When librarians prepare for a negotiation, they now routinely reach for the muscle.

At least that’s how I read the news about the Swedish library consortium and its dealings with Elsevier. If you have been too preoccupied with the Royal Wedding to pay attention to news coming out of the world of STM publishing, you can get a good backgrounder here. Briefly, the Swedish consortium attempted to dictate terms to Elsevier, terms that Elsevier would not accept. The result is that Elsevier’s contract will be cancelled, meaning that there will be no authorized access to Elsevier content for the consortium users.

Al Capone's mugshot
Al Capone’s mugshot.

I have written previously about how the current landscape looks to publishers. In every negotiation, publishers are mindful that their ability to control access to their publications is compromised by unauthorized access from such sites as Sci-Hub and ResearchGate. How can Elsevier or any publisher shut off the Swedes or the Germans when Alexandra Elbakyan is waiting in the anteroom? Librarians have learned to reach for the muscle and now confidently demand terms that no publisher can or will accept.

This raises the obvious question of whether librarians knowingly and actively seek the support of copyright pirates; or perhaps librarians simply are going about their business in their usual upbeat way, working diligently to make the world a better place, and the critical involvement of the shady characters is neither sought nor recognized. My own view has changed. I think the cynicism quotient in academic libraries, measured against other organizations and institutions, is very low. This is not, after all, Wall Street or, lord help us, the telecommunications business. But, like the populist governments that have now been installed in a number of Western democracies, the party of cynicism has taken control of some leading library organizations. Thus a nod to the likes of Luca Brasi no longer seems out of line.

Having grown up in New Jersey, I have some qualms about what it means for anyone to form an alliance with unsavory characters. What do you do when they ask for a favor in return?

So it’s about time to consider what happens if the libraries win. By “win” I mean they refuse deals with publishers and turn their constituencies over to unauthorized sites. This will save them huge amounts of money, of course, money that they would surely like to put to other uses. Publishing is an ecosystem, however, and a significant change in one element can ripple across the entire field. If Sci-Hub becomes the default place to go for full-text content, what else will change?

To begin with, many of the services that publishers now provide will be diminished or disappear, and new services will struggle to find capital to invest in them. Most importantly, the benefits of operating at a large scale will be under considerable pressure, and scale is the biggest driver of the economics of scholarly publishing. The nominal cost per article will rise, though nominal cost is irrelevant, as only boy scouts will pay retail, as the welcoming arms of Sci-Hub will be open to everybody else who chooses to pay nothing. More to the point, though, is that the cost to operate a publishing company (as opposed to the costs incurred by customers) will rise in the absence of scale. Thus downward pressure on revenue and upward pressure on costs: this is not a recipe for a stable situation. We should look for restructuring, downsizing, and divestitures.

I have often heard it said that the break-up or diminishment of the big commercial firms would be to the benefit of the independent professional society publishers. I doubt it. The number of independent publishers of any size has been dropping for some time, with more and more societies choosing to license their publications to the larger houses. If the libraries win, if access to full text is effectively outsourced to Sci-Hub and its ilk, what would be the motivation for a large publisher to pay a royalty to a society publisher that has been mounted on the larger publisher’s platform? Libraries will be emboldened to work down a list, with the biggest publishers at the top, through the mid-size publishers, and finally reaching the smaller ones. If you are going to outsource Elsevier to Sci-Hub, why stop there?

These musings were prompted by a tweet I saw a couple weeks ago:

What is Sci-Hub’s preservation policy?

Twitter being Twitter, I have no way of knowing the context of that remark. Was it sarcastic? “Now that Sci-Hub is becoming the go-to place to access content, are you going to tell me that those crooks give a damn about the preservation of the scholarly record?” Or was it doe-eyed and innocent? “I would be interested to learn more about Sci-Hub’s preservation policies now that we use it for access.” On the other hand, if we were to be told about Sci-Hub’s preservation policy (Twitter being Twitter), it would be fake news.

If the libraries win and the big publishers are brought to their knees, will we see Sci-Hub and other such sites begin to embrace “library values” — that is, the suite of practices intended to enhance the life-cycle of scholarly communications? Over the long term, how do you feel about a commercial organization like ResearchGate when it comes to end-users’ privacy? When you outsource full text, what do you hold onto?

Thus I am not so sure that the celebration in the library world about the crafty Swedes will be long-lived. The assumption is that libraries will have more money to spend on other things, but it seems as likely that provosts will take that money away from the libraries. After all, why invest in the library when Sci-Hub is doing the principal job of providing access — though we never mention it by name? The $2 million we have just taken back from Elsevier, Springer Nature, Wiley, and Taylor & Francis can go to the head of the chemistry department, with a dollop for the new gym. The uncoupling of access from the library will likely lead to the diminishment of the library’s place on campus, putting the library into the position of the university press, an unloved community obligation.

The perspective summarized here is not one of advocacy, and the last thing I would do is to exhort libraries not to pursue better deals with their vendors. Rather my point is that libraries and legacy publishers are in an unholy embrace. They need not love each other to feel they should stick together — for the children, for the budget. What appears to get lost in discussions of the march of cancelled contracts in Europe is that it is not just publishers that are being disrupted. This is a disruption to the entire ecosystem. When the favor comes due, we may not like the terms, but pay we will.

Joseph Esposito

Joseph Esposito

Joe Esposito is a management consultant for the publishing and digital services industries. Joe focuses on organizational strategy and new business development. He is active in both the for-profit and not-for-profit areas.

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Discussion

78 Thoughts on "Libraries Face a Future of Open Access"

“Librarians have learned to reach for the muscle and now confidently demand terms that no publisher can or will accept”. It’s the other way round. Publishers are demanding terms libraries can no longer afford. I am also doubtful that Swedish scholars will switch to Sci-Hub en masse – I suspect figures in due course will show that researchers in those countries that have refused to renew major Big Deals do not show a dramatic rise in Sci-Hub usage, but let’s see. I agree libraries and publishers are in an embrace, but it is publisher arrogance, not Sci-Hub, that is ruining the relationship.

In your hypothetical example, you neglect to mention that SciHub is completely dependent on the publishers. This is not a preprint server. It doesn’t generate its “own” content. If customers stop subscribing and the journals/publishers go away, SciHub has nothing to steal. So legacy content may remain for some time, but new content would cease.

“If customers stop subscribing and the journals/publishers go away, … .” Does the entire system then tumble to the ground? Is there a stable default position in which there is no peer-review, no value-addition from copy-editors, and people with proven credentials continue to submit to the preprint publishers, who seem now to manage quite well on support from various charitable donors? Would it be an improvement if authors were then judged on what they had written, rather than on what journal they had published in? Would scores of preprint publishers emerge so a new publishing hierarchy would appear? Would the old journal publishers really go away, or would they adapt?

What makes you think the charitable donors will continue to support preprint? I would hate to bet my future on it.


“What makes you think the charitable donors will continue to support preprint? I would hate to bet my future on it.”
Funders would continue to fund research. It’s to their advantage to ensure that the results of research is shared to a wide audience. If journals went away (unlikely), they would either send to open servers, or create their own repositories if those didn’t exist. If journals went away, and PubMedCentral didn’t exist, the US Federal government would create something like it for the materials from their funded research. Universities would also create/add to their repositories.

