What Comes Next

"Are you moving?"

It's a common question when I tell people I'm retiring from UAB this fall.

I explain that we moved into Lynn's dreamhouse 17 years ago, that it's stuffed with artwork and books, perched up above a pretty little lake with swans and great blue herons, that Marian and Josie live just 20 minutes away, and that for all of our state's flaws, we're very happy in Alabama.  Plus, Lynn just installed a touch-action faucet in the kitchen.  She's quite giddy about it.

So no, we're not moving.

"What are you going to do?"

That's the other obvious question.  I point out that I'm retiring from UAB, but not from the rest of my life.  I'm still on the editorial boards of several journals and I enjoy that quite a bit.  I'll be able to spend more time on OSI.  There's the steering committee for Metadata 2020, a project that I think is very important.  I'll keep pushing for open data and a more open, affordable and transparent scholarly communication ecosystem.  I'm not going to go looking for consulting gigs, but if some interesting projects came my way, I'd certainly be open to them.

I hope to do more writing, both professional and personal, starting with posting on the blog more often.  And see what else develops.

I'll gradually increase my daily exercising.  I'm very consistently doing 25-30 minutes a day of stretching and leg strengthening and it makes a tremendous difference.  I'd like to increase that to an hour.  My goal is to walk with confidence for two to three blocks using only the walking stick for support.  That won't happen soon, but there's no reason to think I can't get there eventually.  "Neuroplasticity."  My favorite word.

I'll have more time for guitar and harmonica.  I can awkwardly strum my way through Helpless and Bird On A Wire now, although I wouldn't want to do it in public.  That's another goal.

I'll pick up making dinner another night each week (I do two nights a week now) and I'll take over most of the kitchen cleanup.  I still don't have enough touch sensitivity and hand dexterity to trust myself with the good glassware, but I can handle the rest and it's a chore that Lynn really hates.

All that being said, having watched a good number of my friends retire in the past few years the one constant seems to be that the reality is different from whatever it is they thought it would be.  So I have plans -- I don't want to wake up one morning wondering, what now?  But I'm not going to hold myself too tightly to any of them.

Except that I did promise Lynn about the dishes.

 


I'm On An Anthropological Expedition

"Of the dozen cases of possible research misconduct I've looked into in the last ten years, I was able to retrieve the original data in exactly two." This from a colleague (I won't say with which university) bemoaning the state of current data management practices. When I quote this to some of the Data Wranglers here they're not at all surprised.

On the other hand, when I mentioned it to another colleague, a historian, she was rather shocked. In her field, keeping meticulous records and clear documentation of every statement of fact that goes into an article or book is standard practice.  That there's a research world that has such an apparently casual attitude towards the data is foreign to her.

But in the biomedical research world, as the hapless teddy bear researcher in the brilliant NYU Library video says, all the data you need is in the article.  You do your experiment, you extract the data you need for your article, you move on, leaving your data behind.  ("So many boxes!")  Changing that mindset is just one of the fundamental hurdles.

Each investigator looks at the world through the lens of their own practices, as if all of science and scholarship behaves the same way. I move through it like an anthropologist, trying not to let my own biases about the world color my perceptions of what the natives are doing and why.

When I embarked on this full-time gig fourteen months ago as the mysteriously titled Director of Digital Data Curation Strategies I believed I had a very good high-level understanding of the issues involved. I'd been dabbling in this space for many years, through the Open Access wars, my involvement with the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable and an increasing understanding that open access to data held far more potential for revolutionizing science than open access to journal articles. I knew that addressing the challenges at the institutional level would require bringing people together from all across the institution, that it wasn't a library problem amenable to a library solution. Indeed, it wasn't a problem localized in any unit of the university.  Given the way our research institutions are organized, there isn't a unit within the typical university that obviously has primary responsibility for figuring this out.  Most often, it's librarians who have taken the lead, but they can only touch a portion of the problem.

I still believe that I was correct. I did have a very good high-level understanding. But I did not imagine how delightfully complex it would be once I started to dig in.

I'm starting to get to know some of the #datalibs and a fascinating, brilliant and passionate tribe they certainly are.  I'm learning a lot and enjoying that tremendously.  

My perspective is a little different, though.  I remain the quasi-outsider, observing through my anthropological lens.  Since I'm no longer in the library, I'm not preoccupied with building a library service and marketing it to my research community.  In Charleston, one of the panelists in the "Making Institutional Repositories Work" session was explicit that once you have developed a solid institutional repository service, the next step is to engage with the faculty to see what problems the IR can solve.

