May 12 CERN meeting on implementing the Berlin Declaration

Stevan Harnad harnad at ecs.soton.ac.uk
Thu May 27 16:50:54 EST 2004

Iva Melinscak Zlodi makes a valid and poignant plea on behalf of both the
motivations and the contributions of librarians -- both in the struggle to
maximize journal affordability (for the sake of their researcher/users)
and the struggle to maximize researcher access to journal articles. The
two are undeniably connected causally, and librarians have incontestably
made and are making monumental historic contributions to both.

What I said was about the *priorities* of the two communities -- library
and research. I said that the library community's immediate priority
is journal affordability, whereas the research community's priority is
(or would/will be, once they are made fully aware of the causal connection
between access and impact) immediate Open Access.

I would not have expected, a priori, any conflict between these two
causally connected agendas: Journal affordability is connected to
access, because whatever increases affordability increases access.
And Open Access (OA) is connected to affordability because OA
Journals are likely to be more affordable. And perhaps (only perhaps)
OA via the self-archiving of articles published in non-OA journals will
eventually help lower the price of non-OA journals or even encourage
them to convert to OA.

But a conflict has nevertheless emerged, unexpectedly (though, in
hindsight, it was probably predictable): And it all has to do with time,
and with timing: The wake-up call about *both* affordability and access
was first sounded, loud and clear, by the library community, in the
early '90s. Meanwhile, those individuals in the research community
(notably physicists and computer scientists, but in fact many from
other disciplines too) who had become either implicitly or explicitly
aware of the access/impact problem along with the obvious potential
of the Web, had begun unostentatiously self-archiving their articles,
likewise in the early '90s.

The rest is history (OA history), but alas a history that is taking far
too long to transpire. It is now clear to everyone who has given it any
thought that OA is the optimal and inevitable outcome for both the
research community and the library community. The problem is: How (and
*when*) are we to get there?

The library community has to keep contending with its yearly journal
affordability problems as best it can. OA journals have not yet saved
the library a penny, because most journals (95%) are still not OA
journals, yet it is clear that if many, most or all journals were OA
journals, the journal affordability problem would either vanish or
shrink to tractable size. 

So most library efforts have been directed toward OA journals: purchasing
institutional "memberships" in them -- in BMC journals, to be exact --
and promoting them in every available way.

Libraries have also created Institutional OA Eprint Archives, to be sure,
but here their hands are tied and their pertinent expertise is rather
limited: Librarians specialize in buying in and curating contents for
their users. One cannot buy in contents for an institutional OA Eprint
Archive: One's users must somehow be persuaded to *provide* them.

Persuading researchers to self-archive their articles is not the
library's traditional domain of expertise, and despite some heroic
efforts -- e.g., CalTech's Collection of Open Digital Archives (CODA)
http://library.caltech.edu/digital/ and St. Andrews' Eprints "Let us
Archive it for you!" http://eprints.st-andrews.ac.uk/proxy_archive.html
and all the other things libraries have done to try to facilitate
self-archiving http://www.eprints.org/self-faq/#libraries-do --
librarians' success in generating archive contents has been limited
for the simple reason that librarians are not the ones with either the
tradition or the clout to get their researcher/users to self-archive.

The ones with the tradition and the clout to get researchers to
self-archive are their employers (i.e., their department and
and their research funders
the same ones with the tradition and the clout to get them to
publish at all ("publish or perish"):

As a consequence, the library has focused more on the areas where its
traditional expertise as well as its immediate needs reside, which is
negotiating prices with non-OA journal publishers, supporting and
promoting OA journals, and curating and preserving archive contents
(whatever those contents turn out to be). Indeed some (by no means all)
librarians have come to think of the role of archiving in OA as merely
the curation and preservation of digital content, rather than as the
very means of making non-OA content OA! And some have unfortunately also
contributed to the propagation of the very wrong-headed notion that
OA *is* just OA journal publishing, and that archiving is merely for
preserving OA contents, rather than being the second -- and far more
powerful -- means of generating OA contents that it really is.

Many librarians, in other words, have set their hopes, and adjusted
their timing and expectations, to the prospect of OA via the creation
and conversion of OA journals alone. As this road to the optimal and
inevitable is by far the narrower, slower and less certain of the two
roads to OA, this is to the detriment of OA.

Now my comments on what Iva wrote:

On Thu, 27 May 2004, Iva Melinscak Zlodi wrote:

> On 25 May 2004 at 22:34, Stevan Harnad wrote:
> > I think the pattern emerging is clear: The library community, pressed
> > by its journal budget crisis, is far less interested in Open Access
> > than in re-forming the journal publishing system. The research
> > community, in contrast is (or would be if it were informed about the
> > facts of access and impact, as it will be) far more interested in
> > immediate Open Access than in re-forming the journal publishing
> > system.
> I am a librarian. And I think that dividing them (researchers) from us
> (librarians) can be nothing but counterproductive.

This is not about dividing librarians and researchers but about making
their respective priorities explicit.

> The budget crisis is not something that strikes only librarians, it is
> primarily striking researchers (although they are often not aware
> of that fact), because they are in need of literature. 

