the runs you didn’t score

Once upon a time, I taught at a private boys’ school.

When you teach at an all-boys school in greater Boston, particularly during the epochal 2003 and 2004 seasons, it becomes necessary to learn something about baseball. So — future librarian ahoy — I read books. Particularly one by former Red Sox player and beloved local sportscaster Jerry Remy, Watching Baseball.

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The thing that’s stuck with me the longest from this book is what he said about the third base coach: the guy whose job it is to tell a runner tearing into third if he should stop or go full-tilt for home. And what he said was, if the runner never gets called out at home plate, the third base coach isn’t doing his job. Because if you never get called out at home, you aren’t taking enough of a risk. You may never have the game-ending ignominy of a close call, but you never see the runs you didn’t score. And, overall — with sane and calculated risks — those outs will cost you a lot fewer games than those runs will win you.

I don’t watch so much baseball these days, but I still think about this idea a lot in the context of libraries and electronic resources. I hear a lot of suffering because the terms offered are frequently so bad, because libraries feel like they’re over a barrel. But I rarely hear acknowledgement that there’s always at least one more choice, which is not to sign. It’s not a choice without consequences — when are they ever? when did we have the right not to have consequences? — but it’s a choice.

And if we take it, yeah, sometimes we get called out, in ignominy. But if we don’t take it, there’s no incentive for vendors to offer different terms. There’s no possibility of creating alternative marketplaces or contracts or systems. We never see the runs we didn’t score.

Which is why I’m heartened when I see the occasional, fiery, brave choice not to buy into the system. The University of California system’s refusal to sign the first contract Nature offered it in 2010. Or, this morning, Jenica Rogers at SUNY Potsdam, walking away from the American Chemical Society.

Her post is a lucid roadmap for why to make that choice and, more importantly, how: the work she’s done as director to involve stakeholders, seek alternatives, and choose among them. And she’d like company, out there in the world of alternatives. Raise your hands if you’re willing to join her.

6 thoughts on “the runs you didn’t score

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