Even Harvard Must Reckon with the Scholarly Publishing Crisis

With an article titled “The ‘Wild West’ of Academic Publishing”, Craig Lambert, writing in the January-February 2015 issue of Harvard Magazine, details the challenges that even universities with the resources of Harvard face as they attempt to navigate the scholarly publishing crisis.

Lambert examines two specific challenges. First, how can the existing 105 university presses survive in an environment where it is increasingly difficult to sell more than a few hundred copies of a scholarly monograph. Second, how can higher education bring sensible reform to a badly broken system of scholarly article publishing that has faculty giving away content to publishers (both commercial and non-profit societies) that sell back the content to academic libraries at subscription prices that cannot be rationalized.

Is open access publishing a possible solution? Lambert dives into the question, and offers some possibilities by profiling a few experiments in approaching scholarly publishing in an entirely different way. This article provides insight into the scholarly publishing crisis, and could well serve as material for a conversation in academic departments where there are concerns about the future of scholarly publishing.

Veterans Day and Temple’s World War I Poster Collection

While the First World War officially ended at the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919,  major hostilities  concluded on November 11, 1918,  at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.  November 11 was thereafter observed as Armistice Day  in many of the allied nations, including France, the United States, Belgium, Great Britain, Canada, Australia and other Commonwealth nations.   The day originally served to remember the  9 million combatants who had died  during the war.  After the Second World War, veterans of that conflict pressed in the United States to have November 11 become a day on which all veterans of military service would be honored, irrespective of  when they served in the U.S. Armed Forces.   President Dwight D. Eisenhower, himself a veteran of both the first and second World Wars,  signed the enabling legislation into effect in 1954.

Today, although all combatants from “war to end all wars”  have died,  we grapple still with the legacy of that terrible conflict which spawned several national revolutions,  reshaped the map of Europe, led  to the Second World War, and  directly or indirectly occasioned the creation of the modern states of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and ultimately Israel.

The First World War is regarded  as a watershed event in the history of warfare, society and culture.  Government powers (taxation, rationing, conscription) significantly expanded in many nations in order to mobilize entire economies to fight a technologically advanced and industrially intensive war of such great geographic extent and duration.   Propaganda reached new heights of pervasiveness and persuasive power as governments increasingly saw the necessity to garner and maintain broad public support  in favor of war policies in the context of  broad literacy rates and mass suffrage.

One of the most prominent manifestations of the new propaganda was the war poster, many of which have survived in the collections of libraries and historical societies, as well as in private collections.   The Special Collections Research Center of the Temple University Libraries hold  a magnificent collection of over 1,500 World War I posters which were donated to Temple in 1937 by George F. Tyler who had been a Major in the U.S. Army Field Artillery during the War.  Temple’s Tyler School of Art is named for Tyler’s wife Stella Elkins Tyler.    Virtually all these posters have been digitized and are now freely available for study in our Digital Collections.      An interpretive online exhibition is also offered at:  http://exhibitions.library.temple.edu/exhibits/ww1/ .  

Jonathan LeBreton, Senior Assoc. University Librarian

How is scholarly publishing like using Facebook?

One absurdity of the current scholarly communications system consists of the arrangement by which faculty hand the products of their research over to publishers, who then charge university libraries enormous sums to repurchase access to the resulting articles. Publishers also ask faculty for uncompensated work as anonymous peer reviewers. In a curious disconnect, faculty function as part of a “gift economy”, giving away work in exchange for prestige and potential career advancement, while publishers function squarely as part of the “market economy”.

In truth, almost all of us take part in a similar exchange on a daily basis.

Free web services like Facebook or Google apps can operate as free sites in part because they sell details about your online behavior to companies known as “data brokers”. Facebook alone sells information to four separate companies: Acxiom, Datalogix, Epsilon, and BlueKai. Details on how to opt out of this data collection can be found on this post by the digital rights organization Electronic Frontier Foundation. And you thought keeping your regular Facebook privacy settings up-to-date was difficult!

The primary customers of the data brokers are advertisers who use information collected by online services for targeted marketing campaigns. That’s why, following the revelations of NSA data collection, the Onion ran a piece with the ironic headline “Area Man Outraged His Private Information Being Collected By Someone Other Than Advertisers”. However, it isn’t hard to imagine that large scale data collection might lead to worse abuses than advertisers sending cheese coupons based on grocery store loyalty card data.

