Category Archives: Scholarly Communications

For postings related to scholarly communications issues, including open access, copyright management, and institutional repositories.

Indies, Vanity, and Predators: Helping Faculty and Students Find Publishers

How many times have you or your faculty received this message?

Dear Dr. Colleague,

We at Intellectual and Smart Publishers would love to talk to you about publishing “INSERT PAPER TITLE HERE” in our issue of Smart Things in Science. We offer expedited review!

So and So, 

Intellectual and Smart Publishers

When the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education approached “Authority is constructed” little did we know the importance that our work would play in ongoing discussions on the national level about “fake news.” But the contextual and constructed nature of information was given a deeper hold within our field with news of the shut down of notorious Beall’s List.  The list, which black-listed publishers deemed by Beall as predatory, was a tool which I used (with a necessary grain of salt) to counsel faculty and student interested in publishing their work. Beall’s enemies, and there were many, celebrated while his supporters, again many, wondered about how libraries and librarians will spread the news about the predators in our wake without his list.

How do we define predatory publishers? Predatory publishers (or vanity publishers as they were once known) are publishers with very little, if any, editing or peer review process. Maura Smale wrote a piece several years ago responding to an uptick of press about predatory open access publishers. Any presenter at any national conference will know these predators as their form letters seek to publish your presentations often without knowledge of what you even spoke about. They tout “expedited publishing process” and high impact values, while giving very little in return for your investment of dollars for publishing. Slate writer Joseph Stromberg has an excellent piece on publishing his thesis with a notorious publisher.

Writing in 1958, Howard A Sullivan explained that “the very use of the term vanity publishing implies contempt for the book produced and a judgement on the author and publisher—on the former because he has chosen an unorthodox way of attempting to achieve a recognition his talent does not merit, and on the latter because he has pandered to another’s weakness for his own profit.” (Sullivan, Howard A. “Vanity press publishing.” Library Trends 7, no. 1 (1958): 105-115. )

Weakness is an incredibly loaded term, but we are naturally suspicious of the merit of books published under such circumstances and of the scholar themselves for their unwillingness to be judged by a jury of their peers. Would books published this way merit publishing through traditional processes? Perhaps but also perhaps not.

Overwhelmingly, these predatory publishers target our most vulnerable university community members, who are driven to “publish or perish” to continue the cliché. (Lud?k Brož, Tereza Stöckelová, Filip Vostal do a nice overview of “bloodsuckers” in publishing) Students and new faculty are often pressured to publish at any cost and these emails fill that need to publish anywhere and everywhere. Yet, we know that Howard Sullivan’s view is the norm rather than an exception; the scholar caught publishing without peer-review is scorned in the university community.

A quick search online for “vanity press” or “predatory publisher” and “tenure” see many a frustrated new academic weighing the decisions between not publishing and publishing with a less desirable press. Karen Kelsky, the “professor is in” advice columnist, has approached this topic several times. Summing up that “Putting a book out with an obscure press is not much different than having no book out at all, in terms of gaining a tenure track job or tenure.” ( While not specifically talking about vanity presses, but merely unknown presses, it is clear that the quality of the press is a significant focus of tenure committees and the angst of new professors.

So, what can Libraries do?

If anything, this is an information literacy issue. Determining which presses are worthy of your work is something that should be taught in new faculty seminars by librarians whose expertise in the fields of publishing should help guide those led astray. Just as how we feel condescending when we teach searching to our students, it will feel just the same, if not worse, when teaching faculty where to publish. Teaching how we determine the value of information (another hallmark of the 2016 framework) will help our faculty in choosing where to publish, and in the end make them more successful in their career. Even if we assume that our colleagues in faculty positions are experts in their fields and highly educated, the intersection of need to publish and the predatory nature of these publishers “tricks” even the most brilliant into giving their work to them. But the researcher is not the only one tricked by these publishers.

The other thing we should consider is who buys these materials. I’m sorry to say that the primary purchasers of these books are libraries, given their price and often microscopic academic viewpoints. We might be the only institutions or persons capable of purchasing such expensive books. We must make an effort from a collection development standpoint to not purchase these books for our collections. In the past month or so I’ve worked with our collection development experts to create policies to prevent Utah State University from purchasing books from suspected predators.

