Metal Gear Solid: Philanthropy
Metal Gear Solid: Philanthropy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of this summer’s most discussed Scholarly Kitchen posts was a proposed list of all the things publishers do to add value to the publishing process. Inevitably, there was a lot of debate about whether the 60 things on the list were the right 60 things, and whether we as publishers really do – or need to do – all of them.  But there’s no doubt that that it was a very useful starting point, and it certainly got me – and many others – thinking about what more we can or should be doing to better serve the scholarly community.

The original list focused on what individual publishers do; however, just as important – in my mind, anyway – are the things we do collectively. Nonprofit organizations like CrossRef, CLOCKSS, INASP, Research4Life, and ORCID – which add great value to the global scholarly community (for example, by facilitating discoverability, helping detect plagiarism, expanding access to content) – all exist because they are supported by publishers, both large and small, for-profit and not-for-profit, often in collaboration with other key stakeholders, such as libraries, vendors, and others. And this support isn’t just financial; all these organizations also benefit enormously from the collective brainpower and experience (much of it commercial) of the publishers sitting on their boards, many of whom are very senior managers. In fact, according to Laure Haak, Executive Director of ORCID, which received start-up loans from 14 publishers, large and small, commercial and nonprofit:

At least equally valuable [to this financial support] has been publisher involvement in helping to define use cases, APIs, and (even more importantly) their role as early adopters and implementers.

I asked some of these organizations to provide a brief summary of the impact their work has on the communities they serve. The results speak for themselves:

  • CrossRef: Arguably the poster child for publisher support and collaboration, CrossRef has now assigned more than 55 million Digital Objective Identifiers (DOIs) to scholarly content from 4,050 publishers, including journal articles, proceedings papers, books and book chapters, figures, tables, and data sets, as well as 300 million cited-by links for 30 million items from 283 publishers.  Additionally, 315 publishers now participate in the CrossCheck plagiarism screening service, which enables submitted manuscripts to be checked against a database of 32 million documents for potential plagiarism. CrossMark, the newest service, allows publishers to indicate the instances of their scholarly content that are being maintained by the publisher and let researchers know if substantial changes have been made to both PDF and web versions of research documents. And coming soon is FundRef, which will allow researchers, publishers, and funders to more easily assess the research that results from particular funding programs. CrossRef is also closely involved in the ORCID initiative.
  • CLOCKSS:  More than 100 publishers (111, to be precise), covering more than 11,800 journals and over 32,000 e-books, now participate in CLOCKSS’s digital preservation efforts. This includes a growing proportion of open access (OA) publishers who identify with CLOCKSS’ long-term commitment to ensuring that OA titles continue to be available after a trigger event such as ceasing publication (in 2011, three titles were made publicly available by CLOCKSS following a trigger event).  CLOCKSS is also supported by 240 libraries worldwide, with support growing steadily, including from smaller institutions. Randy Kiefer, their Executive Director, says:

This commitment to a diverse universe of academic content and its continued accessibility is underscored by the growing interest and support from publishers.

  • INASP: According to their 2011 annual report, INASP enabled 1,622 institutions in 23 developing world countries to provide low cost or free access to 31,000 journals and 7,500 books online; provided training for 2,700 researchers, academics, librarians and editors in over 750 institutions; supported over 2,800 early career academic authors through AuthorAID; and awarded 10 small grants to investigate evidence literacy in policymakers as well as providing training for over 400 of them. In addition, 9.85 million articles were downloaded from 676 titles in INASP’s Journals Online projects (all journals that are edited and published in Africa, Asia and Latin America). To quote Sue Corbett, INASP’s Executive Director:;

. . . the range of scholarly books and journals on offer in universities in developing countries where INASP works is broadly comparable with that in European institutions. This is a huge achievement for INASP, for our partner countries and for the publishers who have been prepared to supply their titles at discounted prices and, in some cases, free of charge.

  • Research4Life: One hundred and ninety publishers currently contribute 17,000 journals and books that are made available to over 6,000 registered institutions in 100+ developing countries. R4L programs cover health science (HINARI), agriculture (AGORA), environmental science (OARE), and, most recently, innovation (ARDI). R4L has produced some wonderful materials showcasing the success of these programs, including a number of case studies and videos. Richard Gedye, STM’s Director of Outreach Programs, notes:

Users of R4L content regularly report back to us on the many benefits which its availability has brought to them and the communities they serve.

These benefits range from helping scientists improve their writing skills and attract research funding to literally saving lives.

Perhaps what is most impressive, given the increasingly competitive environment in which we are all operating today, is the fact that each of these organizations (and many more besides) rely on publishers putting aside their differences to work collectively. As CrossRef puts it on their website:

. . . [we are] a not-for-profit network founded on publisher collaboration.

Without such collaboration, these organizations simply could not function.

So, at a time when many journal publishers feel the need to defend the value we add to the publishing process, let’s not lose sight of the value added by our support of the many philanthropic initiatives that seek to better serve the scholarly community.

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Alice Meadows

Alice Meadows

I am a Co-Founder of the MoreBrains Cooperative, a scholarly communications consultancy with a focus on open research and research infrastructure. I have many years experience of both scholarly publishing (including at Blackwell Publishing and Wiley) and research infrastructure (at ORCID and, most recently, NISO, where I was Director of Community Engagement). I’m actively involved in the information community, and served as SSP President in 2021-22. I was honored to receive the SSP Distinguished Service Award in 2018, the ALPSP Award for Contribution to Scholarly Publishing in 2016, and the ISMTE Recognition Award in 2013. I’m passionate about improving trust in scholarly communications, and about addressing inequities in our community (and beyond!). Note: The opinions expressed here are my own


2 Thoughts on "And Another Thing — A Postscript to the Proposed List of 60 Things Publishers Do"

Putting research knowledge at the heart of development has never been more important if the world is to meet the complex challenges of bringing people out of poverty while also tackling issues of climate change and pressure on resources. So, thank you, publishers – and please keep supporting INASP and our good friends at Research4Life.

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