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Communication or Competition: Reading “Open Access: Toward the Internet of the Mind”

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Jean-Claude Guédon, one of the original attendees and signatories of the “Budapest Open Access Initiative” (BOAI) (2002), has written a moral history of the open access movement and a vision for the future of scholarly communication. In “Open Access: Toward the Internet of the Mind,” he provides a narrative of how open access (OA) has evolved (for better and for worse) and calls for an increase in support for cooperative, nonprofit solutions.

Guédon’s narrative revolves around international inequities in scholarly publishing and the damage that these inequities do to the health of communities around the world … and, by association, to all of us. The strength of this approach is that it makes the global exchange of knowledge everyone’s problem. Likewise, it reveals how a system that sort of, sometimes works for the wealthy, is a system that shuts out and excludes other voices. Like most entrenched systems of privilege, it can leave many of its beneficiaries blind, indifferent, or resigned to injustice. On the other hand, the difficulty of building a narrative around global issues is that local responses to the global problem can be hard to imagine. Guédon calls for broad, state-based and organization-based collaboration to build technologies and funding mechanisms to make scholarly communication open for everyone — free to readers, free to authors … which is to say: subsidized by universities, research funders, and governments. Ultimately, one might follow the money back to taxpayers … or, perhaps, “consumers” (a.k.a., students).

For an example of how this cooperative approach might work, Guédon uses OpenAIRE (https://www.openaire.eu/), a European Union supported archival and publishing network. For motivation, he calls all of us to focus on the value of communication (and community) above that of competition (and individualism). Citing William D. Garvey, he insists that the essence of the scientific enterprise is communication … not competition. Thus, authors would communicate with each other the results of their (peer reviewed) scholarship on a distributed, subsidized network such as OpenAIRE.

In his account, the reputation economy is the primary barrier to the global adoption of a shared infrastructure for scholarly communication. As long as individual countries, universities, libraries, journals, and authors rely on reputational rankings (especially the journal impact factor), the nonprofit, cooperative approach will be undermined. In a competition for individual reputations, authors will seek to publish in the existing “top ranked” venues … putting their best work there … and universities will continue to purchase these (if not pay-walled, high publishing fee) titles. In the reputation economy the rich get richer. Right now, comparatively, the “Global North” is rich and the for-profit publishing companies are very rich.

Guédon’s global narrative and account of OA at the crux of a conflict between communication and competition might leave some readers in the United States at a loss for what to do. Even if many U.S. authors might agree that communication is the goal of science, most have been fully co-opted by the competition for reputation. Likewise, the U.S. struggles to adopt non-profit solutions to providing healthcare for its citizens. It’s hard to imagine (particularly in the current political climate) a “big government” or cooperative, nonprofit solution to scholarly publishing. Arguably, many of the U.S. faculty members that edit, write, and review for for-profit publishers (mostly for free) have established (false) allegiances with these brands. When I talk to authors, many worry more about how OA will affect their publisher or their society … even when the journal is owned by one of the big five, for-profit publishers … than they do about how these publishers are draining the budgets of their employers.

So, what is it that Guédon would have a lone U.S. author to do? What is it that he’d want a U.S. academic librarian to do?

I agree with Guédon that scholarship grows best on a foundation of cooperative communication. All the same, I’m fairly certain that more than half of the people living in the United States would rather just let the rich get richer. And, in a political climate in which accusations against the “academic elites” stirs a large political base (e.g., from Wayne LaPierre (see Beckett)), I don’t expect to see much of an increase in public funding for a (non-profit) scholarly publishing infrastructure. On the other hand, if everyone rolls over in a fit of resignation … the world becomes a very dull place.

For my part, I’ll strive to fight the reputation economy. Particularly, reputation competitions based on proxies for quality — especially the journal impact factor. That means finding ways to help authors find more socially responsible, more humane, and more accurate ways of describing the value and importance of the work that they do. In the long run, these more humane approaches to “metrics” will not only alleviate global inequities in scholarship, but will support the health of the humanities (see, for example, HuMetrics), the social sciences, and, of course, libraries. (Librarians, stop offering to help people find journal impact factors … you’re feeding the monopolies and killing your own job.)

