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

Selection from Cites & Insights 5, Number 1: January 2005

Library Access to Scholarship

Walt Crawford

2004 saw much debate and some progress on library access issues and scholarly access in general. This roundup begins with a fairly solid step forward for scholarly access, followed by an apparently-faltering step and a variety of notes and papers.

NIH: Moving Forward

Quoting from Peter Suber’s NIH open-access plan, frequently asked questions ( fos/nihfaq.htm) as downloaded October 14, 2004:

On July 14, 2004, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee adopted a set of recommendations for next year’s federal budget. One key recommendation would have the effect of providing open access (OA) to articles based on research grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Here are the most important specific provisions from the report:

Ø Articles based on NIH-funded research must be deposited in PubMed Central (PMC) at the time they are accepted by a peer-reviewed journal for publication.

Ø PMC will provide open access to the article six months after the article is published.

Ø The committee directs NIH to submit a plan by December 1, 2004, to implement this recommendation in FY2005.

On September 3, 2004, the NIH released its plan, Enhanced public access to NIH research information, for a 60 day period of public comment ending on November 2.

On September 17, 2004, the NIH published the same text in the Federal Register, for another 60 day period of public comment ending on November 16.

I quote from Suber’s FAQ because it’s a detailed commentary on the NIH plan and because (as I noted in a September 2004 Library Access to Scholarship) the NIH plan had slipped entirely under my faulty radar until late August. I devoted two pages in Cites & Insights 4:13 (November 2004) to action and discussion on the plan. It was attacked by some editors as “socialized science,” supported by many within the scientific community, and misinterpreted as most OA proposals are misinterpreted.

The original House report called for immediate open access if the NIH paid any part of the costs of an article’s publication. NIH’s draft dropped that provision. The proposal isn’t true OA, given the six-month embargo. It’s a centralized, delayed modification of green (OAI) access. According to Suber’s FAQ, no journal has said it would refuse to accept articles based on NIH-funded research. A preliminary estimate of NIH costs to carry out this initiative comes to $2.5 million, “about 0.008% of the NIH’s [$28 billion] annual budget.” (That’s American billions: thousands of millions.)

The NIH plan is a modest step. That didn’t stop publishers from raising objections. The PSP prepared a template “grassroots memo” for members to use opposing the NIH plan. Peter Suber’s comment (Open Access News, October 22, 2004): “[The template] must be intended for external constituents, since it makes claims about the NIH and its OA plan that the NIH will know to be false.”

The template begins by calling the NIH plan “the proposed radical new policy” and includes some highly questionable assertions. Six-month-deferred access will cause people to cancel subscriptions, which will force publishers to institute author fees. Loss of overseas subscriptions will jeopardize U.S.-based journals and “ultimately could force U.S. taxpayers to foot the bill for open access by readers around the world, and will provide a windfall benefit for those corporations and institutions that now willingly purchase and benefit from (but do not themselves produce and publish) original research.” Further, the NIH has not “clarified” the cost of “implementing this government-operated repository.” Except that PubMed Central has already been implemented and NIH has offered an estimate of the costs of the initiative. The template goes on to claim that the issue is not access. It adds a set of “questions the NIH has not addressed,” most of which appear to be typical anti-OA red herrings. For example, one bullet raises issues of academic freedom and the authors’ right to select journals for publication—neither of which is affected by the NIH proposal. Another bullet comes close to stating as simple fact that access with a six-month embargo after publication will put societies out of business and force adoption of author-paid publishing. Somehow, “journals with longer publication cycles” will be especially damaged by a clock that starts ticking after publication. It’s an astonishing document, encouraging PSP members to proliferate a series of bad arguments.

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) issued its own FAQ (signed by Prue Adler, associate executive director) on October 25, 2004. (www.arl. org/info/openaccess/ARLFAQ.html) This FAQ explicitly says the NIH proposal “is not an open access proposal.” The brief FAQ (two print pages) is clear and to the point, and certainly answers most questions raised in the PSP “grassroots” template. Four days later, Adler wrote to NIH on behalf of ARL, expressing the association’s strong support for the proposal, focusing on six issues, “how the proposal: reflects the way scientists conduct research and discovery; allows some libraries to provide additional resources to their users; creates an archival resource for biomedical literature funded by NIH; provides significant protections to commercial and not-for-profit publishers; follows congressional and administration policy; and expands and improves public access to biomedical information.”

The SPARC open access newsletter 79 [SOAN] (November 2, 2004) begins with a “brief update on NIH plan.” In that essay, Peter Suber predicted that the conference committee to reconcile FY2005 appropriations “will leave the House recommendation intact” and notes that NIH will be free to adopt the plan in any case—unless the committee approves language opposing the plan.

