Archive for: June, 2010

Assessing libraries and open access

Jun 29 2010 Published by under Open Access, Tactics

Much is murky in open access, but this at least is clear: academic libraries have committed different amounts of money and staff toward an open-access future, from a flat zero up to hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth.

It's the zeroes and near-zeroes that concern me (why, hello there, Yale, and hello again, Yale), though I also believe quite strongly that libraries that have made significant investments of money, staff, and/or political capital should be recognized and praised for it.

The difficulty here is that it isn't just the scale of open-access investment that varies. The nature of investment varies as well. Some libraries pour resources into their institutional repositories, while others have one but don't support it well (or indeed even adequately), and still others don't have one at all. Some libraries have flourishing open-access publishing programs. Some libraries have a plethora of memberships with open-access publishers, while others have a few strategic ones, and still others none whatever. Some libraries have dedicated staff to questions of scholarly communication, at various heights in the hierarchy; others have not. A few libraries have open-access author-fee funds.

At this early date, I don't think it wise to constrain experimentation and local decision-making by assessing only certain sorts of open-access investment. (I am aware I differ in this from other open-access advocates, and that bothers me not in the slightest.) Institutional repositories make more sense at some institutions than others, as do author-fee funds and almost any other intervention one could name. Likewise, we want to encourage new kinds of open-access advocacy, such as collaborations between libraries and university presses to make more work open access, or work toward campus-wide mandates; nailing down a laundry list of interventions too soon might damage library incentive to innovate.

I do think it's time and past that academic libraries should be evaluated on the scale of their open-access investment, however. Because all academic libraries benefit when library resources are usefully reallocated to open access, it behooves academic libraries as a group to discourage freeloading. Naming freeloaders in a nationwide assessment context should do beautifully, because like it or not, libraries pay significant attention to their position in such rankings. It would also be useful for academic-library decisionmakers to have a general sense of how libraries are allocating open-access resources, so that they can gauge their own commitments and shift them as seems appropriate.

In the United States, two organizations dominate nationwide academic-library assessment: the Association of Research Libraries and the Association of College and and Research Libraries division of ALA. It has sometimes been noted, and not favorably, that the criteria these organizations use to assess libraries are mired in last-century practices. I suggest that assessing commitment of resources to open access is an important way to shift that perception usefully, while helping academic libraries to make smart choices about their own open-access investments, and employing judicious peer pressure to increase the size of everyone's open-access pie.

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Introducing co-bloggers!

Jun 24 2010 Published by under Metablogging

I am bursting with pride to introduce Sarah Shreeves and Elizabeth Brown as co-bloggers here on Book of Trogool!

(You'll have to excuse me if I go over my exclamation-point quota. I'm just so excited about this!)

I will let them tell you about themselves; I'll just say that Sarah works for the University of Illinois, and Elizabeth works for Binghamton University, and they're both fabulous librarians I'm very proud to know.

Please expect some dust over the next few days or weeks as I fiddle with the templates to make them co-blogger-friendly and ensure that it's clear who's written what. And please welcome Sarah and Elizabeth in the comments!

5 responses so far

Who knew there could be so many Tidbits, 21 June 2010

Jun 21 2010 Published by under Tidbits

There is, in fact, more to life than the California vs. NPG battle royale. I know, I'm surprised too.

As always, feel free to drop links I ought to see in comments, or tag them "trogool" on

2 responses so far

"It's quiet—too quiet;" with a digression into online social media

Jun 15 2010 Published by under Metablogging, Tactics

Other people are doing NPG vs. CDL link roundups better than I am, so I'll limit myself to a few links:

Official press-release salvos have ceased for now; I can only assume that heavy-duty negotiation is going on behind the scenes. I'm well content with the last public word being CDL's. It's quiet—very quiet.

In the meantime, NPG is leaving boilerplate comments on blogs that have discussed the matter. Two such comments have appeared here on Book of Trogool, apparently left by different NPG employees. Their substance is identical.

Boilerplate comment shellack is a poor substitute for genuine engagement with online critics. (I note with raised eyebrow that even NPG's official Twitter news outlet is avoiding this contretemps aside from bare news tweets.) Fair warning, NPG: any more boilerplate comments, like or unlike the previous two, will be deleted as spam as soon as I see them. Also, I have removed the link to your press release that your second commenter left as your URL, not wishing to give it any more Googlejuice, and I recommend that my fellow bloggers do likewise. If your employees wish to engage here, responsively, as human individuals with human rather than corporate voices, I welcome that.