Going back to the long thread on preprints, it would be interesting to know more about what articles are actively sought either as preprints or via pirate sites. One then might ask the question as to why authors publish where there is a spread between “we have something important that needs to be exposed to a larger community” and “we are being pressured by institutions, granting agencies and promotional decisions”. Maybe the libraries add another dimension to the art and rationale of scholarly publishing?

You raise a number of very important issues here, including whether a service that helps on price, but otherwise violates many values, can ever be an ally.

But I want to focus on what I think is your most significant analogy, right in the last paragraph. “They need not love each other to feel they should stick together — for the children, for the budget.” Love certainly has nothing to do with it! Libraries are seeking the empowerment that the right to divorce affords each married spouse in a couple. When a structure binds two parties together and one is forced to stay against their will, as seems to have been the effect of the Big Deal, then empowering them both equally to leave is not by any means unreasonable.

But I think today’s failed negotiations are not exactly divorces but rather the artifacts of a transitional period. The equilibrium price for content and related services is being reset. It is being reset based on market conditions, of which SciHub is a piece but by no means the whole story. And it is being reset because libraries are negotiating and not just accepting the dreams being offered them. Once this transition completes, universities will still license content and publishing services from publishers. But it will be at a new equilibrium price. I’m sorry to say there will likely be great cost along the way if this transition.

Agreed, this is a re-set pursued against a backdrop of a lot of factors.

I have a lot of thoughts about positing that libraries and publishers are “married” but for now what I’m trying to puzzle through …. who are “the children” in this metaphor? Readers? Authors? The publications? The paid editorial staff? Shareholders seeking profits?

The “children” are the budget. I thought that this was clear in context. Should I have punctuated this differently?

Should? Well, for me it would have been clearer to say “for the children, i.e., the budget” – as written I understood those as two “for” statements with two different intentions. But, I’m also still confused. Which budget?

Yeah, I read “the children” as “the future generations in this ecosystem” meaning both libraries and publishers would be better to stick together for the future generations.

I don’t know if this is right, but I read “libraries and legacy publishers… feel they should stick together — for the children, for the budget” as meaning “if libraries aren’t paying publishers for content, they both lose: publishers lose revenue, and libraries lose budget (because the university isn’t going to keep giving the library money to spend on collections if the collections don’t cost anything; instead, it will redirect that money towards other urgent needs).”

I suppose. But, that just seems weird to me. Why do I as a librarian want the university to spend on publications that it doesn’t need to pay for just so the library can have a budget? That seems to posit that having a budget is the library’s purpose. I don’t think the library exists to have a budget.

There’s a fascinating existential dilemma in there — if doing your job well means eliminating your position and potentially much of the library, how motivated are you to succeed? I’m going to suggest that after all the publishers are put out of business and the librarians are let go, we all start a restaurant together, as the name “The Scholarly Kitchen” will then be up for grabs.

While I believe that Lisa and many other librarians greatly underestimate how disruptive Lisa’s proposal would be (and most will not be happy with the unintended consequences), her analysis is essentially correct. I would add that most of the publishers who are outraged by the suggestion would do the very same thing as Lisa proposes were they to work at libraries. This is not a matter of right or wrong but of which side of the table you sit on.

I’ve already been thinking about a follow-on post re how libraries might assess the risk of the different Linking Strategy options I laid out. That seems to be the controversial area – no one seems bothered much by the Acquisition Strategy or the Delivery Strategy. Of course, neither of those so directly takes on publisher interests either. Maybe we should write that as a dialogue!

Also, for readers who maybe missed yesterday so don’t get the reference – https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2018/05/22/are-library-subscriptions-overutilized/.

Spending money that doesn’t need spending isn’t the way to defend a library budget. That makes having a budget the goal rather than a means. We have plenty to reallocate monies to if we can save them in one area.

Universities don’t allocate separate budgets to libraries publisher by publisher, platform by platform. They allocate for the library (perhaps with broad categories of collections, operations, staffing) but within that librarians are responsible for stewarding.

It is absolutely the case that libraries need to demonstrate their value but I don’t share your despair for my position and I feel quite motivated to succeed – in roles that add value for my institution. If I was spending money and hoping no one would notice that it didn’t need to be spent so that I could keep a job spending it? Now, then I’d despair.

Well, I was being facetious (although the restaurant business is looking increasingly intriguing). But as Karen pointed out in a comment above (https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2018/05/23/libraries-face-future-open-access/#comment-75460), much of the value that the faculty sees in the library is “as an acquirer of content. They rarely use, and do not seem to value, other library services.” Surely even if you can demonstrate the value of those other services, the acquisition roles will be eliminated.

May depend where you work. While our faculty (and students) show high appreciation for the Buyer role. We also have higher than national averages scores on other roles that the Ithaka survey asks about (I cited this in the SK Discovery Should Be Delivery post). Perhaps we’ve done something right?

FWIW, though, I’m not completely in agreement with Karen’s statement about what faculty value generally. Look at Figures 45 and 46 in http://www.sr.ithaka.org/publications/ithaka-sr-us-faculty-survey-2015/ (the survey Karen is citing). I mean – sure, they value the buying role. But, Gateway and Buyer are pretty high and all trended upward between 2012 and 2015. Now, personally, I am anxious to see the results of 2018, particularly for trend. Nonetheless, while Buyer is the most important to faculty it doesn’t follow that the others are not important. It’s honestly pretty impressive how important all the roles are seen as being – libraries are maintaining the value to their community even with tight/declining budgets!

Academic libraries have to prepare for an open access world just like publishers. Flipping to APCs rather than subscriptions is going to diminish the buyer role regardless. The savvy move for libraries isn’t to hold on to the buyer role like a lifejacket but rather to take the time we have to innovate and pivot for the future we can see coming. Just like publishers should be.

Lisa, here is where we disagree. First, I put little stock in surveys of this kind. YMMV. Second, decisions are not made by polling a large number of people and seeking a weighted decision. One or two ideas penetrate the fog of multiple points of view. The discretion of the provost with regard to the budget is one of these ideas. It doesn’t matter what everybody thinks. It matters what the provost thinks. Say good-bye to the budget when libraries stop seeing themselves as warehouses of content, as old-fashioned as that idea may be.

Okay, well, eventually this will be an empirical question. Physically there just isn’t going to be that much content to warehouse. And, if the content doesn’t need buying, then we don’t need that budget. Looks to me like there are libraries that are doing quite well at showing the value of campus investment in discovery, information management, curation, preservation, publishing, etc. Whether all can innovate/pivot – well, I hope so. But, I put far more stock in the long-term future of libraries in a vision that isn’t hanging on to the warehousing/buying role.

