Everybody's Libraries

November 11, 2010

You do the math

Filed under: open access,publishing,serials,sharing — John Mark Ockerbloom @ 6:02 pm

I recently heard from Peter Murray-Rust that the Central European Journal of Mathematics (CEJM) is looking for graduate students to edit the language of papers they publish.  CEJM is co-published by Versita and Springer Science+Business Media.

Would-be editors are promised their name on the masthead, and references and recommendations from the folks who run the journal.  These perks are tempting to a student (or postdoc) hoping for stable employment, but you can get such benefits working with just about any scholarly journal.  There’s no mention of actual pay for any of this editing work.  (Nor is there any pay for the associate editors they also seek, though those editors are also promised access to the journal’s content.)

The reader’s side of things looks rather different, when it comes to paying. If we look at Springer’s price lists for 2011, for instance, we see that the list price for a 1-year institutional subscription to CEJM is $1401 US for “print and free access or e-only”, or $1681 US for “enhanced access”.  An additional $42 is assessed for postage and handling, presumably waived if you only get the electronic version, but charged otherwise.

This is a high subscription rate even by the standards of commercial math journals.  At universities like mine, scholars don’t pay for the journal directly, but the money the library uses for the subscription is money that can’t be used to buy monographs, or to buy non-Springer journals, or to improve library service to our mathematics scholars.  Mind you, many universities get this journal as part of a larger package deal with Springer.  This typically lowers the price for each journal, but the package often includes a number of lower-interest journals that wouldn’t otherwise be bought.  Large amounts of money are tied up in these “big deals” with large for-profit publishers such as Springer.

If you can’t, or won’t, lay out the money for a subscription or larger package, readers can pay for articles one at a time.  When I tried to look at a recent CEJM article from home, for instance, I was asked to pay $34 before I could read it.  Another option is author-paid open access.  CEJM authors who want to make their papers available through the journal without a paywall can do so through Springer’s Open Choice program.  This will cost the author $3000 US.

So there’s plenty of money involved in this journal.  It’s just that none of it goes to the editors they’re seeking.  Or to the authors of the papers, who submit them for free (or with a $3000 payment).  Or to the peer reviewers of the papers, if this journal works like most other scholarly journals and uses volunteer scholars as referees.  A scholar might justifiably wonder all this money is going, or what value they get in return for it.

As the editor job ads imply, much of what scholars get out of editing and publishing in journals like these is recognition and prestige.  That, indeed, has value, but the cost-value function can be optimized much better than in this case.  CEJM’s website mentions that it’s tracked by major citation services, and has a 0.361 impact factor (a number often used, despite some notable problems, to give a general sense of a journal’s prestige).  Looking through the mathematics section of the Directory of Open Access Journals, I find a number of scholarly journals that are also tracked by citation services, but don’t charge anything to readers, and as far as I can tell don’t charge anything to authors either.   Here are some of them:

Central Europe, besides being the home of CEJM, is also the home of several open access math journals such as Documenta Mathematica (Germany), the Balkan Journal of Geometry and its Applications (Romania), and the Electronic Journal of Qualitative Theory of Differential Equations (Hungary).  For what it’s worth, all of these journals, and all the other open access journals mentioned in this post, currently show higher impact factors in Journal Citation Reports than CEJM does.

Free math journals aren’t limited to central Europe.  Here in the US, the American Mathematical Society makes the Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society free to read online, through the generosity of its members.  And on the campus where I work, Penn’s math department sponsors the Electronic Journal of Combinatorics.

A number of other universities also sponsor open-access journals, promoting their programs, and the findings of scholars worldwide, with low overhead.  For instance, there are two relatively high-impact math journals from Japanese universities: the Kyushu Journal of Mathematics and the Osaka Journal of Mathematics.  The latter journal’s online presence is provided by Project Euclid, a US-based initiative to support low-cost, non-profit mathematics publishing.

Ad-hoc groups of scholars can also organize their own open access journals in their favored specialty.  For instance, Homology, Homotopy and Applications is founded and entirely run by working mathematicians.  Some journals, such as the open access Discrete Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science, use Open Journal Systems, a free open source publishing software package, to produce high-quality journal websites with little expenditure.

