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The Conversations We’re Not Having — Overcoming Uncertainty, Chilling Effects, and Open Access Complacency

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On more than one occasion in the past year, I’ve overheard a publisher or librarian note that there is an important topic in the library world, one that has major implications for libraries’ futures, and for librarianship in general. Yet, these observers have noted, very few librarians are willing to publicly discuss this topic.

The topic is how open access (OA) threatens to defund libraries and marginalize their librarians and staffs.

The silence surrounding OA isn’t limited to libraries and librarians. It exists in governance bodies, within publishing houses, among business people, and among editors.

It seems a chilling effect was created when the initial firebrands of OA sucked the air out of the room, leaving an environment unable to support mature and realistic evaluations of the risks and benefits associated with the various OA models and approaches.

I think we can all agree it’s important to test the assertions around OA and explore the consequences, no matter where you are on the OA spectrum. The challenge is creating an environment for those discussions. Such an environment may be slowly emerging as awareness of OA increases, ushering in new perspectives who are evaluating OA as it is now.

Cameron Neylon, the advocacy director for PLoS, also seems to sense a wider discussion on the horizon, judging from a recent interview with Richard Poynder:

As these new players come to the debate it can be frustrating to go over issues we thought resolved or at least defined years ago. But this is actually a positive thing because it shows wider engagement. At the same time the movement is struggling with the transition from what was essentially a protest movement to the centre of policy making. Policy making is a political process and it does involve compromises. As we move into implementation we have to expect that some of the disagreements within the movement become more important. If we can remember that these problems arise because we’re being successful then we can continue to actually implement increased access and start to reap the benefits that it will bring.

More than a decade old, the Budapest Open Access Declaration and the Bethesda Statement on Open Access both are showing their age and their fossilization. Updates, when they exist, are mainly recapitulations, and don’t fit the facts and broader perceptions of OA that are emerging. Meanwhile, some of the consequences streaming from the claims made in these documents are becoming clear, and the consequences are not necessarily as harmless or beneficial as first imagined. It’s entirely possible Neylon may be underestimating the degree of compromise that may be required in the years ahead.

The time may be ripe for more discussion because, after more than a decade of advocacy, OA is only now arriving on the radar screens of mainstream societies, editors, researchers, academics, and administrators. It’s poorly understood by many of them, as a recent editorial in Nature from by a professor in Austria demonstrates.

The lack of critical discussion is leading some to believe that OA has been well-vetted, has been determined to be inevitable, and provides an acceptable substitute to subscription-model publishing.

For others, the OA movement’s seeming inability to address the practical concerns of editors, society leaders, funders, researchers, and others is making some of these people extremely skittish and uncertain. Younger scientists are expressing some strong concerns about being pressured to divert promising results into obscure OA journals, while also noting the hypocrisy of OA advocates who preach radicalism from comfortable tenured positions and fill their labs with scientists who have used traditional publication outlets to establish their bona fides.

Saying that we should be able to discuss openly the pros and cons of OA is not a pro-OA or an anti-OA position. It is an pro-planning and anti-mistake position. Open discussion usually leads to better decisions and outcomes.

The discussion for libraries is especially urgent, as their funding as a percentage of university budgets continues to fall, with OA certainly contributing to the environmental message that subscription-based journals and purchased books could be a thing of the past, and that subscriptions are unaffordable, despite evidence that the serials crisis is as much about library funding and the inherent growth in science as a vocation as anything else, along with evidence that OA actually focuses expenses on higher education institutions and governments, making OA a more expensive path than subscriptions for research universities.

For governments and policymakers, the politics of OA are somewhat irresistible. After all, how often does a political movement arrive with nothing but apparent upside? Free scientific content for no extra money is the proposition, and the notion that politicians can return value to the taxpayers around science and technology is seductive. However, the discussions here need to deepen, as we’ve seen not only increased government outlays to support OA but an emerging environment with Gold OA that seems destined to increase publishing’s dependence on government funding. Both of these emerging tensions could easily backfire into a greater tax burden. Taxpayers in the UK have already caught wind of this, and there is reason to believe a similar conversation may occur someday in the US.