Responding to Lisa here: for the record, I completely agree with you that the library doesn’t exist to have a budget, and also that spending money that doesn’t need spending isn’t the way to defend a library budget. And I also feel like this is a point that is often overlooked when we talk about libraries redirecting library budgets to support a flip to OA (whether by subvening APCs or by directly underwriting publishing programs). A lot of the rhetoric in favor of such a flip assumes that if the library stops spending its collection budget on collections, and instead redirects that money elsewhere, it can safely be assumed that the library’s host institution will continue providing that money to the library. I don’t think this can be taken as given; I think it needs to be discussed between the library and the institution before such a shift is undertaken. The proposal is that what was once a collection budget now be transformed into a publishing enterprise budget, and the question to ask the institution is “Are you willing to underwrite that in the same way to the same degree you were willing to underwrite the purchase of content?” Libraries that think they can make decisions like this unilaterally, using institutional money, are probably in for a rude awakening.

Well, Rick, in what may be a notable day … for the record, I agree with you here. I’m not convinced that re-purposing collections dollars into APCs dollars is a good strategy but any library doing it must absolutely be engaged in a discussion with the institution about this as a strategic choice and its alignment with campus priorities, etc.!

Your point about libraries losing funding and themselves becoming less important is well-taken. Funding of libraries in the US as a percentage of overall tuition and fees has been falling for nearly 30 years, but when you look at the line, there was a notable acceleration of the decline around 2000, when the fever of “free information online” was at its peak. Now, if administrators see libraries as irrelevant as points of content accession, their budgets will likely fall again. There won’t be budget surpluses created by these moves, but smaller budgets.

Publishers invented the subscription model. We’ve used the institutional site license as a bridge for the past 20-25 years to cross the chasm from print to digital distribution. Now, the publishers and libraries are reaching the end of that particular bridge. The problem they both face now is that piracy and illicit access makes it impossible to execute an effective individual subscription model, as well. What options are left?

Piracy is not a victimless crime, to quote your latest Blu-ray. If our mutual piracy problem is not solved, our profession will contract and weaken just at the time that more researchers, scholars, and practitioners need trustworthy publication outlets and guidance through an information jungle.

Where’s the future? Look to China, where none of this is tolerated, and where investment in both science and scholarly publishing is consistent, relentless, and part of a societal long-game.

Kent, “where none of this is tolerated”? I’m a bit hesitant to be too interested in emulating a country engaging in social scoring and information suppression, but is like to hear more about what you mean by none. Are you claiming SH is blocked in China?

I think China is less tolerant of things that are not in their interest. I don’t condone many of their approaches (and have written about this), but in this business and funding environment, their approach to the Internet and financing may prove effective. The tolerant approach that abides piracy and even abets it to some extent is eroding fundamental incentives at the time when more people need them. In the long run, China is positioned to emerge as a much larger publishing power in my opinion.

I’ll ask again, what is “none” in what you wrote? China is a top-downloader from Sci-Hub in every report I’ve seen.

For Sci-Hub in particular, China will slam the door when it suits them. My “none” was more about not tolerating choices that are not in the community’s or country’s long-term interests, which I think is something at the heart of Joe’s post. When shutting down Sci-Hub becomes important to the self-interest and long-term interest in China, it will be blocked.

Okay, thanks for clarifying. Put me down as definitely not admiring a totalitarian approach.

Kent, are you seriously commending the Chinese approach to IPR as a model to follow?

Not commending, but noting that they may be comparatively effective.

Old but possibly relevant joke:

Two strangers were out backpacking in the woods. They came upon each other and decided to walk the next bit together. Around a bend in the trail they came face to face with a bear.

One stranger drops to his knee, fetches his running shoes from his backpack and begins the removing his hiking boots.

The other stranger just stares and says, “There is no way you can run faster than that bear.”

The kneeling stranger stands up and replies, “I don’t have to be faster than the bear. I only have to be faster than you.”

I am not sure that the China analogy works. First of all, most (large) enterprises there are state-backed if not state-funded, and foreign enterprises have to work through local intermediaries if they want to establish a presence in the country. So a foreign publishing house would need to have some sort of partnership with a local publisher (can be a subsidiary of the foreign publisher in name), which is under complete control by the government (or the party, but the difference is moot). Coupled with their market size, they make the ecosystem within China completely independent of the original publisher. If the foreign publisher perishes, why, just let the state-backed local publisher take over.

Or, just seize the local subsidiary directly via an executive order – that’s what happened to Ali Baba’s third-party payment system. In other words, your normal idea of an independent scholarly publisher who can choose what to publish would not work there – only those that follow orders are tolerated. Having had the dubious pleasure of spending my childhood under a totalitarian regime (not China though), I am not sure if you are serious that THAT is the future of scholarly publishing you envision.

A slightly different take on libraries losing their institutional funding. I hope that OA2020, SPARC’s Community-Supported Infrastructure, the 2.5% Commitment, and other programs, will help libraries hang on to their funding. Libraries are already talking about how to use their collections money to support open access. This should be the other side of the move away from subscriptions.

I suspect that the smarter publishers have figured out the only obvious solution, which was, ironically handed to them by the OA movement – APCs. Even assuming they get a little less overall for APCs (and I’m not convinced that they will, I think it’s a growth market) the trade off is an end to expenditure on piracy protection. Because if you have your money, what do you care about SciHub or anyone else. No more IP ranges to register, no RA 21 implementation, no monitoring your site for illegal downloads. Take the payment, put the PDF up and get out of the way. Open it all up to Google to index instead of paying for your own search services. Put the money into evaluation and intelligence services around the publications and sell those to universities and libraries. Elsevier and SpringerNature looked to have figured this out already.

I take it that Joe doesn’t think any of the funding taken away from libraries will be transferred to support university presses. Those presses, of course, once dominated scholarly journal publishing–until the likes of Robert Maxwell emerged after WWII and started the rise of large commercial STEM publishing. Is there any reason in principle why university presses could not take on this role again, though the issue of scale is of course daunting?

And what about libraries as publishers? New York State dedicated $8 million of public funds to develop OER in the CUNY and SUNY systems, an enterprise that was pioneered there by SUNY-Geneseo under the leadership of Cyril Oberlander back in 2013. Why could some of this funding not go toward engaging more libraries in this development effort?

One conundrum that libraries who tacitly rely on Sci-Hub create for faculty is to implicate them in associating with an ethically unsavory organization. Rather than drawing them into ever greater complicity with Sci-Hub, should not librarians be educating faculty about the dangers to privacy of faculty giving Sci-Hub their access credentials, which can be used to access not just library subscriptions but personnel and other educational records?

Sandy, I would echo your comment…”And what about libraries as publishers?”Having read and thought about this topic for some time, there seems to be an opportunity and some wisdom in this approach. The act of creating, publishing and archiving knowledge are well aligned and could live comfortably within the same institutional walls. Why not bring the enterprise in-house. It could certainly help expose and even train students and scholars to better understand the importance of the enterprise. How better to get someone to value something than to have them participate more fully and directly in the enterprise. This in-house model would also make clearer the motives of the various publishing models, i.e. scholarship versus parasitism (aka current for-profit publishing models) versus predation. One of my favorite quotes about publishing goes something like this…”all forms of publishing are theft.” Although we are clearly complicit in this transaction, it seems the profits of this activity could be put to uses in support of university libraries and scholarship supported by academic societies. I can see a useful alliance between academic society publishing and university libraries.

