Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media


Selection from Cites & Insights 6, Number 7: May 2006


Library Access to Scholarship

It’s been too long since the last installment—partly because of special issues, partly because others are covering this area so well, including the fairly new blog noted below. It may also be time for another overview essay, placing these pieces and my own perspective in the context of open access and similar issues. That essay makes sense as a separate. For now, it’s time to catch up on items small and large.

Notes and Announcements

A team of librarians from several Canadian universities and NYU has started OA Librarian, oalibrarian.blogspot.com, “Open Access resources for librarians.” The founding group includes Heather Morrison, Marcus Banks, Lesley Perkins and Andrew Waller. Quoting from the introductory post (November 9, 2005):

The blog is designed to gather together major search sources for freely available information in library and information science. See the top right hand corner of the blog, which features links to the DOAJ LIS journal collection—52 titles as of today, along with links to E-LIS and D-LIST, as well as key advocacy resources particularly relevant to libraries and librarians. The result is a combined pathfinder / news resource blog. The idea is to bookmark the page, for handy reference particularly to the free resources, a tool which will become of greater importance as the OA resources grow.

Since the founding, four more bloggers have joined the team, one from Turkey. This international crew seems to be posting selectively and thoughtfully. It’s in my Bloglines subscription; it adds another source to complement DigitalKoans and Open Access News.

Ø    This one’s interesting as something to watch: The impact of open access on library and information science (a research project). It’s a project proposal from Cheryl Knott Malone and Anita Coleman (both at the University of Arizona’s School of Information Resources and Library Science), setting forth a three-year project to try to answer the question, “To what extent does open access improve the impact of an article?” The brief document sets forth the proposed approach, interesting partly because it looks at articles in library science rather than the hard sciences.

Ø    ACRL has announced that College & Research Libraries will be freely available after a six-month embargo, with retrospective issues (PDF) available back to 1997. C&RL articles are peer reviewed. The press release notes “ACRL supports open access to scholarship as a principle for reform in the system of scholarly communication” and that ACRL encourages author self-archiving of published articles in institutional and disciplinary archives. The new provision doesn’t make C&RL an OA journal by current definitions, but it’s a step in the right direction. (Where’s Information Technology and Libraries, the scholarly journal of my home division? Some articles from March 2004 and before are available online…which is a long way from OA.)

Ø    The Council on Library and Information Resources has issued Acquiring copyright permissions to digitize and provide open access to books. The 72-page report by Denise Troll Covey can be ordered for $25 or downloaded for free.

Ø    The Directory of Open Access Journals issued a press release January 13, 2006, when the directory reached 2,000 journals. As of this writing, it’s up to 2,182, including 596 journals for which DOAJ provides article-level searching. The press release notes that DOAJ maintains standards: “during the last 6 months of 2005 50 titles were removed.”

Ø    Hindawi Publishing converted 13 of its subscription-access journals in mathematics to OA on February 22, 2006. “All current and back volumes of these journals are immediately available free of any subscription or registration barriers on the Hindawi web site” and all new articles are published under the Creative Commons Attribution (“BY”) license. Peter Suber noted that this was the largest bulk conversion of non-OA journals to OA in the history of open access; it brought Hindawi up to 25 OA journals. (Since then, Hindawi has converted at least four more journals.)

Ø    A group of librarians, college administrators, and scholars issued a call to action to preserve online scholarly journals, noting that such journals “could vanish into oblivion should publishers go out of business or face other calamities.” The ACRL Board endorsed that message in February 2006. A Chronicle of Higher Education story notes that OhioLINK is archiving some online journals and that six libraries and nine publishers are running a pilot LOCKSS program. The story says a recommendation to demand archival deposit by publishers as a condition of licensing electronic journals “is likely to be controversial.” If that’s true, it’s unfortunate and, one would think, self-defeating.

Ø    An April 6, 2006 DigitalKoans post summarizes three open source e-journal management systems, for those wishing to publish new OA journals: HyperJournal, Open Journal Systems, and (in development) DPubS (Digital Publishing System). Earlier, Peter Suber noted a free platform hosted by Scholarly Exchange, (www.scholarlyexchange.org), using Open Journal Systems software and providing hosting and support financed by “contextually appropriate on-screen advertising.” It’s an interesting concept (a journal can avoid advertising by paying a minimal fee, and so far the ads are typical sidebar “Ads by Google”). As of early April, two journals are using the platform and four others plan to convert to it.