Now, this is not the worst reaction NPG could have, not by a long shot. At last count, I know three library/higher-ed bloggers who have had their work supervisors contacted by vendors over posts critical of the vendors on non-work blogs. (Just to eliminate any potential confusion, I myself am not one of the three. Also, I will not identify or link to any of them; one wrote me via a private Twitter feed, and given the sensitivity of this issue, I don't feel comfortable identifying the others.) I shouldn't wonder if the count were much higher. I congratulate NPG for not being stupid enough to do this… and I hereby leave NPG be for the nonce, to talk more about vendors and online social media generally.

I shan't argue that going up a blogger's chain-of-command behind the scenes is meanly vindictive, though it is; vendettas are anything but unusual either online or in the Just Bidness crowd. I argue, as I did at UKSG 2010, that doing it is bad tactics, liable to backfire.

Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that this isn't a blogger easily ignored—not rabid, not penny-ante—and the issue at hand is substantive, not contentless. Let's also leave the "who's right?" question off the table; disagreements are normal, the truth is usually somewhere in the middle, and all that good philosophy and sociology stuff. Let's just follow what happens when our vendor goes up the chain.

The first thing that happens is that word gets around. Perhaps the blogger is too intimidated to blog the contretemps himself; that doesn't mean he doesn't tell ten, a hundred, or a thousand of his closest professional friends via Twitter or Facebook. That's a lot of people who now have a personal bone to pick with our vendor.

The next thing that may happen is that someone who isn't the original blogger blogs the contretemps—I've seen this! How many more people are now angry at our vendor, over and above those who are upset over whatever was being blogged about? Was it worth it? Truly?

The next thing that happens at most workplaces (and all intelligent workplaces) in libraryland and higher-ed-land is that the supervisor does nothing to her blogger employee. No reprimand on file, no punitive action, nothing. Leaving aside that libraries are vendors' clients and usually not under any obligation to hush a problem up for a vendor's sole benefit, libraries and universities are not run as straitly as businesses. For most, freedom of expression (especially off the clock) is a major professional value; others recognize the tactical outreach value of bloggers saying openly what the strictures on official institutional communication organs might otherwise forbid. In many cases, in fact, the supervisor (who may wield budget power, let's not forget) will herself become displeased with the vendor: for trying to scare her employee, for wasting her time, and for whatever the problem is, as likely as not. How's this tactic looking now?

And finally, if this happens often enough (and it may only take once), the vendor attaches the adjectives "secretive," "manipulative," and "retaliatory" to its brand in the general consciousness. I'm guessing this is not ideal, especially if negotiation and reputation for fair dealing are a major aspect of sales.

Note what does not happen in most (though admittedly not all) cases of vendor-blogger conflict I know of: the critical blog post does not come down. Vendors, you do not and cannot control the conversation about you any more, if you ever did, and you cannot stop that conversation going public on the Web, as many conversations have. You can, if you choose, participate in the conversation, but note well that this is an open conversation. There's no way I'm aware of to participate in an open conversation privately. This doesn't stop people from trying, of course, but I don't know of any successes.

Well, but look, says our vendor, I'm only trying to repair a troubled client relationship here! Fine, but you're going about it the wrong way. The gold standard is public participation in the conversation, but if you can't bring yourself to do that, the way to proceed is to contact the blogger out-of-band first. If you and the blogger can reach a mutually beneficial arrangement, the blogger will rehabilitate your brand all by himself by posting something about your fantastic service. If the blogger isn't the right person to resolve the problem, he will (if he thinks it worthwhile) point you to the right person himself, and will not think any the worse of you for it.

Finally, if you don't have any way to resolve the problem, and you are pretty sure you'll lose if you engage about it publicly, the right thing to do is clam up. Anything else makes the black eye you're suffering worse.

My advice is worth what you're paying for it. As for NPG, comment spam is the least of their worries just now, but that doesn't at all mean they are improving their situation by engaging in it.

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It's Friday

Jun 11 2010 Published by under Open Access

Having inflicted at least one truly Bulwer-Lytton-contest-worthy metaphor on FriendFeed today ("The NPG/CDL thing isn't about open access; open access is just lurking there, kinda like a knife-wielding maniac in a horror movie"), I feel I must raise the stakes by linking to this Derangement and Description comic.

This is the first time anyone has dedicated a comic to me. I am honored! And still chuckling.

4 responses so far

Gauntlet volleying

Jun 10 2010 Published by under Open Access

This morning, when Nature Publishing Group responded to the University of California library's broadside, I contemplated taking the response apart piece by piece in a bit of "... translated into English" satire.

