Looking toward 2011

Dec 30 2010 Published by under Open Access, Research Data

Before I get to crystal-ball-gazing, I have to point out my track record, because it's really quite bad. Not only am I on record with a major prediction that didn't come true ("IRs in the US will fold"), I quite failed to predict a number of things that did, from Harvard's OA policy to California telling Nature Publishing Group to go suck eggs.

My brain looks at systems. That means I consistently miss outliers, game-changers. I also don't always calibrate my guesses on the durability of systems right.

So with that said, here are some things that wouldn't surprise me a bit in 2011.

  • SCOAP3 eeks through; COPE backpedals or folds. What the open-access movement is facing in 2011 is a world where most of the low-hanging fruit has been plucked. Progress isn't easy or obvious any more (if it ever was), and it can't be made by the pioneers, entrepreneurs, and other earliest-of-early adopters. IRs are no longer fashionable (in the States, I add for my international readers). Gold-OA funds have to contend with the ever-widening maw of Big Deal renewals. My sense of attitudes among research-library administrators, as well as rank-and-file selectors, does not favor COPE's success or even survival.
  • Academic samizdat sees a real copyright lawsuit. Those creeps over at Attributor may well be the instigators. If they're smart, they won't actually sue a university, much less a library; they'll go after Mendeley or something RapidShare-ish, to keep the slumbering faculty behemoth safely abed. It's not out of the question, however, that some tiny school somewhere with grossly inadequate or nonexistent "electronic reserves" protections (and I've seen such schools firsthand; the culprit, aside from faculty themselves, is generally a boundlessly clueless IT shop) will be the target.
  • The initial campus NSF flurry will sputter. I'm worried about this myself. I encourage libraries and IT shops building data-management services on the strength of the NSF's plan requirement to diversify, and that quickly. Find non-NSF people to help. Do a survey or focus-group study to demonstrate non-NSF-related data-management needs. Pay some attention to the digital humanities. Do not plan to rely on a flood of NSF applicants; that flood is highly unlikely to materialize. There's plenty of work to do, don't get me wrong; most of the work just doesn't happen to be NSF work.
  • FRPAA won't make it this time either. Sorry. Maybe next time. Or maybe the NSF won't wait for Congressional cover, though I emphasize the "maybe" on that one.
  • Some chemistry department somewhere will drop ACS accreditation because the institution can't afford ACS journals. I have to admit, I have a little inside info on this one. But it's only logical, really.
  • A bare handful of Big Deal renewals will blow up, à la California and NPG. This is likely to happen in the full glare of the public eye, despite publisher wishes and publisher NDAs, because Big Deals are just that big and that noticeable. Don't be gleeful about this, libraries, because…
  • Faculty will start a lot of "why don't those damn librarians…" grumbling. If you'd like to hear some, pre-2011, have a listen to Amanda French and Tom Scheinfeldt in this episode of the Digital Campus podcast. Those damn librarians. Why don't they just fix this? Where's their damn spine?
  • An IR's gonna fold. Yes, all right, I was wrong when I said this the first time, and I wouldn't be surprised to be wrong again. But I'll say it nonetheless. I see too many libraries who opened IRs on a wing and a prayer without adequate planning or even a sensible collection-development policy. Let's face it, folks: in the absence of mandates, the OA-via-IRs experiment failed. Let's also face that libraries can't run (much less re-run) expensive experiments these days. Result? Some IR somewhere will face a big budget ax. (Disclaimer: those who know me professionally know that the IR I run is getting merged out of existence. That doesn't count for purposes of this prediction; that would be cheating.)
  • We'll see a bare handful more campus or patchwork mandates. I don't think we've quite seen the end of the post-Harvard wave. I do think we're close to that end—and there won't be a second wave, not without a lot more work and evangelism than the open-access movement is currently mustering. There just haven't been enough mandates quickly enough to start up an academic fashion.
  • Another major university press will merge with its library or fold. I haven't a clue which one, but given the continued bumbling confusion among provosts about scholarly publishing being able to cover its nut (hint: it can't), and the continued denial among the humanities that the economics of monographs no longer hold water (hint: go all-digital, perhaps plus POD, or die), this is all but an inevitability. We'll see a few more small scholarly presses fold as well.
  • Crowdsourced data-analysis projects will increase, and pick up more good press. GalaxyZoo alone practically guarantees this one, but the humanities are charging forward with some great transcription projects as well.