At the monthly Data Wranglers sessions, and in the numerous conversations I have with individuals throughout the campus, I'm mostly trying to listen.  I want to understand what the problems are first.  What do investigators need in terms of services & infrastructure to comply with the data management requirements of funders and publishers?  How do we develop institutional policies that assist researchers rather than creating more administrative headaches?  How do the needs of the social scientists and historians differ from the epidemiologists and brain mappers?

If we can map that out, then we can start to identify roles.  What can the Office of Sponsored Programs take on?  How do the libraries contribute?  What do we need in terms of IT infrastructure?  How do we incorporate effective data management practices into the various graduate and post-doc training programs?  We'll probably identify the need for an institutional data repository of some sort at some point.  But we haven't gotten there yet.  I have much more field work to do.

 

 


What We Share

I was in Frankfurt in 2006, having been invited to speak at the annual meeting of the STM association. It was a heady experience. I don't remember what I talked about (I hope it was useful) but I certainly learned a lot. I came away with the understanding that the commercial publishers were already knee-deep into the reinvention of scholarly publishing and they were eager to partner with librarians in that great adventure. But they weren't going to wait for the librarians to show up.

Sadly, the librarians never did. It was still the early days of Open Access publishing. But Mabe was at great pains to point out that STM was officially agnostic on the subject. I met Hindawi, who had recently joined. I had a long conversation with Velterop, full as always with his enthusiasm for what might be achieved with some goodwill and creativity and daring. Even Erik Engstrom, then CEO of Elsevier, told me in conversation that he was not at all opposed to Open Access. He just needed to figure out how to make it work as a business.

But in the years that followed, the librarians didn't show up. Led by ARL/SPARC they manned the barricades, determined to make this a holy war between good and evil. Fueled by anger over the affordability problem, stoked with rhetoric that characterized Elsevier's profit margins as typical of the entire industry, and willfully oblivious to the economic realities of publishing, the librarians found emotional satisfaction in castigating the evil publishers, writing letters to congress and investing portions of their scant resources in institutional repositories that their faculties have little interest in supporting.

Where are we now, nearly ten years later? The commercial publishers have turned OA into the business model they were beginning to envision back in Frankfurt. Springer claims to be the largest source of OA articles in the world. Elsevier launches a new OA journal practically every week. Every major STM publisher has a PLoS One clone.  The OA partisans conspicuously have nothing to say about PLoS's revenues.   It's become a huge publisher by adopting the strategies and utilizing the talents of some of the best in the publishing industry. It's now running a surplus that bests that of most of the commercial small fry and the OA partisans can't figure out if PLoS is still one of the good guys.

The partisans retrench into the incoherence of green OA. Since they can't stomach making payments of any kind to the commercial publishers (Harnad's painful pun of "Fool's Gold") they fly the flag for green, continuing to manage a splendid feat of cognitive dissonance by ignoring the fact that green is entirely dependent on the existence of a vibrant, healthy, subscription-based publishing infrastructure -- the very system they want to eradicate.

The partisans lob their attacks on liblicense-l. The latest comes after Robert Glushko posts a message asking if we can't all recognize that despite our differences we are all still in this together. "I'm hopeful that we can work to find common areas of interest, and that we can all work together to promote those areas. At our best, we do so much good."

The critics are quick to disparage such foolish idealism.  Prosser says,  "Gosh, I wish this was true. I wish that we were all just one big happy family striving to promote scholarship. But I don’t think we are. We all have different priorities and drivers and sometimes those drivers and priorities clash."  Guédon quickly chimes in:  "Hear, hear, David! The notion that publishers/libraries/scholarly are close relatives is completely fanciful."  Later, in his long post, he seems to temper this somewhat, "Let us concentrate our fire on the few, multinational, baddies and the rogue scientific associations, and let us see how we can repatriate publishing capacity within academe."  So not all publishers are evil -- it is the multinational baddies that we must go to war with.  I'm sure this is comforting to the struggling commercial and society publishers trying to avoid being caught in the crossfire.

At UKSG 2013 I gave the closing plenary, arguing that publishers and librarians share the same overarching  commitment to advancing scholarship through the distribution of new knowledge.  It's our view of the role of the market that puts us at odds.  Librarians see market forces as the impediment to distributing knowledge.  Commercial publishers see market forces as the mechanism for distributing knowledge.  This fundamental disconnect will continue to make our business relationships more difficult than they need be. And librarians are at a particular disadvantage because of our unwillingness to learn to deal realistically with the economics of publishing. 

