Chicago Collaborative Rules of Engagement

It occurred to me while Liz and I were meeting with our Elsevier reps the other day that part of the reason that my perspective on publishers and publishing is so different from so many of my colleagues is that while I spend far more time with publishers than most librarians, almost none of that time is spent with sales & marketing people.   When Steven Bell, who writes prolifically about library matters had the opportunity to spend some extended time with publisher representatives, the encounter surprised him.  But, as he says, "My interaction with scholarly publishers has consisted primarily of short conversations at library conference booths."  This really has to change.

The Chicago Collaborative (CC) was designed to foster the kinds of conversations that can surprise both librarians and publishers when we sit down to talk about the issues that we have in common and quit thinking of each other primarily as buyers and sellers.  And in the five meetings that we've had so far, it's been extremely successful at that.  At the end of each day there's been a palpably giddy sense in the room.  We're all learning so much and there is a growing sense of how much we can accomplish when we work together, rather than being at odds.

But up to now, the library community has been represented exclusively by members of the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries (AAHSL).  (All of us are members of MLA and some of us are members of ALA or come from ARL institutions, but with the CC we're there as AAHSL reps.)  I've been pretty insistent all along that eventually this needs to expand.  The issues that we're trying to address are of concern to all librarians, not just those with a biomedical focus.

All the same, we all feel protective of our fledgling unorganization.  The adversarial approach that has been adopted by the OA advocacy groups has generated a great deal of mistrust in the community.  Too many librarians have an image of publishers as mercenary fat cats determined to "lock-up" scholarship, and too many publishers have come to believe that librarians would just as soon put them all out of business.  But when the CC meets, we have to put those notions aside, and work with each other in good faith, as people who are fundamentally dedicated to improving scholarly communication for everyone.

So we've drafted what we're calling the Rules of Engagement -- a set of principles that govern how we approach our discussions.  The rules refer to the Chatham House Rule (which I learned about when I joined the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable) and are designed to establish a baseline for candid conversations based on the idea that we are not there to push specific agendas, but to learn from each other and to work with each other.

It's a tall order -- we're trying to change the nature of the conversation that librarians and publishers and editors and scholars have.  But I remind myself that the CC is only a little over two years old and I think we're making progress.  I'm impatient because I feel that we (and by "we" I mean all of those in the scholarly communication community who care about making the most of the opportunities the digital age presents us) have wasted far too much time. 

Open access week is coming up.  Here's what I wish librarians would do -- if you really care about advancing the openness of scholarship, make a commitment to go to at least one publishers conference or meeting in the next year.  Introduce yourself to somebody other than your sales rep.  Go have a cup of coffee or a drink.  Ask them about what they see as the future of scholarly publishing.  And then listen.

Taxpayers and Peer Review

One of the most effective soundbites in the public access debates around FRPAA is that taxpayers ought to have ready, easy and immediate access to the results of the research that they’ve paid for.   Seems to be obviously true.

It quickly gets muddy, however, because most people who follow the OA orthodoxy intend it to mean that taxpayers ought to have ready, easy and immediate access to the peer-reviewed articles reporting the results of that research.  After all, the argument goes, they’ve already paid for it, and the subscription system forces them to pay twice! When publishers object that what’s been paid for is the doing of the research, but that taxpayers have not actually paid for the peer review and publication of those articles, they are typically shouted down with the claim that since all of the key elements of peer review and publication are either done for free or are simple anyway, the publishers really don’t add any value and so have no claim to compensation.

And yet, there doesn’t seem to be any outcry at the notion of paying PLoS (or any other publication-fee based OA publisher) a considerable sum of (usually) taxpayer money to perform those same tasks.  If it’s double-dipping to pay Wiley-Blackwell a subscription fee to get access to the peer-reviewed published articles, why isn’t it double-dipping to pay PLoS or Biomed Central?  Aren’t we still making the taxpayer pay twice?

This is no criticism of PLoS – I’m just looking for some consistency in how we judge these things.  PLoS has proven that a publication-fee based top notch journal can be successfully produced in certain well-funded disciplines.  And I’ve always been persuaded by the logic that says that since peer-reviewed publication is just the final step of a research project, it ought to be funded in the same way that all the rest of the costs of the project are.  That’s the justification for using grant funds to pay the fee.  And that explicitly makes the case that whatever it is that the taxpayers have paid for in doing the research, they have NOT paid for the peer review and publication.