The Proceedings of the Indian Academy of Sciences: Mathematical Sciences is an interesting case.  Like many scholarly societies, the Indian Academy has recently made a deal with a for-profit publisher (Springer, as it turns out) to distribute their journals in print and electronic form.  Unlike many such societies, though, the Academy committed to continuing a free online version of this journal on their own website.

This is a fortunate decision for readers, because libraries that acquire the commercially published version will have to pay Springer $280 per year for basic access and $336 for “enhanced access”, according to their 2011 price list.  True, libraries get a print copy with this more expensive access (if they’re willing to pay Springer another $35 in postage and handling charges).  But the Academy sends out print editions within India for a total subscription price (postage included) of 320 rupees per year.   At today’s exchange rates, that’s less than $8 US.

Virtually all journals, whether in mathematics or other scholarly fields, depend heavily on unpaid academic labor for the authorship, refereeing, and in some cases editing of their content.  But, as you can see with CEJM and the no-fee open access journals mentioned above, journals vary widely in the amount of money they also extract from the academic community.  In between these two poles, there are also lots of other high-impact math journals with lower subscription prices, as well as commercial open access math journals with much lower author fees than Springer’s Open Choice.  These journals further diversify the channels of communication among mathematicians, without draining as much of  their funds.

I certainly hope mathematicians and other scholars will continue to volunteer their time and talents to the publication process, both for their benefit and for ours.  But if we optimize where and how we give our time and talent (and our institutional support), both scholars and the public will be better off.  As I’ve shown above, with a little bit of information and attention, there’s no shortage of low-cost, high-quality publishing venues that scholars can use as alternatives to overpriced journals.

October 15, 2010

Journal liberation: A community enterprise

Filed under: copyright,discovery,open access,publishing,serials,sharing — John Mark Ockerbloom @ 2:53 pm

The fourth annual Open Access Week begins on Monday.  If you follow the official OAW website, you’ll be seeing a lot of information about the benefits of free access to scholarly research.  The amount of open-access material grows every day, but much of the research published in scholarly journals through the years is still practically inaccessible to many, due to prohibitive cost or lack of an online copy.

That situation can change, though, sometimes more dramatically than one might expect.  A post I made back in June, “Journal liberation: A Primer”, discussed the various ways in which people can open access to journal content, past and present,  one article or scanned volume at a time.  But things can go much faster if you have a large group of interested liberators working towards a common goal.

Consider the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), for example.  It’s one of the most prominent journals in the world, valued both for its reports on groundbreaking new research, and for its documentation, in its back issues, of nearly 200 years of American medical history.  Many other journals with lesser value still cannot be read without paying for a subscription, or visiting a research library that has paid for a subscription.  But you can find and read most of NEJM’s content freely online, both past and present. Several groups of people made this possible.  Here are some of them.

The journal’s publisher has for a number of years provided open access to all research articles more than 6 months old, from 1993 onward.  (Articles less than 6 months old are also freely available to readers in certain developing countries, and in some cases for readers elsewhere as well.)  A registration requirement was dropped in 2007.

Funders of medical research, such as the National Institutes of Health, the Wellcome Trust, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, have encouraged publishers in the medical field to maintain or adopt such open access policies, by requiring their grantees (who publish many of the articles in journals like the NEJM) to make their articles openly accessible within months of publication.  Some of these funders also maintain their own repositories of scholarly articles that have appeared in NEJM and similar journals.

Google Books has digitized most of the back run of the NEJM and its predecessor publications as part of its Google Books database.  Many of these volumes are freely accessible to the public.  This is not the only digital archive of this material; there’s also one on NEJM’s own website, but access there requires either a subscription or a $15 payment per article.   Google’s scans, unlike the ones on the NEJM website, include the advertisements that appeared along with the articles.  These ads document important aspects of medical history that are not as easily seen in the articles, on subjects ranging from the evolving requirements and curricula of 19th-century medical schools to the early 20th-century marketing of heroin for patients as young as 3 years old.

