By IO blogger Ellen Finnie with Guest co-author Greg Eow, AD for Collections, MIT Libraries
As charged discussion around Elsevier’s purchase of SSRN continued in the past week, Elsevier and the University of Florida (UF) announced a pilot that links UF’s institutional repository with Elsevier’s platform. By employing an automatic deposit of metadata about Elsevier-published UF articles into UF’s repository, with pointers to Elsevier’s site for access to the articles themselves, users of the UF institutional repository will be able to discover and, if they have authorized access, access final copies of Elsevier journals.
Elsevier describes the pilot as a means of “exploring how publishers and universities can work together to make their platforms and repositories interoperable.” And in the words of Judith Russell, Dean of University Libraries at UF, “The project addresses several university needs including showcasing UF’s body of works, providing a better user experience for researchers who use its repository and facilitating compliance with US policies on public access to federally funded research.”
While proponents of this pilot suggest a number of potential benefits, at MIT Libraries our initial take is that this approach does not align with our vision for scholarly communications and open access. In fact, when an Elsevier/CHORUS team asked us to participate in a similar pilot program, the MIT Libraries declined. Our repository [email protected], like many others, was designed to be, and has remained, an open access repository, not a de facto discovery layer for commercialized content. The MIT faculty recognized as they developed their Open Access Policy in 2009 that publishers couldn’t be relied on for permanent access, or access at all—indeed, a main motivation of the faculty Policy was that licensing models in the digital era had left universities without assured access to scholarly articles, vulnerable to losing access to even their own research output. In ceding data gathering, reporting, and article access to a for-profit commercial entity legally bound to focus on profit for stockholders, this kind of pilot risks what we hold dear – our ability to access and build upon prior science and scholarship in the service of humanity.
At MIT Libraries, our aim is to create a world where global access to scholarship, both today and in the future, is as frictionless as possible. And this commitment goes beyond current access to research articles, to include a commitment to build, share, and preserve our cultural heritage in support of this aim. We are not convinced that our larger objectives — including digital preservation, long-term access, and access to the fruits of scholarship as democratizing knowledge and promoting social justice – are accomplished through this kind of new partnership. In fact, we are concerned that this pilot represents a Trojan Horse strategy that, rather than making Elsevier’s platform more open, serves to undermine the value and promise of our institutional repositories by turning them into little more than discovery layers for commercialized content.
Our vision for a healthy, global scholarly communications environment is different, and it is this: a community of organizations, including libraries, museums, university presses, and government agencies building a wide-ranging open infrastructure to achieve our goal of democratized access to science and scholarship, including for example the following:
- Shared repository ecosystem
- Unified deposit interface for all campus, government, and nonprofit repositories
- System for aggregated and inexpensive usage data, including research analytics
- Nonprofit campus-supported disciplinary repositories
- Shared print collections
- Shared print storage
- Shared digital collections and discovery systems
- Collaborative digital preservation
- Top quality open access journals
- Less expensive, open source publishing systems and services
Admirable efforts are being made in all these directions. We have arXiv, DPLA, HathiTrust, Internet Archive, ORCID, SHARE, and other important initiatives too numerous to name. But these nonprofit collaborations have taken time to surface, are still limited in scope and execution, and are taking too long to build.
As we see it, the question is no longer how proponents of open access can work together to build a shared infrastructure for the open dissemination of scholarship, but rather how can we move quickly to jump the political, cultural, organizational, and economic hurdles so these open infrastructure initiatives can move swiftly with development and wide adoption.
The two authors of this post and the colleagues we have consulted in its writing (including those listed below) represent more than a century of cumulative experience in campus scholarly communication. Our experience tells us that this pilot is a kind of collaboration that takes us down the wrong path. In potentially offering some shorter term benefits, depending on one’s calculus, it cedes too much to a commercial entity whose values and mission are orthogonal to our own, and sets us on a road that is in opposition to realizing our deeply held values and mission.
While the above post is authored by Ellen Finnie and Greg Eow of MIT, the following members of “In the Open” endorse and support the statements made here.