But surely there can be more to the relationship than that.  The publishers themselves are fiercely competitive with each other, but still managed to get together to create CrossRef, which has done more to facilitate efficient movement through the scholarly literature than anything that librarians have put together.

I still believe that the best way forward is for librarians, publishers of all stripes, researchers, academics and members of the public to engage and argue and work together to build a scholarly ecosystem that works for the public good. Something that I believe we all want. The people who work in those companies that the partisans castigate as "the baddies" (and worse) are, by and large, good people who are committed to doing a good job and advancing scholarship.  They also want their organizations to be successful.  A sentiment that I believe is shared by every librarian I know.

There are some positive signs. While I'm still not seeing as much positive energy from the library community as I would like, the Library Publishing Coalition is doing very good work.   I'm still optimistic that SHARE can achieve some useful things, particularly as it works more closely with CHORUS. The deal that CHORUS just signed with ORCID is very positive and should give librarians something to get behind.

Most promising of all perhaps, is the energy I saw at the Society for Scholarly Publishing meeting in Arlington in May. SSP, more than any other association, has made a major commitment to bringing publishers and librarians together. They have just elected a librarian as president. Rick Anderson generates a lot of skepticism among librarians but he is librarian through and through.

The way forward will continue to be difficult.  But if librarians are going to influence that future they're going to have to show up and find ways to work with the people in publishing.  Writing them off with the kind of demeaning and insulting rhetoric that characterizes so much of what the partisans write doesn't advance anything but the would-be revolutionaries' sense of self-satisfaction.  A dose of humility and a willingness to listen would serve the cause much better.

 


Data Wranglers in the Edge of Chaos

I love these lines from Rex Sanders:

If the data you need still exists;

If you found the data you need;

If you understand the data you found;

If you trust the data you understand;

If you can use the data you trust;

Someone did a good job of data management.

It encapsulates the goal as well as anything I've seen.

I used it to lead into the first of what I intend to be more or less monthly informal discussion sessions with the folks I'm somewhat tongue-in-cheek referring to as Data Wranglers.  We gathered in the Café at the Edge of Chaos (conveniently just a few steps from my office).   I scheduled it for 4:00 with beer in the fridge and wine on the counter, gave a five minute intro to some of the issues (essentially, what does the institution need to do to facilitate good data management) and opened it up for discussion.  These folks are not shy.

Included among the dozen who came were an Institute of Medicine member who is a staunch OA advocate and leads several biostatistics groups, the PI of a very large multi-institutional longitudinal study of stroke risk factors, a computer scientist who runs a multidisciplinary team engaged in brain mapping, the director of the clinical data warehouse, an expert in decision support systems, and a woman working with NASA to link satellite, EPA and public health data.  The others were equally diverse and distinguished.  A fascinating group, all of whom have a keen interest in how we manage research data.

We touched on a number of key themes:

  • Concerns about data sharing contrasted with the value of data sharing
  • The limitations of metadata in supplying sufficient context for data re-use
  • The dangers of one-size-fits all policies
  • The need to provide good information support to investigators in response to imminent federal funder requirements for open data
  • Information sharing vs data sharing
  • Role of commercial interests

I have an ever expanding list of (currently about 40) people from across the campus that I'm inviting to these sessions.  My overarching goal is to build a community of interest, make connections among people who have similar concerns but may not know each other, and use these discussions to drive priorities and strategy.  It's a Wicked Problem, which is what the Edge of Chaos is all about.

After 15 years of working on these issues around the demands of my day job as LHL director, for the past nine months or so I've been able to dig in full time.  It's become clearer than ever that it requires strong collaborative efforts that cross institutional boundaries.  That is very tough to do, given the way that research institutions are organized and the siloed culture of those institutions.

In most places, it's the librarians that have taken the lead, usually in developing services around DMP requirements and, increasingly, tracking the new federal funder requirements for public access to publications and data.  But this is much more than a library problem.

I have been quite struck by how much my perspective has been shifted by the fact that I am doing this out of the Provost's Office rather than out of the library.  My focus is on engaging intensively with researchers across disciplines, the folks in IT and OSP and compliance, and using a very organic approach to surface issues and needs.  Out of that, we'll try to identify the things that the various components of the university can do to help us all do a better job managing research data.  My monthly Data Wranglers discussions are a key component of that approach.