The problem here is the loss of independent critical review and quality assurance that kicks in once you set up an in-house press to publish the work of the university’s faculty. As I have remarked elsewhere it is in effect ‘vanity publishing’. I suppose it might be claimed that faculty at other institutions would still provide peer review (for free?) but why would they do that as a service to a specific rival institution rather than for the benefit of the general scholarly community in their field? A plausible scenario would be a certain amount of ‘I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch mine’ through the formation of peer review rings linking comparable institutions and their presses. Again this comes at the expense of rigorous quality assurance. Let us not discount the value of the independence of both society and commercial publishers from the specific interests of funders and universities. They can refuse to publish funded or institutionally favored work on the grounds of quality without fear of come backs or reprisals. This is not a negligible benefit.

This is an excellent point. There are strong scholarly reasons why the top rated journals are published by scholarly societies in the field. They provide multiple fora–journals, conferences, etc.–for leaders in the field to advance their professions. Unfortunately, they tend to make alliances with commercial publishers because they are financially compensated. A strong percentage of their operational budgets depend on those alliances. We don’t have a better methodology of advancing academic fields than professional associations, so we have to take into account their operating needs if we want to take on the role of publisher for professional society journals. I know that some library publishing does publish for professional societies, and even charges cost recovery, but this tends not to be true in the sciences.

I don’t think that the traditional publishers hold the monopoly on quality assurance, and I certainly don’t think that a university press should be equated with vanity publishing. University presses tend to publish scholarship from a wide range of authors regardless of their institutional affiliation. Most Open Access journals hosted by an institution (our library hosts OA journals through our Digital Commons instance) operate like paid journals, soliciting content and reviewers from their field of study, not their institution (the exception to this would be journals of student work — I know of multiple institutions that sponsor open access undergraduate research journals to help students gain research experience.). In terms of fear of reprisals from institutions, that’s specifically why we have the tenure system, so that academic researchers can do their research without fear of reprisal or institutional pressure. And in terms of ‘I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch mine,” we already see that with the journals in what the Scholarly Kitchen described as “Citation Cartels” (https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2012/04/10/emergence-of-a-citation-cartel/) — while I haven’t done an extensive study of citation cartels, I have definitely seen the names of journals from traditional, paid publishers come up in the lists of journals that have participated in these cartels. Most academic researchers engage deeply in their fields, and they’re smart enough to know the difference between supporting a “rival institution” and contributing to research quality in their fields.

This brings up the standard questions that get asked at this point in the conversation:
1) If the press is publishing material from scholars regardless of their institutional affiliation, who pays for that? If it’s not an in-house service for the employees of the university, should the university pay for the employees of other universities to publish their work?
2) And then this gets to the question of why the library is the right place for such a venture. Librarians are highly trained professionals, but they are not trained in running a business, nor many of the other skills that patrons want from a publisher (e.g., marketing). At the two university presses where I’ve worked, there is a chasm between the press, which is run as a business and expected to bring in funds, and the other departments, which are given budgets and meant to spend funds. It is not by coincidence that the two largest and oldest university presses are run as independent businesses by business people, with oversight by the university faculty and administration. Surely a university press should be run to benefit the university it hosts, not just the library of that institution. So why should it be run by the library rather than any other department, and why not bring in skilled professionals to run it, rather than relying on professionals who are skilled in other areas?

To reply to David’s comment:

It seems as though you’ve answered your own question. If a successful university press is bringing in funds, as you posit in your second point, then that is an incentive for the university to provide operating costs, as well as an incentive for said press to publish high-quality content regardless of institutional affiliation.

If the motivation for the university is to bring in funds (and I know of no university that is averse to being better funded), then again, the question must be asked why the library is the right place in the university to oversee what is essentially a business venture.

I think what Kent is alluding to is China’s investment in science and technology. It is investing in building its libraries and scientific infrastructure. Much like the US did from the end of WWII until Reagan was elected in 1980 and library acquisitions was cut from federal research grants.
I can see no reason for a university administration to increase the library budget because it saved money. Instead, I can see the administration saying thank you: keep up the good work, but you will get less this year because you have demonstrated you need less. The money saved will be used elsewhere. Can anyone produce any evidence that a library budget increased because of savings it made.

Thinking about this as “savings” is disconnected from two realities. First, that libraries are having their budgets cut – then they cancel to meet the cut. There is no “savings” … there is less spending because there is less allocation. Next, if there is savings, it is then reallocated to other content because no library has all the content its community would find useful. So, yes, to conclude libraries can better position themselves through the “savings” that is in fact “reallocation.”

I found your reference to the society publishers interesting. Societies have gotten more expensive to manage. Many are international in scope and have annual meetings around the globe. While dues are seldom inexpensive at the individual level, the reality is that much of the freight for the full time administration of scholarly societies is paid by the commercial publishers. Society publishers generally sponsor the top peer-reviewed journals in their fields, and thus are responsible for a high percentage of impact, but they also play a significant role for non peer-reviewed resources, which are growing. Society meetings are an important place to learn about research data–how it was created, what results it shows. We are engaged in a research project at Rutgers with two other universities (Temple and Penn State), which shows that who created the data and why is one of the most important factors in choosing data sets to reuse, and the best place to interact with data creators is at conferences. We have to consider the bottom line of professional societies as well, when we think about the role of large publishers like Elsevier. The commercial publishing scene is a snarled ball of yarn, as we start picking at the threads, we have to think about the infrastructure we are unraveling.

yet another wonderfully thought-through and important contribution to the ongoing discussion. you are generous toward librarians, & I have to agree that that in general is warranted. yet as you say, there are not a few librarians–often administrators–who seem not to understand that from one angle, they can appear to be shouting from the rooftops that their institutions are volunteering to go first when the numbers people look for cost centers to shut them down.

The Swedish press release and the German DEAL discussions (plus others throughout Europe) are not so much “celebrated” as recognized to be a sea change for negotiations. Joe, you’re right that we may be getting to a point where libraries ask for terms publishers will not or cannot accept. If so, the direction in which initiatives such as OA2020 must head long-term, is (to begin) to replace the current publishing system with some kind of new one, based in new organizations and models, and — if that vision is to be realized — those “big deal” dollars would need to be re-directed to gradually build the “new thing.” Is there enough will (and strategy, etc.) in the library community to see today’s actions to such an ultimate conclusion? I don’t know.

I’m not sure that the will of librarians is ever going to be enough. It seems to me that the only way the current publishing system will be replaced with a significantly new and different one will be if those who currently determine the shape of the system decide that they want a new and different one. We, as librarians, serve a very important (set of) function(s) within that system, but we don’t determine its general parameters. The ones with the ultimate power to decide whether the current system will change or stay the same are the faculty: they’re the ones who set the criteria for academic advancement, and they’re the ones who control the flow of their own content into the system.