There is a huge problem in proclamations like this because the disgust over predatory publishers and vanity presses bleeds into ongoing discussions over the merits of indie publishers and self-publishing. Self-publishing and indie publishing are not straight line indications of lower quality or predatory materials, but it is often difficult to see the differences. In an account of self-publishing in OCLC records, Juris Dilevko and Keren Dali write, “as large mainstream publishers become focused on profit-and-loss statistics (Schiffrin, 2000) and as the demands of bookstores stoke the corporate emphasis on bestsellers (Epstein, 2001), librarians should remember that self-publishers often release titles that would not typically find a home with a profit-oriented publisher. Self-publishers may be one of the last frontiers of true independent publishing.” (Dilevko, Juris, and Keren Dali. “The self-publishing phenomenon and libraries.” Library & information science research 28, no. 2 (2006): 208-234.)  This complicates an already muddled picture of what a library should collect; where questions of authority and how to deem a book worthy of our dwindling dollars, are becoming more and more difficult.

If faculty ask students to use peer-reviewed sources, should we not ask the same for the books we purchase? The end result would be a world devoid of the divergent voices that appear in indie and self publishing, yet save us from the troubles caused by predatory and vanity presses. A policy, perhaps, where fiction from self-publishing is acceptable but non-fiction is unacceptable? A change in how we value information and published works is in order, yet who will lead that charge?

There are no concrete solutions to these issues, but I know if I need to publish on it I’ve already got several offers.


CORE and the Commons: Digital Scholarship, Collaboration, and Open Access in the Humanities

This week it was reported that Berlin-based ResearchGate, a social networking site designed for scientists to share research, received $52.6m in investment funds from a variety of sources, including BIll Gates (previous investor), Goldman Sachs, and The Wellcome Trust. This news is another development in a continuing saga and conversation surrounding commercial services (i.e., ResearchGate,, Mendeley) and the companies that own them, managing the scholarly profiles and content of researchers. While ResearchGate promotes a mission of connecting “the world of science and make research open to all,” open access advocates and those working in scholarly communications are quick to point out that these platforms are not open access repositories.

In a blog post from 2015, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Associate Executive Director and Director of Scholarly Communication at the Modern Language Association (MLA), pointed out, for example, is in no way affiliated with an academic institution despite the .edu domain (they obtained the address prior to the 2001 restrictions). “This does not imply anything necessarily negative about the network’s model or intent,” Fitzpatrick said,  “but it does make clear that there are a limited number of options for the network’s future: at some point, it will be required to turn a profit, or it will be sold for parts, or it will shut down.”

Much like we shouldn’t rely on Instagram to serve as our personal digital photo repository, researchers and academics shouldn’t rely on these commercial platforms for long term preservation of and access to their content. Hence, the work of open access institutional and disciplinary repositories takes on a certain imperative in the scholarly sphere. Those at Humanities Commons recognized this need, and in 2015 launched CORE, the Commons Open Repository Exchange, originally a digital repository for MLA members to share and archive “all forms of scholarly communication, from conference papers to syllabi, published articles to data sets,” now open to anyone who joins Humanities Commons. I spoke with Nicky Agate, Head of Digital Initiatives in the Office of Scholarly Communication at the Modern Language Association to discuss CORE, in light of national attention garnered in a recent Forbes article about the monetization of scholarly writing.

Continue reading CORE and the Commons: Digital Scholarship, Collaboration, and Open Access in the Humanities

More than a Mausoleum: The Library at the Forefront of Digital Pedagogy

This is adapted from a talk at the Utah Symposium on Digital Humanities, February 11th 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah. 

Over the last decade, we’ve witnessed a shift in the ways in both everyday folk and academics encounter the world. The promise of web 2.0 and the rise of the network has seen the input of every individual increase in importance. For universities, the consequences of this go well beyond social media presences or heated debates in comment threads, it challenges the very nature of the ivory towers our universities are constructed on top of. Some of the more nostalgic set have opined about the “death” of the traditional library and how universities need to “Save the stacks.” Are we losing the traditional library to chase digital trends?

