While the publishing industry continues to explore numerous avenues for providing full Open Access to the stewarded versions-of-record of the scientific literature, SPARC once again offers up the hope that the US Congress will save us from the evil paywalls. Is this really the best they can do?
Springer is now the largest commercial OA publisher in the world. The publishers on the Highwire platform make over 2 million articles freely available within twelve months or less. CrossRef is playing an increasingly important role in this space, most notably with the FundRef initiative. NPG, AIP, and others are launching mega-journals built on the PLoS One model. Wiley announced just today that they are moving two of their established journals to open access. Even stodgy conservative Elsevier now publishes a couple dozen fully OA journals.
There was a remarkable scene at the STM Annual Meeting in Frankfurt last October. I was moderating the closing session, a discussion of the value of emerging models of scholarly publishing with Kent Anderson as the main speaker. Always eager to be provocative, Kent was being sharply critical of eLife, BioMed Central, PLoS One and the notion of open access in general (this will come as no surprise to readers of his pieces in the Scholarly Kitchen). What resulted was significant pushback from many in the audience, who argued that not only were the various OA models financially viable, but that moving to OA was the right thing to do -- that it represented the values that had brought so many of those people into publishing in the first place. Imagine that -- 300 STM publishing executives in a conference room with a significant portion of them (and seasoned professionals at that) vociferously defending open access.
Alas. I think I was the only librarian in the room.
The tide towards open access is inexorable. Many in the publishing industry recognize that and are actively engaged in making things happen. Wouldn't it be nice if librarians were a part of that? But SPARC, as the librarians' advocate for OA, would have us sit on our hands (well, one hand, I guess -- we're supposed to use the other to write to Congress) and hope for a legislative solution.
The previous FRPAA versions of FASTR haven't even been able to get a decent congressional hearing. It's easy enough for a congressperson to sign on as a co-sponsor, but there doesn't really seem to be much legislative muscle behind it. And even if it were, somehow, to get through Congress in the current session, think of the time and money that will be wasted on building the infrastructure necessary for each agency to comply. All for the sake of "freeing" manuscript versions of articles, many of which publishers are already making available.
I suppose you can't blame librarians too much. If all they know about publishing is what they read in SPARC press releases it's natural to think that publishers are evil demons bent on hoarding knowledge to the detriment of civilization as we know it. The slogans about publishers getting everything for free and making the taxpayers pay twice are compelling if you don't look at them too closely.
I'll agree with SPARC on one thing -- we've got no time to waste in moving the open access future forward. Too bad that while publishing professionals of all stripes are working to make that happen librarians seem content to sit on the sidelines waving cardboard sabers.