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When I was invited to the panel “Protests, Petitions and Publishing: Widening Access to Research in 2012,” I was on the fence about attending. Did I really want to spend two hours of my day hearing the debate on open access, anticipating that it would be filled with much controversy? Because it was close and I was confident that I would learn something, I made the short trek earlier this week from the Bronx to Morningside Heights, even scoring a parking spot in front of the Columbia building housing the event on a day on which alternate-side-of-the-street parking was in effect. The press release indicated that the event was meant to consider how Occupy Wall Street, the Research Works Act (RWA), the boycott of Elsevier journals by a growing number of academics, and other recent developments are informing the debate over access to research and scholarship on open access. The event was hosted by Columbia’s Center for Digital Research and Scholarship (CDRS) and included a diverse panel of speakers. I’ll do my best to summarize the session based on my notes drafted the old school way on a notepad in barely legible handwriting. (This exercise made me realize that I need to embrace the iPad more.) The audio will be available shortly, so I will post a link on the Digital Digest when it is. The issues are complicated, and there are no easy answers as was evident by the talk on Monday. Alex Golub from the University of Hawaii called current publishing models a death spiral. As most of us know, the hard sciences are very different from the humanities. The AAUP made an official statement about three pieces of legislation related to research policies that have resulted in a flurry of mixed responses from university press directors.

Here goes with my summary.

Allen Adler, Vice President for Legal and Government Affairs in the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the Association of American Publishers (AAP), kicked off the talk by stating that the goal of the panel was to answer the following questions:

What is a journal publisher’s role in informing the public about research policies?

What are publishers’ achievements in this process related to innovation, technology, and business?

What is publishing with federal agency–funded research, especially by nongovernmental officers?

What does the government currently do to disseminate federally funded research?

Adler mentioned that the National Institutes of Health Policy requires that peer-reviewed articles be made open access one year after they appear in a journal.

He emphasized that we need to understand the diversity of the field.

Oona Schmid, Director of Publishing at the American Anthropological Association (AAA), gave her perspective as a representative from one of the leading academic societies in America and publisher of the venerable journal American Anthropologist.

I give her credit for talking to this crowd knowing that it was going to be a contentious conversation and that her society was not always looked upon with the highest esteem.

Schmid began her talk by emphasizing that AAA is interested in the dissemination of scholarly information, believing that knowledge can solve human problems. She made the following points:

  • The academic system is tied to peer review.
  • Authors need credit for their contributions.
  • Citations need long-term archiving.
  • Publishing needs balance: cost versus readers’ desire for visibility and widespread dissemination.

Schmid stressed that AAA has huge costs for publishing 20 journals, 600 articles per year, and 482 reviews because of duration, personnel, and overhead.

She said that 63% of journal costs are covered through the sales of library subscriptions, 36% through sales to members, and 1% through ads. Open access would wipe out that 63%.

She continued by saying that AAA could increase members’ dues but that’s unlikely to happen because of major resistance from members and key stakeholders at the association.

Schmid mentioned that author fees work well in biomedical fields and that anthropologists do not have a centralized grant funder.

She asked about nonresearch commentaries and reviews.

Possible support mechanisms she pointed out: Produce more informal scholarly content; make use of social media.

Her new funding ideas include charging for premium functionality and super-user fees.

Peter Woit, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Mathematics at Columbia University, was up next and spoke from the angle of a researcher and a professor.

He said that of the 7,500 scholars boycotting Elsevier journals, 1,400 were mathematicians, 1,000 were biologists, and 650 were physicists.

A major reason he cited is that Elsevier journals are expensive and there have been problems with quality.

He stated that monographs are important. (Smile on my face.) He showed a picture of his office with bookshelves behind his desk. Two bottom shelves were filled with books published by Springer, as was obvious by their yellow spines. Other key publishers in his field included Oxford, Cambridge, and Princeton university presses.

He said that high quality is expensive; Elsevier could go away and he wouldn’t care, but monograph publishers are a different story.

Woit made the point that middle-class students are taking big loans to pay for tuition at expensive universities.

He said that detailed, high-quality content doesn’t work on blogs because discussion is difficult and has a time constraint, going so far as to say that the “Global village has a village idiot. You can’t replace academic scholarship.”

He went on to say that Google is the elephant in the room. Google Books show a few pages with ads. They can run your e-mail and analyze your online activity and make purchase suggestions. What will Google’s role be in this?