For professional societies, the discussions are as urgent and existential as they are for libraries. Subscription-based publishing and traditional copyright or licensing approaches deliver many financial advantages to these organizations. A primary benefit is that relatively small societies can play bigger than they are — there’s a quality amplification effect with subscription publishing that just doesn’t exist with OA. Higher quality is incentivized and often pays off in the market. In OA publishing, the money comes from work for hire — there is no money to be made beyond processing articles, which flips the scale of success from quality to quantity. Any amplification effect becomes one based on volume, and a linear relationship takes over. It also leads to uncomfortable recognition of size limitations. Why would society publishing programs survive if large commercial publishers already have the scale to succeed in a volume-based publishing economy? And might a publisher scale up to be “too big to fail”?

For editors, the discussions are important, as their role in OA seems diminished, when it exists at all. Editors-in-chief have become token or been marginalized in a number of situations, and sometimes replaced with staff after a start-up phase. This phenomenon is not limited to OA publications, especially as budgets tighten and margins shrink. But with OA mega-journals, peer-review is more about validation than filtration (finding an audience) or designation (determining importance). And OA has not improved the lives of reviewers, who still work for free or for the equivalent of OA coupons.

But the conversations that aren’t occurring are most notable among OA advocates themselves — as Neylon notes — even as more and better questions are raised about OA and its underlying premises. There seems to be a “reality distortion field” at work, one which was probably established by the radicalism and rebelliousness of OA’s early days. But reality can’t stay distorted for long. Based on listening to real-world editors and publishers talking about OA, reading discussions and commentary from practicing scientists, and conversing with librarians and policy experts, the topics that need urgent discussion include:

  • What can the OA community do about so-called predatory OA publishers? Is the author-pays model to blame for their existence?
  • Is OA publishing going to cost taxpayers more?
  • Is OA publishing cutting into research grant funding?
  • Is OA publishing truly sustainable without the subscription model providing major infrastructure and cross-subsidy support?
  • What is the proper level of transparency and disclosure around APCs?
  • Is OA publishing more easily corruptible?
  • Does Gold OA inhibit the publication of “minor” findings and results?
  • Can OA ensure the vibrancy of professional societies?
  • How does OA create firewalls against corporate, funder, or author self-interests?
  • Is OA publishing actually more affordable for society?
  • Is OA publishing capable of supporting younger scientists in early career stages? Or does it hurt them?
  • Is moving publisher revenue sources from library budgets to grant budgets good for science in the long term?

These are important questions that the OA movement must answer before it can become mainstream and accepted as on par with current publishing practices, or potentially as an improvement. However, partially because OA stated its case more than a decade ago and has coasted on those statements since, the questions are not being seriously discussed, even as the limitations of OA publishing as it currently exists become more apparent with each attempt to take a solid step forward.

Like Neylon, I don’t know what the outcome of such conversations would be — but I dislike hearing that people are afraid to discuss a topic. We exist to get information out in pursuit of scientific facts. OA is something we need to understand and evaluate, not a destiny with unavoidable consequences. Let’s not be afraid of discussing topics that concern us and our role in that process. Let’s not be afraid if a hypothesis needs to be restated.

We need to feel free to discuss what various visions for OA might mean — for libraries, for librarians, and for the information sciences; for readers, for researchers, and for academic institutions; for professional societies; for editors; for publishers; and for the integrity of the scientific literature.

The atmosphere that has emerged from the “protest movement” days of OA — where questions were discouraged, skeptics were hunted down on social media, and valid points were brushed aside — needs to shift to become one that welcomes reasonable questions and valid evidence. We need to feel there is freedom — even an obligation — to openly discuss open access, and a responsibility to respond to the conclusions we reach, even if they don’t match the initial blueprints.

About Kent Anderson

I am the Publisher at AAAS/Science. Previously, I have worked as CEO/Publisher of the STRIATUS/JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Discussion

49 thoughts on “The Conversations We’re Not Having — Overcoming Uncertainty, Chilling Effects, and Open Access Complacency

  1. I think this broadening of the conversation beyond advocates and publishers to the mainstream researcher is a sign of the maturation of the OA movement. Neylon aptly describes the transition from being a protest movement to becoming an established part of the formal scholarly communication landscape. Where the protest movement was often driven by passion, anger and outrage, these traits at some point become counterproductive. They helped to get citizens to man the barricades during the revolution, but aren’t so helpful in the next stage of actually trying to govern.