But this also points to the weirdly ambiguous way in which we think about peer review and how it gets done and what its real value is.  It’s not hard to find bloggers and commenters who castigate publishers and repeat, ad nauseum, the refrain that publishers add next to nothing because most editors and peer reviewers are volunteers and who really needs that copyediting stuff anyway.  Do they feel the same way about the PLoS publication fee?  After all, PLoS makes a big deal about their vast network of peer reviewers – they have to rely on a tremendous amount of expert volunteer labor to make PLoS One the largest STM journal in the world (in terms of number of papers published).  And yet, the fact remains that even the $2,900/article fee that they charge for the flagship journals isn’t sufficient for them to break even on those journals alone.   So what are they paying for?

The same sort of sloppy thinking pervades discussions of the place of peer review in the NIH Public Access Policy.  On the one hand, it’s apparent that peer review is tremendously valued – NIH doesn’t want any papers deposited unless they’ve been peer reviewed.  And the expectation is that it is the publishers that perform that task.  So the Policy requires that publishers perform what is clearly considered to be an essential service – but then says there isn’t any need to compensate the publishers for that service, because it’s all done by volunteer labor anyway and isn’t nearly the kind of value-add that the publishers claim it is.

You can’t have it both ways.

NIH could have set up their own peer review mechanism.  After all, if the labor is all volunteer, and the publishers don’t really add anything of value to the process, why deal with them at all?  How hard can it be?  Indeed, in the original E-Biomed proposal that Varmus floated over a decade ago, he envisioned a peer review mechanism at NIH that would enable investigators to send their papers directly, without going through journals.  By the time E-Biomed had morphed into Pubmed Central, that idea had been dropped.  But it could be revived. 

Or, we could decide that the public’s need for access to the results of the research that they’ve paid for could be met by providing access to the progress reports and final reports that grantees have to submit to the funding agency.  Would that be enough?

But the proponents of open access clearly believe that it is not enough.  They want public access to the peer reviewed results of federally-funded research.  And they want that peer review to be facilitated by the publishers.  And they grind their teeth over having to pay a subscription fee to some publishers to fund that peer review process, but they happily pay a publication fee to OA publishers.

It’s the open access result that justifies paying the fee, not the fact that “taxpayers have already paid for it”.  If it’s not legitimate to pay a subscription fee to a publisher in order for them to handle peer review and publication, then it shouldn’t be legitimate to pay a publication fee, if the argument is that the taxpayers have already paid for it.

A logical argument could be:  In order to provide public access to the peer reviewed results of federally-funded research, taxpayers should pay an additional sum in order for those results to be published open access.  (Stuart Shieber’s “Equity for Open Access Journal Publishing” is a quite elegant proposal along these lines that should have gotten more attention and discussion than it did.)   You could argue that this is a more effective way of providing taxpayer funds for the peer review & publication processes, because then all taxpayers have access, rather than just those who can get through the subscription hurdles.  As an added benefit, you’d be insuring that the version that the public gets access to is the final, stewarded, version-of-record. 

But then you’d have to give up shouting indignantly that under the current system “the taxpayer is forced to pay twice!”  And what fun would that be?


MLA & AAHSL have issued a joint letter expressing some concerns about the Section 123 language in the House version of the America COMPETES reauthorization.  Personally, I don't think they need to worry.

Section 123 establishes an interagency public access committee that would be charged with "the responsibility to coordinate Federal science agency research and policies related to the dissemination and long term stewardship of the results of unclassified research, including digital data and peer-reviewed scholarly publications, supported wholly, or in part, by funding from the Federal science agencies."

The specific language that raised an eyebrow for the folks at MLA & AAHSL is the call for "uniform standards" for research data, etc., in order to insure interoperability, and to "maximize uniformity" with respect to the benefit and impact of such policies.  The letter writers are concerned that this would "almost undoubtedly have an effect on the implementation of the NIH Public Access Policy and may result in the need to rework existing standards..."

Well, I guess that you could read it that way.

Section 123 follows closely from the recommendations that we made in the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable report.   Although the Roundtable is not referenced in the legislation, it is referred to in the House Committee report, which says, "Due to the complexity and importance of this issue, the Committee urges the Public Access working group required under this section to give careful consideration to the Roundtable's report and to develop a balanced process for seeking advice from and collaborating with all parts of the non-Federal stakeholder community as it carries out its responsibilities..."

