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, Academia.edu, 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 academia.edu, 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.
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 opinedabout the “death” of the traditional library and how universities need to “Save the stacks.” Are we losing the traditional library to chase digital trends?
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.
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?
Student voices matter, as much as established ones, in the conversation.
Access goes beyond the limits of the library and campus
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.
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 Hypothes.is and the dream of universal web annotation→
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
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.
The following is the first 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. As a reminder: Opinions expressed here are my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer or of ACRL.
September is renewal season when the largest percentage of a typical academic library’s collection budget is committed to the hands of publishers and vendors, thereby determining the largest part of what research is accessible in January of the following year. This four-month lag between getting what you paid for is just one of the many problematic examples of the slow-churning scholarly information supply chain.
What’s wrong w/ trad’l publishing? –> My ACRL 2015 Reports of Conferences, Institutes, & Seminars is just now avail https://t.co/bmE6TKvpco
These problems have been raised by a crisis of economic sustainability most commonly blamed on the serial subscription model. The movement toward remedying this problem, however, often comes from the perspective of authors, copyright, and open access. I think shedding light on some of the practical economics at play in the subscription renewal process can help show where both the subscription model and open access movement get stuck in this process, and may reveal ways to join forces for change.
“No big deal…”
In the grand scheme of the subscription renewal process, four months is not really too much to ask considering a subscription vendor must have time to process its multitude of customers’ orders from a further multitude of publishers, and all by the start of the calendar year. In a typical renewal year library staff must also build in sufficient advance processing time to meet that September deadline. Accounting for fiscal close, data gathering and normalization, as well as faculty review and input, means renewals can require anywhere from 9 to 12 months of advance preparation. Without any problems you might have a 3-month breather between January and March before the full cycle of renewal processing begins again.
Significant exceptions to a typical cycle occur with the renewal of what’s called a “Big Deal” package. These packages are so named because they are, well, big, both in terms of number of total titles and the fact that the titles represent most, or all, of a publisher’s content. The deal, beyond the size of what you get, lies (pun intended!) in the unique way in which the package is priced. Traditionally this is based on a library’s historic total spend with a publisher at a given time, rather than the title-by-title value of the list.
Another exception is these deals are often negotiated in multi-year contracts, requiring a comprehensive review only every 2-5 years, as opposed to annually. Yet all of the annual renewal steps above must still happen in a multi-year contract renewal. If your library budget is under close scrutiny, that more comprehensive analysis probably involves more people, such as deans and directors, sister campuses, and often consortia. More than likely the analysis also involves more data, such as usage, interlibrary loan (ILL) or other article level access options, overlap analysis, or citation analysis. A communication plan may also be necessary whether the purpose is justifying continuing expenses or considering cancellations.
“No Big Deal?”
When looking for savings these packages seem a reasonable option for cutting costs, given their large portion of the budget and the number of included titles, sometimes hundreds of which get little to no use. Unfortunately, however, because the Big Deal is not designed according to title-by-title spend, attempting to subscribe to fewer titles at list price can mean paying more in the end. Outright cancellation is not without risk either, since in addition to a major loss of revenue for the publisher, this can translate to unpredictable and shifted costs for the library.
Some publishers sensitive to the workflow and economic challenges of libraries — usually those with MLS degrees or a background in libraries — make an effort to negotiate for alternative solutions rather than lose large sums of subscription revenue. Such alternatives, however, rarely include an ability to cut costs through cancellation or by swapping out underused titles. Nor has there been much effort to limit the amount of content publishers may acquire that libraries must take on in additional spend.
According to a longitudinal ARL study on the topic of Big Deals, however, this model persists because “[n]either market studies or market forces have produced a sustainable new strategy for pricing and selling e-journals” (Strieb & Blixrud, 2014, p 587). Or in words heard from some of the big names in the business:
“Our business model is not designed to save you money.” – Elsevier
“As long as we’re making money, we’re not inclined to change.” – Springer
Without an on-the-ground budget crisis or other disruptive force, institutions often continue to renew, stuck in a mess of our collective making. I observed a parallel “stuck” reasoning on the open access side of things when I reported on Garnar & Knox’s ACRL 2015 conference session, “Ethical Issues in Open Access” (tweet above). This shared state of paralysis led me to wonder how advancing scholarly communication and negotiating subscriptions renewals could work together to get ourselves unstuck.
On the surface these two areas appear to work against each other, since perpetuating renewal of subscription-based models can diminish purchasing power or investment in open access alternatives. But there is evidence that this is changing both organizationally (MIT) and in the evolving models for open access (see OAWAL, NISO). As my library prepares to renew four big deals in the near future there is real incentive to explore alternatives.
I would love to hear others’ experiences working with subscription renewals or open access workflows. What intersections do you see? Where are you are most stuck? What alternatives have you tried? Anyone you making inroads to jointly address these issues?