Archive for the 'My Job in 10 Years Book' category

Journal of Library Administration editorial board resigns over author rights

The Journal of Library Administration is published by Taylor & Francis, a big publishing conglomerate. According to Brian Mathews, while he was in the middle of putting together a special issue on the future of libraries he received notice that the editorial board was resigning due to conflicts with the publisher around what kind of author rights regime the journal should use. Here is the note he received from the board:

The Board believes that the licensing terms in the Taylor & Francis author agreement are too restrictive and out-of-step with the expectations of authors in the LIS community.

A large and growing number of current and potential authors to JLA have pushed back on the licensing terms included in the Taylor & Francis author agreement. Several authors have refused to publish with the journal under the current licensing terms.

Authors find the author agreement unclear and too restrictive and have repeatedly requested some form of Creative Commons license in its place.

After much discussion, the only alternative presented by Taylor & Francis tied a less restrictive license to a $2995 per article fee to be paid by the
Author. As you know, this is not a viable licensing option for authors from the LIS community who are generally not conducting research under large grants.

Thus, the Board came to the conclusion that it is not possible to produce a quality journal under the current licensing terms offered by Taylor & Francis and chose to collectively resign.

Bravo to the editorial board of JLA for taking such a principled stand.

For a bit more background, Jason Griffey gives the perspective of an author approached by Mathews who strongly disagreed with T&F's current author rights regime. From the other side, Chris Bourg gives the perspective of someone on the JLA editorial board and a bit on how they came to their decision.

Along with many others in the comments on the various blog posts, Peter Suber suggests the board take the next step and launch their own new journal. Suber also helpfully points to a list of journals that have done just that.

My take?

First of all, I think it's a bit unfortunate that Mathews took his rather forward-thinking project to a rather backwards-thinking traditional toll access journal. The way to envision the future is to be the future to want to happen, and it's hard to imagine T&F embodying the future of scholarly communications in a way that anybody but the big commercial publishers would like to see.

That being said, I do sincerely hope his project finds a more suitable home and that one of the themes it explores is the library's role in a fairer, more open scholarly communications ecosystem.

As for the future of JLA, I hope T&F is able to move into the future and create a author rights regime that is more in sync with what authors in the LIS fields are looking for. For the resigned editorial board, I wish for them a way forward, a new partnership with an institution or society that will allow them and the authors they recruit in the future to openly envision and create the future.

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Library vendors, politics, Aaron Swartz, #pdftribute

On January 10, 2013 Rick Anderson published a post at The Scholarly Kitchen published on six mistakes library staff are making when dealing with our vendors. Most of them were fairly standard stuff like don't be rude, don't waste people's time. That sort of thing. (Yes, sometimes I think that every time I link to a Scholarly Kitchen article, an open access journal loses its wings.)

The sixth, however, was a bit different.

Putting political library concerns above patron needs. I’ve saved for last the “mistake” that I know is likely to be the most controversial, but I think it must be said. Because the issue is so complicated, this will be a topic for a full post at a later date, but for now I’ll just say that it has long seemed to me (and comments from my vendor-side informants seem to confirm it) that too often, we in libraries put politics ahead of mission and service. By “politics,” I mean our personal views about how the world ought to be, and more specifically our views about how the scholarly communication economy ought to be structured. Again, I realize that this is a very complicated, even fraught, issue, and I also realize that one’s beliefs about how scholarly communication ought to be shared will inevitably have some effect on the purchasing decisions one makes on behalf of the library and its constituents. The question isn’t whether politics ought to enter into such decisions. The question is one of balance. More specifically, the question is: To what degree is it appropriate to sacrifice the short-term good of our patrons in the pursuit of long-term economic reform in scholarly publishing (or vice versa)? I will write more about this soon, but for now I’ll simply say that it seems clear to me that, in too many cases, we are making that sacrifice in an ill-advised way.

Basically, don't challenge vendors when it comes to creating a fairer, more open scholarly communications ecosystem if that goal conflicts with short term patron needs. (Some other reactions to the Scholarly Kitchen post: Jacob Berg, Wayne Bivens-Tatum.)