I’ll also strive to build systems, workflows, and communities that value the communication in “scholarly communication.” That means working for and on nonprofit open access projects. Not only will that be where I’ll be writing, reviewing, and editing … but that’ll be what I’m advocating for on my campus and in my communities of scholarship. I do not control a large university library budget and I’m just one small voice supporting the reallocation of funds away from for-profit publishing, but my time is valuable and I plan to spend it well.

References

Beckett, L. (2017, May 1). “I agree 100%”: NRA members back Wayne LaPierre attack on “leftist zealots.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/may/01/nra-wayne-lapierre-guns-leftist-zealots

Budapest Open Access Initiative. (2002, February 14). Read the Budapest Open Access Initiative. http://www.budapestopenaccessinitiative.org/read

Garvey, W. D. (1979). Communication, the essence of science: facilitating information exchange among librarians, scientists, engineers, and students. Pergamon Press.

Guédon, J.-C. (2017, February 23). Open Access: Toward the Internet of the Mind. http://www.budapestopenaccessinitiative.org/open-access-toward-the-internet-of-the-mind

Mangiafico, P. (2016, May 31). HuMetrics: Building Humane Metrics for the Humanities. https://trianglesci.org/2016/05/31/humetrics-building-humane-metrics-for-the-humanities/

Written by Jere

June 19, 2017 at 2:18 pm

Preprints in Poetry: Why am I doing this?

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First, a confession:
Yes, I write poetry. In fact, I’ve written poetry slowly but persistently for more than three decades. Most of it is complete garbage; some of it has been published in literary journals. But a great deal more, of modest quality, has never been published, submitted or shared. The last fifteen or so years have been largely dedicated to a single form — five couplets, generally not rhyming; ghazals, loosely understood and (at times) loosely “after” Ghalib.

Second, my profession (of late):
For better or worse, the pace of my poetry composition slowed to a trickle when I became a librarian. It slowed even more when I became an advocate for open access and a tenure-track Scholarly Communications librarian. But new professions lead to new questions and new vantage points. Questions like: what is publishing, after all? And, if my scholarly work can be freely shared ahead of publication as a “preprint” in an institutional repository, why should my poetry wait for the dusty wheels of paper-based publication?

Third, why I shouldn’t do this:
Well … you tell me. Or, if you’re drawing some blanks (beyond the professional embarrassment I hint at in my “confession” above), here are a few objections that I expect some would hold: But will poetry publishers hesitate to publish these works once they discover that I am distributing them here? (Who cares. That’s their loss. And I don’t submit poems to journals, but for invitations.) But am I missing out on the benefits of publication from a reputable press, including the prestige and the money. (Really? Am I? What money? What prestige?) But, do you really think you can find readers for your work without the help of a traditional publisher? (I can count the readers that I care to have on two hands. Maybe by sharing “preprints” my readership will enter the double-digit range. Maybe not. But again, remember, I’ve been writing poetry for many years without sharing more than a few dozen poems–so, clearly, readership has not been a high priority for me.)

Fourth, but poetry on Github? Huh?
A poem is a work in progress until the author stops working on it. Even then, some poets revisit and revise published poems — sometimes for the worse. I want to share my poems in a form that permits a degree of versioning. Yes, I could do that in Google Docs, but I wouldn’t want Google to wake up one day and delete my account. And, Google Docs adds a counterproductive technical complexity to the file in its efforts to give people a full-featured word processing tool. After consulting with two colleagues in my university library’s Center for Digital Scholarship, I opted for GitHub. As a code repository, GitHub lets me write poems in a text editor, save and share them in Markdown, and keep track of even the most insignificant changes. Ultimately, given the simple structure of the Markdown syntax and the features of code repositories, moving my poetry repository from GitHub to another digital platform will be relatively easy. (I’ll be asking our Digital Humanities guru, Caitlin Pollock, for help when the time comes.) Maybe there’s some tool out there that does a better job of versioning … maybe, I’m behind the curve and others are sharing poetry in a similar way somewhere else. O.K. Yes, I could do that too ….

