Library Access to Scholarship
Signs along the Way
Library access to scholarship isn’t just about open access, even though OA-related issues make up the bulk of this occasional section. It’s about budget equity (is money available for reasonably-priced monographs in the humanities?), format equity (which cuts both ways, given the apparent disdain of a few academic librarians for print and the historical record), the long view and more.
What’s happening? Briefly, Harvard Law has adopted an OA mandate that may be even stronger than Harvard Arts & Sciences; Stanford has adopted an OA mandate; publishers continue to grouse about the NIH green-OA semi-mandate; the number and significance of full-OA journals continue to grow; and institutional repositories continue to be problematic for any number of reasons.
I started out planning to devote most of this edition to ongoing controversies, many artificial—but a group of “interesting items” at the start turned into the article itself. Maybe next time. Meanwhile, a look at a few interesting items, one of them distinctly newsworthy, from the past ten months.
A workplace note: PALINET Leadership Network, pln.palinet.org, now has a cluster of articles on open access, a cluster that should grow and improve over time. PLN is free and open to anyone who thinks they are or might become leaders.
Wayne Bivens-Tatum posted this on October 1, 2007 at Academic librarian (blogs.princeton.edu/librarian/). He notes a post on ACRLog about the difference between words and deeds among faculty when it comes to access—and among librarians too.
This problem has bothered me for a long time… Years ago I decided that whenever possible I would write only for open access library journals. As an academic librarian who has discussed these issues with professors and tried to promote the idea of open access, I have also wondered why so few library journals are openly accessible.
That includes the offerings from the ALA… It especially bothered me that the ACRL publications weren’t openly accessible, though that seems to be changing. C&RL is mostly accessible now…
Back to Fister’s question, why don’t we put our words into action? I suspect it’s for the same reason most other fields don’t. If one has to publish to keep one’s job, and publishing in the most respected journals is the best way to impress people, then that’s where people will try to publish if they can. Why take a chance on Library Philosophy and Practice or E-JASL when you can publish in standard journals like the Journal of Academic Librarianship that people have heard of. I suspect that fear keeps people from changing, the fear that publishing in a little known journal won’t look as good come review time.
That summarizes one key problem for OA journals quite neatly, and it’s a tough problem to overcome. I should include the closing line—which, with two grotesque exceptions, is true: “There is one silver lining to this cloud. At least library journals don’t cost $10K a volume.” (Actually, Library Management and Library Review both cost more than $10K a year.)
That’s the question T. Scott asks in a January 24, 2008 post at T. Scott (tscott.typepad.com), discussing email he received inviting him to join the advisory board for a new journal. He’d never heard of the journal or the publisher, Scientific Journals International. When he checked, he found that the editorial advisory board for the journal was indeed impressive and long—but something didn’t feel right:
My first clue that something was amiss comes in the 2nd paragraph of the email:
The volunteer Advisory Board provides advice and guidance for the ongoing development of SJI. The members receive periodic emails about the developments of various SJI journals. There are no regular responsibilities for the Advisory Board members. Occasionally, you will receive an email that requests your input on new ideas, decisions or changes in the policies, procedures and guidelines of SJI. If you feel that the issue is not in your area of interest (since SJI publishes journals in all disciplines), or if you do not have the time, you can simply disregard the message.
What a deal! List my membership on the advisory board on my CV, and then ignore all of the messages that I get from them.
Nowhere on the website could I find any indication of who is actually behind these journals. There's a business address in St. Cloud, Minnesota, but no one is named.
I starting looking into the various journals---there are many. Turns out that very few of them have actually published any articles. Click on a journal title and most of them will say: "Coming soon..." As soon as they get some submissions, I suppose.
So what's the scam? Open access, I'm sorry to say. The opening page reeks of a high-minded dedication to assisting "researchers, writers and artists to cope with the publish or perish reality in the academia." They promise rapid turnaround and quick peer review.
Of course, they have to charge a processing fee… They point out that their processing charge is much lower than what various other open access publishers charge—just $99.95 (add $99.95 for each additional author). Somehow, I don't think they're viewing this as an incentive to limit the number of authors per paper…
It's got to be the open access movement's worst nightmare, living proof of the most hysterical charges leveled by the most rabid opponents. Do the people who have signed on to these advisory boards think that they're supporting open access by lending credence to this?
