The argument for open access


The other night I was sent a link to an article entitled ‘Is the Academic Publishing Industry on the Verge of Disruption?‘ by Simon Owens. The title had me intrigued, but it did not actually prepare me for what I was about to read. In his article Owens summarizes what we librarians already know – academic journals have become way too expensive for us to maintain our subscriptions. Libraries are cutting budgets left and right and having such high fees for journals is not helping.

What I didn’t expect was the tilt of this article toward the value of open access journals. The fact that in recent years open access journals have become more viable and accessible. I know that in the library science world I have many open access journals that I keep up with (because they have great info and are free for me to learn from). The Directory of Open Access Journals boasts of 7988 journals (I’m not sure how much more that is from previous years, but it’s a nice number), 130 of which are LIS Journals.

In his article, Owens points us to the situation specifically at Harvard:

In the quiet, restrained world of research libraries, any controversies that arise are, for the most part, cordial and largely academic. So some within the industry may have been understandably surprised by the widespread attention paid when, in April, Harvard’s Faculty Advisory Council sent a letter to the faculty concerning what it alleged was a crisis with its scholarly journal subscriptions.

The letter reported an “untenable situation facing the Harvard Library” in which “many large journal publishers have made the scholarly communication environment fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive.” The letter revealed that Harvard is paying $3.75 million annually in journal subscriptions and that they make up “10% of all collection costs for everything the Library acquires.” A few of the journals, it says, cost upward of $40,000 a year–each. “Prices for online content from two providers have increased by about 145% over the past six years, which far exceeds not only the consumer price index, but also the higher education and the library price indices.” Its conclusion: “Major periodical subscriptions, especially to electronic journals published by historically key providers, cannot be sustained.” To underscore the weight of what Harvard had just done by releasing this letter, one blogger headlined his post, “The wealthiest university on Earth can’t afford its academic journal subscriptions.”

Though the letter’s short-term impact was to inform the non-academic world of the growing tension between research libraries and journal publishers, many in the industry say its long-term effect lies in its list of recommendations for how to ameliorate the situation. Harvard implores its top researchers to “consider submitting articles to open-access journals” and to “consider resigning” from the editorial boards of journals that don’t provide open-access offerings. Because an open-access journal allows anyone to easily and without cost read any of its published material, a large-scale migration to the platform would ease many of the financial burdens posed by subscription journals.

The article goes on for 6 more pages with a lot of great info on how open access works and how peer review works, etc. It’s shocking to me (someone who has never been on the purchasing side of journal subscriptions) to see prices like those mentioned in this article. As an author I know that I get annoyed when my publications are priced out of the market – how can any journal article author expect to reach their audience with prices like those these subscription services are charging?

If you’re interested in learning more check out the entire article and if you plan on publishing anytime soon maybe check out the open access journals or at least talk to the journal publisher about what they charge for their subscriptions to make sure that the pricing is fair and is going to reach the widest audience. The one thing I haven’t experienced with open access journals in the LIS world is being charged as an author to submit articles – but that is something you’ll need to look out for if you do decide to go the open access route to reach your target audience.

Like I didn’t have enough to do :)

I just wanted to share a bit of news with you all. I am now officially a columnist for the Collaborative Librarianship journal.

This issue will introduce a new regular “column” feature by Nicole Engard, “Open Source Evangelist” at LibLime, and an expert in many technologies that enable collaboration. Nicole states, “I am very excited to participate in a journal that focuses on what I’ve been talking about for years – collaboration! My new column will focus on tools that you can find on the web to help you collaborate in your library and in libraries that are using these tools successfully. I love helping librarians find more efficient ways to do their jobs and the fact that I will be combining that passion with encouraging collaboration it’s going to make for a great column.”

Read the full news release here.

Information wants to be expensive

One of the common concerns I heard earlier this week at the NFAIS conference was costs. The digital natives want free information – but the publishers have to worry about their bottom line. Of course, being who I am, I’m all about reworking your business model to make open source, open content, and open access work! But someone pointed out this article in the Wall Street Journal entitled Information Wants to Expensive.

With newspapers in cities across the country on the brink, an old idea is being resurrected in the hope of saving them: They should charge for access to their journalism on the Internet. This is a great idea, but about 10 years late.

Time magazine published a cover story earlier this month headlined “How to Save Your Newspaper.” In it, former Time Managing Editor Walter Isaacson noted how odd it is to charge for subscriptions in print but not online. “Even an old print junkie like me has quit subscribing to the New York Times, because if it doesn’t see fit to charge me for its content, I’d feel like a fool paying for it. This is not a business model that makes sense.”