Upon reading this, I'll admit to being curious as to exactly what examples of this behaviour Anderson had in mind. After all, "we are making that sacrifice in an ill-advised way."

His response (And some of Anderson's other relevant writings here, here and here.):

One example would be when a library chooses to maintain conventional interlibrary loan practices at a per-transaction cost of $20 rather than take advantage of a $5 short-term loan option, based on the belief that giving up ILL would endanger traditional first-sale rights in the ebook realm. Another might be canceling a high-demand Big Deal package—not because it’s no longer affordable, but because the library wants to help undermine the Big Deal model in the marketplace or believes that the publisher in question is making unreasonable profits. (And yes, I know of specific examples of both of those decisions being made in research libraries.)

I’m not saying either one of those decisions is wrong. But each one does constitute the sacrifice of a definite, short-term, and local benefit in favor of a theoretical, long-term, and global benefit, and the appropriate balance between those two sets of considerations is what I think could usefully be discussed.

Fair enough. Defending first sale rights in a era of licensed ebooks and patron driven acquisitions is very likely tilting at windmills. That battle may be more important in public libraries than academic libraries, so I'll grant that the short term/long term issue is difficult to decide here. The second example is more problematic. I'm assuming he's referring to something like the decision by SUNY Potsdam to cancel their American Chemical Society subscription in the face of unsustainable price increases. Those kinds of price increases aren't in our patron's best interests in anything beyond a ridiculously short time frame and here I think the best course is to work with those patron communities to push for reform together. Our political responsibility as librarians, as academics, as faculty at our institutions, as members of society, is to find ways to maintain the long term viability of the academic enterprise.

Balance, of course, is important here. We can't cut off our noses to spit our faces. But it's also possible to go too far with a false notion of what balance might be. In a sense we need a higher level of balance, a meta-balance if you will, that enables us to both do our best to take care of the short term needs of our communities but at the same time empowers us to make hard decisions with our communities that serves a wide range of long term needs.

The primary long term need I'm talking about, one that embraces all of society, nationally and internationally, is a fairer and more open scholarly communications ecosystem. Our vendors are just that -- our vendors. They aren't our friends, they aren't our colleagues, they aren't our patrons, serving them isn't our mission. We aren't on the same side. Some vendors share many of the same values that we do, some not so much. They provide us with products and services, we pay their bills. And that's OK. A fair profit is OK too, for the commercial publishers. Not making mistakes in our dealings with them is important. Helping them build better products and services is fine too. Solid, respectful and productive professional relationships are vital. Even a certain amount of friendliness and collegiality.

As for "political," in my books every decision in this context is political. Deciding against activism is just as political as deciding for it.

Which brings us to Aaron Swartz.

By this point in time, pretty well anyone reading this probably knows the story. A couple of years ago, Swartz improperly downloaded a very large chunk of the JSTOR database from the MIT network, violating the JSTOR terms of service. While JSTOR declined to pursue the matter once he returned the files, MIT and the US Attorney's office continued to pursue charges, with the trial upcoming. Had he been found guilty, he would have faced very serious jail time. On January 11, 2013 he committed suicide. It's obviously difficult to know how much his legal problems were a factor, but it seems that they did to some extent.

Swartz worked tirelessly during his short life to promote innovation, openness and access to all sorts of information. What he did in this particular case was clearly an act of guerrilla open access.

Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results of the sciences? You’ll need to send enormous amounts to publishers like Reed Elsevier.

There are those struggling to change this. The Open Access Movement has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it. But even under the best scenarios, their work will only apply to things published in the future. Everything up until now will have been lost.

That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It’s outrageous and unacceptable.

“I agree,” many say, “but what can we do? The companies hold the copyrights, they make enormous amounts of money by charging for access, and it’s perfectly legal — there’s nothing we can do to stop them.” But there is something we can, something that’s already being done: we can fight back.

Those with access to these resources — students, librarians, scientists — you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not — indeed, morally, you cannot — keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world. And you have: trading passwords with colleagues, filling download requests for friends.

