Scholarly communication, the process of producing and disseminating new knowledge, is essential to the growth and development of all disciplines. Scholars’ ability to discover, create and innovate is dependent on their access to the current body of knowledge in their field. Students’ success, for graduates and undergraduates alike, is similarly dependent on their access to information. The meteoric rise of journal subscription costs over the past two decades has severely limited access to scholarly works as libraries are forced to cancel large numbers of journal subscriptions. In some cases, these cuts have been so dire as to impede scholar’s ability to secure funding and conduct research. At the heart of this crisis is an inequitable publishing model that benefits publishers at the expense of scholarship.
Current Publishing Model
Many of the for-profit publishing companies that produce the top journals in their fields, particularly those that specialize in the science, technology and medicine (STM) fields, realized profits of over 30% in 2007, profit margins that rival companies like Microsoft and Google. At the same time, profits for book publishers were in the single digits. At the heart of this profitability is a unique and inequitable business model. For-profit publishers get their content for free from scholars who are dependent on being published in top-tier journals for career advancement and to contribute to their field. Funding for the research these articles are based on comes primarily from academic and government programs. Once published the works are sold to academic and medical libraries at exorbitant rates. Many journals cost $5,000 or $10,000 a year, with a few charging an astronomical $25,000. An article can only be published in one journal, eliminating competition that would otherwise make these prices untenable. It is no wonder that a recent Guardian article claims that academic publishers “make Walmart look like a corner shop and Rupert Murdoch like a socialist.��?.
In the traditional publishing model an author signs over all rights to the publishing company, including her right to disseminate her own work. Therefore, she could not give it to friends and colleagues, post it on her personal website or use it as course materials. While copyright is often thought of as a single entity, it is, in fact, a bundle of rights which can be separated and managed individually as best suits the needs of the author. For example, the rise in popularity of academic repositories has prompted many academic institutions to prevent their scholars from signing contracts that prohibit their work from being included in a depository. As a result, about two thirds of the publishing companies include such a clause in their contracts, however many companies do not have such a clause, forcing many authors to give up all rights in order to see their work published. In response, organizations like Creative Commons and SPARC have developed tools to help authors manage their rights and negotiate with publishing companies.
Open Access (OA) is a reorganization of the academic journal publishing industry to ensure wider access to scholarly communications. It calls for journal content to be made available online, free of charge and with limited copyright and licensing restrictions. This would ensure that the latest research can be used by the greatest number of people. In the medical field, for example, doctors and nurses from hospitals and practices of all sizes would have access to the latest information when making decisions about patient care. This would have the most impact in smaller communities and developing countries where library budgets are smallest. OA would also give authors more flexibility in managing the rights to their works.
Many question OA’s economic viability. The OA community has developed several funding models/. For example, the use-triggered fee model proposes a voluntary fee for institutions whose use of journal reaches a predetermined threshold. Free access by individual users, institutions that are occasional users and users in developing countries would be subsidized by larger institutions. By definition, OA journals must be free, so the fee cannot be mandatory. Publishers would, therefore, have to implement various incentive programs to encourage institutions to pay, including extra services. In addition, the fact that institutions could opt out of payment would prevent publishing companies from charging the astronomical rates common in today’s subscription based market. Another funding option would be the inclusion of advertising with online journal content following the model of sites like Google. While this may seem like blasphemy to some, it is not unprecedented; print journals have long included advertising. These are just two of the funding models being discusses in relation to OA. In the end, a combination of models will probably be necessary to create sustainable funding.
Digital repositories offer another OA model which bypasses publishing companies all together. Repositories are online collections of peer-reviewed works, data sets, images, preprints, research reports, dissertations and thesis that are freely available to users. They allow authors to quickly disseminate their works to a wide audience. Institutional repositories, usually maintained by the library, preserve the intellectual output of the institution in digital form. The growth in popularity of repositories has spawned several software packages that help institutions set up their own repository . DSpace, for example, is open-source software developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create a seamless world-wide network of repositories. The SUNY Digital Repository, which uses DSpace, collects and makes available works from across the SUNY system. Disciplinary repositories collect items related to a particular field. DLIST, for example, is an open access, cross-institutional archive for Information Science and Technology hosted by The University of Arizona Campus Repository. More examples of digital repositories can be found through The Open Access Directory, and http://www.opendoar.org/OpenDOAR.
Libraries and Open Access
As the primary purchasers of and point of access for scholarly communications, libraries have a large stake in the OA movement. As the traditional publishing model is revised, librarians have an opportunity to put themselves and their institutions at the center of the production and dissemination of scholarly works. Libraries have played a central role in the growth of digital repositories and will continue to be active as more colleges and universities collect and preserve student and faculty works. In addition, some libraries have taken on the roles of publisher and distributor, either on their own or in partnership with university presses and other not-for-profit publishers. For example the Cornell University Library has teamed up with Duke University Press to produce Project Euclid, an online collection of hi-impact, peer reviewed journals in applied mathematics and statistics offered available at reasonable subscription rates. The University of Michigan Library’s Scholarly Publishing Office publishes books, journals and other scholarly materials in a variety of fields, including philosophy, social work and women’s studies.
For more information on scholarly communications and open access, check out:
The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL)
The ACRL Scholarly Communication Toolkit
The Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC)
Open Access Week
Blog post created by Cary Gouldin