There’s lots of discussion out there right now in the twitter and blog world concerning Bjorn Brembs’ call to librarians to jumpstart the mass migration to Open Access by essentially unilaterally cancelling all the journals they subscribe to. This act would force the hands of all the various players in the ecosystem to immediately figure out how to make Open Access work.
Which is a great idea. I actually kind of mused about this sort of scenario a while back in a post called An Open Access thought experiment. Except what I wasn’t smart enough or brave enough to do was imagine a scenario where it was librarians themselves who up and cancelled all the journals rather than it just happening.
Why would that be? Well, I think it’s safe to say that librarians don’t feel they have the power to unilaterally cancel all their institution’s subscriptions without some fearsome retribution either from within the institution itself or from elements of the publishing world.
Recently the University of Montreal’s library cancelled a big deal and seem to have gotten good support internally. So that’s hopeful. By the same token, the SUNY Potsdam library’s cancellation of the American Chemical Society a few years back seems to have had strong support internally. It was externally that the blowback happened. So that’s both good news and bad news.
Most recently the situation at Brock University in Ontario is an interesting example of what librarians fear will be the outcome of any large-scale cancellation exercise. The Brock library cancelled the Wiley big deal package
, with what they thought was internal support. But a firestorm ensued with ultimately the Brock Faculty Association filing an internal grievance to force the administration to fund the library at the level necessary to subscribe to the journals. The grievance has since been dropped, leaving it to the Senate to pick up the pieces, but the implication is clear.
Librarians: Act boldly at your own risk.
Of course, it’s not that simple. As a species librarians are rather risk-averse. Institutionally, academic librarians are rarely the most powerful constituency on campus and maintaining the influence we do have is a tricky dance at best. This is not to mention that many librarians are quite happy with the subscription status quo as it more-or-less is. Handling journal subscriptions is a clearly defined role, one that makes us feel important. If that importance is often more in the cynical eyes of the publishers who flatter us than in the eyes of the local communities whom we actually build those collections for, well, that’s nothing new.
Barbara Fister has much more on this issue here, Determining our Tech, and in the comments of the post:
Recently Björn Brems suggested that librarians should simply cancel all subscriptions to fix this problem. On Twitter Mike Taylor predicted that things would sort themselves out within three months of the mass die-off of subscription journals. Of course, that ignores the likely fallout: librarians would be fired and possibly arraigned on charges of collusion, the budgets they had devoted to subscriptions would not be reallocated to supporting institutional repositories or any other way of sharing information, and the many scholars who email colleagues for the PDFs they no longer could access would find out their colleagues couldn’t access them, either. Three months for the establishment of a new and better system seems a bit optimistic and based on some serious misconceptions, such as that the scholarly record Is safely preserved in LOCKSS and that somehow the copyrights publishers hold to that material will suddenly be irrelevant as publishers implode. Remember that the majority of books published in the 20th century live in copyright limbo? Yeah. Canceling subscriptions en masse won’t fix that problem.
The Library Loon suggests some ways those on the research/publishing side could perhaps better understand the pressures and constraints that librarians work under:
Kent Anderson works for a scholarly publisher. So does Peter Binfield.
Phil Davis is a researcher. So is Martin Eve.
Why is it so hard for certain portions of the open-access movement to assimilate that libraries and librarians are not monolithic with respect to open access (or, indeed, much of anything else) either?
To be sure, some of the answer to that question is “unconsidered privilege.” Librarianship is a feminized profession; that has profound social consequences vis-à-vis voice and silencing as well as political capital and lack of same. It is hardly coincidence that the loudest voices either spouting absolute nonsense about libraries and scholarly communication or erasing libraries’ contributions to open access altogether have been—universally, as best the Loon can tell—white men.
The Loon can name names if need be. Per her usual practice, she would vastly prefer not to.
Anyone can learn, however. To that end, some suggestions for places to learn about the complex world of libraries, electronic-resource management (as libraries term it), and open access.
