Southern Chapter Annual Meeting -- Keynote
Leaving the Reference Desk

Linking Proposal From DC Principles

I wonder how far we can take this. 

The scholarly society publishers, clustered under the banner of the "DC Principles," have issued a press release on their offer to NIH to set up a system of direct links from PubMed to the articles in the journals that they publish.  It is presented as an alternative to the NIH manuscript submission policy, and it isn't quite that, but it opens up possibilities that librarians ought to embrace.  The press release (and the proposal that is also on the website) is short on technical details, but the ability to easily make direct links from the PubMed citation to the full text of the article is something that we all want.

It barely addresses the archiving/preservation issue, but that could be easily solved (LOCKSS and a dark archive).

The major problem, of course, is that not all NIH-funded research is published in those journals -- but this is where speculation gets interesting.   Suppose you're an author, getting ready to send your article out.  You're aware of the NIH policy and, despite the fact that it's a royal pain in the ass, you want to be a good citizen and get your article into PMC.  You can send it to the leading Elsevier journal in your field, and go through the hassle of posting your manuscript to the NIHMS..., or you can send it to one of the Highwire journals and not worry about it.   All NIH needs to do is modify the policy so that articles published in journals that participate in the linking program (and make all of their content freely available in 12 months or less) are considered to be in compliance.

The critical issue with scholarly publishing today is not open access -- it's the fact that over the past thirty years, the academy has turned over responsibility for scholarly publishing to the for-profit sector.  The DC Principles publishers are anachronistic holdouts -- thank god!   They tend to be less expensive than commercially published journals, and they're run by the faculty and department chairs and deans on our campuses.    They share our goals -- to get scholarly information into the hands of those who need it.  My biggest frustration with the whole open access debate is that it has put librarians and the society publishers in opposition.   Instead of working together to transform scholarly publishing, we waste time and energy arguing.   This proposal is an opportunity to get us all on the same side of the fence -- where we ought to be.   


Alex Bienkowski

You're correct to insist on the fact that academic publication was "outsourced" to the commercial sector by scientists and others who couldn't get rid of it fast enough. When Elsevier and others came calling, the scientists were only too happy to get rid of the burden. Publication is a difficult, never-ending job,with its own skills and required virtues: diligence, patience, planning ability, etc. Why would faculty want to take back the very job they were so anxious to get rid of? ACB

T Scott

The fact that many societies have retained control of their publishing programs despite the offers of Elsevier and others to relieve them of that burden indicates that, at least in some disciplines, scholars believe that it is in their own self-interest to keep control. That is certainly true of the societies collected under the DC Principles umbrella.

Phil Davis

I disagree with your argument that the real problem is outsourcing of publishing, since there is no reason to believe that a third-party cannot run the publishing process as well as in-house – in fact, they have demonstrated that they can do it better and cheaper than we can. The chief contributing problem (I believe) is the insulation of authors from the true costs of publishing. In that respect, non-profits are set up not to take advantage of the author’s ignorance and indifference to costs. The results, however, are the same.

Ed Sperr

Color me unimpressed -- I just don't see what is new in this proposal. I imagine that most of these publishers are current participants in NLM's link-out program, meaning that links to content are already there in PubMed.

The big issue is control. Without NLM having the ability to host articles, there's nothing to prevent today's free Highwire content from becoming tomorrow's 404 error...


Placing control of scientific publshing in the hands of an arm of the US government strikes me as a dangerous. Ed speaks of control, I agree that is just the point. Control. To hand scientific works over to the likes of Bush and DeLay is just asking for trouble.

Over and over again I see this desire to centralize content. I would submit that the current state of affairs is the result of cedntralized content in the hands of Elsevier. Replacing one monopolist with another will gain the community nothing in my view.

NLM is a great organization. I know many people there and respect them. However, they are human, give them monopolistic power and most assuredly they will abuse it. It is the nature of monopoly.

The only way to change the current state of affairs is to encourage diversity of content and control. That is the beauty of this proposal. Highwire publihsers are all independent. They, like Elsevier, serve only their own interests. However their diversity allows for greater freedom. The library community has a right to be angry. I have always been dismayed at the poor service provided by STM publishers (big and small). You deserve better. You will only get better service when the monopoly is broken.

Finally, I agree with Phil on one point, Elsevier is most likely more efficient then the small publishers. However, I would disagree that the result is the same. Phil, didn't you present a paper at Charleston showing that society publications were less expensive then the big boys? Or did I see that paper at a Countway seminar?

Phil Davis

Response to Mark D:
You may be missing my point. Non-profits are indeed cheaper than the commercial big-boys - we all agree with that point. Yet the cause of this price differential is not with the publishers. It is the authors who are kept insulated from the true costs of publishing that give commercial publishers the ability to extract rents from the academe through high library subscriptions. The excellent society publishers listed in the DC Principles could easily charge more for their material, yet they are mandated not to extract profits. The reason I may appear to spit hairs in this argument is because the solution to this problem needs to address the authors and their insulation to the costs of publishing. Sensitize them (even in a small amount), and we might begin to see economic corrections.

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