Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Another World is Possible: Particle Physics Goes Open Access

Well, it finally happened. The entire (sub?)field of particle physics, okay, ninety percent of it, just went open access (OA). Details, via Nature:
After six years of negotiation, the Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics (SCOAP3) is now close to ensuring that nearly all particle-physics articles — about 7,000 publications last year — are made immediately free on journal websites. Upfront payments from libraries will fund the access.
Payments, from libraries, that would have gone to vendors are now going directly to journal publishers, eliminating the middle man. Simple. Elegant. Less expensive.

Let's get to the big question: is this replicable in other fields? Kind of. CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, oversees the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) that is responsible for producing much of the research in particle physics, and as such, the organization exerts more influence over what's published than similar bodies in other fields. It's hard to imagine the American Political Science Association (APSA), for example, being able to sway publishing in that field the way CERN does for particle physics. Political scientists aren't dependent on APSA for producing research; there's not a political science equivalent of the LHC. In addition, as Nature notes, particle physics is a concentrated field, in which twelve journals account for ninety percent of the scholarship produced in article format.

In sum, if you want to replicate this in another field, look for one with a strong, centralized organization and limited options for article publication. The organization can control research production, as CERN does, or wield power via accreditation, certification, or other means. It's not unthinkable that a OA could be a part of such a regime, in terms of either sheer volume or percentage of scholarship that is made accessible. That organization and just a few publishers/journals ensures fewer parties at the negotiating table, which may make it easier to reach an agreement to achieve open access in a field.

In the meantime, please credit SCOAP3, CERN, and these journals for taking this unprecedented step. Another world, another scholarly publishing ecosystem, is possible. Librarians play an important role in SCOAP3. Let's not just watch, let's get creative and build off of this.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Supposed To's: An Open Letter to Library Directors

A library director balances the library budget with the needs of the community, and for it is hailed as a hero.

There is something wrong with this picture.

You're supposed to be doing that!

Here's what Jenica Rogers did, working with faculty, administration, and other library staff to reduce dependence on American Chemical Society resources.
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.  Along with two librarians – the Collection Development Coordinator, and our subject liaison to Chemistry – I laid all the facts out. We described our subscription history in support of their scholarship, teaching, and learning needs, pulled out the costs for ACS content when we first subscribed in the early 2000s and referred back to the discussions we had then (when I was CD Coordinator, not Director), laid out the current cost of ACS publications and the price increases over the past five years, and estimated what our 3-year prices would be. Based on our discussion, I think that some of our faculty were surprised, some seemed resigned, some were horrified, and they were all frustrated by what seemed to be a plate full of bad options. However, 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.
Some analysis, via another library director:

To underscore just how radical this is, Jenica spells out that the American Chemical Society “is in the unique position of both approving programs and selling the content necessary for approval” — an egregious conflict of interest.  (I’m wondering how unique this is, actually.) For this, the ACS extorts free labor from faculty who have no choice but to publish (or perish) — free labor to the ACS, but certainly not free to the supporting institutions — then turn around to charge increasingly high prices for their product. Jenica notes that “the ACS package would have consumed more than 10% of my total acquisitions budget, just for journals for this one department.”
N.b.: this also points to the importance of including librarians — or at least librarian-informed judgment –  in the university program approval and review process; some universities understand this, while others do not. It is to Jenica’s credit that she has built the organizational relationships to make possible the necessary conversations to do what elsewhere would be unthinkable.

"Unthinkable?" Really? Isn't this what library directors should be doing? Are our peers really this deaf to the milieu in which libraries find themselves in the twenty-first century? To trends in scholarly communication? To the value of building organizational relationships?

What Jenica did only works if others do it. She can't be the lone voice in the wilderness. Don't praise her for doing her job. Look in the mirror and do your job. You're supposed to be doing that!

Indeed, in 2011 we ended our relationship with the Nature Publishing Group, whose namesake print publication was responsible for more than fifteen percent of our print serials budget. Fifteen percent! I'll let that sink in, and feel free to do the math if you'd like. Library staff worked with the provost and affected faculty when eliminating Nature. It helps that we're a small university without graduate programs in the sciences, and with faculty focused more on teaching than research, but SUNY-Potsdam's experience is proof that larger institutions can and should be investigating and then acting on alternatives. Because, you know, that's part of our job. That's what we're supposed to be doing.

Monday, September 10, 2012

An Interview With Hiring Librarians

I've done an interview with the good folks over at Hiring Librarians on, you guessed it, hiring library staff. Here's a taste:

Too many applicants come in unprepared. They haven’t done, or haven’t articulated that they’ve done, background research on the library, on the institution. Please please please go to our website and poke around. Tell us what you liked, what works, as well as what doesn’t.
Look at the mission of the institution; it’s something we take very seriously, and there are hard days when that mission, those goals, seems like all we have. Let us know how you can help us with that mission, and achieve those goals.
But of course go read the whole thing.