Librarians speak out on Chemistry Publishing

In a recent perspective in Chemical and Engineering news (the “magazine” of the American Chemical Society) speak their mind on the challenge faced by (and from) chemical publishers. The article is accessible but is copyrighted by the American Chemical Society rather than the authors (this is standard practice). I therefore should, presumably, ask the American Chemical Society for permission to reproduce parts of it. I’ll quote a bit and plead “fair use” (since Peter Suber has done this I’ll follow his lead)…

Looming Threats To Society Journals

Kimberly Douglas and Dana L. Roth, California Institute of Technology

Now is not the time for members of professional scientific societies to be complacent or unengaged. The American Chemical Society Publications Division, as well as other learned society publishers, such as the Royal Society of Chemistry, may be overly confident that the obvious high quality of their journals will ensure their position against commercial competitors.
In addition, when they resist open-access efforts, society publishers appear to be more aligned strategically with commercial publishers’ short-term perspective than with the research community’s need to easily access all relevant content over the long term.
[…]Societies need to adhere closely to their members’ needs, even if that means a break with their for-profit counterparts. University faculty and administrators need to engage with librarians to ensure that the best decisions are being made for the long term.
The general high quality of society publications is taken for granted by all professionals, including the science and engineering librarians who are largely responsible for selecting and purchasing them for their institutional libraries. But research libraries face unprecedented and unsustainable demands on their budgets across all disciplines.
Unfortunately, an increasingly large component of this demand comes as a result of the commercial publishers leveraging high prices on individual title subscriptions to force librarians to purchase discounted publisher-selected collections—or bundles—of their journals at fixed prices. …
[much of the rest of the article is a useful and scholarly comparison of journal prices, price/page, etc. Many journals don’t like this info being made public, especially if it reflects uncompetitively on them.]

Firstly I applaud Kimberley and Dana. To be fair to the ACS it does allow comment which is not aligned with its own editorial and business inclinations. And it does allow Open something to the article (I wouldn’t call it Open Access as it could be closed down and it has required the authors to hand over their creative work.).
The question of pricing is an important one (and should be pursued), but not – IMO – the most important one. I support their campaign against bundles (where a librarian negotiates with a publisher for a “cost effective” selection of journals at an all-in price. This merely supports the effective publisher stragety for divide and conquer). If at some time in the future all quality journals cost acceptable amounts but were still closed the librarians might declare victory but I would feel defeat.
I remember some years ago going to a meeting (it may have been under SPARC) in Cambridge run by the library on publishing. The discussion centered heavily on how to change the pricing model. Unfortunately this is of effective importance only to librarians (who have increasingly become purchasing officers). Journals are effectively free to academics in employment in large universities and effectively inaccessible to everyone else. The academics do not top-slice their grants for particular journals – the librarians do that at a higher university level.
So I remember saying that the real issue was control. Who controls MY academic output? Me? I’d like to think so. But if it’s in chemistry journals I don’t. Here’s an example…
Yesterday I was taken to task (slightly) for not having more documentation on JUMBO. At one stage I said “well, a lot of it is in peer-reviewed papers”. And then I realised that I could not distribute my own description of the program within the program distribution.
One thing that this blog does make me write things that suddenly hit me, so I’ll write it again…
“I have written a program. I have offered this program for peer-review and published a description of the program for other scientists to read. The publishers will not let me distribute this description.”
So all strength to Kimberley and Dana. But let us also take back our own property.

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