This is a guest post by Jeff Kosokoff, Assistant University Librarian for Collection Strategy, Duke University; and Curtis Brundy, Associate University Librarian for Scholarly Communications and Collections, Iowa State University
With the University of California’s (UC) announcement that they have broken off talks with mega-profitable commercial publisher Elsevier, we have moved closer to a tipping point in the ongoing struggle to correct asymmetries in the scholarly information ecosystem. Elsevier, along with the rest of the Big Five (Wiley, SpringerNature, Taylor & Francis, and Sage), has been put on notice: things as they are cannot stand. UC’s leadership in advancing open access is longstanding, and we applaud their continued efforts to seek new models that would transform scholarly publishing.
This is a great day to be a librarian, and a great day for scholars and scholarship. A day when the needle visibly moved in the right direction. Like the UC, we must openly and strongly engage publishers if we want to find mutually agreeable and sustainable long-term solutions to the current crisis. While profit-driven publishers whose business models depend on artificial scarcity to control scholarly content may object, the privatization of the common goods represented by research outputs no longer serves the best interest of academia or society at-large. To be clear, we are not rooting for large commercial publishers to go out of business. The Big Five provide substantial value through their publishing services and journals. However, journal subscription pricing has increased beyond what even the most well-resourced institutions can afford. As a result, an increasing number of preeminent institutions in North America have been quietly cutting their subscription inventories. See SPARC’s Tracking page for an incomplete but helpful list of institutions and packages they have cut. We are not aware of any academic institution that does not have renegotiation of big deals in its plans.
In the name of efficiency and effective provision of service, a growing number of librarians seek to create, negotiate and support transformative models that move scholarly publishing to be immediately and openly available. Collections are a service, and we, like the UC, believe the scholarly community will be better served by collection budgets that support and advance open access. These efforts are farther along in Europe, with the recent Wiley-Projekt DEAL agreement serving only as the latest example. But interest in transformative open access models in the United States is rapidly growing. The UC System is not alone in their desire to increase their support for open access while reducing support for subscriptions and paywalls.
Elsevier’s present impasse with California should be understood in the context of the broader worldwide movement to transform scholarly communication. This is a movement that has seen significant recent acceleration, and it is one that transcends country and institution type. If and when Elsevier shuts off access to UC campuses, its researchers will be in good company, joining researchers from Germany and Sweden who have also seen their access cut off after negotiations failed to produce a transformative agreements. One wonders how many of the world’s researchers must lose access to Elsevier content before they finally come around to a position where they will be our partners in solving the scholarly communication problem. Let’s also keep in mind that UC was able to take this stand partially because the libraries have worked hard to help their faculty see the value in openness and the resulting UC Academic Senate support for this difficult decision.
Costs to institutions and the profit margins of publishers are out of control and unsustainable. It is time for more research to come out from behind paywalls. Paywalls as such only benefit the payee. UC’s approach is an attempt to address the access and the market distortions together, which makes a lot of sense. Libraries have a growing list of trusted partners working to advance open access, including the Open Library of the Humanities, Public Library of Science, Libraria, and Knowledge Unlatched. Many libraries stand ready to support common sense experiments to find ways that work better for our scholars and scholarship. We are always seeking willing partners, be they existing publishers and publications open to re-imagining scholarly publishing, or new platforms seeking more dramatic transformation. It is time to stop pouring our money into the black hole of excessively for-profit publishing that seeks to control scholarly information. Let’s work to open up the ecosystem.