It’s one thing to scan journal volumes, though; it’s another to make them easy to find and use– which is why NEJM’s for-pay archive got a fair bit of publicity when it was released this summer, while Google’s scans went largely unnoticed.  As I’ve noted before, it can be extremely difficult to find all of the volumes of a multi-volume work in Google Books; and it’s even more difficult in the case of NEJM, since issues prior to 1928 were published under different journal titles.  Fortunately, many of the libraries that supplied volumes for Google’s scanners have also organized links to the scanned volumes, making it easier to track down specific volumes.  The Harvard Libraries, for instance, have a chronologically ordered list of links to most of the volumes of the journal from 1828 to 1922, a period when it was known as the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal.

For many digitized journals, open access stops after 1922, because of uncertainty about copyright.  However, most scholarly journals have public domain content after that date, so it’s possible to go further if you research journal copyrights.  Thanks to records provided by the US Copyright Office and volunteers for The Online Books Page, we can determine that issues and articles of the NEJM prior to the 1950s did not have their copyrights renewed.  With this knowledge, Hathi Trust has been able and willing to open access to many volumes from the 1930s and 1940s.

We at The Online Books Page can then pull together these volumes and articles from various sources, and create a cover page that allows people to easily get to free versions of this journal and its predecessors all the way back to 1812.

Most of the content of the New England Journal of Medicine has thus been liberated by the combined efforts of several different organizations (and other interested people).  There’s still more than can be done, both in liberating more of the content, and in making the free content easier to find and use.  But I hope this shows how widespread  journal liberation efforts of various sorts can free lots of scholarly research.  And I hope we’ll hear about many more  free scholarly articles and journals being made available, or more accessible and usable, during Open Access Week and beyond.

I’ve also had another liberation project in the works for a while, related to books, but I’ll wait until Open Access Week itself to announce it.  Watch this blog for more open access-related news, after the weekend.

June 11, 2010

Journal liberation: A primer

Filed under: copyright,libraries,open access,publishing,sharing — John Mark Ockerbloom @ 10:07 am

As Dorothea Salo recently noted, the problem of limited access to high-priced scholarly journals may be reaching a crisis point.  Researchers that are not at a university, or are at a not-so-wealthy one, have long been frustrated by journals that are too expensive for them to read (except via slow and cumbersome inter-library loan, or distant library visits).  Now, major universities are feeling the pain as well, as bad economic news has forced budget cuts in many research libraries, even as further price increases are expected for scholarly journals.  This has forced many libraries to consider dropping even the most prestigious journals, when their prices have risen too high to afford.

Recently, for instance, the University of California, which has been subject to significant budget cuts and furloughssent out a letter in protest of Nature Publishing Group’s proposal to raise their subscription fees by 400%.  The letter raised the possibility of cancelling all university subscriptions to NPG, and having scholars boycott the publisher.

Given that Nature is one of the most prestigious academic journals now publishing, one that has both groundbreaking current articles and a rich history of older articles, these are strong words.  But dropping subscriptions to journals like Nature might not be as as much of a hardship for readers as it once might have been.  Increasingly, it’s possible to liberate the research content of academic journals, both new and old, for the world.  And, as I’ll explain below, now may be an especially opportune time to do that.

Liberating new content

While some of the content of journals like Nature is produced by the journal’s editorial staff or other writers for hire, the research papers are typically written by outside researchers, employed by universities and other research institutions.  These researchers hold the original copyright to their articles, and even if they sign an agreement with a journal to hand over rights to them (as they commonly do), they retain whatever rights they don’t sign over.  For many journals, including the ones published by Nature Publishing Group, researchers retain the right to post the accepted version of their paper (known as a “preprint”) in local repositories.  (According to the Romeo database, they can also eventually post the “postprint”– the final draft resulting after peer review, but before actual publication in the journal– under certain conditions.)  These drafts aren’t necessarily identical to the version of record published in the journal itself, but they usually contain the same essential information.

So if you, as a reader, find a reference to a Nature paper that you can’t access, you can search to see if the authors have placed a free copy in an open access repository. If they haven’t, you can contact one of them to encourage them do do so.  To find out more about providing open access to research papers, see this guide.