Go to the site, you see “more than 100 peer-reviewed open-access journals” and this truly odd statement: “Names of the chief editor or associated editors are not published on SJI Web site. Authors or reviewers cannot contact the editors to influence the review process deliberately or unintentionally.” I must admit that I’ve never heard of a journal hiding its editors’ names for any reason, much less this purported reason—particularly while touting its huge advisory and review boards. A fair number of journals do have issues—but there’s an odd feel to the whole thing.
It’s not the only one. Near the end of March 2008, thousands of us received a list post asking for our involvement in a new open-access “society” aiming to launch 350 OA journals by the end of 2009. This society also plans to have “world summits.” The website is an astonishing piece of work, one that scarcely inspires confidence on the seriousness of the enterprise.
For all I know, SJI and the “society” (which shall go nameless) are both entirely legitimate, just misunderstood. And the library field certainly has its own subscribe-now/publish-later publishers using the traditional methods. But it’s certainly true that efforts such as this give off, at best, mixed messages.
I have no such qualms about this one: a Wiki serving as “a compendium of simple factual lists about open access (OA) to science and scholarship, maintained by the OA community at large.”
By bringing many OA-related lists together in one place, OAD will make it easier for everyone to discover them and use them for reference. The easier they are to maintain and discover, the more effectively they can spread useful, accurate information about OA.
That’s from the main page, at oad.simmons.edu/oadwiki/. Peter Suber and Robin Peek (Peek teaches at Simmons’ Graduate School of Library and Information Science) launched the wiki in April 2008 (work clearly began before then—more than 60 pages were created before April 20, 2008, although some of those are stub pages). Early content came from lists that Peter Suber has been maintaining; more are being added over time.
If you’re interested in OA, OAD should be in your Firefox favorites or IE bookmarks. It’s worth noting that a “list” at OAD isn’t typically just a bunch of bullet points—it’s a bunch of bullet links, e.g. “Institutions that support open access.” In some cases, each link is to a page within OAD—for example, the under-development “University actions” list (which needs some copyediting) already includes more than 20 institutions, each with a detailed description (and links) of what the institution has done to date.
What is not in OAD, by design: “The lists will not include articles, narratives, opinions, or graphics.” In other words, this is facts—leaving plenty of room for opinion elsewhere. It is also, by design, a “historical record for the OA movement.”
Since OAD is a MediaWiki wiki, you can find out a lot about how it’s being put together and used. That’s a good thing, particularly for a platform within the “open movement.” As you might expect, content in OAD is licensed under the Creative Commons “Attribution” license—you can use any of it in any way you choose, as long as you credit the original.
Go. Look at it. Use it. If you’re one who can do so, register and add to it. Good stuff.
And yes, it is free of argumentation. Which in this case is as it should be.
(Thanks to Charles W. Bailey, Jr. I saw the announcement first in his DigitalKoans post, although that may be an accident of alphabetization in my Bloglines list.)
What constitutes open access? Is Cites & Insights an open access journal? (It’s not scholarly, so the point may be moot, but…)
That depends. Here’s the first paragraph of Peter Suber’s April 29, 2008 post at Open access news (www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/)
The term "open access" is now widely used in at least two senses. For some, "OA" literature is digital, online, and free of charge. It removes price barriers but not permission barriers. For others, "OA" literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of unnecessary copyright and licensing restrictions. It removes both price barriers and permission barriers. It allows reuse rights which exceed fair use.
There’s a tricky word in that second definition: “unnecessary.” For some advocates, the only plausible restriction is attribution—and when it comes to datamining, that may not even be a reasonable restriction. Still, it’s a start—and C&I qualifies under the first but not the second. (I think there may be another distinction: Neither definition addresses datamining barriers. As PDF documents, Cites & Insights issues don’t lend themselves to datamining, and I’ve heard that raised in other cases as an objection.)
In any case, Suber and Harnad (who, for better and worse, are the two big names in OA) have come to a compromise (Harnad favors the first definition, Suber the second):
We have agreed to use the term "weak OA" for the removal of price barriers alone and "strong OA" for the removal of both price and permission barriers. To me, the new terms are a distinct improvement upon the previous state of ambiguity because they label one of those species weak and the other strong. To Stevan, the new terms are an improvement because they make clear that weak OA is still a kind of OA.