Meanwhile, those who have been locked out are not standing idly by. You have been sneaking through holes and climbing over fences, liberating the information locked up by the publishers and sharing them with your friends.

But all of this action goes on in the dark, hidden underground. It’s called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn’t immoral — it’s a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy.

Large corporations, of course, are blinded by greed. The laws under which they operate require it — their shareholders would revolt at anything less. And the politicians they have bought off back them, passing laws giving them the exclusive power to decide who can make copies.

There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture.

We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that's out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.

With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we’ll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us?

Aaron Swartz
July 2008, Eremo, Italy

While personally I'm pretty solidly with Peter Suber on this issue and not a big fan guerilla OA, Swartz's ultimate goal is something I completely agree with. That goal was to make scholarly research available to everyone.

But why is it important? Why am I writing this post?

Because at the end of the day, love him or hate him, agree or disagree with his methods, what Aaron Swartz did was a political act. Aaron Swartz's was on the side of the angels.

And we -- academic libraries and librarians -- should be too. Our political acts will be different, they may be more measured, more balanced, more gradual, more nuanced, more collaborative, more respectful of the law, but political they will be. And focused on the same objective.

Speaking of objectives, what should we all do next? Libraries and librarians should continue our open access activism, pressuring publishers and governments towards business models and policies that promote openness. Taking advantage of the #pdftribute moment, we should support our faculty and researchers in choosing open options for disseminating their research. Jonathan Eisen's has some great suggestions in Ten simple ways to share PDFs of your papers #PDFtribute and 10 things you can do to REALLY support #OpenAccess #PDFTribute.

What side of history do we want to be on?

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Best Science Books 2012: Jack Uldrich/Jump the Curve: A Futurist’s Top Ten Books for 2012

Another list for your reading, gift-giving and collection development pleasure.

Every year for the last bunch of years I’ve been linking to and posting about all the “year’s best sciencey books” lists that appear in various media outlets and shining a bit of light on the best of the year.

All the previous 2012 lists are here.

This post includes the following: Jack Uldrich/Jump the Curve: A Futurist’s Top Ten Books for 2012.

Note: This list includes some slightly older books and some books that are more strictly business books rather than tech or science books. I decided to include them because the rest of the list is so interesting. The ones that don't strictly count towards my 2012 project are marked with an asterix.

I'm always looking for recommendations and notifications of book lists as they appear in various media outlets. If you see one that I haven't covered, please let me know at jdupuis at yorku dot ca or in the comments.

I am picking up most of my lists from Largehearted Boy.

For my purposes, I define science books pretty broadly to include science, engineering, computing, history & philosophy of science & technology, environment, social aspects of science and even business books about technology trends or technology innovation. Deciding what is and isn’t a science book is squishy at best, especially at the margins, but in the end I pick books that seem broadly about science and technology rather than something else completely. Lists of business, history or nature books are among the tricky ones.

And if you wish to support my humble list-making efforts, run on over to Amazon, take a look at Steve Jobs or The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or maybe even something else from today's list.

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A year in Open Access advocacy: 2012

While it has not generally been my practice to do year end review posts, artificially trying to tie the various and disparate strands of my blogging habits together into some sort of coherent story, I think for this year it's worth doing. And that's because my blogging year did seem to have a coherent theme -- advocating for a fairer and more just scholarly publishing ecosystem.

In particular I spent an awful lot of time advocating for Open Access in one way, shape or form. Not that I haven't always done so, but with all the various events happening in the academic and library worlds this year, it seemed to be a fairly consistent thread. Of course, not all the advocacy was directly for OA, some was for general reform of the scholarly communications system as a whole, redressing the imbalance between the power of publishers and libraries. Sometimes it was advocating for general fairness in the way the online world is regulated and governed.

At the end of the day -- hindsight tells me that my mission for 2012 was to talk about changing the world.

Let's see how that played out, month by month, post by post.