I've come to appreciate that the challenges in achieving Rex Sanders' vision across the entire institution are practically insurmountable.  I've always had a deep empathy for Don Quixote's battle with the windmills.  That must be why I'm having such a good time.

 

 


Conversation in Charleston: Public Access and Data

"Promote ORCID."

That was Greg's "if you take just one thing from this session" recommendation.  Howard agreed, but added, "...equally promote having your researchers submit their funder information when submitting manuscripts for journal publication.  Having the Researcher ID and Funder ID together married up to the article DOI is a powerful combination."

On the other hand, just having Howard & Greg chatting together on the same stage was a pretty powerful combination.   When SHARE & CHORUS were first launched, just a few months after the Holdren memo was released, many observers saw them as competitive.  In this corner, the publishing lobby making a policy end run to try to maintain their market dominance; and in this corner the combined might of the research libraries and universities seeking to leverage their investments in institutional repositories into some greater relevance.  Which of these mutually exclusive solutions would the federal funding agencies settle on? (Or would PMC simply vacuum everything up into an expansive PubScience Central)?

Fortunately, it didn't take too long for the developers to see where the projects overlapped and where there were advantages to be gained for both projects by sharing expertise and perspectives.  By the time I had lunch with several of my Roundtable colleagues at the AAAS meeting last February those conversations had gotten to the point where a joint appearance at Charleston was starting to look like a real possibility.  I immediately thought of Greg as a potential participant.  He's a Charleston regular and has been working with SHARE as a consultant.  Turns out that he had been having discussions with Judy Ruttenberg about a similar panel proposal and when the Charleston directors got wind of all this, they put us together.

Bringing Howard in was a natural given his role with CHOR., and I wanted to include John Vaughn, whose experiences with handling scholarly commnications issues for the AAU go back many years, and whose roles in chairing the Roundtable and in helping to develop the SHARE concept have amply demonstrated his commitment to including the views of all stakeholders in working through these very complicated issues.

The concept that Greg & Judy were developing was broader than just SHARE & CHORUS, however, and when the three of us spoke by phone over the summer we agreed on the necessity of bringing in a data person.  We were very fortunate that Laurie Goodman, editor-in-chief of Gigascience, was able to join us.

I've done several sessions like this over the years -- "facilitated conversation".  No presentations.  Some informal agreement among the participants about the likely themes.  I prepare half a dozen or so questions ahead of time, but once we get to the event, I rarely use more than two.  With the right people, the conversation flows naturally and takes its own course.  My job is just to keep it moving.

With this group, my task was extremely easy and the 45 minutes went by in a flash.  Of course we could have gone on much longer, but I'm happy with the range of topics that we were at least able to touch on.  (The session was recorded, so there will be a link on the Charleston website at some point). 

One of the most striking moments was when Greg asked how many in the audience were involved in managing institutional repositories.  Half the people raised a hand.  Then he said, "Keep your hands up. Now how many of you are successful in getting your authors to submit directly to your IR?" Only 2 hands were left up and one of the two was wavering in uncertainty.

Reshaping the scholarly communication eco-system is a massive job.  As John said, developing achievable policy will require adult deliberations and negotiations among all the key players – universities, libraries, publishers, and government.  It is also clear that a focused effort in data access and interpretation, management, and preservation will become increasingly important, and is one of the areas that currently is both most volatile and most challenging.

So in addition to promoting ORCID, noting funding sources, sharing best practices for effective IR management, and a whole host of other things that came up during the session, John suggests getting one of the nifty yellow Data t-shirts like the one Laurie wore.  Cafe Press has some nice options.

 


The New Job

"Effective September 8, I'll be Director of Digital Data Curation Strategies reporting to the office of the Provost."  I've started sending this announcement around to the discussion lists, alerting the far-flung professional network to my change in circumstance.

There's been a nice assortment of congratulations and well-wishes.  But what has surprised me have been the comments from people who assume that this means they won't see me at the usual library conferences anymore.  What?  I'm still a medical librarian.  I'm still a member of MLA & SCMLA & MCMLA & ALHeLA.  I won't be representing UAB at the AAHSL meetings anymore, it's true, but I'll continue to go to the other conferences.  And given the increasing importance of data curation at research institutions I expect to be more involved with the work of some of my librarian colleagues rather than less.

Lynn reminds me that she went through a similar thing 25 years ago when she left UAB to work for EBSCO.  She had to work very hard to get people to understand that she was no less of a librarian just because she was no longer working in a traditional library job.  I guess I'll have to do the same thing.