I agree – and that’s why I don’t buy newspapers or magazines anymore – but I do see the main point of the article – which is newspapers are losing money because no one is paying for content anymore. So, how do we solve it? I don’t know – I would probably pay for an online newspaper subscription if that was the only way to read the news … but how do you make it so that’s the only way?

I don’t really have answers – only more questions. I do know that I understand where publishers are coming from – but if they were to publish online only then maybe it wouldn’t cost them as much and maybe they could charge us less for content online. One audience member argued that if we have our universities paying for subscriptions to online journals then what are we complaining about – while that is the case for the speaker they were asking, it’s not the case for me. I often find that I can’t find articles I want to read online because my public library doesn’t subscribe to as many research journals as a university would.

Anyway, just wanted to point you to the article and see if anyone out there had any great insights or ideas to make both the publishers and the researchers happy.

Open Source ILS Library Technology Report

I haven’t gotten a copy of this report yet, so I can’t tell you (first hand) what’s covered, but I didn’t want you to miss out. So, if you get a chance, stop by your library and check out a copy of the newest Library Technology Report by Marshall Breeding (that’s what I’ll be doing).

In this issue, Breeding details the differences between using an open source approach to that of using conventional proprietary software for automated operations.

“In the past, our options were differentiated on the basis of features, functionality, price, and performance of the software and the perceived ability for a given company to develop its products into the future and provide adequate support. Do these factors differ with open source ILS products?”

Breeding’s report can help answer that question as well as defines open source and provides an overview of the various open source options currently available to libraries, including Koha and Evergreen.

Keep an eye out for more info from me after I get a chance to read this guide.

Stay Informed

The Informed Librarian sounds like the kind of service that I’ll love and hate. Why hate? Because I won’t be able to find free access to all of the new articles it points me to :) Check it out for yourself:

The Informed Librarian is a monthly compilation of the most recent tables of contents from over 312 titles – valuable domestic and foreign library and information-related journals, e-journals, magazines, e-magazines, newsletters and e-newsletters.

Found via LISWire.

New: The Journal of Library Innovation

This just came across one of my mailing lists and sounds really great!

The Western New York Library Resources Council is pleased to announce plans to publish The Journal of Library Innovation, one of the first journals devoted explicitly to innovation and creativity in libraries. This peer reviewed, electronic journal will publish original research, literature reviews, commentaries, case studies, reports on innovative practices, letters, as well as book and product reviews. The journal will also welcome provocative essays that will stimulate thought on the current and future role of libraries in an Internet Age.

The inaugural issue will be published in January 2010. Please watch for a call for papers in the near future. For more information, please contact Editor-in-Chief Sheryl Knab ( or Managing Editor Pamela Jones (

Keep an eye out for it!!

Code4Lib Journal Issue #2

Issue #2 of the Code4Lib Journal is now available online.

  • Code4Lib: More than a journal
  • Free and Open Source Options for Creating Database-Driven Subject Guides
  • Using Google Calendar to Manage Library Website Hours
  • Geocoding LCSH in the Biodiversity Heritage Library
  • Toward element-level interoperability in bibliographic metadata
  • Help! A simple method for getting back-up help to the reference desk
  • Googlizing a Digital Library
  • Participatory Design of Websites with Web Design Workshops
  • Quick Lookup Laptops in the Library: Leveraging Linux with a SLAX LiveCD
  • The ICAP (Interactive Course Assignment Pages) Publishing System
  • Respect My Authority
  • Conference Report: Code4LibCon 2008

Looks like a good read.

Making Digital Archives Accessible

Someone sent me a neat article from the New York Times today. The article talks about how Sports Illustrated is opening up it’s archives for anyone to search. The article implies that this is the way all print publications will probably go to keep their audiences. I’d rather it be that they’re doing it to provide everyone with free access to information – but I guess I’ll take it anyway we can get it.

Publications are rediscovering their archives, like a person learning that a hand-me-down coffee table is a valuable antique. For magazines and newspapers with long histories, especially, old material can be reborn on the Web as an inexpensive way to attract readers, advertisers and money.

Sports Illustrated, which faces fierce daily, even hourly, competition with ESPN, Yahoo Sports and others, has something its main rivals do not: a 53-year trove of articles and photos, most of it from an era when the magazine dominated the field of long-form sports writing and color sports photography.

On Thursday, the magazine will introduce the Vault, a free site within that contains all the words Sports Illustrated has ever published and many of the images, along with video and other material, in a searchable database.