January

 

February

 

March

 

April

 

May

 

June

 

August

 

September

 

October

 

November

 

December

 

One of the big stories of the year was certainly the proposed Research Works Act legislation in the US, a story which took on a huge life of it's own, morphing and expanding into the related Elsevier boycott story. When I started collecting posts for those I really did not know what I was getting myself into as the searching and updating really took up the lion's share of my blogging time in the early part of the year. Believe it or not, I have probably more than 100 posts up to June 2012 or so waiting to be added. And still related to that is the whole Open Access petition campaign which I also participated in and blogged about later on in the year.

During the summer, the PeerJ announcement was something I blogged about. And the big story from the last half of the year was the SUNY Potsdam cancelling of their ACS subscriptions because they were too expensive. That  issue consumed the library blogosphere for quite a while in the fall and if the blogging traffic seems to have decreased I still don't think we've heard the last of the crisis in journal subscription costs, especially as it relates to the ACS. And who knows, maybe more publishers will be drawn into that.

And as the year ends, I'm drawn back into my futurological speculations, thinking about how science publishing should evolve and related to that, still thinking and still writing about how libraries could evolve. But that's for January, I hope.

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Around the Web, Apocalypse Edition: The End of the Universtiy as we know it, Librarians as baristas and more

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Building a new scholarly communications ecosystem from first principles

Like the old saying goes, information wants to be free. In particular, the consumers of information would prefer for the most part not to have to directly pay for the information they are consuming. The information itself, if I may anthropomorphize for a moment, also wants to circulate as freely as possible, to be as consumed as widely as possible, to be as highly regarded as possible. That way it gets to be the information that "wins" the best-used-most-used information sweepstakes.

This seems to me to be a first principle for scholarly communications. Both the users of the information and the information itself strongly prefer that there be no toll access barrier between them.

On the other hand, the old saying also tells us that information wants to be expensive. In particular, good information is non-trivial to create so its creators would prefer to be fairly compensated for their effort. Information is also expensive because there are genuine overheads involved in endorsing, validating and disseminating the information.

And this should also be a first principle for scholarly communications. There needs to be a way to properly fund the dissemination of information.

In the traditional scholarly communications ecosystem, the true creators of the information -- the scholars -- aren't directly compensated. Broadly speaking, their salaries are paid by the funders of their research, not the consumers or disseminators of their research outputs. Also, the relative prestige that accrues to them isn't funded directly by anyone really, but is a result of the value that the consumers place on their information relative to other information. As such, it seems to me that how the scholars pay their bills and earn prestige doesn't need to be directly connected to the rest of the ecosystem and as such isn't a first principle.

And speaking of traditional, there's another sticky bit. What about intermediaries like publishers and libraries? It seems both of these would prefer that information be expensive, to preserve their symbiotic roles in the ecosystem. Charging for publishing scholarship as well as validation and the conferring of prestige on the the part of publishers. And on the part of libraries by redirecting funder monies towards those publishers for their services.

Is there a first principle for publishers and libraries? It seems to me that they can certainly play an important role in the facilitation and implementation of the other first principles but that perhaps the intermediary role isn't itself a first principle.

At this point we are left with very few first principles. We're left with the requirement for no toll access barriers to information. And with the burden to create a funding model that does not impose those toll access barriers.

Now comes the hard part. For which my wisdom alone is not sufficient.

Have at it everyone!

===================================================

I present a few readings below that will perhaps offer some guidance to us all. As always, I welcome suggestions for more.

(And thanks to Constance Wiebrands for getting me thinking about first principles. And there's more to come.

Some of my own recent thoughts are Whither Science Publishing and An Open Access thought experiment. I include them here rather than above because I didn't want to get too explicit in the text.

And for Ontario readers, this post forms the basis for the OA breakout session I'll be doing next week at Scholars Portal Day.)

(Terms I didn't use in this post: book, journal, article, peer review, impact factor, metrics, editor, subscription, open access, author pays, big data, the name of any publisher or discipline.)

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The Libertarian University

Or, more precisely, a university designed by libertarians.