    The transition from the theoretical realm to real world implementation on a large scale is a difficult one. OA advocates have been discussing many of these questions in theory for the last 10 years, so perhaps it all seems like ground that’s already been covered. But there’s an enormous gap between thinking about something and actually doing it. While many of these issues have long been raised, few, if any, have seen any sort of resolution. The problems may be conceptually old, but until there’s an answer to them, they remain open and rightfully concerning. “We’ve already thought of that,” is not an acceptable answer, unless it’s immediately followed by, “…and here’s the solution.”

    The problem is particularly difficult for OA in the humanities. Most of the current OA movement has been driven by researchers in biomedical fields. The funding levels in these fields, half-lives of papers, and intellectual property concepts are vastly different from those seen in the humanities. The plans that make sense in the well-funded, fast moving biomedical world where everyone holds a patent simply don’t work for the humanities. Yet some biomedical OA advocates seem unwilling to allow for anyone to question their pre-determined plans. The comment thread on this blog post provides an example, where advocates dismiss the concerns of humanities researchers by condescendingly declaring that humanities is intellectually “ten years behind” the biomedical world , and that the biomedical world has already reached “consensus” on the definition of OA and no changes or compromises will be permitted.

    There’s a myopia in assuming that everything works the way your field works, and perhaps a lack of understanding of the true complexity of the information landscape. Simplified, “one size fits all” solutions simply don’t work, and without constant iteration and a willingness to be (pun intended) “open” to new ideas, progress will likely falter.

    Posted by David Crotty | Sep 9, 2013, 7:48 am
  2. One more question to ask: if price competition does indeed increase as Neylon suggest, and journals are forced to streamline their spending, cutting everything but the essentials, what happens to support for older articles? Gold OA revenue streams are based on authors being charged for publishing new articles. Already published articles are essentially boat anchors, pulling down the journal’s finances. With no incentive to improve older articles, does this mean that as new technologies emerge (semantic technologies, new metadata standards, new file formats), older articles won’t be updated? Will we see journal archives become less functional, or cease to exist at all?

    Posted by David Crotty | Sep 9, 2013, 7:49 am
    • In the late-1990s, archiving of print was assumed to be a library function. Digital has made archiving a publisher function. This is a very good point. There is also the major simplification that anyone who hasn’t run a publishing house for a while and published competitive articles truly understands what “the essentials” constitute.

      And then there is the whole chilling effect such an attitude has on innovation. OA becomes the last innovation possible in this vision because the insistence on publishing research articles (and only research articles) at the lowest possible cost makes it so.

      Posted by Kent Anderson | Sep 9, 2013, 8:11 am
      • Taken to an extreme, couldn’t you run an article through the peer review process, publish it, dump it in PubMed Central and then delete it off your servers? Then you’d only have maintenance costs for the current issue, maybe one back issue. You would maintain an archives page and search functionality but all links would point to PMC.

        Hold on, I may have just invented a new business model…

        Posted by David Crotty | Sep 9, 2013, 8:53 am
        • Once you have a server up & running, 1 GB or 1’000 GB will not make much difference. Compared to YouTube and Facebook which are hosting petabytes of junk information, a scholarly Publisher has only a limited amount of (valuable) information. An average research article with supplements may “weight” about 5 MB. A reasonably simple server system with attached network storage of 8 TB may therefore be enough to host store about 1.5 Mio. scientific articles. Additionally, disk space is growing exponentially (and the price per byte similarly going down), while the backfiles are constant in size.

          Posted by Dietrich Rordorf | Sep 9, 2013, 9:23 am
          • It’s less a question of storage space than it is one of content management. And if you have 100 plus years of content, implementing a new technology or updating every single article you’ve ever published is a lot of work.

