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Notes from the OA Symposium, 2016


As I mentioned previously (actually, about 30 minutes ago in real time), it’s been a busy week in Denton.  The University of North Texas hosted two separate meetings on overlapping themes of open access publishing: The Library Publishing Forum and the Open Access Symposium.  I’ve already posted my notes of the former, the meeting of the Library Publishing Coalition.  Now on to OA…

This was actually the 7th annual Open Access Symposium hosted by UNT.  Here is a word cloud from my notes to give you an idea of the topics & ideas covered: OAS2016In addition to the usual suspects of such a meeting (“published” and “journal”), you might have noticed “Communism”.  This is the result of a last-minute addition to the program: a presentation from Alexandra Elkabyan, from Sci-Hub & LibGen, which was Skyped from her home.  Interestingly, this was translated live in part by one of the organizers, Kevin Hawkins (you learn something new about somebody at these things…like, Kevin understands and can translate Russian).  My take on this was that her basic point is valid – that the current market-based environment results in the concentration of information and power, and stifles scientific discoveries.  The only time the audience really reacted, though, was her response to our security concerns of sharing authentication parameters, which she cavalierly dismissed.  It is a protest that on its face seems low-risk, but could eventually raise the stakes.

I have been out of the loop regarding this sub-specialty of librarianship…and it has grown tremendously in the last 5-10 years.  I learned all kinds of new systems, coalitions, foundations, and software.  I became aware of a veritable alphabet soup – OJS, APC, OSF, etc.  The Below are my notes, and when the recordings become available, I’ll add the links.

Open Access Symposium 2016

One key concept brought up at both conferences (but not well represented in my notes, apparently) was transparency.  Indeed, it has been the lack of transparency in the pricing of subscriptions from the “Four Horsemen of the (Scholarly Publishing) Apocalypse” that has forced the solutions discussed at these meetings.

What I found lacking from both conferences were two key issues: assessment and true sustainability.  While the latter was discussed much more than the former, the solutions proposed did not seem to be truly sustainable.  The Author Processing Charges (APC) have become essentially Library processing charges, with libraries contributing to them.  Many start with grants, but most seem to “play on guilt” to encourage participation in consortia.  But the problem of “free riders” (which itself is not a problem until there are too many, and too few providing the support) was only mentioned once or twice in Q&A’s.

An idea I did find intriguing and useful was Johan Rooryck’s regarding the convergence of the roles of publisher & press.  Elsevier did not found the journal, Lingua, as it claimed, but was rather “hired” to provide the services of a press – printing & distribution.  At some point, publisher & press converged and the press-cum-publisher came to own the content.  Unlike music publishers, journal article authors are provided no financial renumeration directly from the publication.  Journals should reclaim the responsibilities of publisher and hire out the services of a press.  Thus, they can retain control over charges, which should be based solely on the production costs.  However, this is an idealistic and perhaps unrealistic prospect.  Like Orwell’s Animal Farm, the proclamation that all journals are equal (essentially in the APC’s) could evolve into the corollary, but some journals are “more equal than others.”  Prestige could figure into the APC’s that journal editorial boards (now the publisher) charges, regardless of the production costs.  This was not well addressed.

Despite the issues above, I do believe that the times are a’changin’ and the market will adjust.  How slowly or how quickly will depend on the motivations of the consumers and  the buyers.  Once these align, change will come.

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