If information experts can’t get it right….

[Attention conservation: it’s about libraries and content distribution]

The digitizing and dissemination of content presents an extreme problem.
The digitizing and dissemination of content presents an extreme opportunity.

People involved in this issue are up in arms (like you do) screaming bloody murder about, you know, the other guy. Meanwhile, content producers keep merrily producing away, often with little to no compensation for it.

What is even more insane than the musical situation is the madness of academic journals, which are mostly now distributed in electronic format. This is something that drives academic libraries crazy, because the price of electronic journals have skyrocketed in the last decade. (We’re talking 500% price increases and the like.)

Some context:

Content for academic journals is produced, for most part, by academics who are employed by universities and such. Academics write articles as a result of the work they are employed to do. (Tenure is often contingent on being published repeatedly.) So academics mainly write for the prestige of being published with the understanding that they will NOT be paid for their articles. These articles, prior to being published, are peer-reviewed by other academics, who are also not being compensated monetarily. Academics review their colleagues’ work because they need their own work reviewed when the time comes. Academics do not get paid for ANY of the work which they do in relation to academic journals.

The only thing which academic journals do is content distribution. In the bad old days of print-only text–when it took large amounts of money and huge, monstrous machines to print and bind these journals–this was really the only option. Academic institutions would pay these journal publishers to distribute their content for them. Now, many of these journals are not even published in a physical format, residing electronically on servers and whatnot. Also, because these are the only places to get these articles, journal publishers apparently feel perfectly free to jack up their prices mercilessly.

So, in one of my classes we (as future information professionals/librarians) discussed this issue at great length. We also read very dated academic writing on this subject. I’ve recently stumbled upon a couple of articles online on this very topic.

The first:

“Introduction to Open Access for Librarians”

lays out the basics of this issue and suggesting the (really very) obvious solution: universities publish–electronically if need be–the research output of their scholars.

Open-access methods of funding journals are novel but already in use and proving themselves. However, if the novelty causes trepidation, then by all means compare these methods carefully to the “tried and true” model we are using today, which takes literature written by authors donating their labor, and vetted by editors donating their labor, and locks it away behind price and permission barriers so that even the world’s wealthiest institutions cannot assure their faculty full access to it.

The second:

“How and Why To Free All Refereed Research From Access- and Impact-Barriers Online, Now” is more technical and abstract than the first, but they lay it out pretty clearly:

All that is needed in order to provide immediate, unlimited click-through, full-text access to the entire refereed research corpus online, for free, for all, forever, is for universities and research institutions to install Eprint Archives and for their researchers to fill them with all their papers, now. If (a) the enhanced access by their own researchers to the research of others and (b) the enhanced visibility and the resulting enhanced impact of their own research on the research of others are not incentive enough for universities to promote and support the self-archiving initiative energetically at this time, they should also consider that it will be an investment in (c) an eventual solution to their serials crisis and the potential recovery of 90% of their annual serials (S/L/P) budget

The third:

“Why Open Content Matters” deals with things from the Linuxy/open-source software point of view. Not as dry as the first two and more evangelistic. Also, the most current and link-heavy and doesn’t really deal with the academic journals crisis as specifically.

In the absence of a true public domain, in which no one person’s claim to the rights to use a work are in any way superior to any other person’s, those who would make information freely available must develop an alternative to copyright that replaces the functions of the public domain for written works. The failure to do so is to embroil the “freely redistributed” information in a legal quagmire increasingly inimical to the exercise of free speech.