Scholarly Publishing: Still Not Making Sense

A little bit more than a year ago ACRLog covered the Research Works Act, legislation that intended to stop federal funding agencies from requiring grantees to make the results of their research freely available to all. Luckily, RWA was quickly withdrawn, thanks to pressure from academics and librarians worldwide. However, the scholarly publishing universe continues to be prone to sudden outbursts of strange, even surreal, behavior.

A few days ago we got a tip from Todd Gilman, Librarian for Literature in English at Yale University, with a link to a post by Brian Leiter detailing the lawsuit that Edwin Mellen Press has brought against librarian Dale Askey and his employer, McMaster University. Briefly, the Edwin Mellen Press is suing Askey for libel because of a blog post Askey wrote more than two years ago in which he criticized the quality of books published by the press, especially in light of shrinking academic library budgets for monographs. Even stranger, Askey wrote the post before he was even hired by McMaster, while he was a librarian at Kansas State University.

Subsequently the news broke across the librarian blogosphere and higher ed news outlets. There were articles in the Chron and Inside Higher Ed yesterday, and Jessamyn West has a nice roundup of coverage of the story, too. On Friday McMaster released a statement affirming their support of Askey and academic freedom.

I was shocked and saddened but not truly surprised to read about the lawsuit, as it seems like so many academic publishers are pulling out all the stops recently to keep information locked up away from readers and to work against libraries and librarians, who should be (and have been!) their natural allies. But the bright side is that this latest development provides yet another opportunity for faculty and librarians to join together in support of access to information, as we saw last year in the flurry of activity around the Academic Spring.

Martha Reineke, professor of Religion at the University of Northern Iowa, started a petition to encourage Edwin Mellen to drop the lawsuit. This morning the petition has nearly 700 signatures: scholars, researchers, and librarians alike. In correspondence with her this morning, she shared her reasons for starting the petition:

The librarians at the University of Northern Iowa have been so wonderful to me throughout my career. When I read about Dale Askey, I realized that what is happening to him could happen to the librarians at UNI. I would defend them in a heartbeat. I hope that public pressure will get Edwin Mellen to stand down.

In these sense-challenged times for scholarly publishing, I’m grateful to Martha and all of the faculty, librarians, and others who take a stand against challenges to academic freedom and in favor of access to information. Thank you!

About Maura Smale

Coordinator of Information Literacy and Library Instruction, New York City College of Technology, City University of New York

5 thoughts on “Scholarly Publishing: Still Not Making Sense

  1. It seems suicidal to go after a librarian when one of the few things librarians still control is the monograph budget. I’m a science librarian, so I don’t see Mellen titles, but a terribly short cited decision.

  2. I agree with the stance of this post that suing a librarian is an egregious move on the part of the Edwin Mellen Press. But as a university press editor, I take issue with drawing assumptions on academic publishing in general based on this particular publisher.

  3. Hi Jason, thanks for your comment. You’re right that it’s absolutely still true that most academic publishers don’t engage in these kinds of bullying tactics, thankfully. But it does seem like we hear more and more about egregious behaviors recently, for example, this lawsuit and the campaign contributions made by Elsevier to the sponsors of the Research Works Act. I’m relieved that there are relatively few examples of these kinds of behaviors!

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