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

Selection from Cites & Insights 4, Number 7: June 2004

Library Access to Scholarship

Walt Crawford

Even with self-imposed limitations, there’s a lot to catch up on. I’ve tried to group material into somewhat coherent topical groups, usually providing chronological coverage within each group. In the interests of length, I’ve split out pieces of the OA debate as a Library Access to Scholarship Perspective, The Empire Strikes Back.

Unraveling the Big Deal

This process continues apace:

University of Maryland

On February 20, Provost William W. Dostler distributed a memo to the faculty on “Changes in access to journals published by Reed Elsevier.” The College Park campus has gone entirely to electronic access for Elsevier journals, and the Baltimore campus has lost its consortial access—in both cases, following “months of unsuccessful negotiations with Reed Elsevier.” Dostler quotes the objectives of the libraries in working with publishers:

1. to maintain and exercise control over library collecting decisions in order to meet the constantly evolving information needs of faculty, researchers, and students; and

2. to manage overall costs in a way that guarantees that no single publisher is exempted from the regular critical review, which ensures that all subscriptions provide reasonable value in relation to their budget impact.

Real-world figures: Last year, Elsevier print journals represented 10% of the current journal collection but took 30% of the print journal budget—more than $1 million in 2003, plus another $100,000 for electronic access. In order to be able to cancel lesser Elsevier print journals, Maryland had to abandon the Big Deal. There’s more to the memo about the need for change and players in that effort, specifically citing ARL, SPARC, and ICOLC.

Stanford University

The Committee on Libraries of Stanford University’s Academic Senate passed a motion on January 19 that endorsed four guidelines, including an explicit rejection of the Big Deal:

1. Faculty and libraries are encouraged to support affordable scholarly journals, such as by volunteering articles and labor in the production, review and editing of journal content.

2. Libraries are encouraged to refuse “big deal” or bundled subscription plans that limit the librarian’s traditional responsibility to make collection development decisions on a title-by-title basis in the best interest of the academic community.

3. Libraries are encouraged to scrutinize the pricing of journals and to drop those where pricing decisions have made them disproportionately expensive compared to their educational and research value. Special attention should be paid to for-profit journals in general and to those published by Elsevier in particular.

4. Faculty, especially senior faculty, are strongly encouraged in the future not to contribute articles or editorial or review efforts to publishers and journals that engage in exploitive or exorbitant pricing, and instead look to other and more reasonably-priced vehicles for disseminating their research results.

The full senate passed those (or similar) guidelines on February 19—with one dissenting vote.

Indiana University Bloomington

On February 27, the Faculty Council passed a resolution on journals, databases, and threats to scholarly publication that includes the following clauses:

The Bloomington Faculty Council

A) calls on all faculty, staff, and students of Indiana University Bloomington to work toward a more open publishing system by increasing their support of existing refereed journals and publishers whose practices are consistent with open access to scholarly communication and to support those who make such choices when considering tenure and promotion;

B) encourages faculty and staff to separate themselves from publishers with a narrow focus on profits at the expense of open scholarly publication;

C) calls on the university Libraries to educate faculty, staff, and students on the business practices of different journals and journal publishers and their impact on the health of scholarly communication and on our Libraries at Indiana University Bloomington

…D) encourages all faculty, staff, students, and university administrators to work closely with our librarians to find effective ways to maintain the excellence of our collections;

E) calls on librarians on all IU campuses to work together to provide the campuses with a rich and coherent array of electronic journals and databases at the most cost effective prices;

F) expects librarians to be aggressive in their negotiations with vendors and even to withdraw from negotiations where excessive price increases are demanded;

G) expects librarians to reduce significantly duplicate print/online subscriptions and to review and cancel subscriptions judiciously.