Fifth, what you will find in my GitHub poetry repository:
To get this project started, I’ve posted eight poems. Read these, and others at: https://github.com/jereodell/poetry

I write poetry longhand. Most of my poems go through three to five revisions before I even bother to type them. Most of the poems that I type are not revised much. But, I have found that poetry readings force me to revise — when I read a poem aloud a few years after typing it, I usually hear things that I don’t like. But I don’t give many readings these days. (Maybe I should read my poems to my parrot. He’d probably like that.)

I’ll be crawling through much of the work that I’ve written in the last twenty years and posting it bit by bit. I’ll also be posting new works. But, I don’t plan on letting anyone know what’s new and what’s not. I hope that this process, among other things, gives new energy to my efforts at revision. I also hope that a few people will bother to read one or two poems now and then. I’m not expecting a crowd, but my GitHub poetry repository may be “forked” and the poems may be re-posted, printed, and shared. For now, I’m sharing everything under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license. (Go ahead, tell me why I shouldn’t do that.)

Finally, thanks for reading.

This “readme” was first posted on August 23, 2016 at: http://ulib.iupui.edu/digitalscholarship/blog/preprints-in-poetry

 

Written by Jere

August 23, 2016 at 11:41 am

Dear Authors, Don’t Feed the Beast

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If you’re reading this, you probably already know that scholarly publishing is broken. Yes, it “works” for some people, some of the time. If you’re a for-profit publisher you’re probably raking in a 30-40% profit margin (Taylor). I doubt you think that’s a “broken” model. But if you’re an employee of a university, it’s broken and you’re broke … even if you don’t know it. Your university cannot afford to subscribe to the journal literature that your faculty and students want to read–in many cases, your university cannot afford to subscribe to the literature that your faculty and students write. You’re so broke that there’s really no way to crawl out of the hole you’re in–go ahead, raise tuition again, underpay a bunch of adjuncts, force your STM faculty to bring in their salaries in grants, and stop hiring people to teach classes in the humanities. Do it if you want to, but that’s not going to help. Why? Because:

  • Journal prices rise annually by 6-7%–a similar increase is expected for 2016 (Bosch & Henderson).
  • The average price to subscribe to a single journal will top $2,000 in this year.
  • The average price for journal subscriptions in the sciences is absurd. The average price for journals in Chemistry and Physics in 2015 was $4,276.00 USD.
  • What does that really mean? If our gasoline prices had increased over the years at the same rate, we’d now be paying more than $30.00 per gallon. Would you even bother to own a car in that world? (Odell).
  • For-profit publishers have increased their monopoly control on the journal literature you write and read. More than 50% of all articles published are owned by just five companies–70% if you’re in the Social Sciences. (Larivière, Haustein, & Mongeon)
  • Authors do not get royalties for journal articles & they generally do not own copyrights for their work published in journals–which explains, in part, that 40% profit margin.
  • Even so, some subscription journals charge authors page, color, and submission fees. The Journal for Clinical Dentistry, for example, charges authors $800.00 USD per page and then hides the article from all but subscribers. Perhaps that was the only way to publish a glossy print mag for dentists in the 1980s, but JCD is currently ignoring the existence of the Internet & living in a fantasy world where people still read print journals. (JCD)
  • Electronic distribution be-damned, page charges continue to burden university budgets. One institution found that they were paying another 15%-18% on top of the price of subscriptions for page charges in pay-walled journals (Gray).
  • Never missing an opportunity to double-bill and price-gouge their customers, many subscription journal publishers offer authors a choice to make their article open access … for a fee, of course. Libraries call these “Hybrid Open Access” journals, but it should be called predatory publishing.
  • The same big, for-profit publishers charge a typical fee of $3,000 per article if authors want to take advantage of the OA “option”–in 2014 the average Hybrid-OA fee was estimated to be $2,727 USD (Bjork & Solomon). That’s more than the university is probably paying for a subscription. Is it any wonder that the funders are threatening to turn off the tap? (Matthews).
  • Meanwhile, readers want access to your article. Information inequities are so bad that some researchers have a stark choice–starve (go without the literature they need to do research, make good public policy, and treat patients) or break the law (use a pirated copy they found with #icanhazpdf, ResearchGate, or SciHub) (Gardner & Gardner; Murphy)
  • Is it any wonder, then, that by one estimate, the average journal article has fewer than 10 readers? (Biswas & Kirchherr).