Researchers are not only unaware of their libraries' journal
affordability crisis, they are not (yet) aware of the effect of OA on
impact, hence of their own, cumulative impact loss across time, and its
costs, in career advancement, research funding, and research progress
and productivity. 

They need to be made aware. But even once they are aware, there is
nothing much that researchers can do about journal affordability, or
about OA journals: Authors cannot create journals, or convert journals;
they can only publish in the ones there are. They can sign petitions and
threaten to boycott journals if they do not convert to OA, to be sure:
But the results of that have been extremely limited, in terms of the
actual quantity of OA generated thereby.

On the other hand, researchers *can* self-archive their own articles. And
if the 30,000 researchers who had signed the above threat to boycott
journals that did not convert to gold had also self-archived just *one*
of their articles (which requires not many more keystrokes than to
sign the boycott letter) incomparably more OA would have resulted.

    "A Keystroke Koan For Our Open Access Times"

So, yes, there is researcher unawareness of both the affordability problem
and the OA problem; but, the latter unawareness is far more important,
because it is also perpetuating an unawareness of an immediate solution
to the OA problem, and one that is fully within researchers' hands. In
contrast, no immediate solution to either the affordability problem or
the problem of converting journals from non-OA to OA lies in researchers'
hands -- or anyone's hands.

> Personally, I couldn't care less, if my library could subscribe to as
> many journals this year as it could five years ago - I don't read them
> myself! But I know my users need their journals. So, "its journal budget
> crisis" is definitely the wrong formulation.

Although I am sure that this is not the way Iva intended it, this sounds
as if she is saying that she could not care less about OA if there were
no affordability problem. But the whole point is that the two are not
the same problem, that there is no immediate solution available to the
affordability problem, but there *is* an immediate solution to the OA
problem, and that a return to the affordability levels of 5, 10, or 15
years ago would *not* be that solution! Only OA is the solution; and
only self-archiving can provide it, immediately.

> Besides, I'm not so sure that the following statement stands: Librarians
> want publishing reform, researchers want immediate OA.

Those librarians who likewise want immediate OA rather than just
eventual publishing reform (whether a return to affordability or a
transition to OA publishing) have only one option, apart from creating
OA Archives: Devoting whatever resources and energy they have to spare
for OA to the task of persuading their institutions to *require* OA
provision by their user/researchers. (Alas, simply saying "Let us
self-archiving it for you" has not been enough to do the trick!):

Swan & Brown (2004)

    "asked authors to say how they would feel if their employer or funding
    body required them to deposit copies of their published articles in
    one or more... repositories. The vast majority... said they would
    do so willingly."

    Swan, A. & Brown, S.N. (2004) JISC/OSI Journal Authors Survey
    Report.  http://www.jisc.ac.uk/uploaded_documents/JISCOAreport1.pdf
    Swan, A. & Brown, S.N. (2004) Authors and open access publishing.
    Learned Publishing 2004:17(3) 219-224.  

> Based on what I have seen around (although my impression can be wrong, as
> well), it is usually librarians setting up institutional repositories,
> promoting them and helping their users to self-archive. 

This is absolutely correct. The vast, vast majority of Institutional OA
Eprint Archives have been created by librarians, and it is librarians
who have been the only ones trying to persuade and help their
user/researchers to fill them:

Moreover, it is digital librarians who invented the OAI protocol that
makes all these OA archives interoperable.

> And it is usually researchers, who are being persuaded that it is in
> their best interest to self-archive (and often without much success).

It is not just researchers, but their employers and their funders who
need to be persuaded of the benefits of providing OA to their article
output. The objective evidence for persuading them is there, and
growing, but it needs to be used, energetically:

> And also, it is researchers often waiting for OA journals to emerge and
> to gain prestige (and high impact factors), so they can publish there
> (but they are not self-archiving in the meantime).

Yes, there are at least 31 reasons why researchers remain in this state
of Zeno's Paralysis, and "Waiting (passively) for Gold" is one of them:

But there are also 31 answers to these reasons for waiting passively,
and they too must be used energetically in promoting OA provision:

And institutions and departments need to be shown model OA provision
policies and urged to adopt them:

> Anyway, I hope you will revise some of your statements, because if
> someone tells us (librarians) that we have our own separate interests,
> apart from researchers' interest, then it is the same as telling us we
> are not doing our job well. And we are not happy about that :-)

Librarians are doing a magnificent job. But is it churlish of me to say
that they could be doing much, much more? Partly by promoting
self-archiving in a more informed and decisive fashion (using the above
materials) and partly by making it clear that it is immediate
self-archiving and not passively waiting for OA journals that will get
us all to the optimal and ineluctable the most swiftly and surely.

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing open
access to the peer-reviewed research literature online (1998-2004)
is available at the American Scientist Open Access Forum:
        To join the Forum: 
        Post discussion to: 
    american-scientist-open-access-forum at amsci.org
        Hypermail Archive: 

Unified Dual Open-Access-Provision Policy:
    BOAI-2 ("gold"): Publish your article in a suitable open-access
            journal whenever one exists.
    BOAI-1 ("green"): Otherwise, publish your article in a suitable
            toll-access journal and also self-archive it.

More information about the Jrnlnote mailing list

Send comments to us at biosci-help [At] net.bio.net