Archive for: January, 2011

PLoS One envy

Jan 07 2011 Published by under Open Access

PLoS One has done well. Very well. Well enough that it is spawning imitators.

I was ready to write a Huge Bloggy Screed about the importance of Nature Publishing Group going in this direction with the launch of Scientific Reports, but Cameron Neylon scooped me in grand fashion. I endorse his analysis in its entirety—including, for once, its optimism! (For the record: I've done a tiny bit of unpaid consulting—really just referrals—for PLoS, and I think Peter Binfield bought me a drink while we were both in Edinburgh last year at UKSG. That's the extent of my possible bias.)

So who are these other would-be Ones, and what are their prospects?

In this corner we have AIP Advances. I have no strong opinion on this either way. It might fly, it might not. A lot depends on the prestige and energy of the editorial board, on which I have no inside information, or indeed any information whatever.

In that corner we have SAGE Open, which wants to be PLoS One for the social sciences and humanities. I know you can't see me right now, but what I am doing is holding the big thumb-and-forefinger L-for-loser in front of my forehead. This journal is not going to fly, not at this point in history.

It's a logical enough idea; I can well imagine what the thinking was. "PLoS and NPG have the hard sciences sewn up… so let's try all those other disciplines!" The logic fails, though, because all those other disciplines either aren't remotely ready, or they use the green road to open access. I defy SAGE to find enough humanities scholars who don't think open access is a commie plot (or worse, a veneer over pure vanity publishing) to fill an appreciable number of pages or pixels. I double-dog-defy them to find enough humanities scholars who don't think open access is a commie plot and have money to pay author-side charges. Don't talk to me about subventions; no humanities scholar worth his salt will use a subvention on anything but a book.

As for the social sciences, the quals seem to hang out over at SSRN these days. What's the value proposition of SAGE Open over SSRN plus an established (and free-to-publish-in) journal? You got me. That leaves the quants; I don't really know where they hang out online, or even if they do—but even if they're SAGE Open's dream crowd, will they be enough, and do they bring enough money to the table? I doubt it.

If they'd waited five years to launch this? Ten years? Maybe it could eke out an existence. Not now, though. Not yet. The only halfway-feasible business model I can imagine would be a partnership with SSRN to cherrypick and slap an imprimatur on good stuff that isn't otherwise claimed. Or maybe they could try to offer a home to the better shoestring open-access journals out there, though for a lot of those I would think "you'll now have to hold up your authors for cash" is a complete non-starter.

So what does this mean for libraries? Maybe some hope, if Cameron and I are right that a lot of lower-tier STM journals are about to be garroted and dumped in oubliettes! It may also mean increased demand on library and institutional author-fee funds. If we're really lucky and if libraries are paying attention, it might even breathe more life into the comatose COPE.

Good times. Good times, for once! As much as I've lambasted NPG here over their hamhanded treatment of California (and the rest of us libraries suffering badly from budget cuts), I'm pleased about this new venture of theirs, and wish it all the best.

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Friday foolery: Puttin' On the Writs

Jan 07 2011 Published by under Miscellanea

Considering the huge kerfuffle on the JISC-REPOSITORIES mailing list over copyright and whether would-be self-archivers need to respect when publishers own it (hint: yes), I thought the video following of librarians gettin' down on copyright seemed apropos:

The single best response to the kerfuffle, by the way, was Bill Hubbard's. Ignore the rest of it; just read his.

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Empty gestures?

Jan 05 2011 Published by under Open Access

I wanted to blog about EBSCO's latest jerk move, but I utterly despair of explaining comprehensibly why it matters to anyone but librarians. Suffice to say that in a market where journal Big Deals are in serious budget trouble, EBSCO is doing its level best to position its resources as uncancellable. Time will tell whether they succeed.

So I'll blog about something else instead: the ARL's new language on author rights in library journal-subscription contracts. The idea here is that libraries have leverage over journal publishers and aggregators at exactly one time: when subscriptions, and therefore currency in large denominations, are in play. So as good little open-access advocates, one thing librarians can do while we have leverage is insert contract language that protects our institutions' authors from copyright lawsuits from their own publishers when they reuse and circulate articles they write.