Elsevier provided its own response to NIH in mid-November, one that seems to mirror the PSP template in suggesting dire threats to the “finely balanced, high quality system [of STM publishing] that works well” if a six-month access policy is established. Instead, Elsevier calls for a 15 to 18 month “guideline” and urges NIH “not to make any requests of authors within the first year after publication.” This is exceedingly odd given that Elsevier claims to support green OA immediately upon publication—although, admittedly, in institutional repositories rather than the centralized PubMed Central.

Also in November, the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers released a comment opposing the NIH plan, raising the same set of questionable objections. Meanwhile, Nobel laureates, more than 600 patient advocacy organizations, SPARC, ALA, and many others outside the STM publishing industry sent expressions of support.

On November 20, the appropriations conference committee acted. As cited in SOAN 80 (December 2, 2004), this language was included:

The conferees are aware of the draft NIH policy on increasing public access to NIH-funded research. Under this policy, NIH would request investigators to voluntarily submit electronically the final, peer reviewed author's copy of their scientific manuscripts; six months after the publisher's date of publication, NIH would make this copy publicly available through PubMed Central. The policy is intended to help ensure the permanent preservation of NIH-funded research and make it more readily accessible to scientists, physicians, and the public. The conferees note the comment period for the draft policy ended November 16th; NIH is directed to give full and fair consideration to all comments before publishing its final policy. The conferees request NIH to provide the estimated costs of implementing this policy each year in its annual Justification of Estimates to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. In addition, the conferees direct NIH to continue to work with the publishers of scientific journals to maintain the integrity of the peer review system.

Peter Suber notes that this language says NIH would “request” deposit of works and deposit would be “voluntary.” That’s not the original mandate, but the draft plan promises to monitor deposits and could remove future funding from those who do not deposit articles. “The conferees said nothing to discourage that kind of monitoring or that consequence of non-compliance.” Suber also notes that the concern in working with publishers is “to maintain the integrity of the peer review system,” not profits, surpluses, or the existing publication model. “Despite intense lobbying by publishers, the conferees did not oppose the plan, delay it, or modify it. They did not even remain silent about it…”

Suber goes on to say that we won’t see results immediately, given the way NIH funding works. Nonetheless, “this is the largest single step toward free online access in the history of the OA movement,” given that NIH is the world’s largest funder of medical research. (That same issue of SOAN includes three pages of links to comments and stories on the NIH plan.)

That’s where things stand now. Barring surprises, the world’s biomedical literature should become significantly more accessible beginning late next year. It’s not a revolution, but it is the single largest evolutionary step to date. (It’s worth noting that the Wellcome Trust, a major research-funding agency, plans to mandate OA archiving on a similar six-month-delay basis.)

UK: Standing Still

Here’s one I did cover to some extent: Hearings by the UK’s House of Commons Science and Technology Committee on STM publishing, resulting in a set of recommendations. Notes on the hearings appear in a Library Access Perspective in Cites & Insights 4:7 (June 2004), pages 12-20. The committee issued an impressive report from those hearings, Scientific publications: Free for all?. I offered brief notes from the 107-page document, some of the 82 recommendations, and a few responses in Cites & Insights 4:11 (September 2004), pages 13-16.

The UK report also called for green OA with an independent study on the virtues of gold OA. While perhaps more radical than the modest NIH proposal, the UK report was not revolutionary or designed to overturn Elsevier and its friends—but it might as well have been, for all the reports and the response. The government did not receive the report with open arms. As reported at on November 4, “The UK government has rejected calls from an influential committee...” The government response appeared to dismiss OA models. Members of the committee were unhappy. Chair Ian Gibson said, “The [department of trade and industry] is apparently more interested in kowtowing to the powerful publishing lobby than it is in looking after the best interests of British science.” The UK Publishers Association and Reed Elsevier both welcomed the government response. (Elsevier spokeswoman Catherine May added, “Obviously we do have enormous sympathy for the position of academic librarians whose budgets are under pressure.” Under pressure by no publisher more than Elsevier, to be sure.) The government response says, “The government is not aware that there are major problems in accessing scientific information, or that there is a large unsatisfied demand for this.” The government also rejected the committee’s call for an independent government-supported study into OA publishing.

Richard Wray put it this way in a November 9 analysis in The Guardian:

The government yesterday threw away an opportunity to carry out a thorough review of the way scientific research is disseminated. Instead of engaging constructively with the Commons science and technology committee and assessing the potential impact of moves toward “open access” to research, the government—led by the department of trade and industry—sided with the traditional subscriptions-based journal publishers.

Wray faults the government for failing to “properly read the report” and says the response “seems to have been based on a non sequitur.” He describes the two OA routes briefly and notes that the committee primarily recommended green OA (self-archiving) with a coordinated network of repositories—but the government’s rationale for dismissing self-archiving was based on arguments against gold (“author-pays”) OA publishing.

