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ATG Interviews Colleen Campbell, Coordinator of the OA2020 and ESAC Initiatives, Max Planck Digital Library

by | Sep 30, 2021 | 0 comments


By Tom Gilson  (Associate Editor, Against the Grain)  and Katina Strauch  (Editor, Against the Grain

Against the Grain Vol. 33#4

ATG:  Colleen — We first met you during the Fiesole Retreats.  Can you tell us about your involvement in the Retreats?  What were the highlights for you?

Colleen Campbell

CC:  The Fiesole Retreats have had an enormous impact on my professional journey from their very inception.  I was working at Casalini libri in the 90’s and I vividly recall Katina and Bruce coming to the offices in the villa Torrossa to discuss the idea of the Retreat with the company’s founder, Mario Casalini.  If I remember correctly, there was a small painting of a very personable cat involved, but that is another story. 

While the Charleston Conferences at the time were more or less oriented around the operational aspects of the business of library acquisitions, the Retreat was conceived as an opportunity for leaders in the library and information industry to come together, scan the horizon, and share their perspectives on the new directions in which the sector was moving.  In the end, it was the current leadership team, Barbara and Michele Casalini, who served as hosts of the first Retreat in Fiesole in 1999, and, Boccaccio references aside, the Torrossa, perched on the hillside above Florence, could not have been a more fitting location for scanning the horizon! 

Looking back at the report1 of the first Retreat, themed “What is the likely shape of the library in 2005 and how do we build collections for it?,” it is fascinating to reflect on the ways that the landscape has changed — and the features that persist!  Not all of today’s readers will remember some of the names in the report, such as Blackwell Academic Services or Faxon, but surely everyone will find Peter Boyce’s prognosis to be an understatement:  “The new thinking in many scientific circles is, ‘If it’s not on the Web, it doesn’t exist.’” 

The highlight of that first Fiesole Retreat for me, personally, and the many others that followed, was the opportunity to connect with and learn from so many amazing thought leaders.  Which relates to the next question….

ATG:  When did you decide to move to Italy and work for Casalini?  Before becoming so active in the OA movement, what other employment opportunities did you have? 

CC:  I feel as if my career has unfolded through a string of serendipitous moments — all connected with the Fiesole Retreats in some way!

Context:  I am originally from Indiana (Indianapolis) and have always had an affinity for the book world;  the day I turned 16 was the day I started working at a bookstore.  I earned my BA in Theatre from Indiana University and, to help pay my way, I took a part-time job as a receiver in the acquisitions department of the Herman B. Wells Library.  Every box I opened was a new window into a wider world: rare Tibetan manuscripts, maps from Russia, pamphlets from across Latin America, art books from Italy.

Serendipitous moment #1:  One morning one of the acquisitions librarians called me over to her desk.  She knew that I happened to be studying Italian for my language requirements and thought I might enjoy exchanging a few words with a real Italian.  Our library supplier for Italian materials had come to pay a call, and so it was that I had the incredible fortune of meeting Mario Casalini, years before I would even dream of moving to Italy and, eventually, end up working for him!  It was not until a couple years later, after a summer session in Florence, that I decided to abandon my dreams of a career on Broadway for the drama of everyday life in Italy.  My MA in Italian with Middlebury College got me to Italy, but then I wanted to find a way to stay there permanently.  Having already gotten a flavor for bookselling and libraries, I was keen to explore another facet of the information sector.  This lead to a stint in the editorial office of a small children’s book publisher. 

Serendipitous moment #2:  One of the books we produced was a fine art edition of Pinocchio, bound in Florentine marbled paper and in the triangular shape of Pinocchio’s nose.  I was presenting the volume at the Frankfurt Book Fair and it happened to catch the eye of a librarian from the U.S.  Discussing how he might acquire a copy for his library, it came to light that he was a close friend of Mario Casalini, the distinguished founder of Casalini libri whom I had met years before.  It was Mario’s son, Michele, who came to our publishing offices in person to retrieve the copy for the library’s order.  What a joy to reconnect, personally, with the company whose boxes I had received back in Bloomington.  Some time later, when the Casalini’s were looking to hire someone to work alongside Patricia O’Loughlin, it felt to me as if it was meant to be!  Oh, and that librarian from Yale who reconnected us?  That was none other than Michael Keller, Vice Provost & University Librarian at Stanford University.  Aside:  While Mike’s opening and closing remarks at the first Fiesole Retreat in 1999 were illuminating, the words that held most meaning for me at the time were those he spoke as we gathered around a newly planted olive tree in the Casalini’s garden, in memory of Mario.

Serendipitous moment #3:  I had been working at Casalini libri nearly 20 years when the Retreat returned to Fiesole for the fourth time.  Thanks to the insightful leadership of Barbara, Michele, Joachim Bartz and Patricia, I had grown, professionally, and it was time for a new challenge.  Talking with Bruce Heterick at one of the social gatherings of the Retreat, we established a connection and I soon became ITHAKA’s first Director of Institutional Participation and Strategic Partnerships in Europe.  While at Casalini Libri I worked primarily with research libraries in North America and Australasia, the role at ITHAKA gave me the opportunity to work with libraries across the UK and Europe and develop a sense of their unique needs and perspectives.