            Posted by David Crotty | Sep 9, 2013, 12:09 pm
            • If users really want this technology, they will be ready to pay for this additional service. Even if a publisher does not want to merge, another company may do it and sell the new format (we are still talking about OA publishing here, i.e. another good reason for CC-BY)…

              Posted by Dietrich Rordorf | Sep 9, 2013, 12:25 pm
            • My guess this is why PMC is so particular about the XML they accept. It doesn’t solve the problem but goes a long way to minimizing it. Also, is this is less a problem for publishers? When I go back and pull articles from the 80’s I can often find them on the web but they are just digitized images. It seems to me it’s a good analogy. I expect neither PMC or publishers are going to go back and change the XML in their old material to meet a new standard but I will bet the new standards will incorporate the old and there will just be some loss of function. PDF’s I created in the mid-1990’s are still quite readable in Acrobat even though it has been through a boat load of versions. They just don’t have all the versatility of newer ones.

              There are costs of maintaining an archive but I think you are over emphasizing them particularly if the original publisher (or archivist) has done a good job creating the original version.

              Posted by David Solomon | Sep 10, 2013, 10:09 am
        • Indeed David, one plausible business mosel is to have the government (taxpayers) pay for as much as possible, not just the APC’s.

          Posted by David Wojick | Sep 9, 2013, 9:37 am
    • Traditional publishers would not have updated their back files if they would not have been able to sell online access to it. What one will see in future will be the same. Should new file formats emerge, a Publisher could still decide to adopt this new technology, but to sell its access as an additional service.

      Posted by Dietrich Rordorf | Sep 9, 2013, 9:15 am
      • There is a great deal more to running an archive than disk space. Archives are expensive.

        Posted by David Wojick | Sep 9, 2013, 9:39 am
        • Sorry, I am a digital native… I was not thinking of the heavy books on the shelves in the basement of the nearby university library… :-)

          Posted by Dietrich Rordorf | Sep 9, 2013, 12:14 pm
          • You may be a digital native, but it doesn’t sound like you’ve ever administered a digital archive.

            Posted by Rick Anderson | Sep 9, 2013, 5:22 pm
      • How much would you pay for a version of an article that’s exactly the same as the freely available one but that also contains the ORCID information on the authors? Probably not much, even though that’s a handy tool. So given the lack of paying customers, that’s a technology that wouldn’t be integrated with already existing papers, as just one example. And if we’re talking about abolishing the subscription model and diverting all funds to Gold OA fees, then it’s not clear that there would be any money or mechanism available, even if you wanted to re-subscribe in this manner.

        Consider also that many advocates and funder mandates are calling for published material to be readily available to all for text and data-mining, and proponents of the CC-BY license insist that such access must be free. The technologies to make this easy are not without cost. Why would a publisher pay to develop and maintain an API for text miners if there’s no mechanism for those costs to be paid off?

        Posted by David Crotty | Sep 9, 2013, 12:15 pm
        • I still do not get that argument. In the OA world the journals compete for authors (it is a market of selling publishing services, rather than a market of selling products). One needs to provide a satisfactory service, which includes reasonably recent technologies. In a competitive OA world, service level and pricing will make the difference.

          Posted by Dietrich Rordorf | Sep 9, 2013, 12:32 pm
          • Services directed at authors are quite different than services directed at readers. I do suspect that author services would indeed improve in a world where the publishing business was entirely author-centric. But why spend extra, particularly when publication funds are likely to be sparse, on something that benefits others rather than oneself?

            Posted by David Crotty | Sep 9, 2013, 12:38 pm
      • Conversion costs would likely still apply. It may be with the objective of ‘selling access’ or ‘being funded’ in some fashion to allow access to back lists/files; the practicality is this still needs physically done.

        Posted by Norrie Mailer | Sep 10, 2013, 8:21 pm
  3. Political movements often rely on slogans and simplifications. What you show is that this is actually a very complex policy issue, one with many branching subarguments that will need to be resolved as we move forward. See http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2013/07/10/the-issue-tree-structure-of-expressed-thought/.

    Posted by David Wojick | Sep 9, 2013, 7:57 am
  4. Here’s a report on efforts to balance this discussion: http://blogs.ubc.ca/chendricks/2013/08/31/troubling-open-access-cc-by/ It refers to the Why Open? course at P2PU and recent posts to Rosie Redfield’s blog questioning the value of CC-By required by many OA journals.
    Still, this is nibbling around the edges of the central problem of how to re-imagine the weighing, reporting and dissemination of scholarly work in ways that are more efficient than what we’ve been doing up to now.

