A Role for SPARC in Freeing the Refereed Literature
harnad at cogito.ecs.soton.ac.uk
Sun Jun 18 08:01:21 EST 2000
A PROPOSAL FOR SPARC
Currently, SPARC (whose admirable mandate is appended below) is a
library/institution coalition dedicated to lowering journal
subscription prices by using the collective bargaining power of its
important and influential participating institutional libraries to
favor journals that provide lower prices and greater value.
This is highly commendable, but perhaps somewhat short-sighted, for it
does serve to entrench the library serials community (and hence the
research community) ever more firmly in the current cost-recovery
system, which is based on toll-booths
(Subscription/Site-License/Pay-Per-View S/L/P) that block
READER-institution access to a PRODUCT (the refereed research report)
whose raw materials the institutions have themselves provided for free.
The optimal system for research, researchers, and their institutions
is one in which refereed journal publishers instead provide only
the much less costly SERVICE of Quality-Control/Certification (QC/C),
paid for by each AUTHOR-institution out of its annual S/L/P savings --
yielding free access to the refereed research literature for all at a
far lower institutional cost. (The QC-certified "products" themselves,
the refereed papers, can then be made accessible free for all through
interoperable institutional Open Archives <http://www.openarchives.org/>)
SPARC is currently working to lower the S/L/P barriers, but not to
eliminate them. Indeed, inasmuch as it redirects efforts that could be
devoted to eliminating S/L/P barriers to merely reducing them, SPARC
may be inadvertently prolonging the status quo, which is neither
necessary nor in the best interests of research, researchers, and their
Here, accordingly, is a 2-part alternative proposal for SPARC to
(1) Rather than using SPARC's consortial power to favor publishers
who merely lower their S/L/P prices (and enhance their S/L/P
services), use it to favor instead those publishers who commit
themselves to an explicit, agreed schedule of scaling down and
transforming themselves and their cost-recovery system from
reader-institution-end S/L/P product-provision to
author-institution-end QC/C service-provision.
(2) At the same time, immediately put the full weight of SPARC
behind the (i) immediate mounting of Open Archives
<http://www.eprints.org/index.html> at each participating
institution, and their (ii) immediate filling by all of the
institutions' authors, with their unrefereed preprints and refereed
postprints, right now.
The cancellation pressure on publishers (from reader preference for the
free open-archived version) will combine with the incentive of SPARC's
transition cushion above (1), to hasten and facilitate journal
publishers' downsizing and transition to service-provision, which will
be a stable and permanent niche for them from then onward.
Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC)
of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL)
SPARC is a worldwide alliance of research institutions,
libraries and organizations that encourages competition in
the scholarly communications market. SPARC introduces new
solutions to scientific journal publishing, facilitates the
use of technology to expand access, and partners with
publishers that bring top-quality, low-cost research to a
greater audience. SPARC strives to return science to
SPARC publisher-partnerships aim to:
Create a more competitive scholarly communication
marketplace where the cost of journal acquisition
and use is reduced, and publishers who are
responsive to customer needs are rewarded
Ensure fair use of electronic resources while
strengthening the proprietary rights and privileges
Apply technology to improve the process of
scholarly communication and reduce the costs of
production and distribution
What Does SPARC Do?
SPARC influences the marketplace positively by encouraging
publishers to enter areas where the prices are highest and
competition is needed most - primarily in the science,
technical, and medical (STM) fields. Through its activities,
SPARC reduces the risk to publisher-partners of entering the
marketplace while providing faculty with prestigious and
responsive alternatives to current publishing vehicles.
SPARC reduces publisher risk by:
Encouraging the introduction of alternative
scientific communication outlets of high quality
and fair price
Guaranteeing a subscription base and marketing new
products to potential subscribers
Generating broad support for SPARC projects through
a wide-ranging communications program
Library Support is Needed
SPARC finances its efforts through coalition member fees that
support operating expenses and help build a capital fund to
provide start-up money for SPARC projects. SPARC also seeks
grants to augment the capital fund. The key to SPARC's
success, however, is the commitment of coalition members to
support SPARC-endorsed journals.
For more information on SPARC membership, academic
institutions and research libraries should contact
sparc at arl.org or consult the online membership information
Wanted: Publisher Partners
SPARC concentrates its resources on supporting ventures in
which the gain from introducing price and service competition
is great. SPARC seeks partners that are committed to fair
pricing, intellectual property management policies that
emphasize broad and easy distribution and reuse of material,
and the ethical use of scholarly resources.