Serendipitous moment #4:  It was at the 17th Fiesole Retreat in Berlin, three years later, that I heard Ralf Schimmer, from the Max Planck Digital Library, first present the data underlying his 2015 White Paper “Disrupting the subscription journals’ business model for the necessary large-scale transformation to open access.”2  The open access transition was something keenly on the minds of the European library and consortium partners I had been working with at ITHAKA, and I could observe tension growing around subscription journals.  To see the evidence that there was a viable pathway to transition scholarly journal publishing to open access business models was incredibly inspiring.  Gaining that insight at the Fiesole Retreat in Berlin prompted yet another career move for me, as shortly thereafter Ralf recruited me to coordinate the Open Access 2020 Initiative.

ATG:  At which point did you decide to devote all your efforts to the OA movement?  What is it about open access that you find compelling?

CC:  Rather than framing open access as a movement, I prefer to talk about open access as a logical and necessary evolution in scholarly communication.  Living through the COVID-19 pandemic, I think there is no doubt in anyone’s mind of the value in openly sharing scholarly knowledge nor of the urgency with which authoritative knowledge should be shared.  The process of science hinges upon sharing, discussing, challenging and reproducing the results of research, and for that process to function optimally, research results need to reach the widest audience possible. 

Researchers today heavily rely on journals to provide the scholarly communication services of organized criticism and dissemination of their results, but the subscription business model that underlies the bulk of scholarly journals is actually creating drag on the advancement of science.  What I find compelling is to consider what researchers could accomplish if they were able to finally interact with an open corpus of peer-reviewed research, instead of limiting their interactions to those journals their libraries happen to be able to subscribe to this year. 

ATG:  Colleen — You have been involved with the global Open Access 2020 (OA2020) Initiative since the beginning.  For those who are not familiar with this initiative, can you tell us about it?  And what exactly is the OA2020 initiative’s partner development effort, and what are your responsibilities in that effort? 

CC:  The Open Access 2020 Initiative (OA2020) is an international effort that aims to transition today’s scholarly journals to open access publishing models. 

OA2020 grew out of discussion among key stakeholders in the global research community at the 12th Berlin Open Access Conference.  It had been more than a decade since the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities3 was issued in 2003 (and subsequently endorsed by nearly 700 research and library organizations globally, including ARL, ACRL, CARL and IFLA, just to name a few).

At Berlin 12 there was strong consensus that while some slow and steady progress toward the vision of an open knowledge environment had been made, new efforts were necessary in order to reach that goal.  Up until that point, efforts to enable openness revolved around creating new open access journals and platforms, like PLoS or Gates Open Research, and developing new infrastructure for scholarly communication, such as pre-print servers like arXiv and institutional repositories.  But while these strategies are important pathways to openness in their own right, they have not had any significant impact on the subscription system that dominates the bulk of today’s scholarly journals.  Perhaps more importantly, while some authors or discipline communities may be enthusiastic about these newer alternatives for open dissemination of their research, a vast proportion of researchers prefer to publish in established journals.  After nearly 20 years of open access advocacy, around 80% of new research articles published today are in subscription-based journals.4 

OA2020 was established to fill the gap in the open access landscape, focusing on strategies to transition today’s scholarly journals to open access.

As for my own role, I lead external engagement in the OA transition at the Max Planck Digital Library (MPDL), the central digital library of the Max Planck Society.  In this role I coordinate OA2020 as well as the ESAC Initiative, which is a global community of practice of libraries and consortia promoting efficiencies and standards around the negotiation and implementation of transformative and open access publishing agreements.  

I am also closely involved in external affairs and communications relating to the implementation of Germany’s nationwide DEAL5 agreements, which are the instantiation of OA2020 in Germany…

Editor’s note:  You can continue reading Colleen’s entire interview on the Charleston Hub website at:  https://www.charleston-hub.com/2021/07/atg-interviews-colleen-campbell-coordinator-of-the-oa2020-and-esac-initiatives-max-planck-digital-library/.  In it, Colleen elaborates on issues like the funding of the OA 2020 network, key challenges to OA strategies, the upcoming 15th Berlin Open Access Conference, and the future of the OA 2020 initiative.  


1. https://www.casalini.it/retreat/1999_pdf/cook.pdf 

2. Max Planck Digital Library Open Access Policy White Paper: “Disrupting the subscription journals’ business model for the necessary large-scale transformation to open access.”  http://dx.doi.org/10.17617/1.3 (28 April 2015)

3. https://openaccess.mpg.de/Berlin-Declaration

4. https://github.com/subugoe/oa2020cadata/blob/master/analysis/paper.md 

5. https://deal-operations.de/en


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