It’s fairly commonplace now to say that since the system is irreparably broken, faculty will “simply have to change.” The thing is, of course, that they don’t necessarily agree that the system is irreparably broken, and they don’t have to change; they can, if they so choose, continue to keep the existing system going for as long as they retain the freedom to set their own tenure and promotion criteria and to decide how and where their work will be published. Of course, it’s possible to take those choices away from them–this can be done very effectively and efficiently in European countries, where strong centralized government ministries are able to dictate terms to universities, and it can be done somewhat less effectively in the US, where there is no centralized government ministry of education but there are granting agencies that wield significant power over faculty (more in some disciplines than in others). I can’t see a third way for the system to undergo fundamental change: it will either change because faculty authors decide it needs to change, or some entity(s) with power over faculty authors will impose change on them. That entity isn’t the library.

That’s what makes the German situation so interesting to me. The German negotiating coalition is indeed those who have power over faculty authors in some ways and not just librarians.

Rick, I don’t mean to say that libraries alone or even as national consortia have the power to create chunks of a new structure for large portions of formal scholarly communications. But we appear today to have a situation in which enough of the European countries (where higher education leaders, library consortia, funders, and legislators are of one mind) may be able to influence and weaken the current structure, possibly to the extent of developing over time a different structure. In fact, as/if the OA2020 movement gets traction, I have a difficult time seeing many of today’s publishers proceeding as they’ve done to date.

Joe, thanks for sharing this. You say, ‘The assumption is that libraries will have more money to spend on other things, but it seems as likely that provosts will take that money away from the libraries.’ Yes, this is the most likely outcome, based on my experience, if the trends you point out come to be. The ITHAKA studies consistently show that faculty most value the library’s role as an acquirer of content. They rarely use, and do not seem to value, other library services. Many faculty are willing to say outright they do not need the library. If the free access trends pan out as you suggest, library budgets could be a target for cuts on a new scale. Across the span of my career serving academic libraries, I have seen the shift to online content without a sustainable economic framework for any of the players. Colleagues of mine rightly say that the greedy behavior and choices of players like Elsevier have earned enmity, yes, and payback is justified at some level. Nevertheless your contribution begins to put the issues on the table for all players in a way we can start the conversation over – if there are enough people of good conscience and good will to take it up.

Really? No one has questioned Joe’s characterization of university presses as “unloved community obligations” on campus (other than West Virginia University Press Director Derek Krissoff on Twitter)? I can assure you that the University of Georgia does not consider the UGA Press, of which I’m director, to be an “obligation,” but a rich and contributing partner in the research, teaching, and service mission of the institution. And we are not alone, as I discussed at the UP Redux in February (https://bit.ly/2xlO4CT). Those of you who pay attention only to the relatively scant but amplified bad news about a very few university presses ignore the fact that the vast majority of us–142 members of the Association of University Presses–are evolving right along with, and in some cases, arguably ahead of, the rest of the higher education system. The scholarly communications “crisis” was in a mature state when I entered the profession some 30 years ago. Stop denigrating university presses.

Maybe libraries are going through their own #metoo movement, refusing to be held hostage to companies that exert monopoly-based price pressure to drive exorbitant profits that benefit only CEOs and shareholders.
And Joe, “university presses, an unloved community obligation”? Seriously? Don’t you know more about scholarly publishing and higher education to toss off a spurious comment like that? Ignored or under appreciated, at times, perhaps, but unloved? Unloved by whom or what? This is not been my experience or that of any colleagues of mine.

I think most faculty and librarians would agree that university press offerings remain the “gold standard” in terms of authoritative, peer reviewed monographs scholarship. While there are other publishers that are very sound in terms of both peer review and cutting edge scholarship, there is no publishing stream that has earned the trust for both innovative and rigorous, unbiased scholarship as the university presses. They also do an excellent job of reflecting their regional cultures with titles that are critical to the documentation and presentation of cultural diversity that would otherwise be lost if not for their publishing efforts. Publishing rigorous, peer-reviewed monographs is not an inexpensive proposition, but university presses are on the forefront of investigating new publication models, such as the the University of California Press’s Luminos platform to provide open acecss scholarship as a cost-effective subscription and author collaboration, which can be a model not just for university presses but for library publishing. I think that far from being de-valued by their institutions, university presses have proven surprisingly nimble in re-inventing themselves and aligning closely with the university’s mission and are enjoying a resurgence of interest and respect at the administrative level as a result. The UGA Press, under Lisa Bayer’s leadership, is a model for this. We would do well to study our colleagues for guidance rather than underestimating them.

That mug shot of Al Capone kinda looks like Joe Esposito, according to a friend.

“Unloved”?! Give us a break, Joe. Not only is that adjective wildly inaccurate with regards to university presses, it’s unnecessarily demeaning and sloppy.

There’s good food for thought in this piece. Why risk ruining it it with a backhanded slap in the face to a subset of the scholarly publishing community that has consistently been innovative, inventive, and open to seeking new business and technology models? I feel as though you owe us an apology, or–if you truly believe this–a full SK piece supporting your argument.

Writing as someone from an 800-pound gorilla in another sector (full disclosure: Gale), the dismantling of the Big Deal could serve publishers outside the STEM universe quite well. True, administrators might just take saved money away from the library system. But then again, they may let the library re-deploy those funds more cost effectively among STEM alternatives or among non-STEM publishers in the humanities and social science who suffer silently as they stand further back in the funding queue behind Big Deal providers. Note, this is not just myself writing as the employee of a potential corporate beneficiary from the dismantling of Big Deals. Our sales teams (as do those at our competitors, large and small, in the database and print publishing universe) hear this complaint from humanities and social science librarians on a pretty regular basis.

To continue with the marriage metaphor, I’d say that more modern thinking holds that the couple should only stay together “for the children” when both parties can be civil and operate on an even playing field. In the current publisher/library environment, the library partner comes to the table with scars from decreased budgets, increased annual prices, the burden of The Big Deal, and the decline of competition in the publishing market place. So, perhaps, some of us feel that a “conscious uncoupling” is in order to gain some equal footing.

There are so many problems, mistaken assumptions, and false (and slanderous) claims (especially regarding librarians) in this post that I almost do not know where to begin. By all means, let’s have an open and critical discussion about what is happening now vis-a-vis various countries and universities and research consortiums engaging in more vigorous negotiations with Elsevier, SpringerNature (etc.), but let’s at least proceed with some modicum of respect for all of the different actors involved. To make my own stakes clear, I lead a non-profit, scholar-led, independent OA press (punctum books) that is affiliated with the University of California, Santa Barbara Library (UCSB Library). I am also a scholar who used to be a tenured professor in English. I have also been a journal editor for close to 10 years for a journal that is published by Palgrave Macmillan / SpringerNature, so I feel like I have been lucky to inhabit many different viewpoints within the landscape of scholarly communication and I have also been fortunate to work closely with UC librarians over the past several years, leading to a rich education in how librarians view and also work on these issues. I feel compelled to leave some comments here primarily on behalf of scholarly communication librarians, especially since this post, at its worst, defames them, and at its least insulting, simply misrepresents what is happening on the inside of university libraries vis-a-vis corporate-conglomerate publishing and open access.

