from the Library of Maura

Making a Pledge

October 23rd, 2011 · 8 Comments

I’ve been an open access publishing advocate ever since I first wrapped my head around what’s often termed the scholarly communication crisis. To briefly sketch out an admittedly complex issue: researchers write and peer review articles, journals publish them (without payment to the researchers), and libraries buy back the journals at prices that have increased a staggering amount over the past 30 years. I was late to the OA advocacy game, and am somewhat ashamed to admit my utter ignorance of the economics of scholarly publishing when I was completing my degree in anthropology many years ago. But when I went back for my degree in library and information science it suddenly became so clear that the current subscription journal-based system of publishing academic research is not working anymore, not for the libraries with shrinking budgets, not for the researchers who want to share their work with as wide an audience as possible, and certainly not for the taxpaying-public who are funding many research studies yet cannot access the articles about their results.

Open Access Week begins tomorrow, the 5th year for this international advocacy event. In honor of OA Week I’d like to share my personal open access pledge. It’s not original — lots of other scholars and researchers are doing it, from institutions like Harvard and Kansas State and Oberlin, to library faculty members at Oregon State University and Gustavus Adolphus College, to individuals like danah boyd and Jason Baird Jackson. It’s a small step, but I’m convinced it’s the right thing to do, both for my own research and my participation in the broader scholarly community.

1. I will not submit articles I have authored or co-authored to any closed, subscription-based journals.

2. I will not undertake peer review for any closed, subscription-based journals.

3. I will not join the editorial board for any closed, subscription-based journals.

4. I will not accept the editorship of any closed, subscription-based journals.

5. I will make my own research and scholarship available online wherever possible.

As I was tooling around online tonight I found a nifty website called Open Access Pledge where everyone can make a pledge to support open access publishing. If you’re interested, head on over and sign up, it only takes a moment. And get ready for Open Access Week: there are lots of great events right here at CUNY — check out the Open Access @ CUNY blog for more details.

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Adding a Library Layer

April 5th, 2011 · No Comments

A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with a nonlibrary colleague about the arrangement of books in our libraries. At my library (maybe at all CUNY libraries?) we shelve the bound volumes of journals and magazines alphabetically by title in their own area, right next to the unbound periodicals. But my colleague remembered that at the library he used when he was in graduate school the bound journals were shelved by call number in the stacks with the rest of the books. He appreciated the opportunity for serendipity that this arrangement allows: when searching for a book in the stacks you could easily stumble upon a journal you hadn’t known about.

We started to speculate about using smartphones and augmented reality to virtually shelve the periodicals in the stacks in our own libraries. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could walk up to a shelf, scan the call numbers with your phone’s camera, and the list of journals and magazines in that call number range would pop up on your screen? I kept thinking about this later that day and spun it out even further. What if, in addition to periodicals, other information about the library’s collections in a specific call number range could be displayed:

– books that are currently checked out, with their due dates (and a link to place a hold on the book)
– journals that are available in the library’s article databases (and a link into the databases)
– ebooks in the library catalog (ditto link)
– books from other CUNY libraries
– video, audio, and other multimedia

That’s a lot of information for a user interface to accommodate on a small screen. Maybe each type of item could be displayed in its own layer, and toggled on and off as desired? We could even get cute and display the information on a little book image, right down the spine.

I think what seems most attractive about this to me goes back to the notion of serendipitous discovery. Librarians talk lots about the possible loss of serendipity with the move to digital reading, and augmented reality or something similar could be one way to address this issue.

And speaking of serendipity, not long after that conversation (and associated speculation) the news of an augmented reality shelfreading app sped ’round the libraryverse. This app, developed at Miami University, scans a bookshelf and locates books that are out of call number order, making short work of an otherwise fairly dull library task.

Then I went to the ACRL National Conference last week, the biennial gathering of academic librarians, only to find that QR codes were everywhere, from posters (including my own) to presentations. QR codes are not new, of course, but this is the first time I’ve both used them (ask me how many poster URLs I snapped!) and thought about the ways that they could help folks find information in our libraries.

We might be closer to Rainbow’s End than we think, at least in libraries.

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Big News in Scholarly Publishing

June 11th, 2010 · No Comments

By now everyone’s probably heard about the storm a’brewing in scholarly publishing this week. I don’t want to repeat what’s been very ably said in many other spaces on the internets, but as an open access advocate I couldn’t let the week end without at least collecting together some of the high points of the discussion.