Ø    On April 10, the Public Access Working Group (an advisory panel to NIH) reaffirmed its support for strengthening of the NIH public access policy, calling for the policy to be mandatory and for the maximum embargo to be six months. That is, NIH should require that all NIH-funded works be made available (and accessible) in PubMed Central within six months of publication.

Ø    JSTOR noted in April 2006 that Blackwell Publishing was lengthening the “moving wall” for access to past issues of six Blackwell journals, changing four from three years to ten years and two others from five years to ten years. That makes JSTOR’s collections less useful (because less current). I’m sure it will be discussed further. Even three years is a long way from open access (particularly since JSTOR’s not exactly free either), but decisions to make back issues less readily available are always disturbing.

Brief Commentaries

It’s a bit late and wholly unsurprising, but Peter Suber noted on October 26, 2005 that the DC Principles Coalition issued a press release on October 25 on its latest effort to “roll back the NIH public-access policy” (in Suber’s words). The coalition says the proposal “would allow the NIH to bring vast amounts of research findings to the public efficiently and at no cost” by having NIH link directly to publisher websites—after the publisher’s chosen embargo period, of course. “The transparent linking system would make it easier for the public to view more than 1 million research articles and would avert the need to create a new taxpayer-funded publishing infrastructure within the NIH.” Suber notes that the proposal has “repeatedly been offered to the NIH and repeatedly rejected” as it doesn’t provide integrated searching, undercuts NIH’s efforts to shorten embargoes, allows publishers to lengthen them at will, and offers no guarantee of continuing free access. I’ve offered my view of the DC Principles before; that (negative) view hasn’t changed.

Another October item emphasizes just how serious the serials pricing crisis really is, and the extent to which it threatens long-term access to scholarship. The University of Pennsylvania cancelled 2,255 journal subscriptions. Despite a $13.1 million budget for acquisitions (including electronic access), the library can’t keep up with increasing prices. As reported in The Daily Pennsylvanian, “officials blame big publishing companies, which they say have raised prices as the companies have bought up academic journals over the last two decades. In 1993, journals accounted for 64 percent of the materials budget. This number has increased to almost 70 percent in the 2005 materials budget.” The article goes on to cite one particularly interesting subscription price, given that most reports talk about journals costing as much as $4,000 to $6,000 a year: Tetrahedron, an Elsevier journal, costs $31,600.

Still catching up from October 2005, T. Scott Plutchak reported on the experience of the Journal of the Medical Library Association in moving to open access (which it did in 2001/2002). Some of Plutchak’s notes (as excerpted by Peter Suber and further excerpted here):

Between June of 2004 and May of 2005, the number of unique users accessing the Journal of the Medical Library Association (JMLA) and its predecessor, the Bulletin of the Medical Library Association (BMLA), on the National Library of Medicine's PubMed Central (PMC) system averaged just over 20,000 per month. When I first saw these numbers on the PMC administration site, I was astonished. The members of the Medical Library Association (MLA) itself (who we might presume are the main audience of the JMLA) number only about 4,500, and the print run of the journal is generally in the neighborhood of 5,000 copies. It seemed likely to me that the number of unique readers in any given month would be just some fraction of that core audience....I wondered if PMC has some kind of formula that they use to translate the number of IP addresses into number of readers, so I emailed Ed Sequeira, the project coordinator, at PMC. Further astonishment! He…told me that, from surveys that they have done, there are half again as many actual users per IP address.

Thirty thousand unique readers?...I can think of few things more likely to gladden the heart of an editor than this kind of evidence of the reach and impact of the journal on which he lavishes so much time and attention. I have no doubt that we would not be seeing these sorts of numbers if the JMLA were not freely available on the Web. From the standpoint of readership and reach, MLA's experiment with open access would appear to be a resounding success. But much of the discussion of open access during the past few years has focused on the risks. What of those?...

So I looked at the revenue and membership figures for the last ten years. I wanted to examine the trend lines and see if anything appeared to change significantly around 2001/02, when the JMLA went up on PMC… Subscriptions had been falling for a decade, but the drop from 2002 to 2003 was far more dramatic than the previous declines. The number of subscriptions declined again in 2004, although not as dramatically, but revenue went up slightly, thanks to a modest rate increase. Whether this indicates a trend or not is still too early to say....