    Posted by Frank Lowney | Sep 9, 2013, 9:29 am
    • This speaks to Kent’s basic point. If we are re-imagining the fundamentals we should not be mandating specific systems, but that is what is happening. The policymaking is premature and should not be based on imaginings.

      Posted by David Wojick | Sep 9, 2013, 10:13 am
  5. The researchers I talk to are nervous about their research money. They are deeply concerned that they will get less of it as funds are redirected to APCs. They are also concerned that they will no longer see projects funded collaboratively between government and industry with the university faculty members in the middle.

    My editors are very concerned that the flow of articles will shift in some ways due to OA requirements. My oversight committees are worried that they won’t get as much of their royalties (% of subs), which funds most of their other educational activities. My colleagues are worried that our business model (traditional bundle subscription) will be obliterated and we won’t have the resources to remain competitive when our income decreases.

    What may remain is that the bulk of OA US funded papers will be published by huge companies outside the US with those companies reaping the benefits of the US taxpayer money once the bulk of society publishers in the US are put out of business.

    I could be wrong, of course.

    Posted by Angela Cochran | Sep 9, 2013, 10:42 am
    • One of the big concerns in the UK with the RCUK’s policy is the concentration of funds at the larger universities. The bigger institutions get a bigger piece of the publication funding because they publish more, which leads to a cycle where they get more and more of the funding, and the smaller institutions and the less well-funded researchers are essentially shut out of the system.

      Posted by David Crotty | Sep 9, 2013, 12:19 pm
  6. This discussion should be interesting, especially if the roots of “OA – outrage” can be brought to light and more closely examined. Discontent festered long before the Internet. It’s all about money, of course, and quite cynical IMHO, with interest in dissemination and knowledge lost in the skuffle — as pointed out by Thorsten Veblen, Robert A. Nisbet, Edward Shils, D. D. Eisenhower, N. Gingrich, etc.

    I think of Robert F. Munn, writing in 1968: “The bottomless pit, or the academic library as viewed from the administration building.” (College and Research Libraries. Jan. P. 51-54. Reprinted Nov., 1989. P. 635-637)

    Posted by Albert Henderson | Sep 9, 2013, 10:56 am
  7. Excellent summary of some of the emerging issues about the Open Access model! Archiving is one of the key flaws in OA. Unless this is solved, OA will be a disaster in the long run.

    Our journal is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary. For the event, we are highlighting award-winning articles over the years. Readers will not have to dig through dusty old library shelves, though. Every back article has been scanned, indexed, and even given a DOI. Why? Because doing so supports sales of member and library access. This incentive does not exist in OA.

    Some commenters mentioned PubMed as an ultimate archive. Does PubMed have a budget beyond September 30, 2013? Congress has not passed one. At best, PubMed will operate on a continuing resolution; worst case, it will shut down. Doesn’t sound like a stable long-term alternative to me!

    Posted by Ken Lanfear | Sep 9, 2013, 11:05 am
    • There are systems such as LOCKSS (and the commercial version CLOCKSS). We are also talking about OA, i.e. everyone can download a whole copy from an OA Publisher website without copyright infringement. Is there any easier way to sustain long-term access?

      Posted by Dietrich Rordorf | Sep 9, 2013, 12:19 pm
      • Sustaining long-term access requires more than just setting content free in the wild. As noted in studies and analyses covered here in the past, the costs of just electricity for an archive can be sizable. Who is paying those costs? The Electricity Fairy? Who is paying for the website you’re scraping? What if it goes away? CLOCKSS and LOCKSS charge participating publishers, because they run systems that cost money to run.

        This is where reality starts to intrude, and that’s why we need these discussions. Magical thinking has obvious flaws.

        Posted by Kent Anderson | Sep 9, 2013, 12:32 pm
        • Exactly my thoughts, Kent. Also, a scraped, wild copy is NOT the copy of record, and there’s no guarantee of faithful quality. What researcher wants to bet their reputation on something that came from who knows where?