A little more:
Stevan and I agree that weak OA is a necessary but not sufficient condition of strong OA. We agree that weak OA is often attainable in circumstances when strong OA is not attainable. We agree that weak OA should not be delayed until we can achieve strong OA. We agree that strong OA is a desirable goal above and beyond weak OA. We agree that the desirability of strong OA is a reason to keep working after attaining weak OA, but not a reason to disparage the difficulties or the significance of weak OA…
We agree that there is more than one kind of permission barrier to remove, and therefore that there is more than one kind or degree of strong OA.
We agree that the green/gold distinction refers to venues (repositories and journals), not rights. Green OA can be strong or weak, but is usually weak. Gold OA can be strong or weak, but is also usually weak.
So where does C&I fit? It can’t get much more explicit than this:
An article with a CC-NC license is strong OA because it allows some copying and redistribution beyond fair use (even if it doesn't allow all copying and redistribution). My own preference is still for the CC-BY license, but we shouldn't speak as if CC-NC were not strong OA or as if there were just one kind of strong OA.
Thus, other than the non-scholarly angle, C&I is strong OA—but not as strong as it could be, since I still include the “NC” clause.
Later, Suber and Harnad realized that they picked “infelicitous terms” for the distinction. As of this writing, they appear to have settled on “gratis” and “libre”—the first for what they were calling “weak OA” (removing price barriers to access) and the second for what they were calling “strong OA” (removing price and permission barriers). I can’t say the terms do much for me, but I’m not the intended audience.
Richard Poynder has been producing an impressive set of interviews and other posts at Open and shut? (poynder.blogspot.com), fleshing out the contemporary history of OA and its leaders. This piece appeared June 11, 2008; it’s four pages long with another five pages of comments. It is well worth reading in the original, as Poynder attempts to address a hard-to-answer question that’s fairly vital to libraries attempting to maintain and improve access to scholarship.
Namely, what’s all this actually cost? “All this” meaning the actual costs of publishing papers—which may not be in the same league as costs claimed by commercial publishers. As Poynder notes, some high-profile gold OA journals have substantially increased their article-processing charges: Biomed Central has gone from $525 in 2001 to $1,700-$1,900; PLoS went from $1,500 to $2,100-$2.750.
Read the article carefully and skeptically. One claim from the UK seems improbable on its face—that somehow moving from subscription-based publishing to OA publishing would increase the total cost of the system, which can only be true if existing profits and corporate overhead not only stay in the system but actually increase.
Poynder does provide one apparently-real number, from the American Physical Society. Joe Serene, APS’ treasurer/publisher, says it costs $1,500 to publish the electronic version of a paper, split roughly equally in five parts:
Editorial costs (including peer review)
Electronic composition and production
Journal information systems, "which support everything from manuscript receipt through electronic posting, mirroring, and archiving of the published papers"
Central publication management
Essential overhead expenses
One could poke at those figures, to be sure—but it would be much more worthwhile to have some other sets of numbers from other publishers (including university publishers and smaller societies).
So the question remains: Can OA reduce the costs associated with scholarly communication? If so, how, and when? If not, what are the implications of this for the "scholarly communication crisis?" These are important questions. But without accurate numbers to crunch we really cannot answer them adequately. Wouldn't it be great therefore if other publishers decided to be as "open" as APS in discussing their costs?
One thing is for sure: If OA ends up simply shifting the cost of scholarly communication from journal subscriptions to APCs without any reduction in overall expenditure, and inflation continues unabated, many OA advocates will be sorely disappointed. And if that were to happen, then we can surely expect to see calls for a more radical reengineering of the scholarly communication system.
Poynder gets that last paragraph right. In the comments, Julian Fisher says the true costs of e-publishing are “frighteningly low”—he says “two orders of magnitude less than many publishers are charging.” Fisher’s article making that case appears in the Spring 2008 Journal of Electronic Publishing; you can find it at hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.3336451.0011.204. The article comes up with estimates of $64 to $76 per article—but you need to read the article carefully and consider the assumptions.