I'm glad I didn't have the chance. I'm much, much happier for people to read the University of California library's response. (By the way, I am using "library" here as shorthand for the entire set of UCal libraries. E pluribus, unum.) I haven't words for the tart, uncompromising brilliance that is this volley in the gauntlet-throwing contest. Go, California!

Instead, I'll link to some other worthwhile reactions and offer a bit of color commentary, if I may.

Fellow SciBling Janet Stemwedel has a measured response that is, somewhat to my surprise and entirely to my delight, typical of what I've been seeing from researchers in my web peregrinations today. If NPG has faculty allies, they're not showing up on the web that I can see.

Bethany Nowviskie takes on the question from the point of view of humanities scholars, illustrating her opening metaphor with the best image hack I have ever seen. (Seriously, click over; it's so great I refuse to spoil it by borrowing the metaphor.) Now, I too have heard "But our journals aren't expensive! Why should we worry about the serials crisis, or adopt open-access practices?" from humanities scholars. Many times have I heard this. It makes me crazy.

Why do you think monograph sales are down? Why do you think subscriptions to humanities journals are down? Why do you think university presses are dropping like flies? I assure you, we librarians have not been embezzling money. Wake up, humanities scholars! The serials crisis cut off the air supply to your publications, books and journals alike! If it's not fixed, you will continue to suffer. You have entirely selfish reasons for wanting NPG and its ilk to be brought to heel.

Now that that mini-rant has been ranted… a couple of things about the NPG line of talk.

Several of my Twitter contacts noted what they thought to be a slap at librarian research and assessment skills toward the end of NPG's statement. I can believe that reading, but I incline toward a far more cynical subtext that is actually an insult to faculty, something like "We have to get those librarians out of the way; they know too much. Let's try getting faculty to evaluate these deals—after all, we've been hoodwinking them for thirty years!" Pick your poison; there's no way to tell who's got the right reading. Or perhaps they're both right.

Now then, this business of "discounts." It's—how to put this politely—hooey, and so is NPG's apparent opinion of the competitiveness of academic librarians over who's paying what to whom.

Ignore list prices for journal packages. Nobody pays list. Seriously, nobody, at least nobody in UCal's league. Your library pays the best price it can manage to negotiate. Those prices vary wildly from institution to institution and vendor to vendor, "discounts" or no "discounts." We librarians know this; it's an inevitable concomitant of the secrecy we are forced to by these very same vendors. You saw NPG whinging about that, didn't you? You surely did. This is why. It's hard for us to negotiate a decent deal when black clouds of near-total secrecy keep us from knowing what a decent deal even is. NPG knows that. Of course they do.

So if NPG expected librarians to get all angry at California for negotiating a good deal last time around—sorry, no, that's not how we think. We think "Nice going, California! I'll try to do better next time renewal negotiations begin; otherwise, NPG will stretch me on the rack just as they're trying to do to California now." California didn't get a "discount" in the last cycle out of the goodness of NPG's heart—they drove a hard bargain. Good on ’em for doing their job well, responsibly managing taxpayer funds. Moreover, that NPG doesn't like that last deal is hardly sufficient reason for California to knuckle meekly under and accept whatever NPG is asking for this time.

One more observation: what I'm seeing right now is that NPG has no friends standing beside it. That may change; the AAP and ALPSP and the other usual suspects haven't weighed in yet. I expect they're wondering what to do. If the California labor-boycott threat is serious, and California's current pugnacious stance suggests that it is, the last thing other publishers want to do is land in the doghouse alongside NPG. Libraries discontinuing subscriptions is serious, but a large faculty labor boycott is crippling.

Is this reticence, perhaps, an example of journal publishing becoming a zero-sum game? Are other publishers salivating at the potential downfall of a tremendous competitor? Or, less dramatically, are they annoyed that NPG is trying for exorbitant price increases when many other publishers, aware of libraries' desperate straits, are holding the line on prices? I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised. It's Just Bidness, after all.

(Why, I wonder, does "it's Just Bidness" defend NPG's actions but not UCal's? Business takes place on both sides of the negotiating table.)

That's what I've got at the moment. I'm going to go make some more popcorn. This game looks likely to go to extra innings.

10 responses so far

Musings on worms turning

Jun 09 2010 Published by under Tactics

So I'm turning over the California/NPG situation in my head, because I—okay, because I'm obsessive, are you happy now? (Just don't ask how late I was sending email last night.)

The very cynical portion of my brain notes that it's almost certainly easier to persuade faculty to inaction than action. California didn't try to use this crisis to convince faculty to self-archive; that's work, that is, and the tie between self-archiving and dealing with NPG's extortionate tactics is weakly evident at best. California merely told faculty "don't work for NPG." Less work! Cheers! they appear to have answered.