Over the last number of months, I've featured a fair bit of apocalyptic MOOC Disruptionism in my regular Around the Web posts. Recently, the libertarian think tank, The Cato Institute (Wikipedia) via their Cato Unbound site, has put online a series of essays discussing just how the traditional academic system can be radically reworked and rethought via a highly commercialized online academy. It's interesting because they've also included some responses questioning their assumptions and the overall MOOC triumphalism that's floating around the net these days.

I think it's worth taking a close look at both sets of essays as they very clearly lay out some of the options and possibilities as well as a cautionary, jaundiced eye on the hype.

The second item in the list below, the Tabarrok essay, is the lead essay. The next bunch are response essays, bouncing off the lead. Then, starting with the second Tabarrok essay are items that continue the conversation.

  • Introduction by The Editors

    The Internet has already remade journalism in ways too numerous to count. By comparison, many educational institutions stand relatively unchanged: Students attend in-person lectures from professors at fixed times; they study, do homework, take tests, and receive grades, all more or less as they did before the advent of the digital revolution.

    There is no clear reason why this should be...

  • Why Online Education Works by Alex Tabarrok

    Teaching today is like a stage play. A play can be seen by at most a few hundred people at a single sitting and it takes as much labor to produce the 100th viewing as it does to produce the first. As a result, plays are expensive. Online education makes teaching more like a movie. Movies can be seen by millions and the cost per viewer declines with more viewers. Now consider quality. The average movie actor is a better actor than the average stage actor. If you were making a movie with a potential audience in the millions wouldn’t you hire the best actors? With more viewers it also makes sense to substitute capital for labor, adding special effects, scenery, music and other quality improvements resulting in a movie experience unlike any that can be created on stage. Is there something ineffably great about a live performance? Occasionally, but the greatest stage performances are seen by only a handful of people.

  • Some Skepticism about Online Education by Alan Ryan

    A third is that we shall exacerbate the tendencies of contemporary higher education to turn into a two-tier, or multi-tier, system in which the well-off and well-endowed academically and socially, receive personalized and individual attention, while everyone else gets a mass-produced and uniform product tailored to what the better-off and better-endowed believe are their needs. One recent MOOC involved the broadcasting of a course from the University of Pennsylvania in which you can see the twenty-odd students on the course in the room with their professor, interacting in the usual human fashion, while the unnumbered audience watches. I am not at all immune to the thought that the crumbs from the rich man’s table are better than simple starvation, but it would be nice to think that our technical ingenuity could be devoted to spreading the real intellectual riches of our civilization more equally than we have hitherto contrived to do.

  • A New Era of Unfounded Hyperbole by Siva Vaidhyanathan

    ...Tabarrok conflates being a student with being a consumer. He writes “In the online world, consumers need not each consume at the same time, and suppliers need not produce at the moment of consumption.”

    Higher education is a complex process through which one is merely guided. It’s a series of experiments that test one’s capacities, assess one’s talents, focus one’s interests, and enable the acculturation into the educated middle class. Along the way there are licensing procedures, awards, successes, failures, heartbreaks, and hangovers. There is, of course, a tangle of productions, consumptions, and commercial transactions embedded within higher education. But there is no single act of production or consumption that captures either the purpose or value of higher education.

  • The Radical Implications of Online Education by Kevin Carey

    Tabarrok may be too sanguine about the fate of traditional universities. He predicts that “many institutions will be able to raise the quality and breadth of the classes that they offer.” Perhaps—if they can afford to stay in business. The rise of Udacity, Coursera, edX, Saylor.org and others mean that, from this point forward, high-quality, impeccably branded online courses will be available to anyone in the world, anytime, anywhere, for free, forever. We will take this for granted in the same way that we simply assume free search and social networking as birthrights of the modern age.

    The introduction of “$0” into a market characterized by rapidly increasing prices is sure to matter in important ways. How and when, exactly, is not yet clear. But it seems unlikely that traditional universities will be able to keep charging students thousands of dollars for ill-designed commodity courses in basic subjects when much better courses can be found online for free. And it is these high profit-margin courses that subsidize the cost of smaller, professor-dependent specialty courses in the upper divisions. Take away those revenues and university budgets—already stressed by shrinking public subsidies and the declining possibilities of revenue enhancing price discrimination—will struggle to remain solvent. Ryan calls this “sinister.” I think it’s just an honest appraisal of what is sure to come.