Gail Drakes, a doctoral candidate in the Program in American Studies at NYU and Associate Faculty at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, spoke next.

She concentrated on the Research Acts, Elsevier boycott, and Occupy movements. She began her talk by saying that research was unavailable—behind pay walls—for her area of humanities, American Studies.

She talked a lot about cultural commons.

Drakes said that the RWA gives the government protection of funded research, causing the cultural commons to shrink, and that intense lobbying is taking place.

She expressed wild enthusiasm for the Elsevier boycott and said that it represents a tension between academic structure and for-profit publishers.

Drakes felt that academic publishers do enough for cultural commons and support authors.

She suggested that we all take a look at the Fake Elsevier Twitter account, @FakeElsevier.

Drakes also stressed that we need balance. In her own case, her professor omitted an important piece in the course pack because of its high costs compared with graduate students’ budgets.

She enthusiastically talked about how Occupy Wall Street created the people’s library that currently has 9,000 titles—check out Library Thing—which is an affirmation of the importance of access to information. The library started out as a box moving to a tarp-covered area (cleared during the raid) to a clear plastic–covered area. Now it is organized by librarians with Masters of Library Sciences degrees who are part of the movement.

Alex Golub, assistant professor of Anthropology at the University Of Hawaii, had some strong statements to make (via Skype).

He asked if authors and publishers are ready to embrace open access? His answer: No. Publishers: Never. Authors want open access and always have.

He continued by saying that scholarly research won’t ever be completely free.

Golub said that we need to innovate. Existing models don’t work. There is a forty-year chunk of stuff trying to get open access.

He didn’t hold back, stating that AnthroSource is slow and embarrassing. “Fig leaf covering the Wiley thing.” He continued by saying that the Mellon-funded AAA program is different from what was originally planned. He said that Wiley took over the journal American Anthropologist and has a different agenda. (It was formerly managed by University of California Press.) He thinks that academic publishing as outlined by Oona’s presentation is in a downward zombie death spiral. The AAA is broken—volunteers to pay scholarly publishers’ profits. AAA pub models don’t work and we need a radical rethinking of how we do things.

He emphasized that we can’t sit on the fence anymore.

He asked the following:

Do we need peer review, and who pays for it?

Is scholarship less true if some words are spelled wrong or the phrasing is unclear?

Do we need expensive annual meetings?

Alternatives he suggested:

Small regional conferences

Blogs

Social media

Civil service and partners. Editors and librarians are at cross-purposes.

Golub was definitely animated and wanted to push buttons. I appreciated his candor and his challenging the status quo. I agree that publishers need to think of new ways to make scholarly content available while at the same time recouping the costs for doing so. I don’t have the answers, but I think it is beneficial to hear what our constituents are saying

There were some audience questions at the end but I’ll let you hear those when the audio is available.

I would like to share a comment (made by Jim Jordan, Director of Columbia University Press) that will resonate with a lot of university press folks. He said that 8% of his budget is subsidized by Columbia but the university wants it reduced by 4%. And that 90% to 98% of the library’s budget is subsidized. Universities should do more to re-fund their presses. I agree.

I’m still wrapping my brain around the whole discussion but am glad I made the trip. Academic and university presses need to be innovative and creative with publishing models and work with their libraries to determine how best to meet the needs of their patrons. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to research policies. This may all seem obvious but I think the more we hear it the more it will sink in.

One the eve of its annual conference, the Association of American University Presses has launched a redesigned website and released the results of its second digital book publishing survey in as many years. The press release announcing the report can be read here, and the report itself is available for download.

In addition to providing interesting statistical breakdown as to the number of presses participating in a wide variety of digital publication efforts, it also reveals the widespread (unavoidable?) use of digital technology in traditional print publishing, particularly print-on-demand.

For most presses  (53 of 71 who participated in the survey) revenue from sales of electronic editions remains below 3%. It will be interesting to see how/if that changes in the coming year, particularly since the percentage of presses now reporting as participating in site licenses to libraries has nearly doubled (from 34% in the 2009-2010 survey to 65% in the Spring 2011 survey).

Overall, finding a working business model and creating systems to best allocate limited resources remain the biggest obstacles faced by university presses when it comes to digital publishing. As the report clearly demonstrates, despite these concerns, AAUP member presses are actively and enthusiastically embracing the possibilities. And if history is any indicator, following this weekend’s annual conference, “The Next Wave: Toward a Culture of Collaboration,” that enthusiasm will be redoubled throughout the summer.