I certainly don't speak for the other members of the Roundtable (an independent minded group of individuals, to be sure), nor for whoever drafted the Section 123 language, but in our discussions we returned again and again to the issue of interoperability.  While we felt strongly that, on the one hand, agencies needed some flexibility in developing and adapting their policies to meet the specific needs of the disciplines that they support, we were also alarmed at the notion of completely independent and uncoordinated efforts and the prospect of multiple repositories that couldn't interact with each other in any effective way.  Hence the calls for standards and "maximum uniformity".

We refer to the NIH Public Access Policy and to PMC in several places, taking those as given.  Implicit in the report is the notion that the PMC standards must be one of the basic building blocks of establishing standards that can be applied across any and all repositories.  Any move that would reduce the effectiveness of what has already been established in PMC would be a significant step backwards.  So I was surprised at the concern expressed in the MLA/AAHSL letter.  We just never looked at it that way.

Still, given what has been involved in the development of PMC, both before and after the implementation of the NIH Public Access Policy, I can see where there might be some nervousness.  The MLA/AAHSL letter recommends some language that could be added to Section 123 that would mitigate that nervousness, and something like that would certainly still be in keeping with the spirit of the report.

One of the flaws of FRPAA in its current incarnation is that it lacks any call for coordination among the agencies.  Because it is so narrowly focused on the public access issue, it lacks assurances for the kinds of interoperability that is absolutely essential if we are going to reap all of the potential benefits from applying large scale computing (text and data mining) across multidisciplinary repositories. 

Important as public access is, it musn't be viewed in a vacuum, or as the supreme social good.  At this critical moment in history, we need to be sure that we are paying as much attention to preservation & archiving, interoperability, and stewardship of the Version of Record (VoR) as we are to maximum availability.  As we found in our Roundtable discussions, this does make the development of policy more complex, but it is worth taking the time and making the effort. 

Busy Telling Stories

Every piece of writing should tell a story.   This is as true for a report for my boss (like the update on our investigations into the impact of journal cancellations that I need to get done this week), as it is for an essay that I may be preparing for print, or a tale about Josie that I post here.    Same thing for any kind of a presentation that I might do for a conference:  What's the plot?  Who are the characters?  Where's the dynamic tension?  How do I want the audience to feel when they've come to the end?

I have lots of stories to work on in the next few months:

In two weeks I'm doing a presentation on open access for the annual meeting of the NCRR/SEPA program directors.   My assignment is to take 10-12 minutes to discuss what open access journals are, why SEPA PIs should be interested in publishing in them, and any other advice I have about "publishing in open access journals or publishing in general."  To do this adequately in the time allotted is practically impossible.  Approaching it as a story helps to keep the presentation concise and on track, rather than just a scattering of semi-related facts.

The editor of the JMLA asked me to write a guest editorial for the January 2011 October 200910 issue.  I'm quite thrilled about this since the editorials that I wrote while I was running the thing include some of the best writing that I've ever done, and I've missed having that challenge.  I'm going to use the opportunity to write about the experience of participating in the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable.  The report stands on its own and we've been pleased with the reception that it's gotten, but what I'm interested in relating in the editorial is what it was like on the inside -- as far as I'm aware, the Roundtable was the only occasion during all of the smoke and thunder surrounding the open access discussions of the past decade or so that a group of stakeholders covering the range of views that we did was brought together to have the kinds of intense discussions that we did.  There ought to be more of that.

I promised Flannery that I'd work with BtheA on an article about medical humanities for the theme issue of the JMLA that he's putting together.  I'm far, far behind on the original schedule that I'd set for that, although I do have a pretty good sense of how I want to approach it.  The tension between the need to educate physicians for the science and to try to help them become fully rounded human beings at the same time remains unresolved, and I'd like to dig a bit into the issues surrounding that tension.

In June I'll be in San Francisco as part of a panel presenting at the annual SSP meeting.  My brief for this is to talk about budgets in libraries -- the things that publishers don't necessarily know or think about.  The panel comes out of the efforts of the Chicago Collaborative, part of our range of education activities designed to bring librarians and publishers to a greater understanding of the challenges and issues that each other faces.  In this case, the story that I want to tell has to do with the varied ways in which libraries get funded, the multiplicity of priorities that are always jostling for resources, the gradual shifting in how library directors are thinking about allocating those resources -- and what that might mean for publishers.