Perhaps more worrisome from the standpoint of the long-term health of the association is the impact of an open access journal on the members' willingness to remain members. Here, the results are more encouraging. Total membership has declined during the entire period, but the biggest drop occurred in 2000/01, just before the PMC debut....To probe the views of members further, I worked up a quick online survey....I asked what degree of impact the JMLA's free availability had had on their decision not to renew their membership. Seventeen respondents fit in that category. Fourteen indicated little to no impact, two were neutral, and one indicated that it had had a major impact. When I asked the current members if the JMLA's free availability would make them more or less likely to renew their membership, 61% indicated that it would have no bearing; but, for 30%, it would make them somewhat to much more likely to renew. On the downside, 5% felt that it would make them much less likely to renew....Other questions in my survey indicated that the free availability would make people much more likely to read articles from the older issues and would make potential authors more likely to submit manuscripts. These, of course, are the things that an editor loves to hear....

Despite what I said near the beginning of this editorial, it is too early to label the experiment an unqualified success. But has the attempt been worth it so far? I look again at the PMC statistics. Twenty to thirty thousand unique users? Has it been worth it? Oh, yes!

As Suber notes, the full editorial (“an exemplary report of a journal OA experiment”) includes judicious qualifications on the data. If you read T. Scott’s blog (tscott.typepad.com/tsp/) you’ll know to except thought and care.

Moving on to November 2005, the Georgia State University blog on issues in scholarly communication quoted the text of six slides on open access from a presentation by Erik Engstrom, Elsevier’s CEO. Engstrom says “Frustration drove desire for new publishing models” and “Transformation is dramatically increasing number of journals accessed, productivity for researchers and reducing effective price per article.” He labels open access journals “Author pays” and offers “delayed open access” and self-archiving of manuscripts as other models. He does not appear to admit that OA journals can be anything but “author pays,” says such journals represent less than one percent of current articles, that OA journal launches have declined since 2001, and that Springer’s Open Choice model only attracted 24 articles in its first year. He asserts that OA inhibits authors in developing countries from submitting articles and that a “major study questioned peer review and editing standards” (that’s the ALPSP study; see below). But then there are the beneficent publishers: Less than 2% of articles are available via “delayed open access,” less than 1% within the first year. As for open archiving, he asserts a “stable 5% of article manuscripts,” denying the possibility of any growth in archiving. “Repositories useful in several ways but unlikely to benefit research productivity.” In short, it’s the same-old same-old, just as you’d expect from Elsevier: There’s no real problem, OA doesn’t work, subscriptions provide significant benefits including “improving cost efficiency.” Fairly new CEO, tired old message.

Speaking of Elsevier, Chris Leonard (“Publishing Editor within Elsevier with responsibility for theoretical computer science journals”) runs a blog, Computing Chris. A November 21 post suggests “14 steps to the perfect CS journal?” based on Leonard’s discussions with people in the field. The list in general is interesting—but it’s betrayed by the very first one:

1. FREE ACCESS—at least at the point of use. Subscribers access the journal for 1 year, then all articles are available to everyone who wants them?

“At least at the point of use”: That is, as long as enough libraries pony up, their users will have “free” access. When someone who doesn’t have institutional access questioned his terminology, he repeated the standard line: “Free at point-of-use means that you as an end user don’t have to pay. If you are a student or researcher, your institute may subscribe to journals and pay a price for them, but you personally don’t.” He goes on to suggest that a one-year embargo “ensures that libraries get the benefit of subscriptions”!

I’d refer you to the blog itself for the rest of the discussion…but “runs” turns out to be the wrong tense. Leonard left Elsevier four days after that post—and the blog has disappeared entirely.

Heather Morrison comments on “trends in refereed journals/open and toll access” in her Imaginary journal of poetic economics. She notes that Ulrich’s includes 1,253 scholarly peer-reviewed open access journals, 5% of the total—and that the largest number of startups was in 2004, not 2001 as claimed in the ALPSP study. DOAJ listed 2,009 OA journals at that point, possibly because Ulrich’s tends to include primarily English-language journals. There’s another list from Jan Sczcepanski with more than 4,700 open access journals—but it’s quite likely that most of those aren’t peer-reviewed. One sidenote: If you look at the start dates for refereed scholarly journals in general, “peaked in 2001” appears to be true there as well—although 2004 made a strong comeback after the decline of 2002 and 2003, it’s still lower than 2001.

