As the first weeks of life in the age of COVID-19 have unfolded, I’ve had a lot of folks reach out and ask some iteration of the question “So what is SPARC doing in response to the pandemic?” At first I wasn’t quite how to answer; it’s not like SPARC is in the thick of developing a vaccine or a cure, after all. But the more I listened, the more I realized that they were actually asking about a whole host of things in light of the emerging crisis.
Stability of Operations
As the scope of the pandemic became apparent, I realized that people truly wanted to know how the SPARC team was doing—and what the pandemic meant for our ability to operate. We’re truly fortunate to have all remained healthy, (mostly!) sane, and our operations have continued without missing a beat.
Over the past several years, we have deliberately moved to being essentially a virtual operation; choosing to support our team working from wherever they live and opting for flexible co-working spaces instead of leasing expensive D.C. offices.
After 2016, we eliminated the overhead and travel burden of SPARC’s annual meeting in favor of meeting our members where they live. We’ve increased our team’s regular campus visits and actively support local and regional community events to make sure that more of those in our member libraries who want to participate have more equitable opportunities to do so. We’ve also upped our online game, adding regular just-in-time programs on everything from preparing for “Big Deal” negotiations to running a one-person scholarly communications office to developing campus open access policies.
We also created new online opportunities for professional development like our first-of-its-kind Open Education Leadership Program and increased opportunities for our members’ voices to be heard by policymakers via online advocacy. So from a purely practical standpoint, we are well-positioned to continue to operate at full speed.
Mission Critical Focus
From a mission perspective, everything that SPARC does is centered on one objective: making “open” the default in research and education. The emergence of COVID-19 has only increased the relevance and urgency of our mission.
Ensuring immediate, free open access to research results is vital to accelerating the global research community’s progress towards COVID-19 testing, treatments and vaccines. SPARC’s work in leading the global fight for Open Access has intensified as policymakers, funders, university leaders—and increasingly, the general public—recognize that eliminating unnecessary barriers to scientific research is critical for societal health.
Meanwhile, as COVID-19 has thrown the entire operations of higher education institutions online virtually overnight, providing access to high-quality free, open educational resources has become an essential requirement in providing students with the best possible environment to continue their studies. As the first library membership organization to embrace and promote open education and OER, there is high demand for SPARC to accelerate our successful efforts in increasing the awareness, creation and adoption of OER throughout our member institutions as a cost effective strategy for student retention.
Member Program Priorities
As a membership organization, everything we do is designed to support our libraries’ ability to deal with the most pressing challenges they face in the areas where we have the most expertise. As this crisis has unfolded, the entire SPARC team has been reaching out to our members, listening to what each library is facing, and working together to build a deeper understanding of our new collective operating reality. We’re taking what we are hearing and shoring up our efforts to target the places where SPARC is uniquely positioned to help.
Because we are designed to be agile and to respond to the changing landscape in order to best serve our members, we’re able to review programming priorities and shift supporting resources quickly as the need arises. Fortunately, the priority areas that we identified earlier this year track closely with what we are hearing from our members as pressing needs, including:
- Leading advocacy efforts for a U.S. Open Access Policy
Our policy team is providing critical advocacy leadership to secure an Executive Order to create a national policy making “open and machine-readable” the default for all federally research articles, data and code.
- Securing increased federal funding for OER
SPARC’s team is leading efforts to increase crucial Congressional funding to go directly to institutions to support increased creation and use of open textbooks.
- Equipping our members to recalibrate their relationship with publishers, through negotiations or cancellations
As budget issues loom ever larger in light of COVID, we provide our members with resources to help our member libraries save money and secure better deals in negotiations with publishers.
- Educating higher education leaders on retaining control of research and education infrastructure and data
As institutions grapple with pressing decisions about online platforms for research, teaching and learning, SPARC provides important competitive analyses and recommendations for concrete actions that colleges and universities can take to retain control of critical infrastructure and data.
- Encouraging competition and guarding against antitrust infringement
We recognize that a competitive academic publishing marketplace is vital for both controlling costs and growing open content. SPARC proactively works with regulators and legislators to educate them on issues in the scholarly publishing market, and to initiate interventions where necessary.
- Empowering advocates through online professional development
As the need for virtual training grows, SPARC’s Open Education Leadership program offers intensive online professional development for open advocates. Additionally, we are leveraging the openly licensed curriculum for additional trainings that members can bring to campus.
- Providing high-level financial market analysis and intelligence
To support our members’ ability to effectively manage increasingly tight resource budgets, SPARC provides financial analyses of key commercial publishers operations, and timely insights into their significance for our member libraries.
We realize that we’re living in a world that will be defined as “before and after COVID-19.” At SPARC, we recognize the magnitude of the challenges facing our community and our society. We’re immensely fortunate to have a remit to do work that can—and will—have a direct positive impact on our member libraries’ ability to individually thrive, and to collectively contribute to creating a more open, equitable and sustainable post-COVID system for sharing knowledge. It’s a mission we are more committed than ever to making a reality along with all of you.