It's a nice idea. I like it. As often happens with good open-access ideas, this one comes out of California, which successfully inserted such provisions into contracts with big shots such as Elsevier. (For California's next trick, I'd really like to see them try this with ACS. I'd pay good money to watch the ensuing apoplexy attack. And hey, if a library or consortium that isn't California wants to try this, good on you.) One clear benefit to faculty is less negotiation with publishers when funder open-access mandates such as the NIH's are in play. That alone is enough to make this negotiation worth doing for most research libraries, I believe.

I don't think, though, that license language all by itself is enough to make appreciably more material open-access, especially through most institutional repositories. If increased open access, above and beyond that created by funder mandates, is your goal, these negotiations may be nice, or even necessary—but they are laughably insufficient.

I'll give you two real-world examples by way of explaining why. One example: author addenda, and faculty-senate resolutions in support of same. (What's an author's addendum? A bit of boilerplate legalese that article authors append to their contract with the journal publisher, ensuring they retain some basic intellectual-property rights over the article.) There are quite a few such local addenda and resolutions out there. Pretty much the entire Big Ten (okay, the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, but it's basically the same thing) rallied in support of one such. So, has there been a tremendous efflorescence of open-access literature from Big Ten schools?

Er. Not so much. (Because I must: yes, I work for a Big Ten/CIC school.) I can't be more specific than that, because there has been as best I can tell absolutely zero attempt to assess the real-world impact of the addendum. We don't know who's tried to use it. We don't know who succeeded and who failed. We don't know what those who succeeded ultimately did with their retained rights. All we can really measure—self-archiving rates in Big Ten/CIC institutional repositories—paints a seriously discouraging picture: these addenda and resolutions did not appear to accomplish anything whatever by way of more open access to the journal literature.

So why not? That leads me to my other example: a lovely interview by Mary Minow of Harvard Law School Library's Michelle Pearse. In case you didn't know, Harvard Law School has an open-access policy; its faculty have agreed that they will either give Harvard a copy of their journal articles for archival and open dissemination, or seek a policy waiver for each individual article they don't want to (or can't) let Harvard have. This is the current open-access Holy Grail: faculty imposing an open-access requirement on themselves!

But all by itself, such a policy doesn't guarantee smooth sailing:

We are still in the process of reaching out to and educating the faculty, trying to get them to understand the policy and get it into their personal workflows… It can be challenging implementing such a policy.

A brief digression. Some years ago, Alma Swan published a faculty survey in which faculty overwhelmingly said yes, if they were subject to an open-access requirement, they'd comply (p. 56). I was skeptical at the time; I didn't think this meant faculty were willing to do one jot more than tick a tickybox on a survey.

Harvard, Minho, and other institutions with on-the-ground open-access mandate experience are tending to validate my skepticism. Faculty think open access is a nifty idea. Many deluded faculty think they already have it, because they don't know the difference between open access and library-mediated online subscriptions. Faculty are happy to tick tickyboxen and make resolutions.

When the rubber hits the road, though, faculty can't be arsed. Won't lift a finger. This is hardly (ObSelfCitation) a new or unexpressed problem! But it's why just negotiating an opportunity for open access isn't going to create much (if any) more open access. A library that wants its faculty's stuff to be made open-access actually has to go out there and get that stuff.

I've ripped on Harvard in the past, sometimes unfairly, so I'm extra-happy to say now that Harvard is implementing its open-access collection absolutely, positively, 100% right. They have a whole staffed office whose job is to go out there and get articles that are covered under the various Harvard open-access policies. Is more Harvard journal literature going to become open-access because of what Harvard is doing? Absolutely. You'd better believe it.

(I can't resist one little jab, though: Having DSpace issues, are you, Harvard? I told you that you would. Shoulda gone with—almost anything else, really, but EPrints would have been an improvement. Today, I'd say Islandora, because even schmucks like me can hack Drupal, whereas it takes a major-league propellerhead to hack DSpace.)

The lesson for libraries looking at the ARL language is this: if author-rights negotiation with publishers is to be more than an empty gesture, you'd better have an active, not passive, open-access collection-development program. With staff both professional and para-. With resources. With sufficient administrative will behind it. Nothing else will work.

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How to make a digital preservationist cry

Jan 04 2011 Published by under Research Data

Put your thesis on a 5 1/4" floppy disk. Put the floppy in a floppy plastic pocket. Masking-tape the plastic pocket onto the inside of a hanging-file folder (containing the paper copy).

Leave the folder with the floppy pocket with the floppy disk in a file cabinet.

Do all this in 1985. Do not look at the folder again until 2011.

Somebody pass me a tissue. My eyes are watering here.

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