  • A Response to Participants by Alex Tabarrok

    I’d also like to see more comparisons and more empirical evidence. Here’s a question. How large does the typical classroom have to be before an online classroom is superior? Five students? Thirty? One hundred? My answers are that a philosophy seminar with five students is going to be better face-to-face. In a class of thirty, I’d take a good online class over a typical offline class. In a class of one hundred I’d take online every time. What do others say? Where is the dividing line and why?

  • The Accent Is on the "Massive." Should It Be? by Siva Vaidhyanathan

    That most courses in America are taught by struggling adjuncts for absurdly low remuneration is a problem to be solved by increasing their status, pay, and benefits. It’s not a reason to double down on the star system and dream that MOOCs can render those hard-working adjuncts redundant. As someone who has hired, fired, and assessed dozens of adjunct and full-time instructors, I can attest that there is no correlation between one’s status and one’s teaching skills.

The core of the libertarian side of the argument is all very triumphalist and inevitable. Not surprisingly, I'm not so sure myself. On the other hand, the traditionalist side is a bit too long on the nostalgia and short on the data. Is the debate settled? Far from it. And more interestingly, if this discussion would guide us on how we would build a new university today, from the ground up, from first principles, how would we build a new academic library today, from the ground up, from first principles. I don't know, but I'm definitely thinking about it. And will be posting about it too, over the next week or so.

I'm interested to hear what my readers think about the possibilities and perils of the Libertarian University and especially where research, student experience and the library collide.

Have at it!

(The conversation continues at the Cato Unbound site so I probably don't have all the articles yet. When the next issue is published, the conversation will be archived here. I may update this post as new items are added over there.)

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Around the Web: SUNY Potsdam vs. American Chemical Society in chronological order

The most recent controversy to whip up the library and science blogospheres revolves around SUNY Potsdam cancelling their American Chemical Society journal package because the subscription packages on offer sucked up too high a percentage of their total budget. SUNY Potsdam Library Director Jenica Rogers wrote about the decision on her blog, garnering quite a bit of attention, including a feature in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The feature included some rather rude and derailing comments from a representative of the ACS, who later threw some gasoline on the PR fire on a chemistry information mailing list. This in turn inspired a further library and science blogosphere firestorm, concentrating on the disrespectful, dismissive and personal attacks by the ACS towards the library world.

Which is more-or-less where we are today.

I think what library/chemistry worlds are waiting for is some sort of acknowledgement of their PR disaster from the ACS. And what we're sincerely hoping for is some movement on their part towards a set of business models that's fairer and more accessible for a broader range of institutions.

American Chemical Society, the ball is in your court.

My previous post promised that if this controversy showed some legs I'd update the list of relevant posts and put them in chronological order. Well, here's the new list. And here's hoping

As usual, if I've missed anything or made any errors, please let me know in the comments or at jdupuis at yorku dot ca.

2012.10.09. Update including posts from October 1-9.
2012.10.25. Update up until October 25, including some older stragglers. Also note Why ACS Must Come Clean on Journal Publication Costs by Rich Apodaca, outside the direct scope of this issue but still highly relevant.
2012.11.27. Added a few since the last update. Note that I'm considering the CRKN decision to cancel ACS as related enough to include here even though the link is tenuous.

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The American Chemical Society: Paving paradise to put up a parking lot

Why do people go into science? Why do people go to work at scholarly societies? Why do people choose scholarly publishing as a career? Why do people choose a career at the intersection of those three vocations?

There are cynical answers to those questions, for sure, and even the non-cynical need to put food on the table. But I truly don't believe people start out their path in life based on cynicism. Rather I believe most people start their careers based on hope.

I can only hope that for a person to pursue a career in scholarly publishing at a scientific society, their goal in life is to try and make the world a better place, to advance science, to serve society, to help the researchers of today stand on the shoulders of giants.