If a journal’s normal policies don’t allow authors to share their work freely in an open access repository, authors  may still be able to retain their rights with a contract addendum or negotiation.  When that hasn’t worked, some academics have decided to publish in, or review for, other journals, as the California letter suggests.  (When pushed too far, some professors have even resigned en masse from editorial boards to start new journals that are friendlier to authors and readers.

If nothing else, scholarly and copyright conventions generally respect the right of authors to send individual copies of their papers to colleagues that request them.  Some repository software includes features that make such copies extremely easy to request and send out.  So even if you can’t find a free copy of a paper online already, you can often get one if you ask an author for it.

Liberating historic content

Many journals, including Nature, are important not only for their current papers, but for the historic record of past research contained in their back issues.  Those issues may be difficult to get a hold of, especially as many libraries drop print subscriptions, deaccession old journal volumes, or place them in remote storage.  And electronic access to old content, when it’s available at all, can be surprisingly expensive.  For instance, if I want to read this 3-paragraph letter to the editor from 1872 on Nature‘s web site, and I’m not signed in at a subscribing institution, the publisher asks me to pay them $32 to read it in full.

Fortunately, sufficiently old journals are in the public domain, and digitization projects are increasingly making them available for free.  At this point, nearly all volumes of Nature published before 1922 can now be read freely online, thanks to scans made available to the public by the University of Wisconsin, Google, and Hathi Trust.  I can therefore read the letters from that 1872 issue, on this page, without having to pay $32.

Mass digitization projects typically stop providing public access to content published after 1922, because copyright renewals after that year might still be in force.  However, most scholarly journals– including, as it turns out, Nature — did not file copyright renewals.  Because of this, Nature issues are actually in the public domain in the US all the way through 1963 (after which copyright renewal became automatic).  By researching copyrights for journals, we can potentially liberate lots of scholarly content that would otherwise be inaccessible to many. You can read more about journal non-renewal in this presentation, and research copyright renewals via this site.

Those knowledgeable about copyright renewal requirements may worry that the renewal requirement doesn’t apply to Nature, since it originates in the UK, and renewal requirements currently only apply to material that was published in the US before, or around the same time as, it was published abroad.  However, offering to distribute copies in the US counts as US publication for the purposes of copyright law.  Nature did just that when they offered foreign subscriptions to journal issues and sent them to the US; and as one can see from the stamp of receipt on this page, American universities were receiving copies within 30 days of the issue date, which is soon enough to retain the US renewal requirement.  Using similar evidence, one can establish US renewal requirements for many other journals originating in other countries.

Minding the gap

This still leaves a potential gap between the end of the public domain period and the present.  That gap is only going to grow wider over time, as copyright extensions continue to freeze the growth of the public domain in the US.

But the gap is not yet insurmountable, particularly for journals that are public domain into the 1960s.  If a paper published in 1964 included an author who was a graduate student or a young researcher, that author may well be still alive (and maybe even be still working) today, 46 years later.  It’s not too late to try to track authors down (or their immediate heirs), and encourage and help them to liberate their old work.

Moreover, even if those authors signed away all their rights to journal publishers long ago, or don’t remember if they still have any rights over their own work, they (or their heirs) may have an opportunity to reclaim their rights.  For some journal contributions between 1964 and 1977, copyright may have reverted to authors (or their heirs) at the time of copyright renewal, 28 years after initial publication.  In other cases, authors or heirs can reclaim rights assigned to others, using a termination of transfer.  Once authors regain their rights over their articles, they are free to do whatever they like with them, including making them freely available.

The rules for reversion of author’s rights are rather arcane, and I won’t attempt to explain them all here.  Terminations of transfer, though, involve various time windows when authors have the chance to give notice of termination, and reclaim their rights.  Some of the relevant windows are open right now.   In particular, if I’ve done the math correctly, 2010 marks the first year one can give notice to terminate the transfer of a paper copyrighted in 1964, the earliest year in which most journal papers are still under US copyright.  (The actual termination of a 1964 copyright’s transfer won’t take effect for another 10 years, though.)  There’s another window open now for copyright transfers from 1978 to 1985; some of those terminations can take effect as early as 2013.  In the future, additional years will become available for author recovery of copyrights assigned to someone else.  To find out more about taking back rights you, or researchers you know, may have signed away decades ago, see this tool from Creative Commons.