          Posted by Ken Lanfear | Sep 9, 2013, 7:55 pm
  8. If you haven’t heard these conversations, I think you must be going to the wrong parties. Or perhaps the conversations are hard to hear over the sounds of all the grinding axes. In years of working with and sometimes being an OA publisher, every conversation I have been part of on that topic has touched upon the kinds of questions you raise — and often the questions are the same as those raised by thoughtful, committed publishers of any stripe: how do we create a publishing model that keeps us aligned with mission and that is sustainable in our economy? (And the OA publishers often have a much more complex notion of economy than the market model adhered to by subscription based publications). And while I’m protesting your rhetoric, as suggested in the comments, OA publishing isn’t only about the sciences and the stakes are also high in the humanities. By all means we should have the conversations you suggest, publicly and often, with many different voices chiming in. but to suggest that they have not happened to date is to do a disservice to the many thoughtful and intelligent people who have been working to establish the viability and equability of open access publishing. You buy the drinks, and I’ll help you get the voices to the table.

    Posted by Maria Bonn | Sep 9, 2013, 5:39 pm
    • The people I’ve heard complain about the lack of substantive discussions are some of the best-connected people in publishing and library sciences, and they sense the chilling effect. You don’t have to look far to see it, but if you’re not sensitive to it, or don’t know what’s NOT being said, you may not notice it. Or maybe there are parties you’re not attending.

      I’m intrigued by your statement “. . . the OA publishers often have a much more complex notion of economy than the market model adhered to by subscription based publications.” What does that mean?

      I’m glad you agree we need to have these conversations. I hope you help cultivate larger and better ones, as well.

      Posted by Kent Anderson | Sep 9, 2013, 9:38 pm
  9. I agree with Maria. The discussion on TSK is so often limited by its obsessive focus on STM journal publishing. The opening statement here, about a growing concern among librarians that OA might marginalize them, is out of touch with what is really going on. After all, we have over 50 academic libraries cooperating now in the Library Publishing Coalition, and librarians are getting much more used to thinking of themselves as publishers looking to the future, not dinosaurs presiding over shrinking acquisition budgets. Consider how SUNY-Geneseo’s library is involved with open textbook publishing now using the Open Monograph Press software and how Amherst College is setting up its own press to publish monographs in the humanities on an OA model. Such libraries have been grappling with OA in all its complexities. One development is that the utility of the CC-BY licensing scheme for OA monograph publishing is being questioned and more attention paid to the CC-BY-NC-ND model instead. You sell such librarians short by imagining that they are all just worrying about their future survival. They may actually be forging ahead of traditional scholarly monograph publishers in many ways, not constrained as they are by a legacy print model.

    Posted by Sandy Thatcher | Sep 9, 2013, 7:47 pm
    • We report, you decide. I started this post by passing along what I’ve heard numerous times from some well-connected people who care about books and journals both.

      The experiments you note are worthy, but I don’t think they quite amount to “grappling with OA in all its complexities.” You’re talking monographs in the humanities and textbooks. They are barely a blip currently on the radar compared to OA journals and the governmental policies and mandates being issued, the competition from PMC, the scandals involving sponsors, the predatory publishers, the number of authors affected, the proportion of society revenues at risk, etc.

      Posted by Kent Anderson | Sep 9, 2013, 9:48 pm
    • Which raises the question–if librarians are becoming publishers, are they still librarians? If the answer to the question of the impact of OA on librarians is that they’re finding different jobs, what does that say?

      Posted by David Crotty | Sep 9, 2013, 10:49 pm
      • Well, it’s a fluid environment for both publishers and librarians, isn’t it? Preservation used to be the exclusive domain of librarians. In the digital world, it has become a concern and function of publishers too.

        Posted by Sandy Thatcher | Sep 9, 2013, 11:06 pm
        • In addition the OSTP OA mandate has made preservation a major federal policy issue. And this is just one of dozens of highly complex subissues that call out for community discussion.

          Posted by David Wojick | Sep 10, 2013, 7:02 am
      • As a librarian, I have to confess to a lot of very conflicted feelings about the whole librarians-as-publishers thing. Hmm. Sounds like there’s a posting there…

        Posted by Rick Anderson | Sep 10, 2013, 9:27 am
      • I am amused at the question “if librarians are becoming publishers, are they still librarians?” After all, scientists and scholars have become publishers for more than 100 years. More interesting, are they still scientists and scholars? Maybe, but I have observed that they often take over existing publications and then hire or partner with experienced managers in order to deal with the knottier problems of business and to follow their more urgent passions.