And the ACS Vision and Mission statements seem to support this (bolding is mine):

Our Mission and Vision

We are dynamic and visionary, committed to “Improving people’s lives through the transforming power of chemistry.”

This vision ─ developed and adopted by the ACS Board of Directors after broad consultation with the membership ─ fully complements the ACS Mission statement, which is “to advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and its people.” Together, these two statements represent our ultimate reason for being and provide a strategic framework for our efforts.

Alas, the theory here doesn't seem to be translating into practice.

Our story of woe begins with Jenica Rogers, Library Director at SUNY Potsdam, declaring that her library will be cancelling their American Chemical Society subscriptions:

tl;dr: SUNY Potsdam will not be subscribing to an American Chemical Society online journal package for 2013. We will instead be using a combination of the Royal Society of Chemistry content, ACS single title subscriptions, the ACS backfile, and ScienceDirect from Elsevier** to meet our chemical information needs. We’re doing this because the ACS pricing model is unsustainable for our institution and we were unable to find common ground with the sales team from the ACS. Instead, we explored other options and exercised them. You could do the same if you find yourself in a position similar to ours as ACS standardizes their pricing, and maybe together we can make enough choices to make our voices heard in meaningful ways.

Not surprisingly, this is big news. And Jennifer Howard's article in The Chronicle has this ACS reaction:

A spokesman for the American Chemical Society said that the group would not offer a response to Ms. Rogers's blog post or the conversation that's sprung up around it. "We find little constructive dialogue can be had on blogs and other listservs where logic, balance, and common courtesy are not practiced and observed," Glenn S. Ruskin, the group's director of public affairs, said in an e-mail message. "As a matter of practice, ACS finds that direct engagement via telephone or face-to-face with individuals expressing concern over pricing or other related matters is the most productive means to finding common ground and resolution."

Which is rude, condescending and dismissive of both librarians and bloggers.

And, of course, no one on the Internet can leave well enough alone. There's more PR disaster on the cheminfo-l mailing list:

I respect and appreciate responsible bloggers, those that thoughtfully engage on those blogs as well as those that utilize listservs. No insult was intended, and apologies to those that interpreted the comment that way. These outlets provide important avenues to further dialogue and collaboration and are valuable assets in the ever evolving digital age.

The individual responsible for the above cited blog certainly has the right to her opinion, but that does not excuse rude behavior or her use of profanity and vulgarity in addressing ACS or its employees. While not evident in the most recent postings, I won’t repeat what she has posted in the past. But I think you would agree that vulgarity and profanity postings do not lend themselves to meaningful, productive and civil discourse, thus our decision not to engage any further with her on this topic.

Which is even worse, of course. Shutting down, haranguing, insulting and attempting to intimidate critics is a time-worn tactic.

Thankfully, Rogers will have none of that.

For all of you who won't take the time to search (nor do I think you should have to), let me share all of my public posts about the ACS. There are several over several years. I really don't think that I was guilty of "rude behavior or her use of profanity and vulgarity in addressing ACS or its employees." I don't appreciate the accusations, Mr. Ruskin, and none of what you've accused me of changes the fact that you DID insult bloggers and listserv participants. Apologizing by insulting me does you no credit.

And again.

Librarians and faculty did not price the ACS content out of our ability to pay for it.

Librarians and faculty did not insist, repeatedly, for seven hours of face-to-face ‘negotiations’, that any compromise was outside the established pricing model.

Librarians and faculty did not insist that there should be only private discussion of the matter, and no public debate.

And, to take it bigger picture, librarians and faculty did not reduce State funding for New York’s institutions of higher education.

So I repeat: We are not the ones who should feel guilty. We are not the ones failing to prioritize teaching and learning. And speaking out about that conflict, that injustice, and that frustration does not mean we don’t value those things. It means we do.

Which brings us to today.

American Chemical Society, you need to rethink what you're all about, how you treat your customers and your members and the true constituency of your society -- society as a whole.

Given your status as a scholarly society, you should price your products fairly so you need to work with librarians and others to build a sustainable business model that works for a broad range of institutions.