The March 2, 2006 SPARC Open Access Newsletter features “Three gathering storms that could cause collateral damage for open access”: The webcasting treaty, growing opposition to net neutrality, and “the end of free email.” In each case, Peter Suber provides a few paragraphs as to why these could be threats and offers extensive links. Worth reading directly.

Clusters and Longer Items

Clusters? Groups of discussions by the same person.

Dorothea Salo (Caveat lector)

Salo’s been writing a series of fascinating, instructive posts relating to her work managing an institutional repository. Her blog is always worth reading, and recently it’s had heavy relevance to access issues. I’m highlighting just a few; it’s worth checking her archives for others.

A March 1, 2006 post, “Registering,” starts out seeming to be about writing styles. Salo hates writing in “formal-publication register” and finds it natural to drop into “blog register,” and boy, can I empathize with that, since I was never any good at formal-publication register, even in my books. But she moves beyond that to grump about Stevan Harnad’s attitude, seemingly echoed by Richard Poynder, regarding purity of open access efforts. “Just because OA isn’t the only thing I do doesn’t mean I don’t do OA!” There’s a lot more here, much better read in the original.

Harnad will apparently always believe that self-archiving is The Solution, that it’s inevitable and optimal, that OAI repositories cost almost nothing to set up and run, and that everything else is a distraction. I think Salo’s rejoinder is on the money: “And if self-archiving is such a lovely…solution to everybody’s problems, why isn’t everybody doing it?...The world is more complicated than Harnad would like it to be.”

Salo goes on to note, correctly, that it’s nonsensical to suppose that publishers are handling or should handle article archiving. “Publishers have never been involved with preservation; it’s been a library function as long as there have been libraries.” And she’s certainly right (in my opinion) to assert that shoving librarians (or multipurpose IRs) out of the OA arena can only damage OA, probably severely.

Two days later, Salo offered “Open access outside libraries.” This also has to do with Harnad’s apparent attitude that library-based IRs aren’t the right place to do OA and that OA should instead be done in little departmental repositories.

My first question is this: If faculty cannot even drag themselves to deposit material into IRs where the library has done all the tech work for them up-front, how will they be convinced to start them? It is assuredly technically simple to do, but the complexity of the technical process is not and has never been the problem. The complexity of the social process is the problem, and I fail to see how Harnad’s proposal solves it.

She also notes it’s unlikely that departmental repositories would stay “pure” OA repositories for very long. When budgets got tough, departments would see the repositories as content management systems for all sorts of content. Then there’s the “100%” problem:

To achieve his stated goal of 100% OA to the peer-reviewed journal literature via departmental repositories, Harnad will have to convince every department and research unit on every college and university campus everywhere containing faculty who publish in the peer-reviewed journal literature to open a repository.

Since IR adoption isn’t close to universal among academic libraries (where it would seem to be a natural), that’s a tough job. There are also other issues—duplication of effort, for example.

Salo also considers, thoughtfully and in some detail, other ways that OA might work while bypassing librarians, such as state- or countrywide repositories. Such have their own problems.

March 8: “What is an IR for?” It’s a careful discussion that I find difficult to summarize. Part of it continues the argument against those who believe that nothing but peer-reviewed literature should be held in IRs that contain OA literature, but there’s a lot more. Go read it.

For now, let’s close with “Marketing an IR” (March 18). In this case, she’s recommending “a cheap, agile, multifaceted, flexible IR marketing campaign over a single sweated-over Master Communication Plan.” That makes a lot of sense: Single messages have a way of failing, and IRs (and OA) are about many different things. (For example, I care about OA as a possible way to improve library ability to purchase books and humanities journals; others don’t consider that part of the equation at all.) Here’s the end of a short, upbeat post:

Don’t bother with long involved planning sessions. Don’t bother with marketing committees at first (though later on, it may well help to share information). Brainstorm a page of ideas, pick some to try, and try them. When some don’t pan out, pick others. Embrace serendipity. Listen to and act on what people tell you about the IR, and about faculty beliefs and practices.

And have fun! Laugh! I’ve caught a few people, I firmly believe, just because I enjoy and believe in what I’m doing and it shows when I talk about it.

Maybe Caveat lector is another reason I don’t feel much pressure to cover open access and related issues in any great depth: It’s being done so well elsewhere.

