On Friday, May 20, a group of librarians from all over the country—and Canada—gathered at Brooklyn College for the annual Library Association of the City University of New York (LACUNY) Institute. The theme for this year’s LACUNY Institute was “Race Matters: Libraries, Race, and Antiracism,” an important topic that is long overdue for discussion in a profession that is 87% white.
Elsevier is a massive, for-profit publisher headquartered in Amsterdam. They make a lot of money aggregating faculty work product for cheap and selling it back to universities at a huge markup. Their mission is to maximize shareholder value and profit.
Elsevier just bought SSRN, a widely used repository of social science research articles, especially preprints. A lot of smart people, including Kevin Smith on this blog, have weighed in on this development. SSRN users aware of Elsevier’s profits-first practices are nervous. The excellent Authors Alliance has put together a list of principles they believe SSRN must adhere to in order to maintain the trust of the authors who post work there. One of our favorite takes, Christopher Kelty’s blog post here, explains why Elsevier probably bought SSRN, and why we should be nervous. The acquisition is probably not so much about the individual papers as it is about possession of a trove of research for data mining about scholarship. Possession may be 9/10ths of the law, but it’s 10/10ths of data mining. If you don’t have the data, you can’t do the mining. Now Elsevier’s got the data, and the academy will get to use it only on Elsevier’s terms.
In the last couple of weeks, there have been several developments in the scholarly communication world that all point in the same direction – the move by the major commercial publishers to tighten their grip on access to and share of academic work, as well as a concern to capture data about how scholarship is shared. Call this last part the commodification of the professoriate.
My attention was first drawn to these developments by a tweet that pointed to Wiley’s “Article Sharing Policy” site — with its handy-dandy sharing guidelines chart — and asked if Wiley really was asserting control over the pre-peer review copy of scholarly manuscripts. Before I proceed, I think it is important to explain why the answer to that question is yes.
Pointing an OA lens on cultural heritage objects
Last fall at the Penn State University Libraries, one of the ways that we observed Open Access (OA) Week was to dedicate half a day to a series of presentations and discussions about the topic. Organized by the Libraries Open Educational Resources (OER) Task Force, the event was conducted also for internal outreach purposes, particularly since the previous semester the Library Faculty Organization, our governance body, passed an OA Policy. The talks included a “Scholarly Communications 101” presentation; a progress report by the chair of our Open Access Monographs Team; tips on how to be an OA ambassador; priorities for implementing the OA Policy; and a “technical update/year in review” that addressed federal funding agency requirements since the responses to the OSTP mandate began pouring in. It was a compilation of informative talks, put together by colleagues who have become, over the years, increasingly adept at addressing OA and schol comm issues.
At my home institution, the University of Arizona, the Faculty Senate recently passed an Open Access policy that follows the standard model of directing faculty authors to deposit the final accepted manuscripts of their articles into our institutional repository. As an Arizona alum and OA advocate, I’m doubly pleased that that the Faculty Senate embraced the principle of making the university’s scholarship more widely accessible. Having gone down this path twice, once at Oregon State University and now at Arizona, I’ve been thinking about faculty motivations and how they relate to OA policy compliance.
In a recent discussion about Sci-Hub, I took some heat for bringing up the history of copyright and the shifting attitudes over time about what it is good for. So I should probably know better than to appeal to history again as I begin some thoughts about the unique place of translations in copyright law. Nevertheless, I think it is important to note that translations were not explicitly protected by U.S. law until 1870, and that 17 years earlier, an author of no less stature than Harriett Beecher Stowe lost a lawsuit in which she tried to prevent the publication of an unauthorized translation into German of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. As this article about the case tells us, the judge asserted that once it was published, Stowe’s expression was as available to translators — as much “public property” — as were the works of Homer or Cervantes.
This week I had the opportunity to speak at the University System of Georgia’s Teaching and Learning Conference. We had a great discussion about the role of libraries supporting open educational resources (OERs) as part of a daylong track sponsored by Affordable Learning Georgia, a program that connects faculty, librarians, the press, and external partners to support course redesign and open education. ALG is a relatively new project but has already shown outstanding results, saving students more than $16 million in its first two years. In light of these results, it’s no surprise that the university system gave ALG such a prominent role in the event. In fact, an OER track has become increasingly common in many academic conferences, including special emphasis at this month’s CNI Executive Roundtable, a daylong event at ALA Midwinter, and sessions at most of the major library-focused conferences in 2015 and 16.
There have been developments, of the sort that don’t make headlines, in two major copyright cases that folks in higher education need to know about.
First, today the Supreme Court announced that it would not review the opinion issued by the Second Circuit in the Authors Guild v. Google, the case about the Google Books project that offered a strong reaffirmation of fair use. So the Authors Guild finally and definitively loses another in its string of anti-fair use cases. This was what I and many others expected, but it is nice to be able to say that this case is done. And the broad, flexible approach to fair use that is outlined in the Second Circuit’s decision stands, which is great news.
As announced Friday, the MIT Libraries have included innovative language in our agreement with Springer : a provision that MIT-authored articles will automatically be deposited into our campus repository.
This partnership reflects the strategy mentioned in my previous post – our newly created Department of Scholarly Communications and Collections Strategy is assessing potential purchases using a new lens: whether purchases transform the scholarly communication system towards openness, or make a positive impact on the scholarly communication environment in some way—to take one example, through licensing.