Recognizing opportunity

To sum up, we have opportunities now to liberate scholarly research over the full course of scholarly history, if we act quickly and decisively.  New research can be made freely available through open access repositories and journals.  Older research can be made freely available by establishing its public domain status, and making digitizations freely available.  And much of the research in the not-so-distant past, still subject to copyright, can be made freely available by looking back through publication lists, tracking down researchers and rights information, and where appropriate reclaiming rights previously assigned to journals.

Journal publishing plays an important role in the certification, dissemination, and preservation of scholarly information.  The research content of journals, however, is ultimately the product of scholars themselves, for the benefit of scholars and other knowledge seekers everywhere.   However the current dispute is ultimately resolved between Nature Publishing Group and the University of California, we would do well to remember the opportunities we have to liberate journal content for all.

August 31, 2009

Why should reuse be hard?

Filed under: architecture,open access,publishing — John Mark Ockerbloom @ 11:04 pm

By far the most widely cited paper with my name on it is a 1995 paper on architectural mismatch.  The journal version of the paper was subtitled “Why reuse is so hard”.  It was a paper about failure, rather than success, which most researchers prefer to write about when they’re talking about their own work.  We discussed the problems we’d encountered trying to build a new software system from existing parts, and analyzed some of the reasons for the failures, and how systems could be improved in the future to make reuse easier.

The paper was unexpectedly well received, and was recently named as one of the most influential papers to appear in IEEE Software.  (I can’t claim too much credit for this myself; my adviser David Garlan and my fellow grad student Robert Allen rightly appear ahead of me in the author credits.)  ISI Web of Knowledge, which tracks the journal version of the paper, reports it’s been cited over 100 times in other journal articles; Google Scholar, which tracks both the journal version and the conference version that was published earlier the same year, reports hundreds more citations.

Google Scholar also reports an unexpected statistic: even though the journal version of a computer science paper is generally considered more authoritative than the earlier conference version (and rightly so, in our case), the conference paper has been cited even more often than the journal version.  Why is this?  I can’t say for sure, but there’s one important difference between the two versions:  the conference paper has been freely accessible on the web for years, and the journal paper hasn’t.  It’s in a highly visible journal, mind you– pretty much anywhere with a CS department subscribes to IEEE Software, and many individual computer practitioners subscribe as well.  So I suspect that most of the authors who cited our paper could have cited the journal paper (especially since it came out only a few months after the conference paper did).  But the conference paper was that much more easily accessible, and it was the one that got the wider reuse.

We’ve recently published a followup to our paper, appearing in the July/August issue of IEEE Software.  As we note in the followup, the problem of architectural mismatch has not gone away, but several developments have made it easier to avoid.   One of them is the great proliferation of open source software that has occurred since the mid-1990s, which provide a wide selection of software components to choose from in many areas, and “a body of experience and examples that clarify which architectural assumptions and application domains go with a particular  collection of software” (to quote from our paper).

Just as the growth of open source has made software easier to reuse, the growth of open access to research can make ideas and research results easier to reuse.  We saw that with our initial paper, I think, and I hope we’ll see it again with the followup. I’ve made it available as open access, with IEEE’s blessing.  Interested folks can check it out here.

May 8, 2009

What you’re asked to give away

Filed under: copyright,crimes and misdemeanors,open access,publishing,serials — John Mark Ockerbloom @ 9:54 pm

If you’ve published an article in an Elsevier journal, you might have missed an interesting aspect of the contract you signed with them to get published.  It goes something like this:

I grant Elsevier the exclusive right to select and reproduce any portions they choose from my research article to market drugs, medical devices, or any other commercial product, regardless of whether I approve of the product or the marketing.

