Around the Web: SUNY Potsdam vs. American Chemical Society in chronological order

The most recent controversy to whip up the library and science blogospheres revolves around SUNY Potsdam cancelling their American Chemical Society journal package because the subscription packages on offer sucked up too high a percentage of their total budget. SUNY Potsdam Library Director Jenica Rogers wrote about the decision on her blog, garnering quite a bit of attention, including a feature in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The feature included some rather rude and derailing comments from a representative of the ACS, who later threw some gasoline on the PR fire on a chemistry information mailing list. This in turn inspired a further library and science blogosphere firestorm, concentrating on the disrespectful, dismissive and personal attacks by the ACS towards the library world.

Which is more-or-less where we are today.

I think what library/chemistry worlds are waiting for is some sort of acknowledgement of their PR disaster from the ACS. And what we're sincerely hoping for is some movement on their part towards a set of business models that's fairer and more accessible for a broader range of institutions.

American Chemical Society, the ball is in your court.

My previous post promised that if this controversy showed some legs I'd update the list of relevant posts and put them in chronological order. Well, here's the new list. And here's hoping

As usual, if I've missed anything or made any errors, please let me know in the comments or at jdupuis at yorku dot ca.

2012.10.09. Update including posts from October 1-9.
2012.10.25. Update up until October 25, including some older stragglers. Also note Why ACS Must Come Clean on Journal Publication Costs by Rich Apodaca, outside the direct scope of this issue but still highly relevant.
2012.11.27. Added a few since the last update. Note that I'm considering the CRKN decision to cancel ACS as related enough to include here even though the link is tenuous.

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The problem of course is that someone has to pay for the journals. As most journals are written by academics for academics, oddly enough, academics are expected to pay for the publication. They can either get their stuff published for free under the ACS model, and the library funds of their university pays for it. Or they use a "pay to publish" journal, and their department is on the hook.
I personally would love to see the second case, as it will, after some time, cut down on publication glut, what we chemists call Methyl-Ethyl-Propyl papers where the same facts are published for a number of very similar but distinct compounds, as only the number of publications counts in the end. Maybe if there's money involved, one substantial publication in JACS counts as more than three in the european journal of applied organic agriculture.

Mu is right, there is a cost for information, and academics need to pay that cost. However, the costs have long since gone beyond what one might define as "reasonable" unless you are an academic publisher. In a model where the authors of this information receive little or no compensation, where reviewers are expected to review for free as part of their professional obligation to the filed, why is it so hard to expect that academic publishers control their costs or accept lower profit margins? (please don't try to tell me they are mostly non-profits - many non-profits keep enormously healthy cash flow balances beyond what they need to operate efficiently.) The rate of inflation on scientific literature is astronomical in comparison with the overall inflation rate. Such increases as we have seen force us to limit access to content by forcing us to chose what we can and cannot afford to buy for our campuses. It is no longer a sustainable model, and it has to change dramatically or there will be no money to pay for content. and therefore, no content to access.

By Steve Weiter (not verified) on 01 Oct 2012 #permalink

Mu, Steve, thanks. Yes, the answer is a reformed scholarly publishing system that is both more open and supports a range of business models to finance that openness.

I think it's important to keep in mind that libraries don't generally raise a ruckus when increases are in a normal inflation range, 3%-7%, 7% is high but not at the whole of librarians raising a fuss level.

The problem is when publishers raise prices 10%-400% per year. You might think I'm exaggerating but I'm not, of all the price increases I've seen from year to year 400% is the maximum. It may be my misperception but it seems like the number of publishers asking for a 50%+ increase in fees from libraries has been increasing each year.

Ask yourself this, would you be both willing and able to pay over 10% increase in cost in anything per year?

When you consider the fact that most libraries have had flat or decreasing budgets for the last decade, or two, where do publisher's think the money will come from for these types of outrageous price increases. Of course what happens is we have to cancel things but the more we cancel the less informed our students and faculty are. Publishers limit the number of articles we can interlibrary loan for a given journal so if you're the unlucky person who requests an article midyear from a journal whose cap has been reached your request will be denied and you'll get to pay for it yourself, try and obtain an illegal copy through friends, or you can ignore the article even though it's relevant to your work unless/until a reviewer calls you on it.

In my mind these types of situations work against the advancement of science and researching responsibility.

Do we really want a society where information is so expensive that only the privileged can afford to do thorough research and work is unnecessarily duplicated due to ignorance and lack of access?

By Kiyomi Deards (not verified) on 03 Oct 2012 #permalink

@ Kiyomi / 400%
Lest anyone think you are exaggerating, my library was among those hit for a 400% increase from ACS last year. We were amazed, appalled, shocked, and sorrowed. We begged, pleaded, complained, and #itched. Then, perhaps unfortunately, we renewed. Our chemistry budget is in tatters, but our faculty insisted on it. It isn't sustainable, and we WILL be forced to cancel if ACS hits us up for another large increase in the future.

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