Open access: Giving up on a theme?

I raised this question on FriendFeed, but thought I’d raise it here as well, since I think there’s a much wider audience and suspect there’s more overlap with Cites & Insights readers.
Here’s the question:
Should I give up on Library Access to Scholarship as a continuing aspect of Cites & Insights coverage?

What it is

For those who don’t read Cites & Insights, Library Access to Scholarship is one of several running heads for periodic essays on a given topic. The topic, in this case, is what it says–but that means it’s been primarily about open access.
The difference between my coverage and others, I suppose, is that I’m focused on the library aspect of all this–that is, can OA decrease the extent to which scientific, technical and medical journals are undermining academic libraries’ ability to pay for anything else–such as monographs and other books? Of course, I’m also interested in other issues of OA, but usually with that slant.

Where it is

I’ve done a fair number of LAS/OA essays–but not recently. So far, the section’s only appeared once in 2009 (in the April issue). In 2008, it appeared in April, August and November. In 2007, it appeared in April (hmm: is there a theme here?), July and October. In 2006: May, October (two essays) and December.
In 2005, I see essays in January, March, June and November. In 2004, January (two essays), March, June, September and November. (Before March 2004, I used “Scholarly Article Access” or “Scholarly Access” as a heading–before I deliberately slanted the coverage to library-related issues.) 2003: May, July, September and November (two essays). Before late 2002, I didn’t use thematic headings as much, but I believe there were three related essays in 2001 and 2002.
In other words, while it’s never been a dominant theme, it’s been a significant recurring theme–more than two dozen essays, probably more than a book’s worth if I slapped them all together.

What’s the point?

Right now, I have 34 leadsheets in the Library Access to Scholarship folder–and another 50 items tagged”oa” in delicious. Eighty-four items in all.
Based on past experience, if I did my usual excerpts-and-commentary-with-synthesis approach, 84 items would yield around 42 pages. Realistically, that would be something like four ten-page articles.
And, frankly, I have very little desire to do the usual excerpts-and-commentary-with-synthesis on all of this material.

  1. Value added: I’ve never felt that I could add much value to Peter Suber’s commentaries or, for that matter, Dorothea Salo’s (when she was focusing on these issues). I’ve given up engaging Stevan Harnad or directly discussing his monotone writing. Lately, I’m not sure my synthesis and commentary are adding much value to any of this.
  2. Effectiveness: Most Cites & Insights readers are within the library field, I believe–and that’s only reasonable, since that’s my background and the focus of most topical areas. So I’m probably not reaching many scientists–or, if I am, I’m probably not doing much to convince them to do more about OA and access-related issues. As for librarians, I’d guess that my readers are mostly already convinced–that I’m neither educating nor convincing much of anybody who doesn’t already get it. (I’d guess 1% to 3% of librarians read C&I, spiking to 25% or more for one particular issue. Those who need educating are mostly in the other 97%, I suspect.)
  3. Futility: Given what I’m reading from scientists as to how they relate to libraries and librarians, and given what I’m reading as to how they make decisions on where to publish and where to exert pressure, I’m feeling pretty futile about the whole effort. Not necessarily about OA as such–but definitely about my ability to make a difference.

Am I missing something?

That’s the open question. There are plenty of other places to find out about open access, most of them much more consistent in their coverage. For that matter, the cluster of OA-related articles on the Library Leadership Network draws pretty good readership, and I’ll probably keep maintaining those.
If I’m missing something about C&I’s role or effectiveness in this area, I’m open to suggestions. But I look at article readership, feedback (or lack thereof), and my general sense of futility (and lassitude and the merits of taking a nap…) whenever I look at that folder and I think…maybe it’s time to close that section.
If I do, I’ll probably do a “brain dump”–very brief notes on some (probably not all) of the 84 outstanding items. I might, just for fun, put all 25-26 of the essays together and see whether they make anything coherent enough to be given away as a combined PDF and sold as a PoD paperback. (My guess is they don’t, but it would be easy to find out–and if I do this one, I would set the PDF price to $0 and give it an explicit BY-NC license, just as C&I has a BY-NC license.)
I won’t make a decision until at least this weekend. Comments invited.