What, you don’t remember agreeing to that?  Actually, the words above are mine.  But while it isn’t explicitly stated in author agreements, Elsevier authors usually grant that right implicitly. Elsevier’s typical author agreement requires you to sign over your entire copyright to them. Why ask for the whole copyright, instead of just, say, first serial rights,  and whatever else suffices for them to include the article in their journal and article databases?  Elsevier explains:

Elsevier wants to ensure that it has the exclusive distribution rights for all media. Copyright transfer eliminates any ambiguity or uncertainty about Elsevier’s ability to distribute, sub-license and protect the article from unauthorized copying or alteration.

That “unauthorized” would be “unauthorized by them”.   Not “unauthorized by you”.  Once you sign, you’ve given up the right to authorize copying or alteration, or any other rights in the copyright, except for rights they offer back to you.  For instance, you can’t “sub-license” your article for anything Elsevier deems “commercial purposes”.  But they can, and do.

And sometimes those commercial purposes have had questionable ethics.  The Scientist reported about a week ago that “Merck published [a] fake journal” with Elsevier.  (Free registration may be required to read the article.)  As they report:

Merck paid an undisclosed sum to Elsevier to produce several volumes of a publication that had the look of a peer-reviewed medical journal, but contained only reprinted or summarized articles–most of which presented data favorable to Merck products–that appeared to act solely as marketing tools with no disclosure of company sponsorship.

The publication, Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine, was published by an Elsevier subsidiary called Excerpta Medica.  As that subsidiary explains on their web site, “We partner with our clients in the pharmaceutical and biotech communities to educate the global health care community and enable them to make well-informed decisions regarding treatment options.”  In other words, they’re a PR agency for drug companies and other companies selling medical products.  Part of what they do is publish various periodicals designed to promote their clients.

Now, a number of companies publish sponsored magazines, and usually such publications clearly disclose their sponsorship, or are otherwise easily recognizable as “throwaway” commercial journals.  But this publication was designed to look more like a peer-reviewed scientific journal.   The Scientist reports this court testimony from a medical journal editor:

An “average reader” (presumably a doctor) could easily mistake the publication for a “genuine” peer reviewed medical journal, [George Jelinek] said in his testimony. “Only close inspection of the journals, along with knowledge of medical journals and publishing conventions, enabled me to determine that the Journal was not, in fact, a peer reviewed medical journal, but instead a marketing publication for MSD[A].”

Indeed, one of the publication’s “honorary editors” admitted to the Scientist that it included marketing material, but that “[i]t also had papers that were excerpted from other peer-reviewed journals. I don’t think it’s fair to say it was totally a marketing journal.”  But that was what Merck paid Elsevier for, and the excerpts from real Elsevier-acquired research articles helped the publication as a whole look like disinterested scholarship instead of advertising.

Elsevier did show some embarrassment from these revelations, particularly after widespread online outrage.  A statement posted yesterday by an Elsevier spokesman admitted the journal did not have “the appropriate disclosures”, and added

I have affirmed our business practices as they relate to what defines a journal and the proper use of disclosure language with our employees to ensure this does not happen again.

That’s certainly a step up from a previous statement quoted in the Scientist article, which, after also admitting the disclosure problems in the “journal”, simply said “Elsevier’s current disclosure policies meet the rigor and requirements of the current publishing environment,” and made no promises about what they would do in the future.

But the new statement still  leaves unanswered the question of why there are still  4 “peer reviewed journals” published under the imprint of a PR agency whose stated mission is to “support our client’s marketing objectives with strategic communications solutions in [areas that include] Medical Publishing.”  And legally, Excerpta Medica still has the right to cherry-pick from any article signed over to Elsevier in any of their marketing publications.  Or, as they announce to potential clients, “we can leverage the resources of the world’s largest medical and scientific publisher.”  Even with what Elsevier considers “proper use of disclosure language”, some authors might not want their writing used in this way.

Am I being unfair to Elsevier here?  They’re not the only academic publisher that asks its authors to sign over their copyrights.  And some of the more liberal open publication licenses, which I’ve been known to recommend, are broad enough that they too give marketers rights to reuse one’s work in their promotions.