July takes me to the annual CESSE meeting in Pittsburgh to talk about open access, public access, and the various issues that the Roundtable occupied itself with.  Until I got the invitation, I didn't know that CESSE existed, but it's no surprise since there is an association for everything.  It's possible that I'll have crossed paths with some of these folks at other meetings, but I do particularly like going to meetings that are outside of my usual orbit.  Librarians spend too much time talking amongst themselves.  They need to get out more.

And then there's the Doe Lecture.  I don't actually give that until May of next year, and don't need to have it ready to send to the JMLA editor for a month or two after that, but I've started to think about the story arc for it.   As I've remarked to a number of people, while I've had the opportunity to do many interesting and valuable things with the Medical Library Association, the only two things I ever really wanted to do were to edit the Bulletin (back when it was the Bulletin rather than the Journal) and to someday give the Doe Lecture.  It means a great deal to me that I'm going to have that chance.

All of these stories, of course, are variations on the same themes -- the radical changes occurring in the realm of scholarly communication and the tremendous opportunities that they present for librarians.  The tale unfolds in the telling.  As always, when I'm looking ahead to a presentation or a piece of writing, I'm eager to find out what I'm going to say.


Charlie points to the list of publishers who've agreed to hold prices at 2009 levels and appears to speculate that we may be seeing an end to the historical trend of significant annual price increases for STM journals.    But it remains to be seen what the impact of those pricing pledges actually turns out to be -- much of that depends on the choices that librarians make.  Will those publishers be rewarded with a disproportionately smaller number of cancellations from those libraries struggling to deal with reduced acquisitions budgets?  Or as librarians scramble to find the funds to maintain the big packages from the publishers that they love to hate, will it be the "good guys" who end up getting screwed?

For many years, Library Journal has published, each April, an eagerly anticipated article by Lee Van Orsdel and Kathleen Born analyzing pricing trends in the scholarly journal market.   Kathleen retired last year, and the article has been taken over by a new team.  As it happens, I had dinner with them a couple of weeks ago.  They were just beginning to crunch the data, so our conversation was entirely speculative, but we spent quite a bit of time talking about where the cancellations were likely to fall and what the impact on the overall market would be. 

Based on the informal conversations I have with my colleagues, I suspect that Elsevier is going to come through this year just fine, despite that fact that they continue to be aggressive in their pricing.  "We can't cancel ScienceDirect," is the refrain that I hear constantly.  I remember a conversation that I had with an ARL director who said that if she threatened to cancel, the sales rep would start calling her faculty and getting them to put pressure on her.  She wasn't going to risk that.  (When our sales rep suggested to the woman who does content management for us that he was going to start contacting our faculty about our proposed cuts she offered to send him a copy of our phone directory.  I think she confuses him.)

If the titles in the big packages are the ones that you generally believe are more important for your community than those put out by the publishers on the "good guy" list, then you should by all means keep those titles.  And if that means that the small publishers who are hanging in by the skin of their teeth and holding prices in response to the pleas of librarians are the ones who get whacked, that's just the way it goes.  You've got to do what's best for your faculty, right?

But I don't think I've ever heard a librarian make that argument.  What I do hear is the fear that the faculty will rise up and...  and....  Well, that part's never quite clear, but I think some library directors have visions of wild-eyed faculty members surrounding the library with pitchforks and torches.

We stepped away from the big packages last year.  And yes, we had many faculty (57) who contacted us expressing concern about the loss of access to some titles.  Most of those we reinstated.   The conversations in almost all cases were respectful, thoughtful and extremely beneficial to us in getting a better handle on what was being used and why (we did have one rather agitated faculty member who I had to talk down from the ledge). 

We're going through a similar process this year, although since we've already gotten out of the package deals, the potential loss of access is much smaller, although the titles are certainly more valuable to the community.  And again, the engagement with the community has been excellent.  Not a pitchfork in sight.

I don't know how this is going to unfold in the long run, but I'm certainly more eager than in any previous year to see what trends show up in the LJ article.  I worry about the impact of these cuts on the teaching & research missions of my university (we're going to be holding a series of focus groups later this spring to try to get more detail on that), but I'm also enjoying the conversations with faculty that this crisis is giving rise to.   And although I fear that we're not spending enough money to really meet the demonstrated needs, I know that the money we are spending is being spent better than ever before. 

We've been meeting with each of the health sciences deans to be sure they've got all of the details about our budget situation, what we're doing and why, so they can handle any questions they get from their faculty and so they can alert us to concerns that they have.  The discussions have been great -- these are smart people, who care deeply about the importance of library resources, but also understand the practical difficulties of managing large organizations with greatly diminished resources.  They've got our back.