Another part of my brain wonders about outcomes, and where exactly California will plant its flag. If NPG comes back to the table with a mere (!) 100% increase, or 50%, or for that matter 2%, will California call off the boycott? (I am obscurely reminded of Churchill's "haggling over the price.") I'm not at all sure they should, but they do have to consider how much faculty support they'll really have should the rubber hit the road.

It could well be a lot, simply from pure outrage. California's university system is hurting terribly. Not a single faculty member in all of California doesn't know that. Not ones to waste a perfectly good financial crisis, the California librarians have taken a shot at redirecting faculty anger toward NPG. If I were NPG, I'd blink.

The next question I have is who would or even could follow California's example. (I'm leaving the question of "who's got a NPG contract coming up for renewal?" off the table, partly because there's no good way I can think of to find out, and partly because NPG is hardly the only outfit with "Putting the Screws to You" as their unofficial salesforce slogan.) This isn't something a library can unilaterally go and do, or ask campus administrators for out of the blue; it takes years of patient hobnobbing, educating, champion-finding, and political-capital-building. In fact, since I haven't said so already—huge congratulations to University of California libraries for pulling this off! Well done!

I suppose the top of my list would have to be reserved for institutions that got tough with Elsevier back in 2003, such as Cornell and Harvard. (Unsurprisingly, California was in the thick of that fracas as well.) Schools with some form of open-access permission mandate might also be good candidates, since they are likely more sensitized to the issues. Even schools like Maryland where votes failed might surprise us, again because of increased awareness. Finally, schools with libraries containing strong, well-established, and growing faculty-education programs in scholarly communication are in a better place to follow California's lead than schools without such programs.

So much is noteworthy about the California action that I'm having trouble synthesizing it all just in my own head, but let's start with its scope. This is the first action I know of that implicates such a tremendous pool of faculty labor. It's similar in kind to journal declarations of independence—both are labor-withdrawal protests against maddening pricing—but California's action is extraordinarily vaster.

That very vastness threatens to pierce a few veils. One is the oft-lamented gap between faculty and librarian awareness of serials pricing, of course. Economists tell us that part of the journal pricing problem has always been faculty's obliviousness to it, made possible by writing it off as a "library issue." If the entire California faculty workforce now knows, how long before the entire faculty world does? Another is the question of labor in serials: if one state university system (granted, it is California's huge one) can credibly threaten to bring a fleet of top-tier journals to its knees merely by withdrawing uncompensated faculty labor, what are we paying publishers all this money for again?

Another pierced veil concerns the tug-of-war between faculty and journals for control. Faculty, especially junior faculty, feel at journals' mercy. If they don't get published, and published in the right journals, their career is over. Therefore they don't protest price increases or reuse policies even when they disagree with them. California faculty are threatening to exert a lot of control, suddenly—and not just against any old penny-ante publisher, either. I can only hope this is good for what economists call "market discipline."

The last veil, and perhaps the most interesting, is the veil around journals as non-substitutable goods. (Briefly: the idea is that journals can charge high prices because you can't just swap one journal for another; journals supposedly aren't commodities in that way.) I need only adduce the final paragraph of Jen Howard's report:

Although researchers still have "a very strong tie to traditional journals" like Nature, he said, scientific publishing has evolved in the seven years since the Elsevier boycott. "In many ways it doesn't matter where the work's published, because scientists will be able to find it," Mr. Yamamoto said.

If I worked for a major journal publisher, I'd have chills running down my spine at that. (I'd also be having serious talks with my salesforce about eliminating sales tactics that could land me in the gunsights, but I'm odd that way.)

I also wonder quietly about suppressed faculty ire at very-high-impact journals such as Nature. Such journals are career-makers for a very few, but the many who fruitlessly submit articles again and again can't be fond of them. How much schadenfreude is there in the serried ranks of California faculty, just waiting for an opportunity?

Finally, the thought occurs that this is a water-testing move by NPG. How much is too much? When does the boiled frog jump out of the water? Perhaps now they know.

Just to be perfectly clear, let me conclude by saying I have no idea how this will all turn out. The immediate conflict could be over tomorrow, if NPG blinks fast enough. Whether even a rapid resolution will dampen the reverberation… that is an excellent question to which I have no answer.

7 responses so far

California throws the gauntlet in NPG's face

Jun 08 2010 Published by under Open Access

This is the sort of event I can never, ever manage to predict. Like the Harvard OA mandate. Or the PRISM Coalition.

