Daily Archives: March 27, 2006

Trend Or Transformation

Did you wake up thinking about the scholarly publishing crisis this morning? Probably not, because most of us are paying attention to other issues and taking for granted that someone else is doing something about the crisis. Well, this past Friday I did have the scholarly publishing crisis on my mind because I was going to a presentation by Ray English, Director of Libraries at Oberlin College. You must know Ray – he’s the latest winner of the ACRL Academic/Research Librarian of the Year award. But he’s also well known for his advocacy work in the area of the scholarly publishing crisis. As a small university library director I think less about the scholarly publishing crisis and the open access alternatives than I should. English’s presentation was the excellent overview of the issues that I needed. He covered the latest developments, the changes needed, the positive trends, and most of all, what librarians can do to create change. Here are some of the highlights:

* “It’s about access, stupid” – All the scholarly publishing crisis issues are related to access – loss of it , barriers to it, access to scholarship by users, access to publishing monographics; the failures to provide access are systemic and interrelated.

* Consolidation in the journal publishing industry produces price increases. When Elsevier acquired Pergemon, the Pergamon titles increased by 27%. When Kluwer acquired Lippincott the titles increased by 30%. See www.informationaccess.org for more info on industry consolidation.

* What if you owned this business? Someone else produces your product for you at no cost – they polish it up for you at your request – they even give you exclusive rights to it – then all you do is distribute it – and you get to sell it back to the people who produced your product at a good profit. Sounds like a pretty good business, right.

* The value of open access is that it provides better access for more readers. That access fosters science and technology progress and the growth of knowledge.

* There are signs of hope. We’re becoming more active – that’s good. This is becoming a national issue that governments are taking up. Faculty engagement in the issues is growing. There is cause for optimism – this may be resolved in our lifetimes.

That brief review doesn’t really do justice to the awareness English creates when he lectures about the scholarly publishing crisis and open access. For example, he also talked about disciplinary and institutional archives as possible alternatives for the distribution of scholarly research. Things got more interesting in the afternoon session when a panel of faculty members and a scholarly journal editor debated some of the issues with English. William Walters, collection development librarian at Millersville University previewed a paper (will be published in Journal of the ASIST in 2007) on institutional journal costs in an open access environment. How much would colleges and universities pay for their journals if all journals adopted open access pricing? He indicated that large research universities would not achieve savings in an open access model owing to the large author fees that would have to be collected to sustain the open access publications. Steven Weintraub, a scholarly journal editor and math professor at Lehigh University, spoke out against author fees. Tracey DePellegin Connelly, Managing Editor of GENETICS, talked about the costs involved in producing a journal and some open access friendly moves they are implementing.

I was fascinated by the discussion of journal impact factors. English said that the scholarly publishing crisis is systemic and has deep roots that will be difficult to change. There were some discussions about how “publish or perish” and current tenure and promotion methods contribute to the scholarly publishing crisis. I will finish with this anecdote from the program that relates to these issues. I commented to Walters that his choice of ASIST for an article on open access struck me as odd. I suggested that D-Lib or First Monday would have seemed more appropriate venues for his research – and that these open access journals would allow his article to reach a wide audience and many more practitioners that need this information. I asked Walters what influenced his decision to publish this article in ASIST rather than the other two. His answer was simple. He said, “impact factor”.