Unintended Consequences

Taking Time For Conversation

Last Thursday, while I imagine that the Elsevier execs who had sealed the deal with HHMI were giving thanks for the leaders of the open access movement, I spent the day sequestered in a small conference room on the FASEB campus in DC.  Hosted by Highwire Press and the DC Principles Coalition, this was the second session billed as a "conversation" between librarians and society publishers.  There were about a dozen of each, and it was refreshing to be able to actually pursue some ideas at length, and work through areas of considered agreement and disagreement, rather than engaging in the kinds of potshots in press releases and on discussion lists and blogs that are  generally a substitute for conversation.

Clearly, everyone who was in that room is deeply committed to expanding access to scholarly information as far as possible.  It was pointed out that the Highwire Press publishers comprise what is the largest archive of freely available articles in the world,  with well over a million and a half articles, from many of the most highly cited journals, available now, and more added everyday.  Thirty-seven of the journals make their content freely available upon publication, and 235 make their content available after an embargo period, most often of 12 months, although a few have longer delays and a number have shorter.

However, because those publishers who are also part of the DC Principles Coalition are opposed to government mandates such as FRPAA, they are considered the enemies of the open access movement, even though among them they provide a huge amount of high-quality open access content.   I can understand their frustration.

As was pointed out early in the day, though, the open access movement is a socio-political movement, and not entirely rational.  So what we were attempting to do was to find some areas of common ground on which to build a discussion of what kind of scholarly communication world we would like to see, what is the place of subscription revenue within that, and what are the opportunities for librarians and publishers to work together to create the kind of future that serves all of our interests well.

I'm hopeful that we'll be able to do some follow-up from this meeting and keep the conversation going.  I came away from the day renewed in the belief that if we could have more of this kind of real conversation, we could get past all of the line-in-the-sand rhetoric that currently makes enemies of people who ought to be allies.



Can you flesh the following out a bit?

"[T]he open access movement is a socio-political movement, and not entirely rational."

I've enjoyed the posts but am not sure what to make of this.


T Scott


We did not talk about that element in any detail, so I want to be careful not to put words into the mouths of any of the other attendees, but I think that the way that it was taken was that for some (at least) of its advocates the "open access movement" is very much of a crusade. It is driven by beliefs that are often characterized in moral terms -- for example, the rights of taxpayers to freely access federally funded research results, regardless of the potential costs (whether financial costs or opportunity costs) of any of the current proposals to do so. This quality of a crusade makes it difficult to engage in rational discussion of the pros and cons of any particular approach -- support for FRPAA, for example, is considered a litmus test of support for open access, and criticizing it as a piece of legislation is taken as opposition to "open access."

I think this is generally the way that the phrase was taken by the participants. The people at the meeting were interested in considered discussion of alternatives to the current system of scholarly publishing and were, I think, in general agreement that the rhetoric of some of the leading voices in the open access movement makes that difficult.

I hasten to add that the more I talk with librarians and publishers who are NOT in the extremely vocal minority, the more I see people who have an increasingly nuanced view of the complexities involved.

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