Addendum, later on Tuesday
Just for fun, I added a column to my infrequently-updated “civiews” spreadsheet–tracking downloads for issues and pageviews for essays–flagging each essay with a general category. (HTML essays didn’t begin until 2004 and weren’t consistently provided until 2005.)
Then I did a quick PivotTable on categories, total pageviews, number of essays in each category, and average pageviews per essay. Turns out there are slightly more HTML pageviews through 8/7/09 (just under 600,000) than there are whole-issue PDF downloads (just under 500,000).
I’m not sure how significant the results are, but they’re interesting:

  • Nineteen essays related to blogs and blogging are tops, with more than 2,900 pageviews each (in addition to whole-issue downloads).
  • Nine essays related to Google Books and the Open Content Alliance come in a close second, just under 2,900 pageviews each.
  • Eight essays related to net media (excluding nine related to Wikipedia and other wikis, averaging 1,700 pageviews) averaged just under 2,800 pageviews each.

From there, it’s a significant drop to eight conference-related essays (2,372 average), 25 copyright-related essays (2,242 average) and four (older) censorware-related essays (2,070 average)–and the whole slew of essays directly related to libraries and librarians (what’s now called “Making it Work”), 43 of them averaging just over 2,000 each.
Library Access to Scholarship? Actually better than I expected, with an average of 1,857 pageviews–just below the five ebook essays and just above the 25 Perspectives that don’t fall neatly into a category and 30 product roundups.
So “lack of readership” isn’t a primary reason to dump this section, although it’s one of the weakest thematic sections. But high readership also isn’t a reason to keep it.

7 Responses to “Open access: Giving up on a theme?”

  1. Kate W says:

    I always like the OA articles, frankly. They’re about the only information about OA that I find interesting to read and unbiased. However, since I am a librarian working in a field mostly unaffected by OA (because school librarians rarely have access to any sort of scholarship, or any way to implement something they’ve read about that deviates from the Ed Status Quo) so you needent listen to me.
    I freely admit that I often use C&I as a way to have someone else select from the literature and blogs issues I’ll find of interest. Especially now that the school year has begun again.

  2. Kate: Thanks for that. Selective citation and commentary will continue to be a big part of C&I; if I drop OA, that will leave room & time for other areas.
    I don’t claim to be unbiased regarding OA. I’ve tried to state my biases, and I do have them. I do try to cite & comment transparently, though.

  3. Greg Laden says:

    You are possibly missing this: The occasional super duper essay on Open Access can be promoted to the non-librarian world using blogging mojo, so that this discussion does broaden and deepen. Get a list of bloggers … start with bora and me … maybe between eight and twenty of them, and once a month send them an email asking to promote a particular essay. You’ll at least get a couple of hundred people looking at it.
    Then, your repository will increase in value overall becaue of crosslinking and general increased readership of your blog(s).

  4. Greg: But here’s the thing: Cites & Insights is not a repository. It’s an ejournal. It’s reasonably widely read within the library field, and it’s primarily for library people. Overall readership is satisfactory… my aim is not to increase readership of the OA sections, particularly in isolation. It’s to see whether I’m having an effect that I’m not aware of. (And, actually, since my primary interest in OA is whether it could free up some library money to use for monographs and the humanities, I’m not sure the essays would resonate with scientists–certainly not with PhysioProf and others who take the same attitude.)

  5. Peter Suber says:

    Hi Walt. I hope you’ll continue to write about OA. I value your OA pieces for several reasons. You have credibility in the library world, and I expect that your pieces have impact there. When you defend OA, or criticize publisher propaganda, you do so from outside the circle of identified partisans. Sometimes pieces by “the usual suspects” are dismissed or skimmed as if they couldn’t possibly say anything new or persuasive. Whether or not those dismissals are justified, it definitely helps to have an OA “independent” working through the same issues and offering another perspective on where the weight of evidence lies.

  6. Peter: Thanks. I’ll think about that. I wonder whether I’m doing that effectively any more, which is part of the problem.
    (And I wonder whether most scientists will ever care about OA at all, at least until/unless “the university” actually cancels subscriptions they care about…at which point, they’ll take their anger out on the libraries, not the publishers, I fear. Hearing more from scientists since moving my blog and getting involved with FriendFeed has made me wonder more about the efficacy of writing about OA. The term “preaching to the choir” comes to mind… It does seem clear that, at least for many/most scientists, publishing in a journal with a high, if obsolescent, “impact factor” far outweighs any considerations that would favor OA.)

  7. carter glass says:

    Give up writing on Open Access? Most definitely. Everything that can be said about open access has been said. My heart sinks each time I see this as an agenda item at conferences. Same story, different Powerpoints.