1. “When librarians prepare for a negotiation, they now routinely reach for the muscle.” No, they merely reach into the fat, which is seemingly bottomless (profit margins between 30-40%). They have never touched “muscle,” if by “muscle,” you mean librarians are expecting publishers like Elsevier to offer them subscription deals that would cut into their costs of production and give them no profits whatsoever. Is that what you mean? If so, it is patently false. If what you mean is, by canceling a subscription package, libraries are threatening certain publishers’ bottom line for survivability, then, yes, that *is* happening and it is a situation that certain publishers, and *not* libraries, have brought about. Commercial-conglomerate publishers (and really, all publishers: independent, university-based, commercial-conglomerate, etc.) *do* add immense value to research publications (although it can be argued as well that as mergers and prices have risen, editorial and other types of oversight have actually degraded quite a bit in certain sectors of the production process, and I could provide lots of evidence for this just from my experience editing for Palgrave Macmillan: with each takeover and merger, the editorial oversight and management of my journal has gotten worse and worse), but one fact cannot be disputed: commercial-conglomerate publishers such as Elsevier have become incredibly rapacious and greedy with regard to library deals, and now the crows are coming home to roost. Librarians are among the most ethical actors within the landscape of higher education I have ever met. They are responsible stewards of the knowledge economy and they have a specific mission with regard to the open sharing and dissemination of knowledge, which brings me to …

2. How dare Esposito imply that librarians are in league with mob-style elements in scholarly communication, to which the photo of Al Capone is just the icing on the cake of his contempt for librarians, and yes, this post drips with scorn for university librarians (and shame on everyone who can’t just say that out loud in the comments section). Esposito implies (while also admitting he has NO idea) that librarians are seeking out unsavory associates from the shadowy world of pirate libraries. Produce one ounce of proof for that ludicrous statement. Librarians, as with scholars, and also as with publishers, may have all sorts of viewpoints toward platforms like SciHub (that may range from outright condemnation to grim acceptance to indifference to — and this is my own position — understanding that SciHub is a *symptom* of a problem that is in need of a solution, which we should all work on together), but one thing will always be true: librarians are the sole guardians on every campus of whatever the rules (and laws) might be around intellectual property and fair use. They may be critical of certain copyright laws, but until they change, they do due diligence to uphold them and to encourage faculty and students to do the same. So, NO, librarians are not saying to themselves, “who cares about Elsevier, our constituencies can just go to SciHub and get this stuff for free, we don’t care.” They actually care very much about the routes to published research and they are in no way enabling SciHub, either overtly or covertly. This is not to say there might not be a rogue university librarian here and there who may be a “fan” of SciHub, but to imply that “librarians,” writ large, are forming shadow alliances with law-breaking pirate library organizations is flat-out defamatory and false in the extreme. Therefore, don’t blame SciHub for what is happening right now around “big deals”: commercial-conglomerate publishers created the state of affairs that has led to where we find ourselves now, and SciHub is, again, the symptom of a problem that is beyond the grasp and economic means of EVERYone except for the richest publishers, and maybe librarians and library systems, if they work collectively together, which is what they are starting to do. Whatever libraries are doing now vis-a-bis “big deals,” they are doing it with the mission and values of public research universities always in front of them. And they do this transparently and openly (except when publishers try to muzzle them, as they often do, with non-disclosure agreements: sound familiar?).

3. Esposito grew up in New Jersey so he knows some things about what happens when someone (a librarian?) gets in bed with an unsavoury character, who might want something in return? And he actually references a character from “The Godfather,” and no one, in 60+ comments, wants to call this out? Is there some reason no one in 60+ comments thinks this should be called out for what it is (?): straight-up completely unfounded insinuation and defamation of an entire class of dedicated university and public servants. Don’t be such a jerk. Also, get smarter.

If you wonder who enables SciHub, look at who benefits. This is the first principle of the armchair detective. SciHub benefits the scholars who produced the work. As publishing conglomerates get larger, they offer more demeaning publishing terms to authors, more libraries cancel subscriptions, and articles tend to be poorly described and indexed and lost among book reviews and other publication types in the discovery layer. Publishers aren’t investing significantly in author impact, so authors turn o SciHub, ResearchGate and other sharing sites because they truly enable sharing with colleagues and making a difference with your research. Large publishers are killing the golden goose by ignoring and abusing the creators of the content they devour.

I actually think SK needs more scholarly communications librarians’ voices as well as some representatives from the non-profit OA sector.

To be fair, we recently added librarian Lisa Hinchliffe and are hoping to add more. We also do have the CEO of PLOS blogging here as far as non-profit OA publishers. Interestingly, in our recent survey, one common complaint was the lack of any bloggers from commercial publishing houses (all our resident publishers are with not-for-profits).

I neglected to realize that PLOS was a non-profit. And I did not see Lisa defending scholarly communications librarians relative to Esposito’s post, and I wish she had. Same goes for Rick Anderson. They made a lot of comments here, but none of them took Esposito to task for his defamatory and misleading statements about librarians vis-a-vis SciHub (etc.). It would be good to have some publisher *and* librarian voices who, for example, would be in general agreement with the recent Declaration of Rights and Principles to Transform Scholarly Communication released by the University of California’s Academic Senate’s Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication (https://senate.universityofcalifornia.edu/_files/committees/ucolasc/scholcommprinciples-20180425.pdf) and who are working toward alternative (scholar- and librarian-led platforms for open access that do not charge author-facing fees). It would just bring in an important (but often marginalised by this group) set of perspectives. I believe that the only way forward in scholarly publishing now is through new forms of collaboration that would also help to minimize, or provide better alternatives, to what often seems like the unnecessary drawing of “lines” and “divides” between this or that type of publisher. We need a *diversity* of publishing platforms and presses to serve a diversity of different sorts of academic groups and disciplines. Part of the problem, in my mind, with what is going on with the larger commercial-conglomerate publishers is that they want to gobble up all of the real estate and the quality of what they provide actually gets worse, not better, with every merger and takeover. That’s a problem I don’t see addressed here enough. “One press to rule them all” troubles my sleep at night. [smile]

Different people interact with blog comment sections in different ways. Many of our bloggers avoid the comments sections altogether (the idea being that they have expressed themselves with the post and said what they need to say). Others come in here and there when inspired, but I’m not sure you can judge the writers here by the comments section which, like all internet forums, can vary widely in its quality and participation levels.

I strongly agree with you about the concerns around consolidation, basically the big commercial publishers continuing to get bigger at the expense of the smaller, the independent, the not-for-profit and the new startups. We have in the past written about the issues facing society publishers, the dominance of scale in the current market and the concept of “peak subscription” as a few examples:
https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2017/10/02/support-science-publishing-scientific-society-journals/
https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2016/05/24/the-society-publisher-at-the-stm-conference/
https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2015/06/25/the-changing-nature-of-scale-in-stm-and-scholarly-publishing/
https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2014/10/01/peak-subscription/

I’d love to hear more of these voices as well. I’ve written to a number of people inviting them to author guest posts (usually on the basis of something they have already written/presented) and know a fair number are working on things. But, the more the better! I know David is always happy to hear from people directly but I’m also pleased to work with anyone who might like to consider the possibilities.