At the end of each meeting, as we're standing up to go, I've said, "Y'know, when I can step away from my anxiety about the potential negative impacts that our decisions are having, we're actually having a lot of fun.  It's pushing us to be more creative and connected to what the community is doing.  This really is the greatest time to be a librarian in 500 years."

I really believe that.

The Relevance of Libraries

"And the library?

"It can look like the most archaic institution of all.  Yet its past bodes well for its future, because libraries were never warehouses of books.  They have always been and always will be centers of learning.  Their central position in the world of learning makes them ideally suited to mediate between the printed and the digital modes of communication."

This, from the introduction to Robert Darnton's The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future

I've been a fan of Darnton's ever since reading The Great Cat Massacre many years ago.  As a historian with an annales disposition, he has done some of the most interesting and useful work on the history of the book and printing and the way they have affected society and the diffusion of knowledge of anyone in the past fifty years.  As an innovator and experimenter (he founded the Gutenberg-e program), he has taken what he's learned from all of that scholarly work and looked for ways to apply it in shaping the intellectual infrastructure of the 21st century.  Now, as Director of the Harvard University Library, he is perfectly placed to assess the state of libraries and the convergence of print and digital.

Plus, he's a damn fine writer.  I would put this book on the absolutely must read list for any librarian who actually wants to understand better why the question of "how do we make libraries relevant" is a complete hand-wringing red-herring waste of time.

Of course, it's a book.  It's 206 pages (plus intro and index), and I know that a lot of the hip young techno (hand-wringing) librarians don't like to read books.  They get everything they need from blogs and twitter.  Look at it this way -- very few of Darnton's sentences are longer than 140 characters.  Take a deep breath and pretend it's just a really long twitter feed.  I know you can do it.  Two evenings, max.

It's a collection of essays (most reworked somewhat) that he's written over a number of years, divided into three sections -- looking into the future, studying the present, and considering the past and the implications that our past has for our future.   He has particularly insightful things to say about the Google Books settlement (agree with him or not, his arguments need to be considered), the advantages or disadvantages of electronic books, the importance of open access, and why the history of books matters.

Darnton is neither a technophile evangelist for the coming digital revolution, nor a grudging apologist for how it used to be "better".  His long historical perspective puts him in the position of someone who is excited about what the new technologies can offer us without losing his understanding of the importance of what we've had in the past and what needs to be preserved as we move eagerly into the unknown future.

Librarians, and the institutions that they build, have always played a critical role in the advancement and preservation of learning and culture.  Darnton's book helps to explain why that is even more the case now than ever. 

Disruptions In Many Directions

If I were a sociologist of the blogosphere, I might find a fine case study in the comment thread to Michael Clarke's excellent post, Why Hasn't Scientific Publishing Been Disrupted Already?, which showed up on The Scholarly Kitchen just after the start of the new year.

Clarke starts with the observation that, despite nearly two decades of chatter about how the web was going to revolutionize scholarly publishing, and despite the tremendous disruptions that have occurred in so many other areas of modern society and communications, scholarly publishing "does not look dramatically different..., at least in terms of the major publishers. The industry has been relatively stable."

He then goes on to hypothesize why that might be, and suggests that it has to do with the fact that the major roles that publishers play are cultural ones, and that "these are not technology-driven functions."

He goes on, "Given these 3 deeply entrenched cultural functions, I do not think that scientific publishing will be disrupted anytime in the foreseeable future. That being said, I do think that new technologies are opening the door for entirely new products and services built on top of—and adjacent to—the existing scientific publishing system."  And he gives some examples.

I think that Clarke is right on target here.  I've long argued that while the technological changes that the internet represents are indeed profound, it will take at least a generation or two before we begin to see the beginnings of a mature digital culture that parallels the mature print culture that we all grew up in, because it takes a considerable amount of time for society to fully absorb and adjust to the sociological, cultural, political and legal changes that are required.

The post has garnered 75 comments -- relatively few of which actually address the core of his argument.   As is usually the case with blog discussions many of the commenters use the occasion to expand on their own pet issues, which may or may not be tangentially related to the core of the argument being put forth.  Then there are the little side arguments that take place among different commenters which often go very far afield. 