It'll be a challenging year, no doubt about it. Let's meet it with fortitude.

8 responses so far

  • Dan Cohen says:

    Your "why don’t those damn librarians" bullet poorly summarizes the full discussion on the Digital Campus podcast, especially after Amanda's initial introduction of the journal pricing issue. Amanda, Tom, and I are then extraordinarily clear that we feel this is mostly a faculty ignorance issue. I note that "at the end of the day, the faculty just wanted their journals" and so sadly didn't help the librarians at all in the struggle, and Amanda says "if these journals are so important to faculty, maybe they should pay for them." In other words, we go on to explain the disconnect in incentives and that librarians are caught in the middle. To us, this was a sympathetic tone--I'm sorry that you interpreted it the other way (I do admit that the live format of podcasts often leads to less-polished, incomplete explanations). Tom also notes (one of our main themes on the podcast) that it is up to faculty to work with librarians to right the economic scenario by publishing in and supporting open access venues.

    I recommend your readers listen to the entire segment and decide for themselves if your interpretation is what we're really saying on this particular podcast, but it's rather unfair to brand us as representatives of a "damn librarians" faction. We've been consistently supportive of the themes of your blog for four years of podcasting, as regular listeners know, and repeatedly blamed NPG during 2010, not librarians.

    • Dan, I think you might want to think about how the average faculty member is going to HEAR what you and Tom and Amanda said. The average faculty member isn't any less defensive than the average librarian... and the average faculty member still -- STILL -- thinks about serials as purely a library problem, and a problem that can be solved easily with more money, to boot.

      For what it's worth, I was involved in a backchannel conversation with other librarians about this very episode. Librarians sure heard it as "those damn librarians." And Those Damn Librarians talk hurts exactly the kind of entrepreneurialism and risk-taking that you're hoping for from libraries. Think about it from a beleaguered library administrator's point of view. What's the point of being another California, or putting resources behind a local IR, if all that comes out of it from nationally-prominent faculty is yet more Those Damn Librarians talk, never mind the amount of static that is inevitable from recalcitrant local faculty and clueless academic administrators?

      I agree that you tried to be nuanced. I also agree wholeheartedly that libraries and librarians are FAR from blameless in all this. The problem is that neither librarians nor recalcitrant faculty can hear nuance right now without interpreting it as Those Damn Librarians.

      There's also plenty of Those Damn Librarians talk elsewhere; look no further than Stevan Harnad. Be careful about what discourse streams you fit into, is what I'm sayin' here.

  • rknop says:

    I have to admit that I find the notion of "electronic reserves protections" troubling in its very concept. Copy protection and DRM ultimately doesn't work. Yes, it may slow down some casual copying, but it always gets broken. Faculty who rightly think that publications resulting from government-sponsored research (and with publication fees paid by government grants) ought not to be blocked from them behind paywalls tend to go to faculty at larger institutions to get copies of papers they otherwise couldn't get. I realize that this isn't what "electronic reserves" is, but it does point out that the economic model of scholarly literature being "only people at institutions who pay get access" doesn't work, as well as being fumdanetally evil.

    Also, "electronic reserves protections" usually (if I'm not mistaken) mean having to use very specific software to read those electronic reserves. It would make me very annoyed to be taking a class where the prof put something on reserve that required Windows to read. Even supporting "both" operating systems (windows and macos) is like having "both kinds of music" (country and western). I'm not saying "support all three" (add Linux-- then you've got country, western, and bluegrass), I'm saying it needs to be completely OS agnostic. PDF fits that definition, but nothing with "protections" does.

    I keep hoping that somewhere in the world, somebody is going to figure out a business model for publication that doesn't require pretending that electronic objects can be trivially copied by anybody. In scholarly literature, that already exists, but we're still in too much denial to really implement it. (We already pay publication fees, the national funding agencies are already paying page charges, and refereeing is done by volunteer scholars. Paying the editors out of national funding agency grants is not that big a step, especially if you free yourselves of the shackles of a 20th-century print model.) But for publication in general-- be it music, text, or movies-- we're fighting the battle of having to have "protections", in order to make electronic things work just like paper things, rather than embracing the great advantages of the digital world and realizing that fundamentally different business models are going to be necessary. Protectionism of the old business models just delays the market (or whatever) forces that will give rise to the new ones.

    • Hear hear.