Jan Velterop at The Parachute

The parachute is a great title, explained by the motto: “It only works when it is open.” Velterop’s new position, pushing an expensive form of author-choice OA for one of the immense for-profit journal publishers, makes things trickier, but he’s still worth reading.

A February 21 post entitled “Too many papers, too many journals” discusses the ongoing issue of “journal fragmentation.” Velterop poses the question as “how much scientific information should be made available, i.e. published?” As posed, it’s hard to disagree with his answer: “I think it should be as much as possible. There is no place for ‘quantity control’ of information.” He goes on to note that, in some respects, not enough information is being published—e.g., negative results rarely get published (although that may be changing).

But 'information' is not the same as ‘amount of articles.’ We all know about ‘salami-slicing,’ when a given amount of information is published in a number of articles, where putting them in just one article would be perfectly reasonable and possible. This is of course a consequence of the ‘publish-or-perish’ culture that has taken hold of science.

He discusses publish-or-perish and the quest for the highest possible Impact Factor; it’s an interesting discussion. Seeking the highest IF creates a “major inefficiency” because it results in too many “speculative submissions” to journals with very high Impact Factors, rather than directly submitting articles to the most appropriate journals. “This in turn has lead to overburdening of peer-reviewers, high rejection rates, time-wasting” and other problems.

I take mild issue with the next paragraph, in which Velterop says, “In the modern world, journals are just ‘tags,’ ‘labels’ that are attached to articles.” That may be true for virtually all STM journals; it has certainly not been true historically for some journals in other fields, where the journal itself is more than the sum of its refereed articles. It trivializes the journal qua journal; maybe that’s the way the world is going, but I don’t have to like it. Velterop also seems to dismiss browsing, which has always been one use of a field’s top journals.

A March 8 post poses the question “What is an OA journal?” He notes Thomson Scientific’s count of 298 OA journals in the ISI Web of Knowledge and DOAJ’s March 8 count of 2,089 such journals.

What, however, are ‘Open Access Journals’? Do they exist? What's the definition? Journals that publish OA articles, or journals that publish only OA articles? Same question with regard to Open Access Publishers.

What does exist is publishers who publish journals in which open access articles appear. Not necessarily all the articles in a journal and not necessarily all the journals in a publisher's portfolio.

I guess I’d say there are both OA journals (in which all peer-reviewed articles are OA, although other portions of the journal might be fee-based) and there are journals that publish some OA articles. They’re not the same.

While the Bethesda Statement may be correct in saying that OA is a property of individual works, I believe it’s worth making distinctions at the journal level as well. I’m not inclined to call a Springer journal an “OA journal” if 1% of the articles in that journal are OA; I’m inclined to call it a journal that publishes some OA articles. And I’m certainly not inclined to call a publisher an “OA publisher” because 2% of their journals are OA, or because 5% of their articles are OA.

Is there a cutoff? I think so. For a given journal, it’s simple: If every peer-reviewed article is true OA (available online in final published form as of the date of publication and permanently thereafter), the journal is an OA journal regardless of how much other stuff it sells for a subscription price. Otherwise, it’s not—which doesn’t make it bad, just different. And if more than half of a publisher’s journals are OA journals, it’s reasonable to call it a “mostly-OA publisher”—but not “an OA publisher” unless they all are.

Peter Suber, the SPARC Open Access Newsletter

It’s awfully tempting to quote huge chunks of the January 2, 2006 SOAN, where Suber reviews “Open access in 2005” and offers his “Predictions for 2006.” This is seriously good stuff—and it would double the length of this section. Here are just a few tastes of each section, sometimes paraphrased (combined, the sections run to 12 pages in all: 6,600 words, all worth reading.

Ø    2005 was the best year to date for university actions in support of OA [with a dozen universities adopting major OA policies or resolutions and two institutions mandating OA to their research output].

Ø    2005 was the year that funding agency OA policies made the transition from proposal to practice.

Ø    OA archiving continued to worry some publishers…[who have] so far been unable to provide evidence that [fears of undermining subscriptions] are justified.

Ø    OA journals picked up speed [with many examples noted].

Ø    More for-profit businesses demanded that the government stop providing open access to publicly-funded information.

Ø    OA is taking to wikis to collect, organize and share information—including “mutant wikis” that add quality control measures.

Ø    Books about OA are starting to emerge.

Ø    Confusion between depositing work in an OA repository and publishing in an OA journal continues; Suber calls this JAM, the Journal-Archive Mixup.