        Posted by Albert Henderson | Sep 10, 2013, 10:42 am
        • I was a scientist and then I became a publisher. I am no longer a scientist, as I no longer do the job a scientist does.

          Posted by David Crotty | Sep 10, 2013, 11:18 am
    • I agree with Maria too. But for a somewhat different reason. The concern posted in the opening paragraph is pure silliness and, thankfully, not reflected in the rest of the post. If libraries were only about centralizing payment for access to needed information for the community, good riddance to them. But libraries have always been about more than that and these other purposes are leading to a resurgence of support for and dependance on libraries.

      Posted by DRL | Sep 11, 2013, 7:11 pm
  10. In regards to the inquiry about concepts of economy/economics. Most subscription/market-driven publishers are just that, and work with the basic premise that if they create sufficient value that value will translate into cash provided by consumers and that cash will then sustain the work of the publisher and feed the families of those doing the publishing. Easy. OA publishers are, in many cases, also acutely aware of the need to create value (and to be accountable for that value-generation) but, especially in the case of those based in institutions of higher ed, aware that “value” can also be measured in the currency of professional and scholarly reputation, citation, relative inter and intra-institutional prestige and translated into other forms of funding than cash for goods. In response to the question about whether publishers in libraries are still librarians, I don’t want to be reductive, but I would say that they are if they are doing the work of the library. In academic libraries that’s the support of the creation, production, distribution and preservation of scholarship. In other kinds of libraries that question os just beginning to be asked. This from someone who fought the administrative fight to have her publishing non-MLS staff members classified as librarians if it was in keeping with their career goals and made good organizational success. Rick, um, as a librarian (and publisher and scholar) you can imagine I have some feelings about librarians-as-publishers. Be glad to read that draft. Or we can talk about it at this party Ken and I are going to throw.

    Posted by Maria Bonn | Sep 10, 2013, 11:09 am
    • So, you’re asserting that subscription-based publishers have no sensitivity to things like impact factor, prestige, reputation, and scholarly value? That’s a straw man argument if I’ve ever seen one. Some of the most effective subscription-based publishers are society-based or academic publishers. Most commercial and non-profit scientific and scholarly publishers are run by academic editors and publishers with academic backgrounds. They know the value of reputation and impact. They are very attuned to issues like impact, scholarly value, and so forth. I fail to see the distinction you are trying to make here. I think you’re attempting to make a false distinction in order to make a straw man argument.

      Posted by Kent Anderson | Sep 10, 2013, 11:22 am
    • And if you, Ken, and Rick will be attending the Charleston Conference in November, please come to the session I’m chairing as a “lively luncheon” on Thursday, November 7, on “Who Will Do Nonprofit Scholarly Publishing in the Future, and How?” that will include as speakers Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Bryn Geffert, Michael Miyasaki, Cyril Oberlander, and Tyler Walters. Here is the abstract: This session will survey what has been happening with academic publishing as done not only by traditional publishers like scholarly societies and university presses but also, more recently, by libraries that have begun to offer a variety of publishing services to their constituencies, with some formally organizing as the Library Publishing. The discussion will ask how the traditional publishers have been adapting to new challenges confronted in the digital environment, including the advocacy of open access, and what roles the new players have been attempting to fill as pressures on them to provide new services increase. Five speakers will present brief overviews of what is happening in their arenas, to be followed by open discussion with the audience. Attendees will learn what is happening at the cutting edge of change in scholarly publishing.

      Posted by Sandy Thatcher | Sep 10, 2013, 2:21 pm
  11. No, not at all! Besides, I only make straw women. I’ve worked closely with a number of scholarly societies and know how attuned they are to such issues — and in some cases it
    is precisely those sensitivities that are driving them to consider OA publishing. Rather I am reacting to a tendency on the part of commercial publishers to dismiss alternative publishers as not understanding the economics of publishing when in fact the “alt.publishing” community is embroiled in a different kind of economics. And now, I’m neglecting my students, which is detrimental to MY personal economy, so must retire from the fray, dragging my straw woman after me. I’m sure the SK will provide another occasion for continuing the discussion. thanks for it.

