Archive for October, 2006

Open access: One way to NOT benefit libraries

Monday, October 2nd, 2006

I was sad to see this post at The Parachute, echoed by Peter Suber’s agreement. Specifically, I was sad to see this section:

Virtually all subscriptions, in all areas of research, are currently sustained via library budgets – money streams that are separate from research funds, but nonetheless available in ‘the system’.

The central idea of ‘author-side’ payment in order to secure open access for the formally published research literature (and as a side benefit, transparency of the proportionality between the amount of research done and the cost of the literature) is to use the same money now used for subscriptions (reader-side payment) in a different way. Not extra money; the same money. Once that insight has broken through, we can start overcoming the practical (bureaucratic?) difficulties.

It’s useful to note that in his new position Jan Velterop is pushing an expensive example of author-side-payment OA, presumably to assure that Springer continues to be as $profitable$ as under current subscription methods.

The problem here is that all other aspects of library budgets are being undermined by the rising costs of subscriptions–and those costs are such that even the wealthiest university libraries can no longer subscribe to everything they’d like to.

OA journals could relieve some of that pressure, maybe even free up some money for monographs, digital preservation, etc. But not if the university administration redirects all of the subscription money to keep overpriced publishers as profitable as they are now. In that scenario, commercial (and high-priced society) publishers win, libraries lose. At least if you think of university libraries as anything more than scholarly-article-transfer agencies.

I’m reminded once again of why I’m an independent in the OA field. My primary interest is in seeing vibrant, healthy libraries carrying out the range of short and long term missions that make them important, and the hope that OA could help in two ways: by making more scholarly resources available, and by reducing the extent to which library budgets are held ransom to the big commercial journal publishers and indirectly subsidizing other activities of professional societies.

But if OA advocates generally agree that it’s a great idea to snatch library subscription money to pay for author-side charges (and allow commercial publishers to set those charges based on their own models), well, so much for the second possibility.