Macalester, Carleton, Gustav Adolphus, St. Olaf, and more

The SPARC Open Access Newsletter #72 (April 2, 2004) includes most campuses mentioned here and in previous roundups in a single chronological list, which includes action by Macalester College and “rumblings” from Columbia, San Jose State, University of Iowa, and University of Oregon, and provides loads of citations for more background.

In May 2004, Macalaster, Carleton, Gustavus Adolphus, and St. Olaf College issued a joint press release announcing their independent decisions to decline the Big Deal. All four colleges are private institutions in Minnesota and would have renewed a three-year deal through MINITEX. The press release notes, “We are all convinced that the escalating prices for many scientific journals are unsustainable and that the time has come for change.” They note that the “disproportionate amount spent for a small percentage of scientific journals was negatively affecting our ability to build a balanced liberal arts college collection.” The faculties of the colleges are supporting them “because they understand that it is in the long term interests of our institutions to reassert control over our collections and to encourage new, more sustainable publishing models.” There’s more to the press release, which goes on to encourage college communities to consider five steps:

Avoiding publishing and reviewing for journals that are not moving toward an open access model,

Retaining the right to distribute the results of their research broadly,

Establishing institutional archives,

Engaging in conversation about open access within department, campus-wide, with legislators and policy-makers, and in their scholarly and scientific societies, and

Adopting policies that signal that publication in quality open access journals is acceptable in the institutions’ systems of rewards and recognition.


Randy Reichardt (University of Alberta) of the first-rate STLQ weblog ( sent email to four listservs asking for reactions to cancellation of Elsevier’s big deals at various institutions. You might want to read the whole set of comments at

Excerpts from a few of the responses:

“I am not so sure that many of the Elsevier titles still publish ‘cutting edge’ research, or at least enough to justify the prices…”

“So far, faculty [at four eastern-US universities] have been satisfied with canceling lower use titles, maintaining a fairly substantial core of titles print + online, and using delivery services to cover the rest. Part of their satisfaction is that we have been able to invest in other priority areas…”

“Those top universities walking away from the ‘big deal’ have had a definite impact on our research faculty and library administration… Being able to point to MIT, Harvard, & Cornell is a huge reassurance [as this libraries considers walking away]”

“It is difficult to find anyone here with a good word for Elsevier… What interests me are that both long tenured faculty and brand new untenured faculty are equally unhappy with high priced publishers and have in fact made journal affordability an important factor in their publishing and editorial activities… The pioneering ‘just say no’ actions of these major research institutions is only the start. If I had one word to describe the situation, it is momentum. It is building and bursting forth.”

“We found [the Big Deal] unsustainable and pulled the plug last August… When we dropped back to just subscribed titles there was very little outcry, we like to think because we had carefully chosen and refined the list of subscribed titles over the years…”

“We are also canceling many Elsevier titles this year. Some professors are upset, but many are very supportive and are encouraging their fellow faculty members to publish in the less expensive titles…”

One institution offered ScienceDirect thought the cost was outrageous, and after meeting with the faculty library committee concluded that the “price was ridiculous for the content” and the faculty were “happy to get anything they needed through our excellent (their word) interlibrary loan system.” When faculty ask why the library doesn’t subscribe, the library says how much it would cost: “They immediately understand our decision. We usually do add something like ‘But if you really want an Elsevier journal we can see about subscribing to that title alone.’ Haven’t had any takers on that one.”

“We dropped ScienceDirect this year… Results: much pissing and moaning from faculty and students alike. I smile sweetly at them and ask what they would prefer to see cut instead, givent hat we were quoted a CY2004 price between $200,000 and $300,000.” (This from a smaller university.) “Most seem surprised but understanding or resigned, when they hear what it would have cost. A few have wondered aloud how Elsevier manages to sell its product at all.”

There’s more, but that’s the overall tone.