On the first of those points, I recommend in general that authors avoid signing over their rights entirely (as I’ve managed previously), no matter who the publisher is.  But last I checked, most other academic publishers don’t also own a PR firm for commercial product marketing.  (And if any do,  they should disclose this possible use in their interactions with authors. I find no explicit disclosure of this in either Elsevier’s model agreement or on the current version of Elsevier’s author rights page.)

On the second point, if you grant an open publication license, you generally know what you’re getting into.  And you can still defend against misuse of your work in ways that you can’t do if you just sign over your copyright to a publisher.   Some open access licenses, for instance, include an attribution condition that requires any reuse of the article to credit and point to the original source, and derivation conditions that either prohibit changes or require changes to be disclosed.  (And some licenses simply prohibit commercial use altogether except by permission.)  Whatever license you choose, if a company does quote your work out of context in its marketing, and you’ve kept your own rights to reprint the article, you can publish a rebuttal as widely as you like, showing the omitted context that counters a company’s claims.  These conditions and rights can provide potent deterrents against misuse of your articles.

Often the debates over scholarly author rights and open access focus on who gets to read and use scholarly articles, and what gets paid to whom.  This episode highlights another important part of the debate: who gets the right to guard the integrity of one’s scholarship.  In the light of recent revelations, authors might want to think carefully about whether to sign that right away, and to whom.

[Updates, 9 May 2009: Some spelling corrected, and a note added that disclosure is not the only potential concern of authors whose works are used for marketing purposes.]

February 28, 2008

Hurry, hurry! Free books, going fast! (And new site feature)

Filed under: online books,publishing — John Mark Ockerbloom @ 10:24 pm

Okay, it’s a trend:

The news here isn’t so much that are people are putting their books online for free. Some folks have been doing that for years, and I’ve been listing recent permanent, no-strings-attached free online books on The Online Books Page since the 1990s. (See, for instance, Daniel Solove’s The Future of Reputation, a current book posted last week, or Baen Books’ long-running free library.) What’s new is the number of large trade publishers who have almost simultaneously decided to try offering complete, free, in-print books online for the first time, with the expectation that this could well improve sales. The “limited time” offers let them be careful about it to start with, metaphorically dipping their toes in the water before diving in. They can also potentially compare the effects of short-term free ebook offers to either no free ebook offers or permanent free ebook offers. If the experiments work out well, this may be the first of a lot more current literature that becomes available online for free.

(Or it could just be this year’s publishing fad, forgotten or laughed about by next year. We’ll see, but some of the early reports above sound promising.)

I’ve read and enjoyed a number of the books that I mention above. I’m not listing them on The Online Books Page at present; that site is really designed for permanent titles rather than books that are here today and gone tomorrow. (Though many libraries have “current bestsellers” sections that work that way, using rental programs like McNaughton.) I do find number of these book offers worth noting somewhere. I don’t necessarily want to devote a full post to each one I hear about, though.

So I’ve introduced a new feature to this site that can hold quick links to temporarily-free ebook offers I find of interest, as well as links to other news and stories that are interesting and relevant enough to mention here, but not in a full post. You can find these links in the right column, under the heading “Everybody’s Library Tags”. (I’m using PennTags, our local social tagging system, to collect and manage these links.) The Tags feature has its own RSS feed separate from that of the blog, in case you’d like to put it in your aggregator. If you’d like to limit the feed to just the free books tags, and not the other links I post there, use this feed URL instead.

I haven’t tried this feature before (though I’ve seen it used to good effect on other blogs), and I’m not positive at this point whether I’ll keep it up. (If I find it too hard to keep reasonably current stuff in there, I’ll just discontinue it.) But, as the publishers above are doing with their free book offers, I’ll try it out, and see what happens.

February 22, 2008

We call dibs! (or, the genius of the Harvard mandate)

Filed under: copyright,open access,publishing,sharing — John Mark Ockerbloom @ 3:17 pm

The Harvard Arts and Sciences faculty recently approved a resolution giving the University permission to make their scholarly articles available to the world at no charge. Here’s the official press release from Harvard, and here’s the text of the resolution, as given in the official faculty council agenda. (The resolution text is on the second page. It could have been amended before the vote, but I haven’t heard of any amendments.)

