBRARIAN: Look! Why don't you give these highly cited, cutting edge papers another go?
WOMAN (sucking her teeth): Cutting edge paper? Don't like the sound of that...I had a paper cut once. No....
LIBRARIAN: Oh, okay then. Here, you can borrow the Tilly Trotter Trilogy. Again.
WOMAN (beaming): Ooo, I do like a good Catherine Cookson. (She picks up the books and shuffles out. The Librarian sighs and carries on stamping books. The mother approaches the desk).
MOTHER: Excuse me?
MOTHER: Those academic papers? Can anyone borrow them?
LIBRARIAN (perking up): Yes! Isn't it wonderful? This world of knowledge, at the very forefront of discovery! And available to anyone!
MOTHER: Oh, that's great. Can I borrow these? (she picks up the whole pile).
LIBRARIAN: Of course! (She stamps the papers and hands them over). I must admit I'm surprised that you have time to study, what with a young child. I do admire you!
MOTHER: Oh, it's not for me! See, my child has trouble sleeping and I think if I read these aloud he'll be out like a light! Hugo, do come and listen to this: 'Microenvironments appear important in stem cell lineage specification but can be difficult to adequately characterize or control with soft tissues. Naive mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are shown here to specify lineage and commit to phenotypes with extreme sensitivity to tissue-level elasticity. Soft matrices that mimic brain are neurogenic, stiffer matrices that mimic muscle are myogenic...'
CHILD: zzzz
MOTHER (whispering): Yes, Open Access is a wonderful thing! Thank you!
The Librarian tuts. 


  1. How can anyone not like 'Analysis of relative gene expression data using real-time quantitative PCR and the 2 -ΔΔCT method'? It is a crucible of revolution!

    Maybe they should try this instead:

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Damn that's good! That's my bedtime reading sorted. And I don't mean just to get me to sleep.