Five Questions with Carmelita Pickett

Carmelita Pickett, Associate University Librarian for Scholarly Resources and Content Strategy at the University of Virginia, graciously agreed to be our 15th profile in our 5 Questions with… series. Since her team at UVA includes ASERL ScholComm Co-chair Ellen Ramsey, both took the opportunity for a great conversation about local and national issues in our realm.

1. Describe your current position’s scholarly communication responsibilities.
I came to the University of Virginia as Associate University Librarian for Scholarly Resources and Content Strategy in July, 2018. Most recently, I held comparable roles at the University of Iowa and Texas A&M University. At UVA, I am responsible for the overall administration and coordination of the staff responsible for the lifecycle of the Library’s reference and circulating collections. In addition to selection, acquisition, metadata, digitization, stacks maintenance, Ivy Stacks, and interlibrary loan operations.  In a natural extension of collections work, I oversee the scholarly communications arm of the Library to build outreach and advocacy for the Library’s decisions in these areas.

2. What attracted you to a position with a scholcomm portfolio?
Before I interviewed for my current role at UVA, I made sure that scholarly communication was included in the collections-focused AUL’s portfolio as it had been at the University of Iowa. Scholarly communication is a natural extension of collection development work, and its outreach arm. Viewing collection decisions through the lens of scholarly communication helps the academic community come to terms with what is going on in the scholarly publishing ecosystem, and how it affects the choices libraries must make to be the best stewards of resources needed by their institutions.

It is very nice to have a team devoted to this work at UVA; I don’t feel like I’m borrowing people from other parts of the library for advocacy and outreach in support of our accountability-driven vision for collections. At Iowa, I coordinated work on ORCID, OER, information sessions on IP and copyright for faculty with support from within the library and connections across campus, but we did not have a team whose main focus was scholarly communication.

3. What is the most rewarding part of your job?
People! Connecting with people who do the work is the best way to map the impact of what we are doing. I also enjoy the collections part of my job, it feels like home and provides the context for everything we do. There are so many intersections in library work that you can’t help but have an affinity for all things, and having a solid starting place helps it all come together. Also, my colleagues here don’t engage with me as if I am new — which is a good thing and shows how quickly we are solidifying our team — but every so often I get to remind people I am still new enough here so some context is necessary, which leads to great conversations like this one.

4. If you had a magic wand and could change one thing in the scholcomm ecosystem, what would it be?
The goal to break the big deals is so important. That conversation is what drew me to UVA. I had negotiated, managed, and lived through those agreements at the University of Iowa and Texas A&M and was excited about John Unsworth’s reputation as a library dean who wanted to do something different about big deals, not just continue the status quo.

We do have a solid strategy in this area, with many groups involved and invested, so I’m hopeful about life after the “Big Deal”.  Once we are on the other side, we can help other institutions achieve the same kind of culture change. Faculty may not see immediate results, but when the benefits to their work are clear, they will appreciate what we are doing.

Libraries and librarians need training to make this change happen. Acquisitions is core work of the Library, but recent years have seen a decline in professional development and hiring in that segment of our work. We need to communicate, advocate, and plan with the long term effects of the changing scholarly environment in mind. Best practices mean not just answering faculty requests for immediate acquisitions, but really showing the long-term consequences of a well-considered, accountable strategy for acquiring and stewarding scholarly resources. Recent divestments from acquisitions and collections focus at individual institutions means we need more support from consortia. That means right now I am busy learning how VIVA is different from the Big 10 consortium structure. I strongly believe that collaboration on community advocacy is going to become more important and valuable to consortium members than the older model of economies of scale from combined purchasing power.

5. If you were NOT a librarian furthering scholcomm, what would you be?
If I weren’t a librarian, I think I would do missionary work, like my father did in Haiti during the mid to late 1980’s. Or I’d be a millionaire philanthropist supporting work like that of Brian Stephenson’s Equal Justice Initiative. His book, Just Mercy, inspired me to get involved with his organization, and if I had more time and money, I would use it to give more support to EJI’s commitment to “ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.”