So, dear scholarly authors, why do you do it? Why do you give your labor away to publishers that make good profits on your work at the expense of your employers, tax payers, and students? Why do you give your articles to companies that hold your work for ransom? Why do you feed the beast?

You have options. They’re not as hard as you think. Look for best journal for your readers and for the future of your profession. Don’t believe the myths. Look for the evidence. P&T is not the problem you think it is. Self-archive your peer-reviewed manuscripts in an institutional repository, like IUPUI ScholarWorks, for free. Choose a trusted, affordable OA journal. Think before you submit.

Don’t feed the beast.

References

Biswas, A., & Kirchherr, J. (2015, April 9). Citations are not enough: Academic promotion panels must take into account a scholar’s presence in popular media. Retrieved from http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2015/04/09/academic-promotion-scholars-popular-media/

Björk, B.-C., & Solomon, D. (2014). Developing an effective market for open access article processing charges. Retrieved from http://www.fnr.lu/en/content/download/11999/65286/version/1/file/Open+Access+Final+Report_130314.pdf

Bosch, S., & Henderson, K. (2015, April 23). Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On | Periodicals Price Survey 2015. Library Journal, 140(7), 35. http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2015/04/publishing/whole-lotta-shakin-goin-on-periodicals-price-survey-2015/

Gardner, C. C., & Gardner, G. J. (2016). Fast and Furious (at Publishers): The Motivations behind Crowdsourced Research Sharing. College & Research Libraries, crl16–840. http://crl.acrl.org/content/early/2016/02/25/crl16-840.short

Gray, A. (2015). Considering Non-Open Access Publication Charges in the “Total Cost of Publication.” Publications, 3(4), 248–262. http://doi.org/10.3390/publications3040248

The Journal of Clinical Dentistry – Information for Authors. (2015, May 28). Retrieved March 26, 2016, from https://web.archive.org/web/20150528200811/http://www.jclindent.com/Information.html

Larivière, V., Haustein, S., & Mongeon, P. (2015). The Oligopoly of Academic Publishers in the Digital Era. PLOS ONE, 10(6), e0127502. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0127502

Matthews, D. (2016, March 24). Wellcome criticises publishers over open access. Times Higher Education (THE). Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/wellcome-criticises-publishers-over-open-access

Murphy, K. (2016, March 12). Should All Research Papers Be Free? The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/13/opinion/sunday/should-all-research-papers-be-free.html

Odell, J. D. (2016). The Lewis Journals-to-Gas-Price Inflation Index, Chemistry and Physics 2015.https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.3081787.v1

Taylor, M. (2012, January 13). The obscene profits of commercial scholarly publishers. Retrieved from http://svpow.com/2012/01/13/the-obscene-profits-of-commercial-scholarly-publishers/

Written by Jere

March 26, 2016 at 11:34 am

Want Readers? ResearchGate vs the Institutional Repository

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Here’s a question I get at least a few times every month—I should really start keeping count … it goes something like this: “But I already have a ResearchGate profile, what’s the advantage of keeping other sites about my work up-to-date?” (Sometimes it’s “Academia.edu,” but less and less often on my campus.) It’s a hard question to answer. In part because it assumes so much—that RG is the baseline, that other sites have the same functions, that the advantages are comparable. It’s also a difficult question to answer because it’s often not the real question. I try to be accommodating–RG is a social network & yes, I have a profile too. I also try to remind folks of the unique benefits of a library-supported institutional repository: good metadata, stable URLs, and digital preservation from a trusted, non-commercial provider. I like to say, “RG is fine, but we do it right.” When I’m preaching to the choir (librarians and OA advocates), I get plenty of a-men’s. But when I’m selling the idea to faculty authors, I get a polite OK-but-I’m-busy look.