By Guest Blogger Meredith Morris Babb, Director of the University Press of Florida

Many presses are experimenting with Open Access (OA), primarily in the scholarly journal/monograph worlds. At the University Press of Florida (UPF), we have formed a number of alliances to explore OA and textbook use.  In Florida, as in 37 other states, legislation is in place condemning the high cost of higher education texts. Some states, such as Ohio, have gone so far as to create a grant program that will reward faculty who write an OA textbook. UPF has decided to jump into this game, as a way of generating revenue, but also to serve the higher purpose of providing quality, peer-reviewed texts to students and faculty at a fraction of the current cost.

Here is how it works: an OA textbook is created and placed into an OA repository as a PDF. That PDF is free to any other repository, and can be downloaded infinite number of times for free. All OA texts use a form of Creative Commons License to limit commercial use, but authors must allow for adaptations with attribution. A professor selects an OA text, the students download the work from the repository and away we go. I will get to the more nuanced aspects of this in a bit.

Four partners are in play with our OA text site, Orange Grove Text Plus (OGT+). All are critical to the success of the new endeavor and are dedicated to forging this path together. They include UPF, Integrated Book Technologies (IBT), the Orange Grove (OG), and WebAssign. UPF provides developmental editing, copy editing, typesetting, design, production, metadata production, ISBN assignment, print distribution, and marketing. IBT hosts the shopping cart, pre-flights and stores all the print-ready PDF files, and generates print-on-demand versions as they are ordered. OG is Florida’s OA repository, originally created for distance learning resources by the division of state colleges. It is open to all student and faculty in the state. OG hosts the non-print PDF files, manages all the metadata for searchability, creates the background structure that allows an OA text to be pulled directly into a university or college’s learning management system, and is the harvester that seeks out additional OA texts. WebAssign provides digital, on-line homework and testing capabilities. Having worked for many years with many higher ed textbook publishers, they recognize the sea change that is coming with OA textbooks.

So what makes OGT+ unique from say, Connexions?  We provide the peer review, editorial, and design components missing from their create-your-own-text site. The Orange Grove customizes the metadata so that a professor or student can search for a book using Florida’s State University System’s common course numbering system. IBT can print and ship within 24-28 hours after the book is purchased. We assign ISBNs and have a standard retail discount schedule that allows bookstores to purchase directly from UPF (rather than through the shopping cart created for individual users), which benefits many students on aid packages who must buy their books from a retailer with a special Purchase Card.

The current iteration of OGT+ reflects the lessons learned from an ongoing successful experiment to create a basal text in calculus. Last year, the provost at the University of Florida provided one-time seed money to the UF Department of Mathematics. Faculty were given release time to prepare a text book that exactly followed their lectures. Problems and examples were sometimes drawn from existing OA texts. A first draft was test-taught in the honors calculus class last fall. WebAssign, who was already working with UF and their old text, help them create a new set of exercises for class room use and reduced their fee to students. This spring, every calculus class at UF is using the beta version of the text, and all students in the class are charged a $25 fee that goes back to the department for future updates, additional material, and release time to prepare volumes for Calculus II and III. Along the way, UPF had the text peer-reviewed and designed, and provided PDFs to both the Orange Grove and IBT. There are 912 students enrolled this spring in the beta test semester, and as of February 28 we had had 1,247 downloads of the PDF. As of this writing, we have yet to receive a firm number of the number of students that have chosen to hit the “buy this book” button, but research shows us that somewhere between 65-70% of student want both the pdf and the download, even when they start the semester with the PDF only.

Right now, the onus of recovering UPF’s operating costs resides with the students who purchase the print edition. Not fair at all, so we will be sharing the in the revenue from the fee system starting next semester.

Now imagine this: what if 4-5 university presses got together and each developed three general education texts for OA use? All of sudden, those 5 presses have not 3 but 15 OA texts that can be used by their students. With an OA fee and a non-returnable POD print version, there is one potential hefty source of steady revenue.

UPF is in the processing of asking the State University System to make OGT+ part of each Florida university’s strategic plan. This is already the case in the state and community colleges. With more universities moving to a resource centered management finances these texts will be even more attractive to a department also looking for revenue streams. And university presses move into the digital age with their original missions—to create texts for use on their campuses—intact.  What goes around. . . .

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