Even I got in on the fun…

No longer are libraries cenotaphs of long dead books but a growing organism contributed, curated, and built by the members of the university community. A focus on digital pedagogy, allows librarians the flexibility to enter this new age of librarianship with a clearer idea of what we’d like the library to be 10, 15, or 20 years from now.

Not a library, a real cenotaph. (Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0)

Rick Anderson tells us it is a commonality amongst new librarians to say that the collection is dead. Rather than death, I think of it as a transition as significant as the one from scroll to codex, or manuscript to print.

I am choosing to illustrate how I see the future of collections shape up in the digital future. Buildings come in different sizes and shapes, staff perform different roles but collections, that is items preserved for use by research are common in most if not all library experiences throughout history. The collection forms the backbone of our pedagogical role.

With this in mind what are the principles of digital pedagogy in modern librarianship?
  1. Student voices matter, as much as established ones, in the conversation.
  2. Access goes beyond the limits of the library and campus
  3. The future of library is based on student needs both pedagogical and inspirational and the collection needs to mirror this.

By focusing in on the creation of scholarship by students into collections we are building upon the library’s core historical strengths while improving the teaching done in classrooms. We also exhibit examples of student work and learning to the world in perpetuity.

Librarians are often assaulted with comments that “all information is on the internet” and while many have struggled against this assumption and beaten it back in deference to our job security it is a fact that the internet has fundamentally changed the way that we receive information. As Lyman Ross and Pongracz Sennyey comment in “The Library is Dead, Long Live the Library” published in the Journal of Academic Librarianship  “the Internet has lowered the cost of propagating information to negligible levels. This fact diminishes the value of local collections and services. Libraries are no longer islands of information.”(Ross and Sennyey pg 146)

And as the digital world encroached on the library, as it did on most of our lives and interactions, the edifices faded. First it was the building, allowing access outside of the footprint of the traditional library, then it was the staff who became teachers rather than guardians, what happened to our prized collections?

David Lewis in Reimagining the Academic Library comments that “Until quite recently what constituted the scholarly record seemed clear, or at least we understood that portion that was the library’s responsibility.” (Lewis 32) But that now we have entered a new stage of ambiguity caused by digital objects. Information Literacy exists against this backdrop of unclear scholarly records.

This has led some researchers, David Lewis included, to argue that the maintenance of non-unique print collections should no longer be a focus of academic institutions. Instead, digital collections, costing significantly less to maintain and often times infinitely more usable and accessible than singular print copies. While a shift away from the collection of books and toward the teaching and the impacting of students is necessary, I argue it is not an end to the collections based approaches that define the library.

While I do not completely agree that our print collections are no longer necessary, our communities are pushing our hands when it comes to demanding access to more digital materials, outside of the building, and off of campus.

The loss of the stacks is mourned by many nervous colleagues. Some of this nervous energy has prompted change in library circles. When the Association of College and Research Libraries introduced a new framework for information literacy, it was met, as all change does, with both praise and scorn.

Part of this framework was a large redefinition of the task of research, which increasingly takes the focus of librarianship away from books and dust and places it into the classroom.

One movement in particular that I believe is of note here is the idea that of “Scholarship as Conversation”

The framework states that “Communities of scholars, researchers, or professionals engage in sustained discourse with new insights and discoveries occurring over time as a result of varied perspectives and interpretations”

Part of this is the necessary focus on citations as a communicative tool between the researcher and the past, but buried in here is the way in which we can use the tools of the digital to promote our student’s incorporation into this community.

“New forms of scholarly and research conversations,” the framework continues, “provide more avenues in which a wide variety of individuals may have a voice in the conversation.”

It is through digital pedagogy that we have the chance to offer our students keys to this conversation, either through publishing, the creation of exhibits, or the production of knowledge itself. Libraries then need to be at the forefront of this transition, from static collections based and traditional “gatekeeper” mentalities to the research driven and student driven collection creation.