For the author who has already invested time in creating an RG or Academia.edu profile, the real questions are: What is the return on my investment? What are the rewards of adding an institutional repository (IR) to my dissemination strategy? Are they enough to make it worth my time?

Unfortunately, the last of these questions make this very difficult to answer … your time is your time. I don’t know what you do with it. But, let’s make this a dichotomy. Let’s say you really had to choose between using RG and using your IR.

For the RG fans at my campus, let’s start with the “good” news—if you’re looking for an academic social networking tool, RG beats our local IR, IUPUI ScholarWorks. Most IRs (including ScholarWorks) are not social networks. (On the plus side, this means, among other things, that the IR will not spam your co-authors.)

But if you’re looking for a tool that will help you increase your readership by sharing subscription-free access to full text versions of your works—you want to use the repository. Yes, you can upload your articles, presentations and book chapters to RG, but that doesn’t mean that readers will find them there. (By this point, authors in your RG network have either turned off notifications or they’ve learned to delete those daily emails anyway.) Your library-supported repository probably outperforms your RG profile for readers.

I say “probably” because RG makes its true performance difficult to measure. RG doesn’t provide transparent and easily managed data about how my works are used. I’m not even sure when I uploaded my works and maybe I didn’t … but when did my coauthors upload them. Nor can I look a full count of file downloads and abstract views across a time range. Instead, RG just lumps downloads and views together as “Reads” and (while giving me a cumulative count) only shows monthly counts back to January 2015. Not only does this make it difficult to compare RG performance with other sites, it pretty much disqualifies the use of RG “Reads” in my annual review and in my promotion and tenure dossier. (If I can’t explain it, I’m not going to rely on it.)

I do, however, have access to the complete usage data for my works in IUPUI ScholarWorks. So, here’s an evidence-based anecdote based on the six items that I have duplicated on both RG and IUPUI ScholarWorks. For this comparison, I limited usage data from ScholarWorks to the year 2015, but I let ResearchGate use its cumulative counts of “Reads.” I’m guessing that those counts began sometime in 2013 or 2014. Maybe an average of 18 months. But I know for a fact that they began before January 2015. But, again, who knows … RG doesn’t display an accession date. Because ScholarWorks doesn’t count “Reads,” but does count views (the number of times someone opened the landing page for the item) and downloads (the number of times someone opens the item file, typically a PDF)—I’ve created a “read” count for both sites in the table below. (By the way, I did the same count at Academia.edu … and it just wasn’t even worth talking about. For the same six works, my Academia.edu profile managed to generate a single download and a mere 20 views total.)

Table. ResearchGate “Reads” vs IUPUI ScholarWorks “Reads”

ResearchGate “Reads” RG Item Type of Work SW Item IUPUI ScholarWorks “Reads”
(views + downloads to date, about 2 years) (reads = views + downloads in 2015)
82 Promotion and Tenure for Community-Engaged Research Journal Article Promotion and Tenure for Community-Engaged Research 59 = 43+16
66 Giving patients granular control of personal health information Journal Article Giving patients granular control of personal health information 73 = 41+32
24 Piloting a Nationally Disseminated, Interactive Human Subjects Protection Program for Community Partners Journal Article Piloting a Nationally Disseminated, Interactive Human Subjects Protection Program for Community Partners 94 = 24+70
24 When Informationists Get Involved Journal Article When Informationists Get Involved 37 = 22+15
19 Points to consider in ethically constructing patient-controlled electronic health records White Paper Points to consider in ethically constructing patient-controlled electronic health records 89 = 56+33
2 Report from the PredictER Expert Panel Meeting Report Report from the PredictER Expert Panel Meeting 48 = 26+22
217 (total) 400 = 212+188 (total)