Both Barbara and The Loon’s posts are well worth reading in their entirety (The Loon refers to me as indefatigable in the post, BTW. I blush.). I couldn’t agree with them more.
The paper The Oligopoly of Academic Publishers in the Digital Era and Tim Gowers’ Elsevier journals — some facts are also both good supplements to this conversation.
To end, I’ll compile below as much of the documented history of the Brock case as I could find in a few quick searches online. Thanks to Ian Gibson of Brock University for some insight into their situation. Any misunderstandings remain mine, of course.
I welcome any additions or corrections from colleagues with respect to how I’ve described what’s happened at Brock.
The Brock Library Open Access page is here.
- 2014.xx.xx.Library cancels Wiley-Blackwell subscriptions by James A. Gibson Library/Brock University
- 2014.xx.xx. Subscription Changes 2014/15: Wiley-Blackwell Cancellation Information by James A. Gibson Library/Brock University
- 2014.xx.xx. Collections Management Overview: Wiley Cancellation Information by James A. Gibson Library/Brock University
- 2014.12.04. Brock Library forced to shed journal subscription costs by The Brock News
- 2014.12.11. Agenda: Graduate Students’ Association Council Meeting
- 2014.12.15. A devastating cut to library holdings at Brock by Brock Bee Lab
- 2014.12.16. Cancelling Wiley? by Kevin Smith
- 2015.12.29. Open Access 2014: A Year that Data Cracked Through Secrecy and Myth By Hilda Bastian
- 2015.01.06. MINUTES OF MEETING #7 (2014-2015) SENATE PLANNING, PRIORITIES AND BUDGET ADVISORY COMMITTEE
- 2015.01.07. Report to the Senate Governance Committee: Topic -Senate role with respect to cancellation of library journal subscriptions by Dr. Linda Rose-Krasnor
- 2015.01.08. Cal State Cancels Wiley “Big Deal” by James A. Gibson Library/Brock University
- 2015.01.08. Letter to Provost & VP Academic by Miriam Richards (in the BUFA Voice)
- 2015.01.20. BUFA Senate Update: Selected Issues – January 15, 2015 Meeting by Brock University Faculty Association
- 2015.01.26. Wiley Blackwell Update by James A. Gibson Library/Brock University
- 2015.01.27. Letter to Senate from Graduate Students’ Association by Lee Belding
- 2015.01.27. Report to Senate 627, February 4, 2015 by Linda Rose-Krasnor, Chair, Planning, Priorities and Budget Advisory Committee
- 2015.01.27. Graduate Students’ Association Council Meeting Minutes, Thursday, January 22, 2015
- 2015.02.04. Report to Senate 627, February 4, 2015 by Linda Rose-Krasnor, Chair, Senate Graduate Studies Committee (SGSC)
- 2015.02.04. February 2015 Senate meeting agenda
- 2015.02.04. February 2015 Senate meeting minutes
- 2015.02.09. BUFA Senate Update: Selected Issues – February 4, 2015 Meeting by Brock University Faculty Association
- 2015.03.31. Questions to the Planning Priorities and Budget Advisory Committee on the 2015-2016 draft budget (questions received March 26, 2015) by The Budget Committee
- 2015.04.05. Little changes mean big things for academic publishing by Ren Thomas
- 2015.04.09. Memo to Senate from President Lightstone and Provost McCartney confirms that the University is not providing funds to reinstate the Wiley-Blackwell journal package
- 2015.04.15. Update for BUFA Members on Recent Grievances and Arbitrations incl. Wiley/Blackwell “Big Deal” Grievance by Brock University Faculty Association
- 2015.04.15. February 2015 Senate meeting minutes
- 2015.04.15. 2014-2015 Year-End Report for Senate Planning, Priorities, and BudgetAdvisory Committee (PPBAC)
Brock University Senate Meetings & Minutes are here.
As usual, please let me know about any errors or omissions in the list.
Update 2015.06.29. Thanks to input from a colleague at Brock, I have struck out “, with what they thought was internal support”.