Five Questions With Devin Soper

Devin Soper, Scholarly Communication Librarian, Florida State University

This is #7 in our series of get-acquainted posts featuring members of the ASERL Scholarly Communications community

Q1. Describe your current scholcomm position.

I have been working as a Scholarly Communications Librarian at FSU for almost three years. As you might expect for a garden-variety scholcomm position, my responsibilities span a number of different areas, including institutional repository management, OA policy implementation, open education initiatives, library publishing, copyright education, and research data management. Although juggling these hats can be tricky, I love the variety, and I’m very grateful to the leadership at FSU Libraries for giving me the freedom to focus on specific projects from time to time. Some highlights from the past few years include migrating our institutional repository from bepress Digital Commons to the open-source Islandora platform, passing and implementing an institutional OA policy, publishing our first book-length, edited volume, and, more recently, building a new OER program to support student success by reducing textbook costs and creating opportunities for open, learner-centered pedagogy. For more details on what I’ve been up to recently, check out my CV on github.

Q2. What attracted you to scholcomm work?

Back in 2012, my first professional library job was in the University of British Columbia’s (then) newly formed Scholarly Communication & Copyright Office (SCCO), which was created with a mandate to develop copyright services for the university, and particularly to promote copyright compliance following UBC’s exit from the Access Copyright interim tariff. In light of this mandate, most of my work at the SCCO involved providing education and resources around copyright and fair dealing (the Canadian equivalent to fair use) in teaching and research. Although I enjoyed this work, it regularly forced me to confront the restrictiveness of the “All Rights Reserved” copyright regime and, as a result, led me to become increasingly enamoured with the power of open licensing to promote equitable access to information and to provide the requisite reuse rights for myriad forms of scholarly and pedagogical innovation. Naturally, this experience eventually led me to seek out a more traditional scholcomm role where I would be empowered to focus specifically on advancing openness at my institution – and, thankfully, that’s exactly what I found at FSU!  

Q3. What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is connecting and collaborating with the many brilliant, innovative faculty, staff, and students at my institution. This is a rewarding endeavor in itself, but it also ties into my hopes for the growth of our scholcomm program at FSU (and the long-term success of library scholcomm initiatives, more generally). Although our program dates back to 2011, we are still a relatively small shop, and we’ve long recognized that our aspirations of shifting the default to open at our institution can only be realized through strategic collaboration with like-minded individuals on campus.

To illustrate what I mean here, allow me to refer briefly to Derek Sivers’ TED Talk, How to Start a Movement. In many ways, our scholcomm program is akin to the subject of Derek’s talk: namely, a “lone nut,” dancing alone at a festival, who attracts a few brave souls to join him, recognizes them as equals, and empowers them to invite their friends, until gradually a crowd forms and everyone on the fence feels compelled to join in. A strained analogy, perhaps, but the idea gives me hope and makes collaborating with the innovators on our campus all the more rewarding.

Q.4 If you had a magic wand and could change one thing in the scholcomm ecosystem, what would it be?

Like many other contributors to this blog series, my first choice would be changing the promotion and tenure process to incentivize faculty to make their work open. Perhaps the best example of this, for me, is the Liège model, where faculty are required to deposit the full text of their works in the institutional repository in order to have them considered for the purposes of internal research evaluation / P&T. If even a few U.S. institutions were able to implement similar policies, I think that belief in the value of institutional OA policies (and the feasibility of Green OA, more generally) would soar as a result.

To vary the conversation a bit, a close second for me would be increased collaboration around big deal cancellations. I’m thinking here about the nationwide cancellations and renegotiations that have taken place in the Netherlands, Germany, and Finland, for instance, where hundreds of universities have banded together to cancel (and later renegotiate) their big deal contracts with Elsevier on the grounds of unsustainable pricing practices, insufficient respect for authors’ rights, and reluctance (if not outright opposition) to advance the cause of open access. In following these developments, I’ve long wished that we could present a similarly united front on these issues here in the U.S., whether at the state, regional, or national level.

Q5. If you were NOT a scholcomm librarian, what would you be?

A musician, and specifically a trombonist in big brass band. A totally impractical answer, since I don’t have much in the way of musical talent or experience, but I dig the dream!