This is the first university-level open access mandate in the US, from the most prominent university in the US, and as many have noted, this is a huge step forward for open access to research. There are two aspects to the mandate: the familiar aspect directs faculty to supply Harvard copies of their papers to post; the more novel aspect stipulates that Harvard automatically get the rights to post their faculty papers for free. Harvard allows faculty members to exempt papers from these requirements, but it must be done in writing, with reason, separately for each paper that a faculty member wants to exempt.

I find this approach ingenious. As people maintaining institutional repositories have come to know, there are two main barriers to distributing one’s faculty’s work in one’s repository: getting hold of the work, and getting the right to publish the work. The first of these can be handled in various ways; whether the faculty, the departmental administrators, or the librarians get the content to the right place, it’s all purely a matter of local negotiation. But that’s not the case with rights. By the time we repository maintainers get content from authors, the authors have often signed their rights away to the journals that published the papers. The publishers have effectively called dibs on redistribution rights, and we can’t distribute unless they agree to it. A faculty member that may want to have us distribute her work too may no longer have the power to let us– she’s already signed that right away to someone else.

By requiring (non-exclusive) rights to free, open access distribution to any new paper created under its employ, Harvard is effectively calling dibs before the publishers can. So if I’m running a repository at Harvard (or another institution with a similar policy), copyright clearance becomes much easier. I don’t have to look up and carefully parse a journal’s self-archiving policy, try negotiating with publishers, or verify that I have the permitted version of a paper to archive and the proper embargo period. As long as the paper is dated after the mandate went into place, and the paper’s not on my institution’s exception list, I can just grab and go. Or, I can accept my faculty’s and department’s self-deposits without having to go back and forth with them about whether they have the right permissions and are following the right procedures for that publisher. Publishers may want their authors to sign away the rights that they’ve given us, but they can’t, at least not without going out of their way to do so, because we already have those rights. And as Dorothea Salo points out, there are disincentives for both publishers and faculty to rock the boat here. Under this arrangement, the norms have changed– from restricted access as a default, with the onus for exceptions placed on the library or the scholar, to open access as a default, with the onus for exceptions placed on the publisher or the scholar.

Some open access advocates have argued that one could design a mandate that was even more open-access-friendly. That may be, but to judge this mandate a failure (as the linked post above appears to at one point) seems to me an example of the “perfect” being the enemy of the good. This mandate is faculty-friendly as well as being open-access friendly, in that it minimizes the extra work faculty have to do and assures them the last word in access control, should they decide to exercise it. And that, I believe, is crucial to its having been adopted at all, and to its subsequent acceptance by faculty. (Remember, this is the first open access mandate that a US university faculty, let alone one with the clout of Harvard, has adopted on its own.)

In the future, perhaps universities will adopt even more effective policies to share their research output with the world. Right now, though, I’d say this is a big step forward, and one that I hope that my university and many others will consider emulating.

December 9, 2007

We the mediators

Filed under: meta,publishing — John Mark Ockerbloom @ 10:36 pm

Back in early 2006, Peter Brantley (now the director of the Digital Library Federation) got a lot of interesting folks in libraries and publishing together in one room to talk about issues related to reading in the digital age. While libraries and publishers have different focuses and priorities, we both serve as mediators between authors and audience, and both kinds of mediators are seeing dramatic upheavals and innovations in the ways we carry out our missions.

So the meeting touched off an interesting series of discussions. I’m having a hard time finding the “official” presentation pages from the original meeting, but here’s a short summary from me and a more detailed list of talk summaries from Tim O’Reilly. After the meeting, discussions continued on a mailing list of participants that over time added a number of other folks in publishing and libraries.

A number of the folks involved, mostly on the publishing side of things, have now started a group blog to take many of these conversations public. The blog is called Publishing Frontier, with the tagline “a raucous public discussion of the publishing revolution”. Its starting contributors include folks who’ve worked at trade publishers, scientific imprints, commercial research labs, and grassroots book digitizing.

The blog promises to be an interesting forum and chronicle of the digital revolutions in communication, largely from publishing perspectives (much as I hope this blog to be another such forum and chronicle, largely from librarianship perspectives). I encourage readers here to check it out.

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