T. Scott pushes on difficult issues in this June 12, 2008 post at T. Scott.
We often have a tendency to glibly think (in the world of scholarly publishing, at least) that nothing of significance happens between the completion of peer review and the appearance of the published version (whether that be in print or digital form). Some of the ire directed against publishers (in the vein of, "the authors don't get compensated, the editors and peer reviewers work for free, and then you have the audacity to charge me for the final product?") stems from this fundamental misunderstanding. But, as Tom Richardson pointed out in his presentation at CILIPS last week, at the New England Journal of Medicine (along with most other publishers), there is an army of copy-editors and illustrators and fact-checkers who come into play after the article has been accepted, all of whose skills are needed to put that article into final form and make sure that the authors' intent is conveyed in the very best way possible. You can't do that kind of work with volunteers.
And then there's the matter of getting somebody's attention. Take any article from the latest issue of NEJM, Nature, or JAMA. Do you really think that if you posted it on a website and invited comments (even in some mediated way so that it approximated serious peer review), and used those comments to modify and further develop the piece, it would get anywhere near the attention that it would get from having been published in one of the high-profile journals? We have a tendency to ignore the critical importance of brand in helping people make their way through the morass of content that is available.
There’s more. I don’t agree with everything here—e.g., is it really the case that most commercial STM publishers do rigorous fact-checking on scholarly articles?
Still, Scott’s saying something here that needs to be considered. (Please note: I’m referring to the June 12, 2008 post with the title above. There’s another OA-related June 12, 2008 post, and I’m nowhere nearly as enthusiastic about that one, partly because in my experience the other author referred to very definitely has axes to grind and has been grinding them for years.)
Full title: A Look Back at Nineteen Years as an Internet Digital Publisher. Author: Charles W. Bailey, Jr. (www.digital-scholarship.org/cwb/nineteenyears.htm). It prints out as six pages.
Get it. Read it. Here’s the introduction:
In 1989, the Internet was much more fragmented than it is today, and the primary information access tools were e-mail, FTP, mailing lists, and Usenet newsgroups. In March 1989, Tim Berners-Lee wrote "Information Management: A Proposal," which tried to persuade CERN officials to support a global hypertext system (it was not called the World Wide Web until October 1990, when he coded the first server and browser). Gopher servers, which represented a significant advance in information access, would not become available until 1991, and NCSA Mosaic, an early Web browser that ignited interest in the Web, until 1993.
In June 1989, I began my scholarly digital publishing efforts, launching one of the first e-journals on the Internet, The Public-Access Computer Systems Review: a journal that, if it has been published today, would be called an "open access journal," since it was freely available, allowed authors to retain their copyrights, and had special copyright provisions for noncommercial use.
The paper includes an abbreviated chronology of Bailey’s digital publishing efforts—starting with the PACS-L mailing list (the list started six weeks before the journal was announced—the first actual journal issue arrived in January 1990) and continuing through June 2008.
I don’t remember just when I signed on to PACS-L. According to the list archive, I posted my first message on July 28, 1989. I do remember being on the editorial board for The Public-Access Computer Systems Review (“PACS Review”) throughout its history—and contributing a column, “Public-Access Provocations,” in twelve of the issues during the journal’s five substantial years. I also prepared the print versions of the first five volumes, issued as paperbacks through LITA. While PACS Review wasn’t the first OA journal—that was probably New Horizons in Adult Education, which began in 1987—it was one of the pioneers. (Noteworthy: Volume 2, Number 1 of PACS Review, in 1991, included a cluster of eight articles on early OA journals.) Technically, PACS Review wasn’t peer-reviewed until late 1991.
For PACS Review, publishing an internet journal meant distributing ASCII files using list software: Not the most beautiful results, but it worked and yielded some excellent work at very little cost.
That was only part of Bailey’s involvement. He also published an early directory of “Library-Oriented Lists and Electronic Serials,” and in 1996 began publishing the Scholarly Electronic Publishing Bibliography, a free ebook that’s in its 73rd version as of July 2, 2008.
There’s more, to be sure, and I refer you to Bailey’s own history for the rest. He’s been a pioneer in the field, has provided sustained energy and clarity—and I’m proud to call him a friend.
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