University Publishing Goes Digital – and Science Takes its Toys and Leaves

Ithaka has just come out with a report on university publishing that librarians should read. It’s not just about university presses, but discusses how institutions of higher learning handle “the communication and broad dissemination of knowledge” – and yes, libraries are part of it.

According to the report, and it’s no surprise, “the lines between formal and informal publication are breaking down.” The rise of electronic means of communication are changing the way scholars share knowledge but presses have had trouble adapting to that fast-changing reality. After conducting many interviews, the authors of the report concluded that administrators feel detached, publishers’ responses vary from business-as-usual to seeking new alliances, and librarians – they’re into it. The authors of the study found “a high level of energy and excitement from librarians about reinventing their role on campus to meet the evolving needs of their constituents.” Though critical of presses, librarians also seemed very supportive of their mission. The report concludes with a list of recommendations and several appendices, including an interesting comparison of libraries and university presses strengths and weaknesses. (One strength of libraries: their budgets are much larger than university presses’ and so they can afford to experiment. One weakness – they don’t know how to market what they do.) Among other things, the report recommends more cooperation on campus, better alignment of institutional goals with their publishing efforts, and more collaboration in creating large-scale platforms across institutions.

Ironically, Inside Higher Ed reports the AAAS is no longer interested in being part of one of the earliest and most successful platforms. It’s withdrawing its prestigious journal Science from JSTOR, the first case of a publisher withdrawing. This will not affect issues already in the archive, but will mean no more will be added. Apparently, it’s all about business.

In a statement, Science said that “our strategic planning must reflect a business environment that is in a constant state of transition, one that has recently seen dramatic technological and competitive changes.” More scientific societies are “digitizing and controlling their own content, and AAAS shares the belief that it is now time to assume the full responsibility for maintaining a complete electronic archive of its flagship publication.”

In other words, Science is now ready to handle their content by themselves and wants a monopoly. Taking responsibility for having a complete archive shouldn’t interfere with making that content available elsewhere – but sharing is not in their business interests.

Once again, the goal of broad dissemination gets mugged by Mamon. Obviously, we still have some kinks to work out in the digital scholarship landscape.

About Barbara Fister

I'm an academic librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Like all librarians at our small, liberal arts institution I am involved in reference, collection development, and shared management of the library. My area of specialization is instruction, with research interests also in media literacy, popular literacy, publishing, and assessment.

6 thoughts on “University Publishing Goes Digital – and Science Takes its Toys and Leaves

  1. I don’t think that Science is the first publisher to withdraw from JSTOR. Didn’t Duke do that several years ago?

  2. According to the IHE story, they’re the first. “Since JSTOR’s founding in 1994, the popular online archive of scholarly journals hadn’t had a single member publisher decide to walk away — until this month.”

    Duke is listed on JSTOR’s list of participating publishers. The AAAS is, too, so it may be out of date.

  3. Scott McLemee has a thoughtful post about this report over at Inside Higher Ed. It follows on a previous essay about how a scholar is winnowing his books because he can now put his hands on quotes and other bits of books that he has previously read, and that capability has reduced his need to store the physical volumes on his office shelves – though it doesn’t reduce the need for the library to have them. McLemee thinks a university-press-run collaborative would help because it would be not commercial but for scholars.

    He also says scholars should pay attention even if the report isn’t written expressly for them. I agree.

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