Overall though, it's pretty interesting discourse, even if it doesn't take Clarke's argument very far.  It's like being in a bar with a group of semi-sober, smart, opinionated, occasionally cantankerous, and sometimes slightly lunatic folks who really do care very much about the issues, even if the evening is wearing on rather past the point where anyone is thinking clearly.   At any moment somebody is going to climb up on a table and start declaiming, "It is so being disrupted!" just before he falls over and passes out.

But Clarke's essay deserves more serious attention than just as fodder for barroom conversation, no matter how occasionally brilliant and illuminating some of that conversation can be.  I hope that it gets it.

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).

Policy and Passion

I know that it startled some of my colleagues when I said, during some of the meetings in Boston last week, that as far as I could tell Open Access just wasn't very controversial among publishers any more.  When I was at the STM meeting in Frankfurt, I detected very little opposition to the concept -- indeed, all of the major publishers appear to be experimenting with some form of open access publishing, and the best of the open access publishers are treated with increasing respect for the strength and quality of their operations.  If you'd gone prowling through the halls of the Arabella, or spent time hanging out in the bar listening in on conversations, you'd have been hard pressed to find anybody expressing opposition to "open access."

"What is controversial," I said, during one of those Boston meetings, "is the NIH public access policy.  But opposition to the policy is not about opposition to open access.  It's opposition to what many publishers consider to be unwarranted government intrusion."

One of the things that SPARC has been tremendously successful at is controlling the terms of the debate and equating support for Open Access with support for the NIH policy and FRPAA.  If you're a supporter of Open Access, you are necessarily a supporter of the policy.  Express reservations about the legislation and you open yourself up to charges of being opposed to Open Access.  It's been a very effective advocacy strategy.

Unfortunately, this rhetorical sleight-of-hand effectively cuts off serious discussion of the implications and trade-offs inherent in any policy proposal.  Issues of stewardship, interoperability, commercial and non-commercial reuse, branding, context, differences in how the literature of different disciplines is handled, as well as the appropriate role of government all have a place in the discussion.  It is perfectly possible to be completely committed to the widest possible unfettered dissemination of peer-reviewed scientific literature and still have serious reservations about whether or not the legislative approach enshrined in FRPAA is the best way to get there.

"For America to obtain an optimal return on our investment in science, publicly funded research must be shared as broadly as possible," states the recent open letter from the 41 Nobel Prize winners to the U.S. Congress.  I don't know a single person in publishing who would disagree with that statement.  But I really do wish that we were having a serious, honest discussion among all of the stakeholders about the best way to get there.


"Trust is the only important thing!"   Slightly hyperbolic, but I knew what Geoff was getting at.  We were talking at the end of the CrossRef 10th anniversary dinner about the various projects under development at CrossRef in support of their mission:

CrossRef is a not-for-profit membership association whose mission is to enable easy identification and use of trustworthy electronic content by promoting the cooperative development and application of a sustainable infrastructure.

I'd be speaking the next day on issues surrounding the development of sound policies for handling plagiarism and duplication of publication.  The Baroness Onora O'Neill, Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge, would speak on "Trust, Communication and Academic Publication."  Heady stuff.  (The slides for the presentations are now all available on the CrossRef site).

While issues surrounding the protection of the integrity of the scientific record were front and center at the CrossRef meeting, the same themes permeated all of the various venues in which I found myself engaged with publishers throughout the summer and fall, be it with the Scholarly Communication Roundtable, the STM meeting in Frankfurt, the publishing panel we put together for the NLM/AAHSL Leadership Capstone, or the Chicago Collaborative meeting in Boston.  The fact is, serious publishers of all stripes, be they large or small, commercial or not-for-profit, spend a helluva lot of time worrying about ensuring not just the integrity of the single article before them, but the ongoing stewardship of that article. 

Stewardship involves not just shepherding a manuscript through the peer review process -- there are issues of image manipulation, unintentional errors or violation of publication norms through ignorance or cultural differences, the challenges of dealing with post-publication updating, errata, error, fraud,  retraction and preservation.  In our focus on access, librarians tend to ignore most of this.   Is it that we think these issues are unimportant or trivial?  Or do we just not think about them at all?

Of course access is important, but as Professor O'Neill pointed out in her talk (done without slides, so not, alas, reflected in the presentations that are available online), access is not sufficient -- what we're really after is communication.  And ensuring communication requires that we pay adequate attention to integrity and to stewardship. 

Librarians haven't put enough energy into those aspects of the discussion, and we need to.