Freedom for scholarship in the internet age

Date created: 
scholarly communication
open access
economics of scholarly communication

Begins with some thoughts on the purpose of scholarship. This question should frame any discussion of scholarly communication. While there are millions of researchers and at least as many research questions, it can be useful to think about a question like addressing global warming when evaluating potential change in scholarly communication. Note that it is important to remember that there can be a signficant gap in time (sometimes centuries) between when a concept is introduced, and when it is understood.

From the scholar's perspective, publisher-added digital rights management (DRM) is seen as a hindrance to scholarship - not a value add. Libre open access - free to re-use as well as to read - is only a small fraction of open access right now, but it is predicted that libre OA will be increasingly sought by scholars who experience its benefits.

Dealing with the sheer volume of information presently available (and still expanding exponentially) is one of the key challenges for scholars, librarians, and publishers alike. Three strategies for addressing this challenge are discussed. Reading less or filtering is seen as tempting, but not a good idea when examined against the purpose of scholarship. For example, if we find the volume of information coming from China overwhelming, it might be tempted to skip reading it; but if Chinese scholars are doing research that could help us to figure out a clean energy breakthrough, this isn't such a good idea. Writing less is a strategy that has more potential. Some of the pressure to write in quantity in academia may actually be counterproductive. Collaborating is a strategy well worth pursuing. To understand why, first picture the physics article with a thousand authors. Then picture another discipline, where a thousand authors each write one article.

Current tenure and promotion procedures do not reward collaboration. While there is much to be said for tradition in academia, there are times when tradition needs to be reexamined for the benefit of scholarship; and this is one of these times. Changing tenure and promotion procedures is not easy, nor is it the mandate of librarians; but I would argue that the good work librarians have done in the area of scholarly communication have opened a window for scholars to begin these broader discussions.

The window of opportunity is briefly discussed, from the identification of the serials crisis to the campaign to create change, to the exciting changes we see all around us - over 4,700 journals in DOAJ, more than 1,500 repositories in OpenDOAR, over 150 open access mandate policies, more than 22 million free publications through BASE.

What is really amazing about all this change is that it has taken place with virtually no resources. Evidence that there is more than sufficient funds, from academic library subscription budgets alone, to not only fund a fully open access scholarly publishing system, but save lots of money at the same time, is presented (a John Houghton slide on cost implications for a switch to OA for the UK Higher Education, and two of my slides on a global shift to OA by academic libraries).

The reasons why savings and not just status quo costs are needed are mentioned briefly, e.g. the need to move into support for open data and e-science, and address preservation of electronic information.

Next steps for libraries are presented, including keeping up the good work in building and filling repositories, hosting open access journals, and education on scholarly communication and open access. Consider setting up an open access author's fund, or transforming licensing language to reflect a shift in purchase (from subscription to subscription / full OA for our authors), and other means of economic support for open access.

Many thanks to OCULA and especially to OCULA President Nathalie Soini for the invitation to speak at OLA. I hope to find time to elaborate on some of the topics from this speech in more depth at a later date.

OCULA Spotlight presentation, Ontario Library Association conference, February 25, 2010
Document type: 
Conference presentation