Archive for the 'Open Access' category

Open access: the world is your consortium

Oct 12 2010 Published by under Open Access

I promise I'll get back to datablogging after the end of next week, but right now Open Access Week is eating my brain like a demented zombie, so…

I had an odd thought last night, partly in response to Eric Hellman's idea of an open-access rights-purchasing consortium for ebooks. (I think this is a fantastic idea, by the way, and I hope it's tried!)

Over time, the academic literature has been bought less individually and more collectively. Libraries weren't the initial market for scholarly journals; Henry Oldenburg didn't even know if libraries would buy such things, though he must have hoped so. No, the market was the individual gentleman-scholar who would otherwise be stuck reading third-hand letters that other gentleman-scholars had gotten their grubby hands all over.

Eventually this market expanded, even as the research enterprise did, and the individual scholar had to stop pretending he could—or even wanted to—buy every journal there was. Typically he still bought some, whether via individual subscription or as a perk in a scholarly-society membership, but if he wanted to look at a greater breadth of journals, he went to his nearest academic library, the collective operating on behalf of him and all his institutional colleagues.

Then the serials crisis happened, and even libraries couldn't individually get their hands on any appreciable swathe of the journal literature any more. So collectives expanded. On the demand side, libraries banded together into consortia to multiply their buying power. On the supply side, publishers and aggregators started banding journals together into what we librarians now call the "Big Deal."

So, looked at in this light, the open-access movement is just one more step into collectivity of journal production and acquisition. We're buying everything for everyone, this time.

Makes sense to me…

One response so far

Do they know it's broken?

Oct 11 2010 Published by under Open Access

It's no news to most librarians that the academic community generally has a pretty shaky handle on the politics and economics of information—even the information they themselves produce. Given that, it's not terribly surprising that the serials crisis has gone on for thirty-some-odd years without a great deal of comment or action from the academic community. After all, the housing bubble told us something about bubbles: they go on and on and on, despite doomful forecasts, until they suddenly don't.

So what's happening with the journal bubble? Is anyone cottoning on?

Well… yes, I am starting to think so. The resulting thought processes aren't what I would have them be, but more awareness being better than less, I'll take what I can get.

What I see going on as I peruse academic weblogs, as I listen to academics on Twitter and Friendfeed, as I watch mainstream higher-ed periodicals, as I pay attention to conversations I hear at conferences and elsewhere, is the start of a sort of bargaining with the publishing establishment. Academic folk aren't getting what they want or need, and certainly not what they think they deserve. That doesn't mean they're storming the bastions. At the moment, it seems to mean they're looking for the postern gate into the castle, hoping it's unguarded.

Academic samizdat is booming, and indications are that academics don't think this is in any way a problem (though many publishers would disagree). Here, there, and all over the place, I hear researchers at institutions with less-well-funded libraries sighing, "if only I worked at a Research I," and not only sighing, but trying to find ways to get themselves into the e-journal candy stores there. (Barbara's right, of course, that researchers did it to themselves and therefore have mostly themselves to blame. But again, they don't know this, because like some sort of strange information-fish, they don't understand the water they swim in.)

Most of those ways aren't going to fly (trust a librarian on this; we know what's in the contracts we sign with publishers and aggregators), even as academic samizdat has its limits. Still, I can't manage to be surprised at folks trying to work around the system rather than reform it. It's a big system, and a threatening one.

Which brings me to the cautious rejoicing that must be going on at Georgia State University around now; electronic reserves appear safe, unless what's left of the lawsuit takes a strange and unheralded hairpin turn. Barbara Fister has a rundown of the situation, as does Duke's Kevin Smith. I have to be happy about any victories for fair use in this copyright-maximalist age, and I am happy, but I can't help feeling regret as well.

I'm a bit of a revolutionary at heart, you see. I get tired of putting my heart and my career on the line only for slow, plodding progress. I want a Boston Tea Party! I want to storm the Bastille! And people and systems being what they are, I know that won't happen unless something prominent breaks outrageously. Sage and Oxford and Cambridge had better be happy the Georgia State lawsuit is going how it is, if you ask me, because ruling electronic reserves copyright infringement would in my estimation be just the kind of outrageous breakage that would make academics themselves rip the system to pieces with their bare hands.

Ah, well. No revolution today. Back to the slow, plodding salt mines. Back to building a little more awareness of breakage every single slow, plodding day.

3 responses so far

Crowdsourcing methodology: Who's publishing gold at your institution?

Oct 05 2010 Published by under Open Access

I need some help thinking this through, folks. If (for the sake of argument) you wanted to know who at your institution was publishing in gold-OA journals, how would you go about finding out?