John Meador, most recently Dean of Libraries at SUNY-Binghamton, picked up the reins as UAB Dean of Libraries August 5.  The challenge he has accepted is to merge the two existing library organizations -- Lister Hill and Mervyn H. Sterne -- into a single organization serving the entire university community.  Unlike some recent reorganizations (UNC & Florida come to mind), UAB's roots as a primarily biomedical research institution offers some unique opportunities.  The two libraries are similar in size of staff and budget, are located just a few blocks from each other on a compact urban campus, and serve an increasingly multidisciplinary institution.  So while services will continue to be delivered from both buildings, we anticipate that, over time, a single, seamless organization will be formed to provide those services.

It's a bit of a conceptual leap because even though most of the important work that librarians do now takes place outside of the building, we still think of the library organization and the library building as occupying the same space.  As I was trying to explain the goals of the merger to a faculty member he said, "But the biomedical literature will still be based at Lister Hill, won't it?"  I had to tell him, gently, "Actually, since we spend less than 1% of our content budget on print, that hasn't been the case for five years now."  The reference librarians do far more of their work by chat, email, phone, webinar, office hours in classroom buildings, or meetings & workshops around campus than they do in person in the building.  The building is still very important, of course, but basing the organization on the physical limitations of the building is an anachronism.

One consequence of the merger is that the two Director positions go away.  The Director, Lister Hill and Director, Mervyn Sterne functioned as deans, although we didn't have that title.  But we met as part of the Deans Council and had the same level of budgetary and personnel authority as the deans.  Now that there is a single individual with the title, as well as the authority, of Dean, those two director positions are superfluous.

So what has opened up for me turns out to be quite marvelous.  Every research institution in the country is trying to figure out how to effectively manage research data.  What services should the institution provide?  How do you effectively manage security?  How do you establish policies and monitor compliance with the full range of increasingly complex federal requirements?  How do you make data available for reuse in clean and well-structured contextualized environments?

A number of institutions have made some headway in sorting this out, but part of the challenge is that there isn't really a single entity within the modern research university that is the logical home for the full range of issues that need to be addressed and coordinated.  It requires true collaboration among the libraries, IT, the research office and the various pockets of excellence and expertise that exist across the campus -- often unknown to each other.

My task, for the next several months, will be to map what exists at UAB, to figure out who is doing what, to identify where there are significant gaps, and then to work with all of the various players to help develop strategies for pulling all of the pieces together into a coordinated whole.  From this vantage point it looks ridiculously complex.  

I plan to have a lot of fun with it.

 

 


What are librarians' views of Open Access issues?

I've cooked up a little survey that you can get to here.

Later this month I’ll be speaking at the AAAS meeting on this topic.  Although I know what the positions of our library organizations are, and what some individual librarians might think, I’ve never felt that I had a good grasp of what librarians in general think.  I suspect the range of opinion is pretty wide.  So I’ve come up with a list 15 statements that people can indicate their level of agreement with.  They're the sort of statements one reads and hears in presentations, blogs and discussion lists.  In some cases they may be too broad or simplistic for simple agreement or disagreement so I’ve included a comment block that people can use to amplify their answers or explain why they can’t agree or disagree with the statement as written.

I don’t expect to draw any general conclusions from this, but I hope that it will be useful in illustrating some of the breadth of opinion that exists in the library community.  I'll post a summary of the results here.

The survey shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to complete – although you can certainly take longer, depending on how much you choose to comment.

And, of course, if there are other things you think I should be telling the AAAS audience about what librarians think, I'd love to hear about it.


The Magical Thinking of Professor Harnad

One watches with awe the relentlessness of the hedgehog mind.  Would that I were as certain of anything as Professor Harnad is of his vision of the open access future.  Surely one can be sympathetic to his frustration at those who bring up irrelevant issues or divergent points of view.  To his laser-like vision they are so obviously wrong.   Again and again (and again!) he tirelessly trots out his facts – that it is only fear that keeps academics from depositing articles into local repositories and so we must have mandates which will almost instantly (because academics love mandates) result in nearly 100% OA, at which point publishers will cease publishing and convert to peer review management organizations, funded by the windfall garnered by libraries who will cancel their now unnecessary journal subscriptions.