Some scholars predict that “big data” collection could sometimes benefit the public. For instance, epidemiologists could use mobile phone GPS data to track and predict the spread of an infectious disease, thus halting the disease’s progress. Nonetheless, many of the same scholars acknowledge that, due to the potential for misuse of “big data”, an open discussion must occur about the many privacy issues involved.

One such thinker, MIT’s Alex Pentland, has coined the phrase the “New Deal on Data” to describe his proposal for resolving this issue. His plan consists of three tenets: you should have the right to possess your own data, the right to control use of your data by opting-in (with plain language explanations of any possible uses), and the right to dispose of or distribute your personal data as you see fit. Also, just as in other research studies, “big data” projects should anonymize their data sets. Imagine how empowering it would be to control how corporations or scientists make use of the data traces you leave behind in everyday online life.

In Pentland’s proposed data policy, I see yet another similarity to Open Access publishing. The Open Access movement encourages authors to retain copyright on their work, so that they can continue to make use of it as they see fit. And most scholars will choose to distribute their work broadly if it will benefit the public good, for instance, by giving doctors in the information-poor developing world knowledge of a life saving treatment. Perhaps we would do the same with data on our online behavior…it would be nice to have a choice.

Further reading:
Everything We Know About What Data Brokers Know About You

Legislative Update – Open Access Advances

Each year more faculty and more institutions acknowledge the importance of reforming scholarly communications by creating a new system that better supports publicly open access to research. One way in which this happens is when faculty senates approve Open Access Resolutions that encourage the open sharing of research articles by depositing them in institutional or disciplinary repositories. Significant progress also happens when federal law creates new guidelines and requirements for public sharing of research funded by taxpayers.

In 2007, with the passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2007 (H.R. 2764), federal law mandated that all articles published as a result of grant funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) be made available to the public on PubMed Central no later than 12 months after publication. Known as the “Public Access Policy”, it was a major advancement in open access. As a result close to 100,000 research articles are publicly accessible. However, since then, there has been no additional legislation passed to expand the Public Access Policy to other fields. It is not for lack of trying.

The Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA) was first introduced in 2006, reintroduced in 2009, and reintroduced again in the 112th Congress on February 9, 2012 (as S. 2096 and H.R. 4004). FRPAA aimed to expand public access policies to other departments/agencies. Despite setbacks experience wiht FRPPA, the effort to pass new public access legislation continues. On February 14, 2013, The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR, HR708 and S350) was introduced. This bipartisan legislation would require federal agencies with annual extramural research budgets of $100 million or more to provide the public with online access to research manuscripts stemming from funded research no later than six months after publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

While it was beneficial for the White House, in 2013, to request the Office of Science and Technology Policy to direct each Federal agency with over $100 million in annual conduct of research and development expenditures to develop a plan to increase public access to funded research results published in peer-reviewed scholarly publications, it is still necessary to pass the FASTR bill in order to ensure that the expansion of public access requirments to other federal agencies is mandated by law. Despite the number of legislators from both parties co-sponsoring FASTR, in the current legislative environment, the prospect for it being approved this year is questionable. Whatever happens, the momentum continues to grow for public access legislation in both the library and higher education communities. With the undeniable success of the NIH Public Access Policy, in time we are likely to see the passage of FASTR.



Why Open Access Matters

Today marks the start of Open Access Week, a global event celebrated each year to acknowledge the importance of continuing to work towards reform in our system of scholarly communication. There are two significant reasons why it is important for faculty, researchers and librarians to work together to create change in a system that is in need of change and demands our collective attention.

The first is economic. The current system is not financially sustainable for higher education. The cost of tuition is already unaffordable for too many students. The irrational high cost of many scholarly journals, particularly in the fields of science, technology and medicine, contributes to the expense of a college education. The budgets of academic libraries are challenged to support these costs. Even with the advent of digital technologies that make new and more open systems of distribution possible – well proven by hundreds of viable, highly respected open access journals – we still scratch our heads and wonder why higher education continues to give away faculty research only to buy it back from publishers at inexplicable high costs.

The second is openness. The current scholarly publishing system keeps important research information behind subscription pay walls. While there is notable progress in making scientific research available to the public, it still represents a small portion of all published scholarly content. There are already many examples of the benefits of making this content openly accessible to the public. Taxpayers certainly have the right to the information their tax dollars fund. If higher education transforms the scholarly communication to advance openness, we all benefit.