Hindawi makes it fairly easy; they do institution-specific pages. PLoS has nothing public, though it's possible to ask PLoS staff for the rundown at your institution. BMC has an articles-by-institution search box, though if your institution is of any size at all, wading through the results is a killer.

That's only a partial sampling of what's out there, though. Assuming a campuswide survey is impossible (and I suspect such a thing would have a pretty low response rate), how would you try to capture local gold-OA authors who aren't publishing in the big OA houses?

10 responses so far

Print-on-demand journals

Oct 04 2010 Published by under Open Access

We have any number of print-on-demand book shops, from the big dogs Lightning Source and Lulu to university-sponsored ones like Michigan's reprints series. The black-box model for these is relatively simple: camera-ready copy goes in, fulfilled individual-copy orders come out.

Here's what we don't have: print-on-demand journal shops. I'm not sure why; I believe there's a demand.

The HP service MagCloud comes close, but it fails in two specific respects: it only prints glossy mags (rather than the sober matte archival paper journal readers expect), and it doesn't handle subscriptions, only single-issue purchases.

Maybe I'm missing something, but at base, without all the weird bells and whistles magazine publishers have created over the years, managing subscriptions doesn't strike me as impossibly hard. You keep addresses and build an address-change mechanism. You build in a multiple-issue price-discount mechanism. You keep track of how many single issues a given customer has paid for. You send them. End of story. Not so?

Perhaps not. I welcome correction in the comments. I do think, though, that the simplistic system I've outlined would hit a fairly important 80/20 point for many open-access journals, who would like to put out a "print edition" but are stuck with the book-focused POD vendors. I'm a little bewildered that this doesn't exist, honestly.

Business opportunity, anyone? Anyone? PLoS? BMC? Anyone?

4 responses so far

Talking open in closed journals

Sep 24 2010 Published by under Open Access

Open-access advocates of all stripes—researchers, librarians, publishers, consultants—are in my experience voracious readers on open access. I fit the profile, but I know people who read even more than I do, approaching "everything."

One practical result of all this reading is that every single one of us—me included—has wanted to read an article on open-access that was published in a journal that we don't have access to. And almost every time, we grumble about the irony.

Here's the thing, though. If we're going to maximize the reach of our message, we're going to have to put up with that particular irony. I don't like that academics have tunnel vision either, but they do—which means publishing in enemy outlets.

Do we need to call it out every time? Only if we care to annoy and antagonize by looking incurably smug. I suggest instead that we mourn our missing access. That, after all, is the actual problem. Irony isn't.

7 responses so far


Sep 22 2010 Published by under Open Access

Not shockingly, there's quite a bit of confusion in the research enterprise about what exactly "open" means. Open access is bad enough, with its green and its gold and its gratis and its libre and its cha-cha-cha (okay, I made that last one up). Open data is worse, partly because it started happening on a noticeable scale before the Panton Principles could frame it properly.

It's pretty safe to say, though, that the Cacao Genome Project ain't open data. Glen Newton has all the details, but the basic upshot is that to get to this supposedly (and trumpeted-ly) "open" data, one has to register (pseudonyms need not apply) and agree to an extraordinarily restrictive license that precludes data mashups and publications, among other things.

Now, I don't know what happened here. It may not have been the researchers' fault. Maybe somebody's lawyer wasn't clear on the concept—funny how often this seems to happen in an "open" context, as open-source developers in academia and industry will tell you at great length. Maybe somebody's website developer was asleep at the switch. I won't poke fun at the researchers themselves, nor assume malice or cluelessness, until more is known.

Just for a moment, though, let's think about what this false claim tells us about the brand value of "open." With regard to data, particularly genome data, it seems to be higher than I would have guessed at this early date. The CGP didn't just quietly put their dataset out there; they made a big deal of its supposed openness. That's fascinating, and it's hopeful. Science is prestige-mad. If open data is a prestige brand, that's a good thing for those of us who want to see more of it.

Curiously, I can't come up with analogous cases of "fauxpen" in publishing. There are the lovely hybrid publishers who can't tweak their website designs enough to get rid of demands for money on articles whose authors have purchased the open-access option, I suppose. In my head that's not quite the same thing, though; it's not really trying to leverage the "open" brand falsely, more trying to ignore "open" in order to grab at more money. I might suggest that publishers have done enough of a smear job on open-access publishing that the "open access" brand is worth less than "open data." I hope that sad situation can be reversed.

The comments are open for LOLresearchers, LOLpublishers, or any other (PG-13, please) illustration of the post title. If I get some good ones, I'll post them here (with credit, naturally).