In brief, the University of California system libraries are resisting outrageous price increases for the Nature Publishing Group’s scholarly journals. This situation is, sadly, a familiar one for academic librarians, and this is not the first time that a large consortial group has pushed back. What’s new is the scope of the resistance: unless NPG comes down in price, U Cal faculty are being asked (among other things) to decline to peer review or submit articles to NPG journals.

This is huge, and a huge step in the right direction. As a librarian, a faculty member and a researcher I am absolutely thrilled to see this happening, and I’ll be following the situation closely as it evolves.

Here are some great places to go for more info:

  • The Chronicle of Higher Ed‘s article U. of California Tries Just Saying No to Rising Journal Costs provides a thorough introduction to the boycott.
  • Dorothea Salo, Institutional Repository Librarian at the University of Wisconsin who writes a fantastic blog about scholarly communication and open access (among other things) over at The Book of Trogool, has been covering the story since early in the week. (It was actually a tweet from Salo that first tipped me off to this situation late Tuesday night.)
  • Bethany Nowviskie, Director of Digital Research & Scholarship at the University of Virginia Library, wrote a great post called Fight Club Soap that, among other things, includes a powerful discussion of the relationship between scholarly journal pricing and scholarly monograph publication.

Good stuff, all. Go read it!

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Thoughts on Open Access

November 22nd, 2009 · No Comments

Last month for Open Access Week our library hosted a program on OA scholarly journal publishing for faculty, complete with spiffy orange buttons (suitable for Halloween wearing, too!). It was a great discussion, but since I’ve written about it elsewhere I won’t repeat it here.

I’ve found myself mulling over open access off and on ever since. Most of the time when I think about OA publishing it’s about academic journals, but of course publishing’s not a monolith. There are lots of materials relevant to academic work that are published in traditional ways, and there will likely be different models needed to successfully convert them to OA.

Scholarly Journals:
Discussion about journals seems to make up most of the conversation about open access scholarly publishing, and in some ways it’s the easiest transformation to imagine. Partly that’s because there are already longstanding examples of well-respected, peer-reviewed OA scholarly journals (yes, First Monday, I’m looking at you). But I also think that the economics of scholarly journal publishing favor open access in the long run. It’s an old saw that bears repeating: as scholars, we are compensated by our institutions for responsibilities that include performing original research (often funded by grants which we must work to acquire), writing up and disseminating the results of that research, and serving as peer-reviewers and editors of scholarly journals. In the traditional publishing model we then give our copyright away to the publishers, who sell those journals back to our libraries. Our institutions pay twice for the results of our research.

There are a number of different funding models for open access scholarly journals. University and college presses or libraries can host journals using the free and open source Open Journal Systems. Journals might also charge author fees; researchers can apply for grant funding to defray the fees or institutions can subsidize these costs for their faculty. Many open access journals are currently published using one of these models, and I’m sure the number will only increase.

Open access textbooks are a little trickier, though I’m a big proponent of them for a variety of reasons. Textbooks are incredibly expensive, both for students and for libraries. We buy a fair number of textbooks in my library and it’s so frustrating to have to get new editions every few years which may not even be all that different from the old editions (but of course we have to buy the edition that faculty are using).

Open access textbook/course material repositories are springing up all over the internet recently, definitely a positive development. I know that many faculty write textbooks and derive some income from them. But I think there’s more to be gained by sharing our curricular materials, especially at public universities. Freely-available textbook modules could be peer reviewed, and the community of researchers could discuss and refine them. I think the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources says it best: “When educators pool their expertise to create a culture of shared knowledge, everyone benefits.”

Scholarly Monographs:
Many of the same publication issues for textbooks also apply to scholarly books, especially in that researchers do profit from their sale. But many monographs don’t have a huge print run, and university and other scholarly presses have felt the squeeze of tightened budgets recently, too.

A hybrid print/digital model might be a good strategy for scholarly monographs. Earlier this year the University of Michigan and the Open Humanities Press announced a partnership to publish a series of scholarly monographs. Digital versions of the books will be freely available online, but paperback versions will also be available for sale. Recent advances in print-on-demand technology makes this distribution model much more feasible than previously.

Ultimately I’m in favor of open access for most academic materials. As a researcher, I’m eager for lots of other scholars to read my work. As a public employee, I’m sensitive to the fact that taxpayer money helps pay my salary. And as a teacher, I’d like my students to have access to a wide range of quality information from many sources. Open access publishing encourages the dissemination of scholarship to the widest possible audience, to the great benefit of researchers, students, and the public.

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