Malcolm Morgan (a media analyst at Investek [UK]) celebrated the government response in a Media Week [UK] piece. His thoughtful comment: “Hurray! The needless undermining of a robust UK industry ultimately serves no one.” He notes that the response “goes out of its way to praise Reed Elsevier—the ‘Evil Empire’ of the open-access debate—for the level of investment being made in digital development for the industry…” He suggests that academic publishers ought to “tread carefully and not trumpet…price increases so publicly in future.” Not that Elsevier and the other big UK publishers shouldn’t continue to gouge libraries, to be sure (that’s just healthy profit-taking): they should just be less open about it.

SOAN 80 discusses the government response with Peter Suber’s usual clarity and balance. “The short way to describe [the response] is that the government rejected every recommendation that required practical action or funding even if it approved some of the report’s goals ‘in principle.’” To Suber, “the true setback is that the primary recommendation for OA archiving was dismissed without any serious effort to respond to the committee’s evidence and arguments.” Meanwhile, JISC and other government agencies may move forward with OA-related initiatives already in place—but the chance for a larger-scale investigation and coordinated repository creation was lost.

Suber also compares the UK and US outcomes and offers reasons the outcomes were so different:

(1) National licenses in the UK spread journal access more uniformly throughout the country. Even though the absolute level of access is insufficient, there is less inequality of access and there may be less institutional interest in finding alternatives to the current subscription process.

(2) In the US, the NIH awards research grants and sets policy about how or under what terms to award research grants. In the UK these functions are separate. Hence it’s easier for the NIH to follow the natural interests of research funders in OA. Insofar as the UK Research Councils have been given an opening to adopt a similar policy, we can be optimistic that they will do so.

(3) The major publishers of subscription-based journals are headquartered in the UK (Elsevier, Taylor & Francis, Blackwell, and if you count Candover/Cinven, then also Springer and Kluwer) and have more lobbying clout there than in the US. It’s not clear how far this clout would have gone if everyone had appreciated the distinction between OA archiving and OA journals.

I have the committee’s “fourteenth report,” which brings together the government’s response and those of five other bodies, together with a few conclusions and recommendations. It’s 66 pages long; you can find it readily enough on the internet. I’m too lazy to go through the government response (36 pages) in any detail. It is worth noting that the Consortium of University Research Libraries (CURL) and Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL) response “strongly support[s] the general thrust of [the committee’s] recommendations” and expresses specific support for many of the recommendations. A fairly long JISC response points out relevant actions that JISC has identified and intends to address, including steps to establish more institutional repositories and explore digital preservation. JISC is also funding “a study of the advantages and disadvantages of a range of different publishing models.” Full disclosure: Members of CURL are also members of RLG, my employer; thus, since RLG is a membership organization, I could be said to work indirectly for CURL members.

Short Pieces

A press release from Thomson Scientific notes their new white paper on OA journals in the ISI citation databases. The Web of Science includes 237 OA journals as of November 1, 2004—not a big chunk of the 8,700 journals in the databases, but roughly 20% of all OA journals. Since Thomson’s staff adds only about 10 to 12% of all journals evaluated (of 2,000 evaluated each year—are there really that many new refereed journals each year?), that’s a good showing.

Another press release, this time from BioOne, notes that BioOne is adding journals to the LOCKSS Program with the entire BioOne collection available within the next year. The release notes that more than 80 libraries and 50 publishers are already involved in LOCKSS.

SOAN #79 (noted above) includes a good essay, “Journals: please post your access policies.” Suber asserts (correctly) that OA isn’t going to disappear, even though models used for OA may change and some forms may not be sustainable. Given that access issues will continue, he suggests one sensible step: “Journals should post the details of their current access policies on their web sites.” He then goes on to detail why that’s a good idea and how short some journals fall of doing so now. Yes, access policies change—but changing one web page shouldn’t be that difficult. It’s a long, detailed, well-written discussion, worth reading in the original—particularly if you’re a journal publisher.

Washington DC principles for free access to science.”

I’d heard about the DC principles but hadn’t seen the slick sheet until the Charleston Conference. “The Washington DC Principles is a commitment from 50 (and growing) medical/scientific societies and publishers to provide free access and wide dissemination of published research findings.”

The sheet claims that these publishers provide “what has been called the needed ‘middle ground’ in the increasingly heated debate between those who advocate immediate unfettered online access to medical and scientific research findings and advocates of the current journal publishing system.” The central section contains the seven one-sentence principles, in one case augmented by a set of subpoints; to the left are covers from 100 journals published by those behind the principles.