9 responses so far

Nature: the response

I was able to get quite a bit of feedback from Nature regarding prices, access, and content. I spoke with our North American sales reps and another staffer from the London office last month and their response is below, with my questions and their answers:

1.      According to Nature’s recent letter, 50% of Nature journals do not currently have an OA option. Are there plans to provide access to the remaining 50%? How would this be accomplished?

Its not 50% of all NPG's journals but 50% of our academic (not Nature-branded) journals. NPG's August letter to customers says "Open access options are now available on 50% of the 50 academic journals we publish including all 15 academic journals owned by NPG. Seven journals published by NPG on behalf of societies offer open access options, with more expected to follow later this year."

All of the academic journals NPG owns now have an open access option. Since the letter was published, six more of our society-owned journals have introduced open access options. They are American Journal of Hypertension, Laboratory Investigation, Modern Pathology, Mucosal Immunology, Neuropsychopharmacology, Obesity. We continue to discuss open access with our publishing partners, ultimately the decision to introduce an open access option on these journals remains with the society or organisation who owns the journal.
Nature Communications is unique amongst the Nature journals in offering an an open access option. The gold open access model (funded by article processing charges) is still inappropriate for Nature and the Nature research journals. These journals decline more than 90% of submissions, these high rejection rates and the developmental editing that goes into every published paper would make APCs prohibitively high. We estimate the APCs on these journals would be between $10-30000, and research funders are not currently willling to support this.  The Nature Review journals do not publish original research papers.

 2.      Does Nature have plans to incorporate newer metrics into journal, article, and author information and assessment? Some examples of these include article downloads, author h-index information, Eigenfactor information, etc. 

Earlier this year, we introduced article download information for 43 journals. This is available to authors within their account on eJournal Press, our manuscript tracking system.

We continue to monitor the alternative metrics such as the Eigenfactor, Article influence score and h-index. These metrics are not yet widely accepted or understood, but we remain very interested in alternative ways of judging impact and value.

For example, at NPG we think that cost per download and cost per local citation are potentially important measures of the value for money of a journal to an institution.

3.      With regards to communicating and sharing consortial plan arrangements and information, are there plans to provide more transparency on pricing? Specifically are there plans for different consortia to know prices and information provided to other individual customers and consortia?

NPG makes its academic list prices public in the interests of transparancy. We have no plans to make terms of consortia agreements public. Each consortium is different in terms of their holdings, number of institutions and FTEs, and these are confidential agreements.

4.      In my phone call with our NA reps we briefly discussed a library advisory board for Nature. Can you give more information on the group’s membership and activities?

The NPG Library Committee is an invited group of NPG institutional customers. The group represents a mix of customers from across the world, working in academic, corporate and government settings. It includes both individual customers and consortia managers. The Committee or a sub-group of it meet face-to-face approximately once a year. We discuss NPG's activities and the wider publishing and information communities with them regularly via a discussion board on Nature Network, email and phone. The Committee provide useful feedback and insight on the views of the information community.

5.      One comment to my blog post mentioned Nature’s mission statement and its recent change. Can you provide more details on how the mission statement is reviewed, updated and shared with customers and readers?

The journal Nature's original 1869 mission statement still stands, and guides Nature Publishing Group's activities today:

THE object which it is proposed to attain by this periodical may be broadly stated as follows. It is intended
FIRST, to place before the general public the grand results of Scientific Work and Scientific Discovery ; and to urge the claims of Science to a more general recognition in Education and in Daily Life ;
And, SECONDLY, to aid Scientific men themselves, by giving early information of all advances made in any branch of Natural knowledge throughout the world, and by affording them an opportunity of discussing the various Scientific questions which arise from time to time.

Nature's mission statement was updated in 2000 as follows:

First, to serve scientists through prompt publication of significant advances in any branch of science, and to provide a forum for the reporting and discussion of news and issues concerning science. Second, to ensure that the results of science are rapidly disseminated to the public throughout the world, in a fashion that conveys their significance for knowledge, culture and daily life.

We have no current plans to update Nature's mission statement.

6.      Another comment to my blog post mentioned the pricing model for Nature as being based on a floating currency model which is not determined by currency rates we see in bank and other financial updates. Is this how international currencies are determined and are there plans to review or revise this model? 

In 2008 NPG introduced local pricing based on four local currencies (dollar, euro, pound sterling and yen). This means price increases are applied to local currencies, independent of currency exchange rate fluctuations.

I have a few comments on these answers:

1. Estimates of $10,000 - $30,000 in author charges for one OA article? You heard it here first. That's the entire journals budget for some small libraries. They'd be able to get one article for the year - for all the faculty. I wouldn't call that a viable OA option.