In brief, Nature Publishing Group tried the usual big-publisher contract-renewal tactics: jack the price a lot, because although librarians squeal, faculty never listen, so eventually the librarians knuckle under and sign the big fat check.

Only this time? Not only is check signage at risk, but so is all the free labor that University of California faculty provide to NPG in the form of authoring, editing, and peer review. That latter is the real boycott, and everyone involved knows it.

Pass me the popcorn. This is getting good.

Edited to add: Very nice writeup by Jen Howard in the Chronk. You must read all the way through to the end; that final quote is a lulu.

7 responses so far

Journal publishing's future

Jun 08 2010 Published by under Open Access

I'm not a business analyst with my eye on the scholarly publishing industry, but if I were, I'd sound an awful lot like Claudio Aspesi being interviewed by Richard Poynder.

I can't speak to Elsevier's internal organizational issues, but the rest of Aspesi's words ring true to me. Libraries have kicked the serials can as far as it will go. There is no more money now, and I don't believe more is on the horizon; if anything, less is.

I do believe that there's room for the big publishers to trim operational costs by cutting journals left and right, and I expect them to try it. I don't know how that possibility fits into Aspesi's thoughts; my own thought is that this phenomenon may well signal a "march upmarket" (in disruptive-innovation terms) for gold open access, as at least some abandoned journals and their constituencies look for new homes.

Curious about the future for your favorite large-publisher journal? Read Aspesi, and think.

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Serious apologies, and a proposition

Jun 04 2010 Published by under Metablogging

Another reason it's been quiet around here is that comments haven't been appearing.

This was my fault (though I am innocent of any ill intent), and I apologize with all my heart. What happened was this: I was getting quite a bit of the particularly obnoxious kind of spam that copies other comments to appear legitimate. I cranked up the behind-the-scenes spam filter, which cheerfully snaffled every single comment and then bitbucketed them after a few days.

I didn't notice this (except to wonder why nobody was commenting! I figured it was me…) until one gentleman asked me in gmail today whether I'd seen a comment he'd left here. I hadn't, so I investigated. I rescued the comments still in the queue and shut off the auto-delete, but I'm sure some comments have been lost—and again, I'm so very sorry.

I'm reading everything, comments and email. I may not manage to respond to it all; I'm finding it a little overwhelming. I am deeply grateful for the wisdom so freely offered. I am sometimes very stupid. I rely on people who aren't.

I do have a proposition. One way to shake the sense I have of feeling alone and exposed here would be not to be alone. I'm therefore opening up the possibility of making Book of Trogool a group blog. If you think you might be interested in penning some words here (in several senses of the verb), comment here or drop me an email and let's talk about it.

Librarians, researchers, IT folk, or others with a stake in the scholarly-communication or data-curation spaces would be welcome. I do ask that you have a basic knowledge of the problem-space (seekers are fine; clueless newbies are not, sorry) and generally like-minded. In particular, anti-open-access FUD is unwelcome in the extreme, though (as anyone who's read my writing a while knows well) grounded criticism of the movement's ideology and practices is fine. I also ask that you assent to BoT's continuance under a CC-BY-US license.

You may remain pseudonymous onblog if you like, but I need to know who you are, and you'll probably have to sign an agreement with ScienceBlogs. I will of course guard that information carefully; I'm a librarian, after all! We believe (I'm told) in freedom of information exchange. As for ScienceBlogs, they've successfully guarded the identities of other pseudonymous bloggers, such as the Reveres of the erstwhile Effect Measure blog; I believe (but of course cannot guarantee) they are trustworthy.

One last stricture: I can't accept a co-blogger from MPOW, not even pseudonymously. This is because of my own weaknesses, not anything else. It's too easy for me to imagine behind-the-scenes discussions with a close colleague tempting me to say things here that I really ought not.

I would hope that even if you're as much an enfant terrible as I (and honestly, almost no one is that!), you'd try to blog here with integrity. Blog for good, not ill. Own your mistakes; I have. Own the harm you cause, should you cause harm, and try not to cause harm in the first place. You'll make mistakes; I have, many of them. That's okay. What I don't need, though, is a soapbox zealot deaf to all argument but her own, or a namecaller, or a coward, or a bully.

Book of Trogool, like all ScienceBlogs, has a revenue-sharing agreement with the mothership. I don't even understand the details, as I don't want money from BoT and even if I did I've never been anywhere near the traffic it takes to be paid. If your involvement ends up wildly remunerative (or indeed remunerative at all), the proceeds are yours. Should you (or ScienceBlogs) insist on a split, my share will go to Creative Commons. I've never been in this game for money, and I don't intend to start now.

So. How 'bout it?

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