“Middle ground” is an interesting claim for this group, since the members defend the “current journal publishing system” with considerable vigor. Thus principle 6: “We strongly support the principle that publication fees should not be borne solely by researchers and their funding institutions…” Then there’s principle 7: “As not-for-profit publishers, we believe that a free society allows for the co-existence of many publishing models…”—but that comes right after a principle that directly attacks the alternative model being proposed. I guess the societies mean “many publishing models as long as they’re all the traditional model.” Principle 3, the one with subpoints, lists the DC folks’ idea of “free access”: Some articles are free online immediately; full text is available after some delay; content is free to (some) low-income nations; articles are “free online through reference linking between these journals”; and content is available for indexing by major search engines. The only significant item in that list is the second, which commits the publishers to free online access “within months of publication.” How many months? That’s up to the publishers.

Apart from the hypocrisy inherent in the pairing of principles 6 and 7, the most difficult principle here is #2: “As not-for-profit publishers, we reinvest all of the revenue from our journals in the direct support of science worldwide, including scholarships, scientific meetings, grants, educational outreach, advocacy for research funding, the free dissemination of information for the public, and improvements in scientific publishing.” In other words, “we use our publishing profits to support the organization.” Not to sound like a broken record, but the only sane librarian response has to be: It’s unreasonable to demand that academic libraries foot the bill for those other society activities.

Yes, I know, most society publishers aren’t the villains in this drama; many society publishers keep prices as low as possible and expect only modest profits. That doesn’t change the facts.

Efron, Bradley, “Are print journals obsolete?” Amstat News. Downloaded October 15, 2004. ( amsn/)

Efron, president of the American Statistical Association, ponders the values of print journals and dangers to their continued existence. Although he finds himself using online versions more these days, he believes that key print journals (such as JASA, ASA’s primary journal) serve functions that pure ejournals may not do as well.

I’m sympathetic to this argument since Efron mentions browsing (still easier and faster in a set of print volumes) and pure ease of reading. He notes that the “worst factor” of print journals (page limitations) may be a boon to the profession as a whole by causing key journals to act “as magazines that direct our field’s attention rather than just report it.” He wonders about “grade inflation” in ejournal refereeing, but doesn’t dwell on that or attack ejournals.

He does quote one silly statement from a journal editor regarding the NIH plan (that nobody would purchase subscriptions to a journal if the papers were available for free six months later), but admits “Maybe that’s overblown.” But he does raise legitimate questions about losing print journals—a loss that’s not automatically inherent in any flavor of OA. ASA apparently isn’t a villain: its per-page cost is “less than one-tenth as much as some of the commercial journals.”

In the end, Efron doesn’t expect all print journals to disappear, “but they may have to improve to survive.” An interesting perspective.

Gustafson, Elyse, “IMS journals on arXiv.” Downloaded November 12, 2004. (www.

Here’s another statistics association (Institute of Mathematical Statistics) that’s made a move ASA’s considering (as noted in Efron’s piece): Posting all IMS articles in their entirety on arXiv. This two-page piece, in the form of an FAQ, briefly describes arXiv, explains why IMS has established the new policy, notes the slight differences between the arXiv versions and published journal pages, and discusses other factors. IMS has had a green OA policy for some time; the new policy makes arXiv placement part of the publication process. One answer says IMS doesn’t believe it will lose many subscriptions by placing all of its journal articles on arXiv. The FAQ encourages authors publishing in other journals to “look carefully at publisher’s contracts, and modify them as necessary to retain the right to post your own versions of the paper on your own homepage, or, what is much better for long-term access, in an open access digital repository such as arXiv.”


I’m not offering commentary or summaries. I’m just noting one article and a set of articles (the latter being freely available—but only through August 2005) that many of you will find worth reading.

Gatten, Jeffrey, N., and Tom Sanville, “An orderly retreat from the Big Deal: Is it possible for consortia?” D-Lib Magazine 10:10 (October 2004). (

Gatten is Dean of Library and Information Resources at California Institute of the Arts; Sanville is Executive Director of OhioLINK. This discussion notes OhioLINK’s “big deals,” their methodology for retreating from such deals, and the possible impacts of such retreats. Carefully done, worth reading.

Serials Review 2004, special issue on Open Access: Issues, ideas, and impact

David Goodman served as issue editor for this collection of articles, working with Connie Foster to make it happen. The articles come from some of the biggest names on several sides of the OA discussion; this is not a simple set of calls for “OA now.” I downloaded 11 of the twelve articles with plans to comment, but there’s just too much here—and you can read it all yourself. In all, it’s pages 257 through 328 of Serials Review volume 30. (Serials Review is an Elsevier publication.) I may return to these articles later; I’ve certainly saved them for use elsewhere as appropriate. A balanced editorial effort by Goodman, and a landmark special issue. Go get the articles while you can: This will be the free “sample issue” at Serials Review’s website for at least nine months after publication.


Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 5, Number 1, Whole Issue 57, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced at least monthly by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at RLG.

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