While librarians have been quick to reject the gatekeeper mentality, faculty in fields across campus have been hesitant to give up the reins of the academic conversation. Some institutions have had long histories of undergraduate research prior to the age of the internet, it is the openness in the digital world that prompted a revolution in student publishing.

Char Booth explains in “Open Access as Pedagogy” that digital publishing “grants privilege and power to student authors, gives them space to assert their intellectual agency, allows them to enter the academic conversation and…maybe alter some professional paradigms.”

Entering this academic conversation encourages students to reject the monolithic scholarly record that dominates our ideas of the University, and telling students their voice matters allows a reconfiguring of the idea of research. The best way to understand research is to conduct it yourself. There are more tangible reasons this is innovative.

Char Booth continues “With that newfound power comes responsibility; with Open Access comes exposure…leads these already ambitious students to dig deeper into primary and secondary sources, to think harder about their meaning and value to their scholarship and to argue more effectively and write more forcefully.” (Booth 6)

Feeling that student work is often too “un-polished” or “not up to par” with the rigorous examinations that come after years of graduate school. Some are worried that student work will impact their own standing as professional academics. Bad student work with a faculty name on it reflects poorly on mentorship.

In giving the keys of scholarship to our students we promote not only their work but the University as a whole; much like open access creates exposure for us on the Tenure Track, our students become examples. By opening up the collection to reworking by students we not only improve their education but we break down the barriers that hold new ideas back.

It rejects the model of the library as a singular direction where the collection is controlled by the librarian and lent to the student or researcher. Instead it breaks down those barriers to encourage the exchange of information and ideas across all levels.

Nowhere on campus is better for this kind of interdisciplinary engagement, and nowhere is better suited for the task of preserving collections, albeit digital ones, then the organization trusted with this preservation since Alexandria. This is not a death for the library, or of the collection, but a new beginning. and the dream of universal web annotation

Digital, networked technology has irrevocably altered the way humans process, analyze, and share information, a reality not lost on those in scholarly communications, where traditional modes research and publishing are (albeit slowly) evolving to embrace the potential these advancements offer. Some developments include the rise in open access publishing, an increase in scholarly blogging, sharing of datasets, electronic lab notes, and open peer-review. Another effort gaining traction among academics and publishers is facilitation of online annotations, aimed at promoting an ongoing dialogue in which scholars and other individuals comment on, highlight, and add to information published on the web. Continue reading and the dream of universal web annotation

The Rock and the Hard Place (Part 2): Opening Up License Negotiation

The following is the second in a series of posts on the subscription-based model and open access alternatives, and how each get stuck from their respective ends of the scholarly information supply chain.  In addition to the usual disclaimer regarding my own opinions expressed here, these should also not be interpreted as a substitute for legal advice.

In my last post I outlined one side of scholarly communication — the subscription renewal process – in underrepresented detail, revealing places where it is stuck in arduous workflow, inefficient systems, and complex, problematic licenses. In addition to pointing out the subscription model’s own struggles, I acknowledge its perpetuation works directly against investment in open access alternatives. Seeing the shared predicament from each respective end, I wondered how these two workflows come together in practice. Beyond our company in misery, this post will explore where collaborations, specifically in the realm of licensing, have made progress toward alternatives to traditional publishing and subscription-based acquisition.

Contract negotiation is an activity associated with the subscription model that most often occurs when placing new orders or at renewal. In many cases this responsibility is performed by collection management or acquisitions, usually with support of the institution’s general counsel. Scholarly communication staff also interpret contracts as they assist authors in negotiating publishing terms and retention of authors’ copyright. The scholarly communication office might also be involved in contract negotiation if they are a publishing entity themselves. A third player, interlibrary loan, also plays a role in licensing terms, interpreting copyright and fair use as it relates to day-to-day borrowing and lending, and copyright fee payment associated with these activities.

For other obvious reasons, these areas of the library are key stakeholders in the subscription renewal process. If we cancel, what will the faculty reaction be? How will the subscription savings through cancellation effect the cost of ILL? If we renew, what does this say about our efforts in promoting open access? In addition to this, the skillset these faculty share in negotiation and the interpretation of copyright in particular reveals a unique collaborative opportunity for subscription and open access workflows.