Ø    “2005 was definitely the biggest year to date for book scanning and digitization. In fact, the book-scanning news, even when it was not about OA, swamped the OA news and persuaded many people that it really was about OA.” (I’ll argue that some book digitization is most certainly about OA, namely the OCA.)

Ø    Textbook pricing is becoming visible as another crisis—and OA textbooks might yet emerge.

Ø    “The term ‘open access’ is starting to seep out into the general scholarly culture that isn’t working for OA so much as simply using it.” This is good in that scholars are becoming familiar with the concept, not so good if you’re trying to stay current on OA news.

Ø    First 2006 prediction: rapid recent growth of OA’s several aspects will continue, and 2006 should be a major year for funding agency OA policies.

Ø    “Many of the publishers who agreed to permit postprint archiving had two beliefs, one of which was false at the time (that repositories are ghettoes where content is hard to find), and one of which is becoming false (that authors will not archive their postprints in large numbers). The first belief underestimated OAI interoperability and crawling by Google and Yahoo, and the second underestimated the incentives and mandates from funders and universities. Because these beliefs are giving way, some publishers will look for ways to revoke their consent to postprint archiving. If they can't bring themselves to ban postprint archiving, or to retreat from blanket permission to case-by-case permission, then they may put embargoes on it, as Nature has done.”

Ø    “Different publishers will continue to take just about every conceivable position in the landscape, from strong support for OA to strong aversion.”

Ø    People may “get” that fewer than half of OA journals charge “author-side” fees—and that many more subscription journals than OA journals do so.

Ø    The curve of OA public domain books could pass the journal curve this year—and could “reach roughly 100% ages before the journal curve reaches 100%.” (I question whether the journal curve or the book curve will ever reach 100%, but that’s me.)

Ø    Open file formats will enter the OA conversation—but Suber believes OA should be format-agnostic.

Ø    “The web and libraries will each be superior to the other in some valuable respects, and only people who deny half of this two-sided truth will be behind the times—and needlessly hampering their research.” (Agreed, as long as it’s seen as a two-sided truth—but libraries may also have new and interesting roles in improving web-based research.)

The facts about Open Access

If you care about OA, you’ve already heard about this report from ALPSP, with research by the Kaufman-Wills Group. You can get the entire study or the overview from www.alpsp.org/publications/pub11. htm. I’ve only read the introduction and overview.

Sally Morris wrote the introduction, so you might not be surprised by the starting sentence: “Discussion of Open Access tends to be strong on rhetoric but short on facts.” Peter Suber, Stevan Harnad and many others would dispute that. Morris admits that “we” (ALPSP) had not realized how long-established some OA journals are, and that the study “dispel[s] the notion that Open Access journals do not carry out peer review of copy-editing”—a notion that, as far as I know, has only been suggested by publishers and those wholly ignorant of OA journals. Morris admits to surprise at “how few of the Open Access journals raise any author-side charges at all;…author charges are more common…among subscription journals.”

But then there’s this: “Is Open Access publishing a financially viable model? It is impossible to draw any firm conclusions, of course. However, from the evidence we have collected this seems by no mean certain.” The evidence is that a majority of OA journals are covering their costs. Consider the percentage of restaurants that never cover costs (and shut down): Does that mean that restaurants are not as a class financially viable?

The report itself includes some wording that suggests anti-OA bias. “Some [individuals] feared that the growth rate of Full Open Access journals signified the demise of Subscription Access journals.” [“Full Open Access” is ALPSP’s synonym for OA journals, as opposed to those that make a few articles available or make them available after an embargo period, which ALPSP would like us to think of as “Optional Open Access” or “Delayed Open Access.”] In looking at DOAJ titles, “it was apparent that a good percentage of journals were published by a small number of publishers”—very much like commercial journals!

Table 3, contrasting “general characteristics” of “Full” Open Access vs. “Other journal cohorts,” is charming (all emphases in this paragraph added). OA journals are “Relatively new, established within the last decade” (frequently but not always true, and literally true for only half of those surveyed) while “Other journal cohorts” were “Established 40 years ago” (one of those meaningless averages). Here’s the “Publisher” comparison: On one side, “Self-published by a non-profit organization, academic department, or individual”; on the other, “Published by a non-profit association, or perhaps a commercial publisher.” “Self-published” is a loaded term, particularly within academia; I fail to see how an organization-based OA journal is any more or less “self-published” than a subscription journal. Also, “perhaps” certainly understates the significance of for-profit publishers in the non-OA field. (Actually, the summary is simply wrong. The next page says “the majority (55%) of the Full Open Access journals responding were published by commercial firms.” The writers get around this by excluding the two big commercial OA publishers.)