So, is it worth your time? I don’t know. Do you want readers or do you want to spam your co-authors? If you want readers, use your institutional repository. In my little anecdote, one year of IUPUI ScholarWorks outperforms all years of RG by 84%. I’d like to see what others have found, but I bet my anecdote will hold up. And if that’s so, don’t waste your time uploading works to RG and Academia.edu. Find your institutional repository and ask a librarian for help.

Written by Jere

February 6, 2016 at 2:28 pm

How Many Repositories Do We Need?

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Last month Kathleen Fitzpatrick announced the launch of a new open access repository for the humanities, CORE. I love repositories and I love open access; so, I’m happy to see it. As a new repository, CORE has the advantage of an existing collection of users, members of MLA Commons–an academic social network that hopes to grow into a larger network for the humanities. MLA Commons/CORE is not the first academic social network to enter the repository space, but it’s the right direction for repository development. Even so, it’s a reactionary development and it’s about a decade too late.

Academia.edu and ResearchGate (RG) have proven that scholarly authors want academic social networking–these authors might poo-poo the notion in department meetings, but when they return to their desks they succumb to barrage of promotional emails from RG and Academia.edu and create profiles on the sites. Now that the sites have active users, luring a portion of them into uploading a few articles or book chapters (copyright be-damned), is not so hard. In this context, the work of uploading an article is akin to posting a nice family photo to Facebook or posting your latest promotion on LinkedIn. It’s not a challenge to the predatory pricing of commercial publishing; it’s not an altruistic commitment to sharing knowledge with a world of readers; it is, rather, a moment for celebrating professional accomplishments.

I wish that library-supported institutional repositories (IRs) had invested more effort in facilitating social networking, but libraries have a long history for quiet spaces and shushing. Libraries like metadata and preservation; social networks are full of chatter. Metadata and preservation are good things, but they do not attract active users–people interested in building an online connections.

So, should IRs scramble to build social-networking features into their software platforms? Probably not–the market-share is elsewhere and one’s academic social network is much broader than the members of a single institution. It would make more sense for IRs to work seamlessly with the social-networking platform of choice. I know that there are some efforts to make this happen, but they are limited by the technical specifications of the many IR software systems and social-networking platforms. If we could start over, would it have been advantageous to pool resources to develop a universal IR system? One that would be exposed, so to speak, to easy ingest in the social-networking tool of choice? Or if not building the one IR to rule them all, why not adopt technical standards that would make it easier for other sites to use our IRs? Wasn’t that part of the point of all that careful metadata people have been creating? And what about the OAI-PMH?

I think the IR software development game is in a world where less is more–competing platforms, new tools for uploading and managing content, dueling disciplinary sites … these are all developments for people that are focused on the wrong customer, the repository manager. These well-intended efforts–efforts that, as a repository manager, I encourage–are ignored by most authors. For most authors, the IR is just another website and kind of an ugly one at that. IRs were designed, like many libraries, on the assumption that content is king–it is not. People, also known as “users,” rule the Internet. IRs do not collect users, but social networks do! So, a social network that moonlights as a repository (even a poor repository), is likely to outperform most IRs. Less would be more: fewer ways to run a repository; fewer teams of people developing new tools; more collaboration across all existing repository platforms; more effort on non-profit, open source systems that focus on people first and content second.

The IR is a powerful tool for increasing open access to scholarship–as such, I’m proud to use it. But, it just might turn out that the social network is the real engine of open access–and if it is, now what?