      For what it's worth, though, in e-reserves contexts, "protections" usually means "behind a course-management system firewall, such that only instructors and students see the content." It doesn't usually mean DRM.

      A few months ago I happened across a small school whose IT department just tossed up a wholly open server with a web-GUI-over-FTP dealio, advertising it explicitly to faculty as for course-related materials. Google's found it; that's how I found it. That school is cruising for a bruising copyright lawsuit, and I expect it's not the only one of its kind.

      • rknop says:

        Ah! Those kinds of protections I have no problem with... at least, if they're smart. (That is, does it *have* to be an officially blessed CMS, or does it merely have to be a password-protected website that probably the students can't get to any more after the course ends? Because, of course, the former does nothing that the latter does. If there are policies that you can't do the latter if you know what you're doing, that tends to annoying the computer geek roll-your-own types like me, whose idea of a CMS is "Apache and PHP".)

        I suspect you're right about the latter. Being blatant like that is just asking for trouble.

  • If you look around on google scholar, which now does a great job of finding and linking to non-restricted PDFs on the web, I think you can get a sense of the samizdat landscape.

    If a PDF appears to be an image of an actual published page (with branding and page numbers and such), and it's not from the publishers site, it's probably (i'm thinking) not actually legally approved, in most cases.

    And there are LOTS of such things you can find on google scholar that are NOT from rapidshare or mendeley or what have you, but from:


    Etc. I'm thinking the vast majority of these are not publisher-allowed. And they appear to me to DWARF mendeley, or even generic file sharing sites. Most faculty don't even realize they aren't allowed to do this or think anyone would ever challenge their right to share their own research, they aren't going to bother sticking it on rapidshare, they just stick it on their university-provided web page.

    So I'm not sure what the publishers would have to gain from going after mendeley or rapidshare. It's not where most of the stuff is, and with Google Scholar's (and MSN Academic) current level of functionality, stuff on mendeley isn't even any easier to find than stuff on a random faculty web server. I guess they might want to go after mendeley just to put mendeley out of business, not for the sharing of articles, but for other functionality mendeley offers that the publishers would rather be selling you instead.

    But in general, I'd actually predict that in the next few years, the publishers are going to HAVE to try to do something about the 'samizdat' by talking to actual universities about it. It's just going to get easier and easier for faculty to casually share this stuff and readers to casually find it. Or the publishers could accept a business model in an open access world, of course.

    • Another option would be for the publishers to get mendeley to pay them a blanket or per-download licensing fee, and then go after universities telling them "get all your faculty to put their articles on mendeley instead of self-hosting, it's more secure and easier to find , and it's legal!".

      If the price could somehow be right for everyone, that could work out for the businesses involved, although I'm not sure how the price could be right for everyone without mendeley charging (more, or per-download/view).

      It doens't have to mendeley, it could be another similar business, or even a business started by a publisher cooperative. But it probably would be just ONE business, not multiple, because the business is usually willing to pay because it gets a monopoly. This sort of arrangement seems to more what we're seeing with copyrighted materials in the iTunes/Google Books/YouTube type world.

      That sort of thing COULD work out okay for the consumers too, but that kind of monopolization of content is still bad for innovation. But I think it might be what we end up with, since faculty don't really care about their stuff ACTUALLY being open access, it might make all the non-consumer stakeholders happy enough to avoid a Big Showdown.

  • Dorothea says:

    So, this is kind of what SSRN does, and they seem to be making a good thing out of it. We might see more along those lines, yes.

    As for why Mendeley or RapidShare would be sued first: Look at the Georgia State lawsuit. Universities are sympathetic defendants. I don't think anybody's gonna go after one FIRST unless the violation is obvious and egregious (as with the tiny school I mentioned above), such that most schools and faculty can pat themselves on the back with a self-righteous "WE don't do THAT, so we're fine."

    RapidShare is not a sympathetic defendant, and Mendeley is too small for their peril to make many waves among faculty. It's absolutely true that faculty who post publisher PDFs have no clue they're doing anything wrong. Publishers desperately do not want to clue them in if they can avoid it, because if the slumbering faculty behemoth gets angry enough, the system changes.

    If, however, plaintiffs can pull down a nice juicy precedential decision against something like Mendeley, that's tremendous ammunition against a university -- and at that point, we get a replay of the coursepack lawsuits in the 80s. University-web-page samizdat dies a horrible death. Most faculty, terrified of copyright as they are, never try it again. And the system (so the publishers think) avoids having to change.