PLoS and the Sabo Bill

In January 2004, the Association of American Publishers issued a three-page statement, Copyright and public access to Federally-funded scientific research: The erroneous premise of open-access advocates and H.R. 2613. After summarizing the argument in favor of H.R. 2613 (the Sabo bill, which would exclude copyright for results of federally-funded research), the document says, in bold face:

The key points to understand, however, are that copyright promotes public access to the results of federally-funded scientific research, and that H.R.2613 would overturn federal laws and policies that (1) trust copyright to provide the incentives for public dissemination and access while (2) reserving a fallback right for government intervention in the extraordinary event that copyright in a journal article actually prevents such research results from being publicly disseminated and accessed.

That’s followed by seven bullet paragraphs asserted as “facts” and a two-paragraph conclusion. The facts, paraphrased for brevity, with some comments:

Ø    Copyright protection does not extend to any fact, idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery…copyright in an article protects only the author’s original expression. That’s true. It’s also beside the point: If the articles are not readily accessible, the facts in them are not readily accessible.

Ø    Federal law explicitly prohibits copyright for any work of the Federal government, but that prohibition does not extend to works funded by the U.S. government but authored by non-government personnel. Also true—which is why the Sabo bill was proposed. (Note that I don’t believe the Sabo bill is a good idea, at least as presently written, and that I also think it’s a red herring in the whole open-access discussion.)

Ø    General policy allows recipients of Federal funding awards to copyright works developed under such awards, provided that the awarding agencies reserve a royalty-free, nonexclusive and irrevocable right to reproduce, publish or otherwise use the work for Federal purposes and to authorize others to do so. Also true, and one wonders whether the copyright transfers signed by authors include that provision.

Ø    The Federal Acquisition Regulation includes a similar “balance.”

Ø    “The fact that publication in a reputable scientific journal is effectively equivalent to official government dissemination of research results is explicitly acknowledged in federal regulations.” That may be true and provides a loophole for copyright transfer but doesn’t speak to the point of wide access.

Ø    The “Grants Policy Statement” of the National Institutes for Health follows similar guidelines.

Ø    The model advocated by the PLoS recognizes that copyright adheres in scientific research articles, and requires an open-access license (a Creative Commons license or something fairly similar) as part of publication. Again, so what?

The conclusion begins, “Current Federal laws and policies recognize that copyright provides strong incentives for the creation and dissemination of scientific papers based on the results of federally-funded research.” But there’s nothing in the bullet points (at least that I can see) that makes any such claim. Federal laws and policy may allow for the odd situation in which, if you do your work in a U.S. Government lab, the resulting papers are in the public domain while, if you do the same work, with the same funding, in a university or private lab, the papers are covered by copyright. Where is the evidence that that peculiarity is a deliberate recognition that copyright provides incentives for creation and dissemination?

The next sentence makes a claim that is also not in evidence: “They establish workable arrangements that facilitate both public access to scientific literature and the right of researchers to assert copyright in the articles they write to publish such results in scientific journals.” Workable? It’s increasingly clear that even scholarly access to scientific literature is breaking down, and the forced assignment of copyright to publishers is part of that breakdown. Is copyright required in order to publish articles? I’m guessing that researchers in government labs also produce publishable research.

As far as I can see, the AAP statement has an odd disconnect between the evidence and the conclusions. I would regard it as an unsatisfactory research paper—but then, I’m no scientist. I don’t believe it’s particularly satisfactory as argumentation against the Sabo bill, either, even though I’m on the same side.

More members and grants

On March 15, a press release announced that 51 members of the Oberlin Group of Liberal Arts College Libraries have become institutional members of the Public Library of Science. That’s not all of the Oberlin Group members, but it does include institutions such as Amherst, Bowdoin, Bryn Mawr, Kenyon, Swarthmore, both Trinity College of Hartford, Connecticut and Trinity University of San Antonio, Texas, Wellesley, Whittier—and, of course, Oberlin.

Two weeks later, the University of California libraries announced their membership.