Bringing these shared skillsets together in the licensing process allows for a more comprehensive awareness of where contracts can restrict rights granted by copyright law. More specifically these perspectives can quickly identify key terms that can best mitigate that risk and influence other favorable objectives. The LIBLICENSE project is an excellent starting point for understanding general license terms and those specific to the needs of libraries. I highlight examples of some commonly sought terms below for which the collaborative contexts I’ve mentioned have been most helpful in addressing. Relevant pages and discussion threads from LIBLICENSE and other resources are linked within.

In terms of content and acquisition:
• Post-cancellation access (see perpetual license)
• Emergency cancellation clause (see force majeure and early termination)
• Title swap and cancellation allowance
• Content caps on changed or lost content
• Pricing caps – the larger or longer the deal, the lower the cap

In terms of ILL and copyright:
• Allowing ILL with more liberal interpretation for electronic access (see 1997 ILL straw poll)
• Assert/Do not remain silent on copyright (see section 3.3 model license “ No Diminution of Rights” and Fair Use assumptions discussion thread)

In terms of open access:
• Assert author rights (see 3.4 model license “Authors’ Own Works” and also COAR’s 2013 report: OA Clauses in Publishers Licenses )
• Eliminate or ameliorate confidentiality and non-disclosure clauses (see also ARL recommendation)
• Allow for text and data mining (see Request: Text and Data Mining Licenses…Language thread)

Though many of these terms are generally accepted among the library profession and even have the backing of national and international organizations, publishing and other industries have their own generally accepted clauses and the backing of their organizations. This is why it can be difficult, unrealistic even, for the single acquisitions staff responsible for negotiation to push for all these on her own.  A major subscription contract renewal is an important opportunity for many to speak with a unified voice, not just on behalf of buyers and content, but on behalf of authors and of a wider audience of users. In addition to bolstering well known terms and issues, these multiple perspectives are key to introducing new ideas into a traditional negotiation.

Sometimes new ideas (and even traditional ones) will not result in accepted contract terms because they are dealt with entirely separately from the renewal process, or because they do not otherwise match the other party’s entrenched business practices. This can be advantageous from a negotiating standpoint, as losing out on some issues can favorably influence the advancement of others. The fact that some issues are perceived as entirely separate from the renewal process can also be advantageous. Author rights, for example, are often handled through individual author contracts or separate institutional open access policy agreements. While this can sometimes prevent their inclusion subscription agreements, by recognizing the separation itself the negotiation lends a stage to raise important issues more boldly without directly jeopardizing the terms of renewal.

New ideas I’d like to see in renewal negotiation discussions involve taking what is often the licensee’s obligation and making it a mutual or licensor obligation. One example is caps on changed and added content. Publishers often allow a clause that addresses when a percentage of content lost by a publisher can trigger breach or renegotiation. But aside from title cancellation and swap clauses – which are rare and require a significant amount of time and effort by the library to invoke — there is nothing to prevent a publisher from acquiring and adding content to a package for which the libraries are required to take on in their renewal spend. Another has to do with advance renewal or offer deadlines. As outlined in my previous post, publishers often require advance notice of cancellation, but there is nothing that requires publishers to provide the library with advance notice of major changes that might influence a cancellation decision, like new package offerings or an entirely new license contract. I’d also like to explore clauses that might address the myriad ways payment for published research is replicated across the institution (aka double-dipping), such as with the libraries paid subscription and the author’s open access article processing charges.

Closing the deal
In any change, the individual and organizational commitment to cooperation can be the hardest, but most important first step. In future posts, I’ll lay out ways organizational structures, workflows and individual skills might lead to more frequent and improved collaborative work on these issues.

Breaking the big deal of a major subscription renewal and reinvesting in open access will certainly require a deeper investigation into economics of open access and subscription infrastructure already well-covered by the literature. Perhaps, as with licensing, if we look at these economics more carefully with a different group of eyes and minds, new practical alternatives will emerge.