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And of course, this issue is spreading like wildfire and the full range of commentary is kind of hard to compress into a reasonably short post.

Here's a list of all the relevant posts I've been able to find up until now. It's heartening to note a nice mix between posts from both the librarian and chemist side. Please feel free to chime in with ones I've missed.

Update 2012.10.01: A more complete and chronologically ordered list of relevant posts is here: Around the Web: SUNY Potsdam vs. American Chemical Society in chronological order – Confessions of a Science Librarian

(If this thing ends up having legs, I'll probably get around to putting the posts in chronological order. See Above.)

6 responses so far

Thought experiment or reality: Walking away from the American Chemical Society?

Jenica Rogers is Director of Libraries at the State University of New York at Potsdam. Like so many institutions SUNY Potsdam subscribes to the suite of journals published by the American Chemical Society. Now, that's always a challenge since the ACS prices their products very aggressively as well as pushing the envelope with annual price increases.

Well, push finally came to show and SUNY Potsdam is Walking away from the American Chemical Society.

The problem:
In May 2012, after much internal discussion and debate, three SUNY library directors from the comprehensive colleges (myself included) and the university centers, along with two SUNY Office of LIbrary and Information Services staff met with three representatives from the ACS at SUNY Plaza in Albany, NY, and discussed their pricing model. The ACS folks were very clear: they are dedicated to moving all customers to a consistent pricing model, the pricing steps in that model are based on a tiered system, and there is a base price underneath all of that. In principle, I absolutely support this kind of move: too many libraryland vendors obscure their pricing models, negotiate great deals with one institution while charging double to someone else, or “have to ask the manager” to approve any offer. In our discussions, the librarian stakeholders noted our support for this approach, but argued that while their tiers are reasonable and based on arguably sound criteria, the base price underlying those steps is unsustainable and inappropriate. (In the case of SUNY Potsdam, the ACS package would have consumed more than 10% of my total acquisitions budget, just for journals for this one department.)

*snip*

What we did:
Given that there was no apparent ACS-based solution to our budget crunch in the face of what we feel is unsustainable pricing, we went to our Chemistry faculty and discussed all of this with them. This was not our first meeting; we’ve been discussing this since fall 2011 when we clearly understood that ACS pricing would continue to increase, and was pushing at the ceiling of what we could sustain...after two meetings and much discussion of how to reconfigure our ACS subscriptions to meet our budgetary constraints, I believe that we all agreed that this goes beyond having a tight campus or library budget: this is simply not appropriate pricing for an institution like ours. The result of our first meeting was that the chemistry faculty agreed to take their concerns to the ACS based on their individual professional involvements with the organization, talking with sales and the Chemical Information Division about their concerns, and we agreed that we’d look into other library solutions to their chemical information needs.

*snip*

The dramatic conclusion:
And so that’s where we are. On January 1, 2013 our ACS content will dramatically decline, and our RSC package is already active to pick up the slack. The libraries have agreed to do a robust analysis of how well or poorly this works out in this year, but the chemistry faculty were willing to join the librarians in taking a stand against unsustainable pricing structures...

Librarians are often disinclined to be first to try something – we’d often rather be second, after someone else has found the hidden pitfalls. So here I am, saying that we were willing to be the first to be loud, and to provide you with a public example of what is possible. Our chemistry faculty were willing to follow that lead, and I’m grateful to them for it. I’ll report back on what we learn.

And much more. Go read the entire text of this incredibly important post.

I see a strong tie between my Open Access thought experiment post a while back. In it I imagined a world where librarians would suddenly would wake up one day and suddenly the whole scholarly publishing ecosystem would magically have transformed itself into 100% open access. And what, I asked the world, would you do with all the money we saved by not having to pay for journal subscriptions?

For the sake of my thought experiment I imagined this transformation as something that happened to libraries. But what if libraries fired the first shot in the battle? What if we were proactive instead of reactive? What if we took back our own money instead of having it handed to us?

Indeed, as the Loon has stated, the gauntlet has been thrown.

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