Both press releases included an interesting paragraph (with trivial changes) that relate to some attacks on open access (see related perspective):

PLoS provides a partial or complete publication-charge waiver for any author who requests it, no questions asked, regardless of whether the author is affiliated with an institution that is a PLoS member, Any such request is shielded from all PLoS editors and reviewers. [Emphasis added.]

In late March, the Open Society Institute and PLoS announced a new grants program to support OA publishing in developing and transition countries. These grants will reduce the cost of institutional membership in these developing nations (from Albania to Zimbabwe, with states as advanced as Turkey, South Africa, and Hungary included); all institutional memberships cover publication charges for all researchers within the institution.


An editorial in the April 2004 PLoS Biology deals with the question, “Who pays for open access?” The editorial points out that publication charges are not a phenomenon unique to open access: “Many authors regularly pay several thousands of dollars in page charges, color charges, correction costs, reprint costs, and other fees to their publisher, even when such costs are entirely voluntary.” For example, most authors with articles in EMBO Journal pay more than $800 in excess page fees. A survey of authors in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which already opens papers to free access after six months, found that almost half of the authors would be willing to pay $500 or more to make their papers freely available immediately on publication—and this is in a journal where, on average, the author pays around $1,700 in page charges.

So far, PLoS Biology is finding that roughly 10% of authors request fee waivers—and most of those offer to pay part of the fee. (The editorial also repeats key points—that there’s an absolute firewall between waivers and peer review, and that waivers are granted upon request, no questions asked.)

PLoS also produced a fascinating “brief overview,” Publishing Open-Access Journals, in February 2004. It should be available at It includes a breakdown of PLoS’s production costs for published articles (which seem on the high side, but then so is their publication charge). There’s also extensive discussion of how to go about running an open-access journal. Worth reading.


Begin with an article I probably don’t have access to, but would dearly love to read: Mohamed Gad-el Hak’s “Publish or perish—an ailing enterprise” in Physics Today 57:3. According to the February 22 note in the Open Access News weblog, Gad-el-Hak “pens a scathing critique of the scholarly publishing enterprise, citing familiar maladies such as excessive publication, cut-and-paste or recycled publications…and shoddily-edited manuscripts.” Gad-el-Hak looks at his own small segment of science, fluid mechanics, and finds “more than 200 periodicals and perhaps half a dozen worth reading.” He believes that researchers should publish less often and that libraries and buyers should be more discriminating. Six out of 200? That’s even less than the “5%-10%” estimate for first-rank journals that I used in the May 2004 “Crawford Files.”

Philip M. Davis proposed a worthwhile initiative at last year’s Charleston Conference: an eResources Value Site, where those libraries and consortia able (and willing) to do so could provide cost data, usage data, relevant access details, and appropriate size/classification information about an institution—all in the interest of developing awareness of actual pricing within STM journal access. His first-rate speech turns into an excellent brief article in D-Lib Magazine 10:2 (February 2004), “Fair publisher pricing, confidentiality clauses and a proposal to even the economic playing field.” The article is highly recommended and I hope Davis finds a way to bring this model for price awareness to fruition. (

Finally, Elaine Nowick (Nebraska) and Claudine Arnold Jenda (Auburn) offer a first-rate overview of the library STM crisis, some steps toward solutions, and the need for libraries to be more active in a refereed article in Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship, Winter 2004: “Libraries stuck in the middle: Reactive vs. proactive responses to the science journal crisis.” You’ll find it at; it’s highly recommended. The authors write well, know their stuff, are willing to say the hard things, and offer some real examples of (small) partial solutions. This one’s a keeper: Go read it. (I’m not offering an extensive summary both because there’s so much material in this 14-page paper and because I want you to read the original—which is also true for Philip Davis’ piece.)

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 4, Number 7, Whole Issue 50, ISSN 1534-0937, is written and produced Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at RLG. Opinions hereindo not reflect those of RLG. Comments should be sent to Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large is copyright © 2004 by Walt Crawford: Some rights reserved.

All original material in this work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California 94305, USA.