SPARC encourages collaboration via the following channels:
SPARC Alternatives program: Supports lower-cost,
directly competitive alternatives to high-priced
scientific, technical, or medical journals in
SPARC Leading Edge program: Supports ventures that
obtain competitive advantage through technology use
or innovative business models, and/or address the
information needs of an emerging or fast-growing
SPARC Scientific Communities program: Supports
development of non-profit portals that serve the
needs of a discrete scientific community by
aggregating peer-reviewed research and other
SPARC stimulates creation of better, faster, and more
economically sustainable systems for distributing new
These advances benefit:
Researchers. SPARC encourages development of
high-quality, lower-cost delivery channels, which
will drive expanded access
Publisher-partners. Working with a variety of
publishers whose business goals are compatible with
SPARC, SPARC supports development of vibrant and
economically viable new models of scholarly
Libraries. By fostering development of new
alternatives to established high-price journals,
SPARC encourages the kind of competition that will
bring skyrocketing journal prices back to earth.
Libraries will get more for their money.
Society. Research conducted by faculty at
universities - often with the aid of government
funds - propels key advancements benefiting the
economy. SPARC facilitates improved and expanded
communication of this research.
21 Dupont Circle, NW
Washington, DC 20036
E-mail sparc at arl.org
I'll be giving a talk along the following lines at a number of places in
the next 6 months (see list at end):
HOW AND WHY TO FREE THE GIVE-AWAY REFEREED RESEARCH LITERATURE
ONLINE THROUGH OPEN ARCHIVING
Department of Electronics and Computer Science
University of Southampton
SO17 1BJ UNITED KINGDOM
harnad at cogsci.soton.ac.uk
ABSTRACT: What is wrong with the following picture?
(1) A brand-new PhD recipient proudly tells his mother he has just
published his first article. She asks him how much he was paid for
it. He makes a face and tells her "nothing," and then begins a long
(2) A fellow-researcher at that same university sees a reference to
that same article. He goes to their library to get it: It's not
subscribed to here; can't afford that journal; subscription budget
(3) An undergraduate at the same university sees the same article
cited on the Web; clicks on it. The publisher's website demands a
password: only paid subscribing institutions can have access.
(4) The undergraduate loses patience, gets bored, and clicks on
napster to grab an MP3 file of his favorite bootleg CD to console
him in his sorrows.
(5) Years later, the same PhD is being considered for tenure; his
publications are good, but they're not cited enough; they have not
made enough of a research impact. Tenure denied.
(6) Same thing happens when he tries to get a research grant: his
research findings have not had enough of an impact: not enough
researchers have read, built upon and cited them.
(7) He decides to write a book instead. Publisher declines to
publish it: It wouldn't sell enough copies because not enough
universities have enough money to pay for it -- their purchasing
budgets are tied up paying for their inflating annual journal
(8) He tries to put his articles up on the Web, free for all, to
increase their impact; his publisher threatens to sue him and his
server-provider for violation of copyright.
(9) He asks his publisher who the copyright is intended to protect.
(10) His publisher replies: You!
What is wrong with this picture? (And why is the mother of the PhD
whose give-away work people cannot steal, even though he wants them
to, in the same boat as the mother of the recording artist whose
non-give-away work they can and do steal, even though he does not
want them to?) My talk will explain what's wrong with this
picture, and how to fix it. The remedy applies to all institutions,
but it is particularly urgent for less wealthy institutions, and
less wealthy countries, for their researchers have been the most
disadvantaged by the financial barriers blocking access to this
give-away research literature that is meant to benefit all of
Harnad, S. (1995) Universal FTP Archives for Esoteric Science and
Scholarship: A Subversive Proposal. In: Ann Okerson & James
O'Donnell (Eds.) Scholarly Journals at the Crossroads; A Subversive
Proposal for Electronic Publishing. Washington, DC., Association of
Research Libraries, June 1995.
Harnad, S. (1999) Free at Last: The Future of Peer-Reviewed
Journals. D-Lib Magazine 5(12) December 1999
To be presented at:
Le Destin Optimal et Inevitable des Revues
Scientifiques dans l'Ere PostGutenbergienne.
World Psychiatric Association Jubilee. Paris, 29 June 2000.
Keynote Address. Australian National Academies and the Australian
Copyright Agency. Sydney. Australia 26-27 July 2000.
Keynote Address. International Conference "Electronic Publishing in the
Third Millennium" Kaliningrad/Sveltogorsk, Russia, 17-19 August 2000.
"Peer review: how will it evolve?" Tenth International Conference of
Science Editors, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil August 27-30, 2000
Annual Guest Lecture, Institute of Information Scientists/IIS
Brunei Gallery, London 6 September 2000
Current Science Festschrift for Eugene Garfield. Madras 14-24 September
Advancing Scientific Research through Open Archiving. Chemical
Information Conference: Annecy, France 22-25 October 2000.
Distinguished Speaker lecture. Society for Computers in Psychology.
November 16 2000 New Orleans
Roundtable on Subversive Proposal. American Historical Society.
January 4-7. Boston 2001.
Special Guest Lecture, Humanities Programme and the Department of
Physics: Opening Up the Refereed Research Literature Through Open
Archiving. Imperial College, London 24 January 2001.
NOTE: A complete archive of this ongoing discussion of providing free
access to the refereed journal literature is available at the American
Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00):
You may join the list at the site above.
Discussion can be posted to:
september98-forum at amsci-forum.amsci.org
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