    Posted by Maria Bonn | Sep 10, 2013, 11:39 am
  12. Another great contribution, Kent. In Canada, the (largely SSH) journals and the research libraries will have a first meeting in several years to see if we can develop a structure to make OA work, with the aim of increasing the attention others pay to Canadian research domestically and internationally. From the journal side, we have concerns along the lines you discuss. Building journal subscriptions takes decades, abandoning subscriptions in favour of OA abandons productive and positive producer/consumer relationships. If there is no guarantees of permanency of OA funding, down the line, journals could be destroyed. OA creates something like a monopsony, especially when funding deals are made with national library consortia, with the result that control shifts from the journal to the library community (think Amazon and the pricing of ebooks). Encouragement of new OA titles potential could destabilize discoverability and easily knowable credibility. The “build it and they will come” model that libraries are historically used to by being sole providers of broad information access to the captured clients of a single institution doesn’t work for journals working to develop or maintain an international reputation. With students and researchers often turning to Google rather than a library to search out research, what is the longevity of the library and the level of quality it currently delivers? Budgets are often justified on the basis of usage: if content is free curative attention within libraries appears to suffer. But on the opposite side of such problematics, if we scholar/publishers can work with our library colleagues to aim for an enhancement of journal publishing through increased professionalization, central technological development and assistance, and substantial marketing, there may be some advantages.
    You touch on the following but it is worth emphasis: setting commercial publishers aside for a moment, the potential shift of control of journals out of the hands of professional societies (academics) and into the hands of libraries (and hence academic institutions) is worrisome for its weakening of the former in favour of the latter. In the end academic freedom may be affected.

    Posted by Rowland Lorimer | Sep 10, 2013, 2:05 pm
    • The founders of the Amherst college Press are well aware that the model of “post it and they will come” will not work for their program of publishing OA monographs, so there has been considerable discussion of the need for marketing and how marketing of OA publications will differ from marketing of print publications.

      Posted by Sandy Thatcher | Sep 10, 2013, 2:38 pm
  13. No doubt there are some librarians who fear that a world where OA dominates would leave libraries unfunded and marginalized, but that is not the case with librarians that I talk to. Most of us are involved in so many other things (exploring ways in which we might provide useful publishing services — not necessarily becoming publishers — being only one of them) that the prospect of spending less time, effort, and money managing licenses is actually appealing. At the spring STM meeting in 2012 I sat on a Q&A panel with four other librarians. Fred Dylla posed the question about how concerned we were at the prospect of a 100% OA world and each of us responded that there were so many ways in which we were daily adding value to our institutions that we didn’t see this as a threat at all. Here at UAB I run one of the larger health sciences libraries in the country. We have a staff of about 50 librarians and paraprofessionals and no more than 5 of them spend the bulk of their workday on issues associated with managing licensed resources. Continually refining building services so that we’re making the best use of our space occupies much of the time of many of the paraprofessional staff and most of the librarians spend their time (much of it outside the building) working with faculty and students to help them make the most efficient use of information resources. If more of those resources are available at no cost the only impact on their work would be that they’d have more resources to contend with and we would consider that to be a very good problem to have. Having said all that, I do not think that we are ever going to see 100% OA, I think that the ARL/SPARC adversarial approach has done more harm than good and that the push toward green OA is fundamentally misguided. But I still believe that a world in which there are fewer subscription barriers would be an improvement. Years ago, at a Charleston plenary, I declared myself an OA heretic, on the analogy that Martin Luther never quit believing in Jesus, he just quit believing in the Pope. I remain a committed OA supporter, but I don’t believe in the SPARC/Green/Legislative orthodoxy. And I think that the future for librarians as things evolve is very bright.

    Posted by T Scott Plutchak | Sep 12, 2013, 10:42 am
  14. It appears that elephant in the room (federal involvment in the science publishing process) is making some noises in Canada. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/22/opinion/sunday/silencing-scientists.html?_r=0

    Posted by Chris Schneider | Sep 22, 2013, 5:50 pm

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