2. I'm glad Nature is implementing article download information, but I think it much more beneficial if everyone, not just the author, can see the data. As a point of comparison citation data is available to all users in a database. 

 More generally, I think Nature is trying to have it both ways - be a boutique publisher, with high costs and a correspondingly  high-profit margin, and also remain a core publisher, in that most acdemic or scholarly institutions are expected to subscribe at least some of the content. With these cost increases and licensing options, Nature is becoming (or already has become) unaffordable for many institutions. If scholars weren't demanding access, many of these titles would have been cancelled by many libraries by now.  

I don't think you can have it both ways. If most of your customer base can't afford the content, then in my opinion your market is limited and you can't also be considered a core publisher. Can you be both Neiman-Marcus and Wal-Mart at the same time? I don't think you can.  I'm curious to see how many libraries have cancelled titles from Nature or have forgone adding titles because of the cost.

This discussion is also painful for me because I know faculty where I work want Nature journals - I have a list of over six titles that have been requested in the last few years. I feel I am doing a disservice to my colleagues in withholding access to something. But the money is simply not in our budget.

I also want to support publishers that are experimenting with new communication channels in scholarship like web features, a blogging platform, Second Life, podcasts and the like.  Nature has been very progressive in exploring these new areas of scholarship, and their support has helped legitimize them as communication channels. Does it have to come at such a high cost? I hope not.

10 responses so far

Not hanging separately

Sep 16 2010 Published by under Open Access

I've been thinking again about the question asked me at UCLA: why should academic libraries divert staff and budgetary resources to open access (green or gold, gratis or libre) if our mandate is to serve our local patrons? I gave an answer that I wasn't particularly happy with. I have a bit of an esprit d'escalier answer now, the borrowed words of Benjamin Franklin:

We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.

A lot of us academic librarians know that our faculty basically see us as wallets. We pay for the stuff they use. That's pretty much all they know about us, all they think we do (aside from checking books out at the desk, don't you know—and I am being sarcastic because this function is rarely performed by actual librarians). If we just hang back contentedly being wallets, what will happen to us when the wallet-function breaks, as we all know it's breaking? Particularly, what will happen if we have nothing to fall back on—no rhetoric, no advocacy, no best practice, nothing—from the profession, the collective? A library under siege from its institution with no support external to that institution isn't playing a strong hand.

We also know that toll-access publishers and aggregators have been playing divide-and-conquer for a long time. What are all these NDAs about, if not to divide libraries one from another and prevent us from gathering the collective intelligence that would let us all negotiate fair prices? At this late date, we seem unlikely to reverse this behavior as individual libraries and consortia. It's going to take a full-court press, from as many of us as possible.

Just as open access will. It's perhaps a measure of my own demoralization that I was quite chuffed by this preprint finding that 49% of current academic-librarian–authored materials can be found open-access. Forty-nine percent is dismal, but it's also extraordinary, and rather better than I would have expected. The lesson is clear, though: individual efforts on individual campuses and in individual libraries don't get us very far.

At the risk of sounding all commie and stuff: we work toward a collective openness, or we die off one by one as the business model sustaining us as well as publishers crumbles to bits.

4 responses so far

On open data and disruptive innovation

Sep 13 2010 Published by under Open Access


BioMed Central recently issued a draft statement on open data. The details aren't earthshaking; you can read them yourself if you care to.

What I'm interested in is whether this manoeuvre puts BMC in a good position to disrupt other journals, particularly those announcing that researchers with supplementary material can go climb trees.

I'll repeat myself:

See, one of the lesser-known bits of Christensen’s market-disruption pattern is that the disrupting force needs to start out by “competing against nonconsumption.” You can’t take on the incumbent on its own turf; the incumbent will eat your lunch and you for dessert. (What’s the lesson for institutional repositories here? Starting with peer-reviewed journal articles was a doomed strategy, that’s what. Those are the crown jewels. The incumbents own those.) You have to find something else to work with, something unused or underserved that the incumbents turn up their august noses at—a low-end market, a different raw material—establish a market beachhead there, and expand your beachhead over time.

I do think it significant that it should be an open-access publisher taking up the data gauntlet when toll-access publishers won't. There's an asymmetry there worth examining.

For a toll-access publisher, data is a cost center, pure and simple, and one that they can't make any additional money from. Why can't they? Because their business model is based on closing off access, and closed-but-nominally-published data is becoming more useless by the day. If a research dataset can't be found quickly and computed upon at will—someday this may be translatable to "if it's not part of the linked-data web"—there's no point to "publishing" it. So our toll-access publisher has three unappetizing choices: refusing the data (in which case researchers who value their data may go elsewhere), opening the data (which will lead to awkward questions about why the accompanying papers aren't open too), or taking on a significant new cost center just to keep up with the BioMed Centrals of this world.