It will be a glorious day, akin to the day when the movie studios shut their doors once most households had television sets (or was it radio that went out of business?)  Or maybe it was the day that cable put the broadcast networks out to pasture.  I forget…

But no matter.  In the meantime, we must be vigilant and focused.  We must keep the evil subscription (“toll-access”) publishers in business (for the time being) and not so much as whisper the heresy that librarians might cancel journals prior to the day of the singularity.  Is it supposed to come as a surprise to them when we suddenly drop our subscriptions?  How much time will they need to re-tool to become peer review only organizations?  So many questions…

Although the metaphor is inexact, there’ve been many times over the past year that the line whispering in my head has been, “And the revolution eats its young…”  The Finch report tore the OA community asunder.  Where previously it had seemed that gold and green might coexist and one could be friendly with both, suddenly the camps became like the true fans of the Crimson Tide versus the Auburn Tigers.  Allegiance must be paid.  Professor Harnad leads the charge, castigating “Fools Gold” and hollering even more shrilly for mandates, mandates, mandates which are easy to implement and which the researchers desperately want in order to alleviate their fears and make those deposits that they are so eager to do.  It is inevitable and it is almost here.

In this taking of sides, Gold OA must be opposed at all costs, so former heroes of the movement, like PLoS or Biomed Central, conveniently drop off the radar screen.  Immediate open access to the version of record is now perceived as a danger, vastly inferior to scattered deposits of the author’s manuscript version.  The OA goal has been turned on its head.

One of the ironies for me in all of this is that I would actually love to see much of the future that Professor Harnad envisions come to pass.  Indeed, many years ago, at a meeting of librarians and publishers organized by Marty Frank and Mike Keller, I said that I could see a future in which an organization like APS acted strictly as a peer review organization, putting their stamp of approval on papers that could then be deposited in any of a variety of repositories.  Marty laughed (as he tends to at what he perceives as my more outlandish ideas).  I still think it’s a nifty concept.  But anyone who has studied diffusion of innovation theory and history knows that the path forward as outlined in the voluminous Harnadian corpus is a fantasy. 

In the real world, change happens in fits and starts, is messy and incomplete, results inevitably in a series of unintended consequences and is a matter of balancing pros and cons.  It is never as neat as Professor Harnad wants it to be.  For my part, I view the desirability of immediate open access to the permanent, curated version of record to be well worth the continued involvement of the commercial publishers.  I'm skeptical that the repository movement advances us very far.  But I'm not dogmatic about it.  

In a recent exchange, when asked by Jeroen Bosman what the reasons are for his speculations, he says, “Speculation, but grounded in the pragmatics, logic and evidence of what it actually going on today.”  In the magical thinking of Professor Harnad it is obvious and inevitable.  How frustrating it must be for him that so many of us fail to see it.

 

 


Not FASTR Enough

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.

SPARC has changed the name of  their bill.  Yay!  Let's write our congresspeople!

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.

 


What value do publishers bring to public access articles?

The complaint that publishers add little or no value to the scholarly publishing process is one of the most common soundbites used by the OA partisans.  And yet, if this were true, why would the NIH Public Access Policy or FRPAA be structured the way that they are?

Although the phrasing that is typically used is along the lines of "taxpayers fund the research so they are entitled to read the results of that research at no additional charge" that's not exactly what the mandates are actually after.  Several commentators have suggested that the public's entitlement could be met by making the research progress reports that are required by all funding agencies available.  Some agencies already have systems available to do that. 

As Phil Davis points out in The Scholarly Kitchen, recent studies show that fewer than half of NIH-funded clinical trials actually result in published articles within 30 months.  So wouldn't access to progress reports be a huge improvement over a focus on published articles?   Given the ratio of funded studies to published articles it is clear that neither the NIH Public Access Policy nor FRPAA are or could be very successful in achieving the goal of providing access to all the results of federally funded research.

But that's not actually what those policies are trying to achieve.   It's only after a publisher has accepted an article for publication that NIH or FRPAA is interested in getting a version of it.  Argue all you want about whether or not the publisher adds value, but these mandates are very explicit that there is something that publishers do that is absolutely essential.

It has something to do with peer review apparently.  Although again the partisans are quick to point out that the reviews are done for free and the decision is made by an editor who is getting, at best, a tiny honorarium, and that whatever it is that the publisher contributes, it can't be very much or be very costly.

So why do we need the publishers?  Why doesn't the NIH policy or FRPAA establish their own independent peer review process if peer review is so important, but so cheap?  Then the publishers couldn't complain that they were providing something of value for which they are not being compensated.

But I haven't seen anything like that suggested anywhere.  The NIH policy and FRPAA absolutely depend on publishers contributing something.  How can something of so little value be so absolutely essential?