4. “So it’s about time to consider what happens if the libraries win. By ‘win’ I mean they refuse deals with publishers and turn their constituencies over to unauthorized sites.” By refusing certain deals with big publishers, libraries are working on better deals with those very same publishers and they are also working on alternatives that have nothing to do with turning over their constituencies to unauthorized sites, but rather, have to do with developing alternative modes and streams of publication, some of which are developed in collaboration with the big publishers, such as “Green OA” institutional repositories, where researchers deposit pre-prints and/or post-prints with the approval and agreement of the publishers. And while I am on this point, please stop acting as if everything big publishers do couldn’t possibly be replicated by new publishing start-ups, some of which might be university- and/or library-based. If you had been at the meeting of the Library Publishing Forum this past week in Minnesota, you would have been blown away by all of the highly *technical* infrastructure for digital publishing that is being developed by scholars and librarians working together. Thanks to the digital humanities and the burgeoning academic field of scholarly communications, we are witnessing a growing cadre of researcher-publishers who are just as busy innovating scholarly publishing as the employees at publishers like Elsevier and the quality of many of these projects is sky-high (not to mention all of the for-profit start-ups that are also emerging to help librarians and scholars to reinvent scholarly publishing). The recently released Janeway, an open-source publication workflow system for digital/OA journals publishing, created by Martin Eve (a scholar-researcher-publisher) and Andy Byers (a publishing technology developer who is also based at Birkbeck College, University of London), and is a thing of gorgeousness, from a technical but also user-friendly perspective. I could name so many more platforms like this, but maybe take the time to read a prospectus of all of the things Mellon has been funding over the past five or so years and maybe adjust your perspective of what scholars and librarians and technical developers working together can accomplish. They are creating for themselves what bigger publishers have failed to produce on their own, or even on behalf of the public scholarly commons. A lot of the technical stuff the bigger publishers have developed and foisted upon their scholar-authors-editors has been absolute crap (even just navigating some of their poorly designed websites is a nightmare in itself). So, the idea that the richest corporate publisher will naturally develop the highest levels of technical excellence around their catalogs is actually not true at all, and the reason is that they are just as concerned with *cutting* costs (to increase profits) as they are with innovation (and I believe there are persons who work for the big publishers who *are* devoted to improving publishing platforms and protocols on behalf of the research community, but they are embedded within large companies whose primary priorities will naturally not always be focused on what researchers want and need).

5. Again, yes, *all* publishers add value to published research (I will always agree with that stance, no matter which publisher we are talking about), but if someone is trying to “win” something here, it is the corporations and not the librarians who created the situation of “struggle” and “battle.” Libraries don’t want to “win” anything — they are trying to cultivate access to knowledge for the betterment of all of the world’s societies, and they are attempting to do so in the most ethical and responsible ways possible. They have been backed into a corner and they don’t want to be run over and crushed (how many people here regularly read the prospectuses of some of the larger publishers — is it really a secret that some of these publishers’ parent companies (which also include hedge fund investors) actually see libraries as obstacles to be removed in a so-called perfect “flow” of information from owner to buyer? Can you blame librarians for fighting back? Just don’t disparage their intentions or actions as somehow participating knowingly in supporting others’ illegal activities, nor assume that they are incapable of creating alternatives that are just as good, or even better, than what is currently on offer from the biggest publishers. They are, in fact, doing just that, hand in hand with researchers and technical experts.

5. “If the libraries win and the big publishers are brought to their knees, will we see Sci-Hub and other such sites begin to embrace “library values” — that is, the suite of practices intended to enhance the life-cycle of scholarly communications?” They won’t have to, because thanks to organizations like OASPA, OAPEN Library, Portico, CLOCKSS, CrossRef, DOAJ, DOAB, the California Digital Library, OPENAire Foundation, SPARC, Ithaka, Max Planck Institute (etc.), we have plenty of non-profit and for-profit organizations (and more being developed all of the time) that will help those of us developing alternative (and more open) platforms for publication with our needs around long-term preservation, cross-referenced metadata, archiving/indexing, upholding “best practices” for review, workflow, etc. Again, no one, least of all librarians, is depending on SciHub to do anything for them. Because Esposito relies so heavily in this post on the the clearly absurd idea that librarians are somehow either working with, or depending on, SciHub, the whole piece just starts to feel more and more ludicrous. It’s as if the whole piece can be summed up as “either appreciate publishers like Elsevier more or be thrown into the fires of SciHub or be left on your own scrambling to figure things out in a burned-out apocalyptic wasteland left behind when the big publishers fail, which you are incapable of doing.” If I were the attending physician, I would recommend a trip to a meeting of the Library Publishing Coaltion, speaking of which …

7. “The uncoupling of access from the library will likely lead to the diminishment of the library’s place on campus, putting the library into the position of the university press, an unloved community obligation.” Has Esposito spent time in a major research library lately? I couldn’t believe it when I saw that so MANY of the comments here were about this question of a library’s budget. If anything, libraries are reclaiming their place as the heart and soul of any university, in large measure due to all of the ways in which they are acting to address issues relative to the growth of the Digital Everything and the changing landscape(s) of scholarly communication. The analogy with the university press as “unloved community obligation” is flatout not smart (or aware) vis-a-vis what is happening in libraries right now, and is also not very smart relative to how many university presses are also transforming themselves right now. Also, libraries, in standing more firm with big publishers around big deal negotiations, are not saying they are giving up “access” as part of their mission. In fact, it is precisely because access is at the heart of their mission that they are doing what they are doing. Access will always be part of their mission and, if anything, the current situation of dealing with publishers whose mission and values don’t align (100%) with the mission and values of university libraries has placed libraries in a position where they have to start exploring and innovating on their own alternative modes and platforms for more open (and more networked) dissemination of research outputs. Again, I recommend a visit to one of many conferences around the world where librarians, publishers (for- and non-profit, university-based and otherwise), scholarly communication experts, and technologists are working together for a better future for scholarly publishing. I concur with Roger Schonfeld here that, “today’s failed negotiations are not exactly divorces but rather the artifacts of a transitional period. The equilibrium price for content and related services is being reset. It is being reset based on market conditions, of which SciHub is a piece but by no means the whole story. And it is being reset because libraries are negotiating and not just accepting the dreams being offered them. Once this transition completes, universities will still license content and publishing services from publishers. But it will be at a new equilibrium price.”

8. “Say good-bye to the budget when libraries stop seeing themselves as warehouses of content, as old-fashioned as that idea may be.” Esposito just doesn’t get what is actually going on in libraries right now. They were never just “warehouses of content” and they sure as heck aren’t any more (if they ever were: remember the Library at Alexandria? It was a veritable hive of scholarly production and innovative librarianship), and as Lisa points out, the value that faculty researchers ascribe to libraries today is on the rise, partly because of all of the ways in which libraries are re-inventing themselves in the face of the rapidly changing landscape of scholarly communication. Some libraries are providing excellent examples of what can happen when a library not only is *not* just a “warehouse” for content, but is actually a hub of technological innovation around knowledge development, exchange, and dissemination.