There’s a lot more. The first conclusion is as you’d expect: Despite the fact that most OA journals had upward-trending revenues, that over 90% met or exceeded the expectations of the publishers, and that most of them were at least break-even, “It is too early to tell whether Full Open Access is a viable business model.” Third: “Peer review and copy-editing may be less rigorous with Full Open Access journals.”

A Forbes.com report on this study highlighted that first question: “But a new study questions whether many of these ‘open-access’ journals will manage to survive.” The Scientist’s report highlighted “concerns about peer review”—and Sally Morris managed to toughen her stance: “What they [BMC] call peer review is not doing what peer review is supposed to do.” (Morris also asserted, in the study’s introduction and elsewhere, that it is unlikely to be the case that OA journals will “do better over time,” unlike subscription journals, although there’s no clear evidence for this OA-bashing statement.) It is worth noting that both reports cite assertions from OA advocates that the ALPSP report is one-sided.

Later, BioMed Central [BMC] responded to the study, saying in part:

The two most serious problems with the report are that it inaccurately describes the peer review process operated by BioMed Central's journals, and it also draws unjustified conclusions concerning the long-term sustainability of open access journals. The overview of the report incorrectly states that BioMed Central does not operate external peer review on most of its journals. In fact, all of BioMed Central's journals operate full peer review using external peer reviewers....the BioMed Central/ISP group of journals is reported to offer online manuscript submission on a lower percentage of journals than other journal groups. The report picks up on this as a surprising finding, suggesting implicitly that open access journals are lagging behind in this regard. In fact, BioMed Central offers online submission of manuscripts on every one of its journals. Not only that, but BioMed Central's manuscript submission system is widely praised by authors, many of whom tell us that it is the best online submission system they have used....

Since BMC is specifically cited as one using internal review, the publisher’s denial does raise questions about the report.

Sally Morris also penned a “Personal View” in the January 2006 Learned Publishing, “When is a journal not a journal? A closer look at the DOAJ.” Her study makes much of the apparent fact that OA journals publish fewer articles (on average) than subscription journals, although the relevance of this fact is unclear. This study cites the possibly-true but probably-irrelevant fact that the number of new entries into DOAJ peaked in 2001 (then went down significantly in a couple of slump years, and has since rebounded to near-2001 levels, and might pass those levels this year). Morris may be right that some OA journals “have published far fewer articles than would be acceptable to subscribers under the traditional model,” but then, they aren’t operating under the traditional model. There’s nothing wrong with an online-only journal that’s freely available publishing a few select papers each year; it’s much more problematic when an expensive journal does lots of “combined issues” and otherwise fails to deliver value for money.

Parallel universes: open access and open source

This article by Glyn Moody, published February 22, 2006 on LWN.net, “Your Linux info source,” is an oddity—drawing parallels and distinctions between OA and open source software from a perspective that seems to suggest that open source software has won over commercial software.

Moody doesn’t downplay the importance of OA: “At stake is nothing less than control of academia’s treasure-house of knowledge.” Moody calls Stevan Harnad OA’s “visionary—the RMS figure” (open source people presumably know who RMS is; those initials, presumably those of Richard Stallman, are never expanded in the three-page article). We’re told “open peer commentary” as a form of peer review is “routine today,” which may surprise journal editors.

The article has problems. “The first open access magazine publisher [BMC]…appeared in 1999.” That can only be true based on an unusual reading of “publisher,” since born-OA journals precede that date by a full decade (and BMC wouldn’t call its publications “magazines”). Moody says that OA journals “need” page charges “in order to provide the content free to readers,” true for a minority of OA journals, and says the charge is “typically $1000 per article.” One commenter manages to turn this into $1,000 per page and see it as a submission charge, not a publication charge; another comment seemed to place this mistake in the article itself (and, for all I know, the article could have been corrected invisibly). One knowledgeable commenter notes that Harnad “fiercely and insistently resists the idea of any similarity” between OA and open source software.

Where is the Open Access Foundation?