Written by Jere

November 13, 2015 at 4:58 pm

Support “Academic Freedom” – Let the World Read Your Peer-reviewed, Taxpayer-subsidized Article

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Now and then one needs to vent. In two days I’ve twice encountered the same objection to supporting open access publishing. In short, the objection goes: OA is bad for academic freedom. (Society publishers in the UK recently provided a well-written example of this logic.) As arguments go, I think it shares something in common with the notion that campaign finance reform is an assault on free speech. Opponents of OA latch on to a cherished virtue of the academy and contort it to take aim at the very thing that would give (by retaining copyright) the scholar more freedom with how they share and use their work.

First, retaining your rights and depositing your article in an open repository, seems to me to be a very deliberate act of academic freedom. On the other hand, giving your copyrights away to a publisher that then restricts what you can and cannot do with your work is very much the opposite. Some kind of self-inflicted (or, at best, hapless) loss of academic freedom.

While the first is misaligned, the second, the idea that source of funds to support article processing fees will create undue influence over what is and is not published, is naive. Yes, money is the root of all evil, but doesn’t financial influence drive the direction of research already? Should the NIH stop funding health research? Should universities give up their endowed chairs and the philanthropy that supports them? Money is everywhere, without it much of the scholarly enterprise would shrivel up and die. In fact, money is already a powerful influence in the “traditional” academic publishing market.

Hiding from the inevitable shift to open access publishing because one fears corruption, doesn’t solve anything. It doesn’t correct the corruption that is already a part of the system and it doesn’t protect a new model from that same undue influence. For those that worry about how funds for article processing fees will be managed and distributed, this is the time to get creative. Be a part of the solution.

Written by Jere

January 31, 2013 at 9:39 pm

Moving the Beast: Open Access and the Market

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With Open Access Week approaching, I have been flipping through articles and dreaming of solutions to the economic troubles facing academic libraries. Needless to say, I believe in the cause–information should be widely accessible; knowledge should be “free.” This assertion, however, does not help us answer the question of who is going to pay the bills.

Along these lines, at the end of an article reporting the results of a large survey of editors (n=998) using Open Journal Systems, Edgar and Willinsky make a rousing gesture toward a radical change in the market. After noting that “$8 billion [is] devoted annually for science, technology, and medicine journals alone,” the authors conclude:

Such an investment may appear better directed toward underwriting, for the benefit of humankind, universal access to the scholarly literature. Were the academic community willing, there is enough money on the table … to make this a reality in the years ahead (Edgar, B. D., & Willinsky, J. (2010). A Survey of Scholarly Journals Using Open Journal Systems. Scholarly and Research Communication, 1(2). p. 18. Retrieved from http://journals.sfu.ca/src/index.php/src/article/view/24)

Well then, let’s do it. Or, to be less to the point, what would it take for the academic community to be willing to make this change in how it pays for scholarly communication? Why do universities subscribe to over-priced titles from commercial publishers? I have always assumed (and I would be gladly corrected) it’s a matter of reputation–in large part, it’s keeping-up-with-the-Joneses at the research university level. True, expensive journals do (often?) publish important research and scholars do need access to this research, but why do we need an expensive journal for this job–why not an open access journal? When people stop using expensive titles (to read, to publish, to evaluate faculty productivity), universities will be free to spend their money elsewhere. This sounds like a long term, economic and cultural revolution–perhaps it’s coming, but I expect a lot of disgruntled faculty on the way. See, for example, how dropping an expensive point-of-need, clinical reference tool quickly produces outraged patrons in the medical library. Imagine this battle waged title by title or bundle by bundle!

If change is coming, and I hope it is, it’s time for libraries to get prepared. In my opinion, libraries have a long way to go if they want to compete a publishers. Institutional repositories and open-source journal software have come a long way in recent years and are now trusted tools. But imagine what we could do with a little more support! Perhaps small chunks of the subscription budget could be redirected (without too much screaming from faculty) to develop prototypes to compete with commercial publishing platforms. The money would support better marketing (if it makes you feel better, call it “advocacy” or “outreach”) and slicker interfaces. If reputation is a key driver of faculty adoption, we need scholarly communication services which fit the bill.

Written by Jere

October 10, 2012 at 5:57 pm