Ultimately, what I really want to say here is that everyone really needs to spend more time inside of research libraries and at conferences, such as the Library Publishing Forum, to understand that the future of scholarly communications may, in fact, be library-based, and yes, contrary to some of the opinions being expressed here, they increasingly have the capability to do this well and are innovating in this direction all of the time, especially with scholar- and technologist-collaborators. I would like to see a more robust set of functional relationships between the primary stakeholders in OA publishing, for example, throughout the scholarly communication process, from submission to preservation. Given the ethically and economically fraught landscape of scholarly communication at this time, I agree with Gail Clement (Caltech Libraries) that librarians are essential to the success of a public mission-driven OA, for librarians “working in the commons bring a long-proven record of sustainable stewardship and a Code of Ethics that ‘embodies the ethical responsibilities of the profession in this changing information environment’.” They also have vast experience working through “myriad commons membership organizations to advance common goals and collaboratively develop best practices…in research communication and knowledge management.” I personally value a diversity of presses and publishing platforms (part of the problem with presses like Elsevier is that they get bigger and bigger and offer fewer and fewer options tailored to the specific needs of specific groups of researchers, and they actually threaten diversity) — for-profit, non-profit, university-based, independent (etc.) — but for me, the future of scholarly communications will have a lot to do with that is happening inside of libraries, and especially when, inside of those libraries, scholars and librarians are working together in collaborations that would have been, perhaps, unthinkable, without the dumpster fire presses like Elsevier have visited upon the public university, and that future looks bright to me.

Joe is an exceptional writer and analyst. When he is so inclined he is also a brilliant provocateur. This piece is a master class in provocation, and you can see the rhetorical skill on display in these two sentences:

“So it’s about time to consider what happens if the libraries win. By ‘win’ I mean they refuse deals with publishers and turn their constituencies over to unauthorized sites.”

There are at least three fallacies bundled up here in these 29 words. First is the Trumpian fallacy that deals are won rather than made. If the publishers refuse to counter the Swedes, then the circumstance is best described as a stalemate, not a win for either side.

Second, Joe presents no evidence that the Swedes or any librarians anywhere are motivated in their negotiations by the presence of Sci-Hub. He acknowledges that they are likely not so motivated in an earlier paragraph, but then bridges the admission with a non sequitur of a comparison between mobsters and librarians, and then just plows on.

Third , he embraces the fallacy of the excluded middle, where one option is taken arbitrarily as defining even though there are many, many other options. Perhaps it is worth exploring what would happen if a stalemate persists in the negotiations in Sweden. If it does, why are libraries singled out as the only culprits? A deal takes at least two parties. In fact, both libraries and publishers would be leaving their constituencies with no library access, but even then use of unauthorized sites is not the only choice that these abandoned constituents would have. They could subscribe individually or pay for individual articles and, in that case, they would share the plight of independent scholars elsewhere for whom most publishers have made little effort to offer affordable options. But even a stalemate with its multiple paths forward is not the only or even most likely outcome. A number of libraries have always refused the so-called big deals that publishers have proposed and which are being negotiated in Sweden at a national levels. These libraries have not relied on the black market, but have instead worked out other more modest and carefully negotiated arrangements with publishers for works that their scholars need, and that the institutions can afford.

For the Swedes and other countries and other libraries to say it is time to end these big deals just doesn’t mean that there are no other outcomes possible, but this article stirs the pot by casting the choice inaccurately in terms of a contest to be won or lost, by offering no evidence for its theory of winning, and by not taking the many other possible options into account. Judging by the comments, readers have taken the provocateur’s bait.

I appreciate D. Waters’s comments here and pretty much agree with all of it, except for the casting of the original post by J. Esposito as some sort of provocative “bait” that everyone is, let’s say, falling for. This does not do enough justice to just how flawed this entire post is on almost every level, and I would rather not take the position that since the initial premises of Esposito’s are flawed (rhetorically-logically), therefore, we don’t need to take it too seriously. I may also not be reading DW’s comments through the lens of their truest intentions. But what I *can* say, definitively, is that the original post is not a master class in provocation, if by “master class in provocation,” we might mean an essay that has been rhetorically engineered to spark debates that would either crash on the shores of their own self-righteousness or actually lead to novel solutions to problems that are typically seen as grounded in inescapable binaries. I would rather assume that all of the authors (“chefs”) of this platform are advancing ideas and arguments that they are, in fact, full invested in at some level and not just trying to “stir the pot” in order to enjoy (or whatever) the mayhem that ensues. How is that critically productive? The whole post is just trash, pure and simple, and if it’s gamesmanship (rhetorically-deft provocation) of a certain sort (that might be aimed, or not, at sparking a productive critical discussion), then it’s gamesmanship of a certain masculine (and tiring/condescending) variety. And this brings me to something that has really been bothering me a lot lately, sparked by a conversation on Twitter with a well-known advocate for open science (and whom I admire for their work on behalf of open science) who intervened into a thread where I was asking that we reconsider how we define Open Access (for me, that would be understanding that Open Access has to mean open in 2 directions: open to read, without economic barriers, but also open to publish, without economic barriers), in order to inform me that all discussion over how to define Open Access (and its many varieties: Gold, Green, etc.) was “closed” and that it would be dangerous to try to redefine, now, what those terms mean, but I am also aware that right here on this blog, commentators have argued that, actually, after all of these years, we still don’t have general agreement (among all stakeholders in scholarly communications) about what Open Access means and how it should be further defined and enacted (https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2017/01/23/diversity-open-access-movement-part-1-differing-definitions/). I’m glad to see that SK has addressed this issue, but my Twitter exchange led me to reflect on which voices and organizations dominate in conversations around Open Access and scholarly publishing more broadly. And with very few exceptions, those dominating are primarily white and male (and based in what I would call Anglo-European-American communities of academics researchers, publishers, service providers, standards agencies, and policy makers). And while I also know that leaders of this particular community (SSP) have thought in the past about the lack of diversity and have attempted to address that in partial ways, you really have not succeeded on this score. While SK may have solicited library folk and different sorts of publisher folk and different sorts of information agency folk, the same voices dominate again and again and again.

I agree with Eileen and other critics of the original post. The original post was inaccurate and misleading. I also agree with her more generally about SK. Too often it is just a mouthpiece for one side’s views, and a very White male dominated one at that. (I am of course part of that elite).

Eileen Joy, what an incredibly thorough and thoughtful response. Hear hear!

I may be mistaken but don’t see any publisher comments. It would be useful to hear from them.

I also wanted to call out this statement as it smarted “But, like the populist governments that have now been installed in a number of Western democracies, the party of cynicism has taken control of some leading library organizational.”
I thought that was either an unfair comparison or maybe even a slight. Did I imagine that?

I like a provocative post, and the comments even more. But, the publishers do always seem to come off best in the SK…

A library colleague told me recently that she stopped reading SK because it was “essentially a publishing industry blog posing as something else.” I didn’t agree at the time, but, if she were to read Joe’s post here, she’d certainly feel she’d made the right call.

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