It’s only a blog post (March 16, 2006 on Richard Poynder’s Open and shut?)—but it’s 3,700 words not including comments, making it article-length by any standard. Poynder believes OA needs a proper organization to make sure definitions stay consistent and the like. He points out the confusion being caused by sloppy (self-serving?) statements from journal publishers—e.g., that Biochemical Journal is OA because raw manuscripts are posted on acceptance (although published versions have a six-month embargo).

Poynder goes on to discuss “what is an OA journal?” at some length, and gently raises questions about Jan Velterop’s agenda as Springer’s Director of Open Access. He notes various attempts to redefine OA. It’s an interesting and careful treatment.

The state of the large publisher bundle

This April 2006 article in ARL Bimonthly Report 245 gives findings from an ARL member survey taken in November and December 2005. Most ARL libraries (89 of 123) responded; 93% of those have licensed bundles with at least one of the five largest journal publishers, and on average they have bundles with three of the five. (Only 21% of the respondents have Taylor and Francis bundles; a surprising 7%—six ARL libraries—have no such bundles.)

The report offers some of the reasons for bundles; for 114 of the 283 contracts, “alternative non-bundled forms of access to the content were prohibitively expensive.” Remember that ARL represents the largest and generally best-funded universities in North America. To quote the study, “This suggests that libraries may be making the best of a bad situation.”

Do libraries save money by abandoning the print versions of bundled journals? In 62% of the responses, savings were less than 10%.

There’s more here. Worth reading.

Surveying the e-journal preservation landscape

Another article in the same ARL Bimonthly Report, by Cornell’s Anne R. Kenney, reports on an ongoing “landscape analysis for preserving e-journals.” The article notes ten initiatives, including LOCKSS and CLOCKSS but also a number of less well-known initiatives. The group involved has developed a set of key concerns based on interviews with library directors and is now developing a survey of the archiving initiatives. A final report is expected this August.

This research is important work (as are the initiatives); the Cornell group appears superbly qualified to carry it out and produce useful results. Definitely worth following—and this relatively brief article will introduce you to some digital archiving initiatives you may not have heard of.

Open Access and libraries

That’s the title of Charles W. Bailey, Jr.’s introduction to OA, available as a preprint and to be published in Electronic Resources Librarians: The Human Element of the Digital Information Age. A somewhat similar and shorter piece, “What is Open Access?” is also available as a preprint; that piece will appear in Open Access: Key Strategic, Technical and Economic Aspects.

Both offer clear overviews of OA—the key statements (the “three Bs” from Bethesda, Berlin, and Budapest), what it is, what else might grow out of it, strategies, journals, repositories, and why it matters. It’s clearly written, easy to read, well-documented, and well thought out.

I recommend the longer article; it goes into more detail on varieties of journals and possible roles for libraries in supporting OA. I certainly prefer Bailey’s “color code” for journals (excerpted and paraphrased here) over ALPSP’s varieties of “open access”:

Ø    Open Access journals (green)—those that meet all OA criteria including Creative Commons’ Attribution licenses.

Ø    Free Access journals (cyan)—ones where all articles are freely available, but that don’t require the Attribution license. (So, for example, if C&I was scholarly, it would fall in the “cyan” category.)

Ø    Embargoed Access journals (yellow)—ones where all articles eventually become available.

Ø    Partial Access journals (orange)—ones where some articles are freely available.

Ø    Restricted Access journals (red)—ones with no free access to journals.

Bailey uses ALA divisional journals as examples of the last two cases; in one case (Partial Access), C&RL has now shifted to “yellow,” but in the other case (Restricted Access), it would be nice if publicity caused LAMA (and LITA) to rethink their practices.

Journals in the time of Google

Lee C. Van Orsdel and Kathleen Born wrote this April 15, 2006 Library Journal overview of some events in the world of academic journals, appearing with LJ’s Periodical Price Survey. It’s a good once-over-lightly, with a number of notes on open access issues. Here’s a paragraph that seems worth repeating in full:

Journal prices still have the power to shock. In January, the editor of Journal of Economic Studies, an Emerald Press title, resigned when he realized that his journal’s $9,859 sticker price was wholly out of line both with the market and with his own sensibilities. The title is not indexed in Social Sciences Citation Index, yet it cost around three times as much as the next most expensive journal in the field. The energy for dealing with a broken market, however, seems to be shifting toward institutional repositories and OA publishing models and away from the futile hope that high-priced publishers will come to their senses and reduce journal prices.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 6, Number 7, Whole Issue 77, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at RLG.

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