(Yes, there are some flourishing industries based on closed access to data, granted. They're separate from journal publishing, and they presume a type or quantity of data that people will pay for. I don't think that's true of most research-generated datasets, so my argument should hold up. As usual, though, my crystal ball is cracked and hazy, so you follow any prophecies it generates at your own risk.)

The big author-fee-supported open-access publishers, in my estimation, are focused on gaining market share right now, where "market" is defined as "attracting publishable submissions." So doing something smart with data looks likely to turn into a competitive advantage for them, and if it costs them too much, well, they're already charging, so they just figure out how to adjust their fee structure, no big deal.

Will PLoS and Hindawi follow BMC's example? I don't know. They should. Will data become the wedge that allows open-access journals to disrupt their toll-access counterparts? I don't know, and it will likely be some time before that can be assessed. The likeliest outcome is the hoary boring old "it will differ by discipline." Time will tell whether BMC has bet on the right disciplines.

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Institutional repositories and digital preservation

Sep 07 2010 Published by under Open Access, Praxis

With all the pressing issues the open-access movement has to deal with, I honestly don't understand why we scrap over digital preservation. But scrap we darned well do, so I'll toss my two coppers in the pot.

They amount to this. Digital preservation is not a single thing one does or doesn't do; it's a whole constellation of things, some of which matter more than others. By and large, considering real-world threats instead of playing digital security theatre, institutional repositories do fairly well at digital preservation. They could (and would) do better if institutional-repository software integrated better with file-format analysis tools.

I have no patience for "it's about open access, not digital preservation!" arguments. There is no access, open or otherwise, without at least basic preservation steps. We can see this principle in action, even: the disappearance of DList (the US library and information science repository) and Mana'o (a disciplinary repository for anthropology) removed quite a bit of material from the public eye.

Likewise, I have no patience for thinking of digital preservation solely in terms of technology. DList and Mana'o are the biggest, most glaring examples of access failure in the repository realm. (We don't actually know whether they were full-on preservation failures; the content may still exist out of sight somewhere. Or it may not, in which case we indeed have a failure of preservation.) In both cases the failure had nothing to do with technology: it was organizational and business-model failure. Both DList and Mana'o started as single-person projects. Neither made adequate contingency plans for the obvious risks of letting repository survival depend on a single person. The single person ran into time and energy limits. Nobody picked up the slack. The repositories died. QED.

(Think it can't happen to you? Ask yourself what would have happened to arXiv when Ginsparg got tired of it if Cornell University Libraries hadn't white-knightly charged in. I think it would have died too, myself.)

So if the major observed risk to content preservation is failure of organizational support, IRs hold up pretty well. I've been quite caustic in my time about institutions' and libraries' failure to support IRs adequately (and sadly, I have another acerbic article brewing in the back of my head) but I will happily say that I've never seen or heard of an IR whose sponsors weren't aware that they were taking on a serious obligation to the content they collect. Score one—and it's a big one—for the humble IR.

Regarding technology-specific threats, most IRs are far from perfect, but they're a good deal better than nothing. DSpace IRs, for example, do checksums on everything they ingest, and those checksums can be regularly audited. Assuming halfway-decent backup behavior (and yes, this is an assumption), this reduces bitrot danger to near zero. File-format obsolescence is often remarked upon as a problem, and it is true that IR software does not do all it should with tools like JHOVE designed to evaluate file formats and point out problematic files. Frankly, though, I'm with David Rosenthal and Chris Rusbridge on this one: mass-market file formats such as most IRs contain rarely become completely unreadable. Information loss, sure (fonts and formulas particularly), but not often and not much.

IRs could also stand to do better at geographic replication of their contents… but once again, this is an organizational issue, not a technology one. It's been addressed in a few cases, so we know pretty well how to do it; our organizations just aren't stepping up yet. I think the Duraspace cloud efforts have brought this question to the front burner, and I expect matters to improve within the next year or two.

Finally, an oft-forgotten part of the IR preservation strategy is the human beings behind IRs. By way of example, I've adopted a few websites into the IRs that I've run. Before they go in, I check internal links, I remove unnecessary Flash (practically all of it, that is) with extreme prejudice, and I clean up unnecessarily nasty HTML. I'm pretty confident those sites will do all right for quite a long time because of my interventions.

So can we stop arguing about digital preservation now, please? Plenty more productive arguments we could be having.

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