Open Access Week is designed to create awareness. It is about more than economics or creating access for the public. It also brings attention to the importance of higher education supporting its right to use copyrighted content under the guidelines for fair use. We must defend the right of faculty to use copyrighted information to support student learning. It is also a time to remind faculty of their rights as authors. Instead of surrendering the rights to their intellectual property to publishers, faculty will want to think about adding language to author agreements that allows them to retain their rights to reuse or share their published content. Too many Temple University faculty have signed standard author agreements only to discover later on that they had no right to use their own content or could only do so for hundreds or thousands of dollars.

We hope that members of our Temple University community will take some time this week to think about the current scholarly publishing system and how we can work collaboratively to improve it. Temple University librarians are available to meet with faculty members who would like to learn more about open access, fair use or author rights. Take advantage of Open Access Week webinar events. Visit the Open Access Week website to learn more about what you can do to create change. And watch this blog for more posts about open access throughout this week as Temple University Libraries honors Open Access Week.


Get Ready For Open Access Week – Oct.21 – Oct.25

Each October academic librarians set aside a week to promote and celebrate the open access movement. Across the globe events are held to remind scholars of the importance of reforming the scholarly communications system in order to make the results of research and scholarship widely available to all the world’s citizens. According to the Open Access Week website:

Open Access Week, a global event now entering its sixth year, is an opportunity for the academic and research community to continue to learn about the potential benefits of Open Access, to share what they’ve learned with colleagues, and to help inspire wider participation in helping to make Open Access a new norm in scholarship and research.Open Access” to information – the free, immediate, online access to the results of scholarly research, and the right to use and re-use those results as you need – has the power to transform the way research and scientific inquiry are conducted.

In recognition of Open Access Week, Temple University Libraries will use its website and this blog to share information about open access. We hope this will create more awareness about open access issues and opportunities across our institution.

There are two webcasts scheduled for Open Access Week that may be of interest to you. On Monday, October 21 at 3:00 pm ET the Open Access Week Kick Off Event is sponsored by SPARC (The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) and the World Bank. The webcast is “Open Access: Redefining Impact” and will feature a panel discussion of multiple experts from different disciplines discussing their open access experiences. You can view a listing of other Open Access Week live events being sponsored by SPARC.

The live webcast “Protect Your Patrons From Predatory Publishers” will be held on Tuesday, October 22 at 3:30 pm ET, and it will feature Jeffrey Beall speaking about low quality open access journals that use misleading techniques and claims to lead faculty to publish for outlandish fees. It is important for researchers and scholars to be aware of predatory publishers.

Stay tuned for more information on open access the week of October 21, 2013.


Digital Commons Network Offers Open Access to Scholarly Research

This week Bepress, a company that creates institutional repository software, announced it had created a new multi-disciplinary repository of open access research content. According the announcement:

Bepress Digital Commons invites you to explore a new database of open access scholarship (600,000+ articles) that is curated by university librarians and their supporting institutions, and represents thousands of disciplines and subject areas — from Architecture to Zoology. Researchers will never run into paywalls or empty records, because only full-text, open access research and scholarship are included. This new resource for researchers includes scholarship from hundreds of universities and colleges, including peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters, dissertations, working papers, conference proceedings, and other original scholarly work. It continues to grow rapidly thanks to the contributions of researchers, librarians, faculty, and students who believe that scholarship is a community enterprise.

It will be interesting to see how quickly the Digital Commons Network grows and whether it will catch on as a valued research resource among scholars, but we welcome this new entry into the world of open access scholarship.

Could Open Access Disrupt Traditional Scholarly Publishing

It’s not often that the mainstream media takes up relatively unpopular higher education issues, so it comes with some surprise that U.S. News & World Report published a rather extensive article on the debate about the future of scholarly publishing. The article, titled “Is the Academic Publishing Industry on the Verge of Disruption?” provides a balanced look at both sides of the push for open access journal publishing.

Using interviews with both open access advocates such as Heather Josephs of SPARC and representatives from scholarly publishers such as the American Institute of Physics, the article provides an excellent overview of the current challenges of traditional scholarly journal publishing. It covers new business models for open access publishing and current and proposed government policies aimed at promoting the sharing of scholarly research funded by taxpayer dollars.

If you’d like to learn more about the current issues confronting traditional scholarly publishing, the challenges that both libraries and scholarly publishers face, and new models and ideas for a better scholarly publishing system, then give this article a read. If you do, let us know what you think (use the comments) by sharing your thoughts about scholarly communications, open access, and its impact on higher education. Do you believe that the traditional system is ripe for disruption, and if so, will open access be the disruptive factor?