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November 2009
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January 2010

Association of Subscription Agents Conference

I can highly recommend the ASA annual meeting, to be held February 22-23 at the Royal College of Nursing in London.  The agenda has just been posted on the ASA website.

I've attended a couple of ASA meetings in the past several years and have found it to be very engaging and worthwhile.  Although the primary audience is agents and intermediaries, there are a good number of publishers and a scattering of librarians who attend (and there is a special librarian registration rate). 

More librarians ought to go, because the issues affecting the agents are the same issues affecting the rest of us. 

At the AAHSL reception this fall, after we'd done the Chicago Collaborative update, I was asked how I had learned the things I have about publishing.  It's been an accumulation over the past decade, and attending this meeting has been a part of it.  As I've said many times, unless we (as librarians) gain a better understanding of the perspectives of publishers and agents, how do we expect to effectively negotiate with them or engage with them as we try to create a future that best serves the interests of the scholarly community at large?

Incidentally, if you do get to the conference, I can highly recommend, for lunch or dinner, 2 Veneti, a marvelous little Italian restaurant that is quite close to the conference venue.  Also, if you get a chance, you may want to stop into the nearby Toucan, which has the best selection of Irish whiskeys I have ever seen.

The Family In Cookies

Josie & Marian will be over for dinner this evening.  Lynn told Josie that she and Jingles (Josie's Christmas elf) would be baking cookies this afternoon.  She did gingerbread portraits of each of us (plus Jingles).  I think they turned out fabulously well. 


The Caricature of Taypayer Access

I am avidly following the discussion about public access on the OSTP blog and I see this morning that of the 26 new comments that have come in overnight, 21 are from Harnad.  Sigh.  "Bless his heart," as we say in the South.  I applaud the folks at OSTP for trying to be as open and inclusive as possible, but is this really any way to have a reasoned discussion?  I would hate to have to be the person who's got to read through all of this stuff and try to figure out if it actually reflects any consensus of opinion.

Hardly anyone that I talk to disagrees with the general abstract principle that the public should have ready access to the results of federally funded research.  But that's not really what all the heat is about.  What SPARC and its legions claim is that the public should have free access to the peer reviewed literature that results from federally funded research.  This is quite a different thing, and SPARC has been extremely effective at papering over that critical distinction.

There's the expected amount of publisher bashing in the comments of course, best illustrated, perhaps, by Evans Boney's "overview of what happens in peer-reviewed research:"

1- SCIENTISTS spend weeks preparing a grant proposal and sometimes get a grant, likely paid for by citizens of the USA.
2- SCIENTISTS do the research.
3- SCIENTISTS submit a paper to their peers
4- these other SCIENTISTS review these papers and send back comments.
5- PUBLISHERS claim a copyright on the result of the SCIENTISTS work and make the money that should rightly belong to the people who did the research. This money comes from subscriptions paid by libraries which, at public universities, are ALSO paid for by citizens. PUBLISHERS add two extra costs to the public at large, and are entirely worthless and burdensome to today’s scientific structure.

What one would logically conclude if this were actually the case, is that scientists should quit sending their articles to established journals, and simply organize their own peer review mechanisms and post their papers on their own.  Problem solved. 

Alas, this description is an ignorant caricature, although one that passes for reality among far too many of my colleagues in libraryland.  Even on a very small scale (for example, my experience with the four slender issues a year of the JMLA) there is a tremendous amount of labor involved in getting something from manuscript to published article, and then in getting that to the attention of the people for whom it will be useful, labor that is completely unacknowledged in the silly simplification that Evans presents. 

The advocates for public access mandates implicitly recognize this, of course.   It is the post-peer review articles that they want made publicly available.  They'd like the final published paper, of course, but those damned copyright laws prevent them from just taking those -- so they'll settle for the final peer-reviewed manuscript, which, they claim, the publisher doesn't quite have the rights to yet (although the fact that the NIH policy requires that the written agreement between the publisher and the author allow Pubmed deposit indicates that maybe the publisher does have some kind of a claim after all... but we'll try to avoid going there...).  One gets a headache from trying to follow the tortured logic.  So much easier to just raise the banner of "taxpayer access!"

So I'm left with this conundrum:  if what the publisher provides is so valuable that no mandate urges making papers available that don't have the benefit of it, how do we justify taking that value (and diminishing the value to the publisher who provided it) without giving something in return?  Conversely, if what the publisher provides is of no value at all, why don't the mandates suggest that we simply bypass the publisher altogether?

(As a postscript, I feel compelled to add that I do believe that the public should have unfettered access to the peer-reviewed results of federally funded research.  Indeed, I think that all of the peer-reviewed scientific literature should be made freely available.  After all, one of the professional accomplishments of which I am most proud is having played a part in making the content of the JMLA freely available -- the first library journal that did so.  I just think that we need to develop policies that do a much better job of acknowledging and accounting for the contributions made by publishers.  I don't think that the taxpayer access argument, in the simplistic form in which it is usually stated, is intellectually honest.  Evans Boney may not know any better, but surely many of the others who make that same case do).

No Place Is Very Far Away

We went to Chamonix so that we could stand on the slopes of Mont Blanc.    When we stepped off the cable car at Brevent, I was surprised that we were standing in snow.  Lynn gave me that pitying, affectionate look she displays when I'm being particularly obtuse.  "November?  The Alps?  And you weren't expecting snow?"  Yes, well, I'd been pretty focused on the Global Health Library meeting.

We'd been uncertain, from the forecasts, what the weather would be like, but it could not have beenGeneva 2009 005 more beautiful.  Bright sunshine, crisp blue skies with just a few picturesque clouds kissing the mountain tops.  We spent an hour or so there, pushing our way through the snow toward 6500 feet, and then in the afternoon, another hour near the Mer de Glace, on the other side of the valley.

The concierge at our hotel had said that Saturday would be a good day to get out of town, because there were anti-WTO demonstrations planned.   When our bus was pulling back into the station in Geneva at the end of the day, our tour guide, Simon, said that there had been "an incident" that afternoon and we should "be careful" if we were going to be out walking through the central city that evening.  We found out later that the demonstrations had turned violent and there were smashed windows and cars lit afire a block from our hotel.  By the time we went out for lunch the next day, the cars had been cleared away and many, though not all, of the broken windows were boarded up. 

For several years now, I've kept a travel journal separate from the notebook that I write in every morning when I'm at home.  In the front of each I write the date range that it covers and list the cities that I've taken it to.  The one that I'm just finishing up starts August 7, 2009 and lists the following:  Washington DC, North Little Rock, Brisbane QLD, Lancaster MA, Birmingham, Breckenridge CO, Frankfurt, Memphis, Boston and Geneva.  Even for me, that's an extraordinary amount of travel for a four month stretch.

Without ubiquitous internet access and the trusty laptop it wouldn't be possible.   But I manage to get at the email everyday and I can get a lot of work done on those long airplane flights.  Some projects don't get done quite as soon as I would like, but I manage to get to it all eventually.  And I think that the work that I've done on these journeys is worthwhile and important.   Certainly it is endlessly interesting.

I'm glad to be home now for awhile, though.  At the moment, there's nothing on the calendar until early February, although there are one or two things in the offing that might call me out of town before then.  But for now I'm just looking forward to going to the library every day, and getting into something that feels like a routine. 

Tomorrow Marian and Josie will be coming over to help us trim the Christmas tree.  That's more exciting to me than standing on the side of a mountain.