Tuesday, June 5, 2012

RUK: The Maturing Threat of Open Access

Posting to Autocat


This article is from a financial journal dealing primarily with Elsevier as a sound investment.

The real article starts on p. 2. A few quotes:
"Elsevier's upside potential looks capped, since there is no room for top-line expansion given tight university library budgets, and no room for cost-cutting in an industry where the labor of academic researchers, editors, and peer reviewers is provided, literally, for free. Critics note that even the functions provided by Elsevier - journal layout and reviewer coordination - are often outsourced or poorly performed. For some journals, even layout is handled gratis by academics, who submit their articles pre-formatted according to provided LaTeX templates."

"We regard the common stock as an implicit naked short put option because, while the upside potential from the publishing division is limited, the downside risk from any revolt by its customers (libraries), laborers (academics), or funders (governments) is not. Elsevier's substantial profit margin has persisted for as long as it has partly because of the lack of awareness and the apathy among stakeholders; those factors are changing."

"The special pleading made by for-profit publishers about the costs of data tagging and infrastructure are belied by the straightforward usability of sites like those [open access portals such as arXiv and SSRN]. While interviewing graduate students and younger scholars for this story, several of them volunteered that if the paywall-ridden publisher sites disappeared from their library access portals tomorrow, they would hardly notice, while any downtime at SSRN or arXiv would be felt intensely."

I wonder what sort of graduate students/younger scholars they interviewed? If this is true (it is certainly open to debate) the expensive "paywall-ridden publisher sites" could disappear from library access portals tomorrow and few members of the public would notice. That is quite a statement. The open access sites they discussed in the article are arXiv (hard sciences and math), PLoS (science) and SSRN (social sciences). The arts and humanities are not mentioned.

Still, there may be a real move toward open access materials and I certainly hope so. But if that happens, the little point about "The special pleading made by for-profit publishers about the costs of data tagging" would fall right into the laps of library catalogers. Somebody would have to do it, even if it were left up to the authors and secretaries. But it could represent a fantastic opportunity to show the value of high-quality cataloging, as well as a huge responsibility. Miami University is the latest open archive I have seen http://sc.lib.muohio.edu/. At random, I found this thesis which I am sure someone would want: http://sc.lib.muohio.edu/handle/2374.MIA/4440?show=full. Look at the metadata in this record. It's a normal kind of record that you see in open archives. Maybe in others there is an attempt at classification and a couple of tags added, but this is pretty typical. I think all on AUTOCAT can agree this record is--at least--a little sparse.

If open access springs up quickly, which it very well may do and seems inevitable anyway, the authors (i.e. people who care) could very quickly see the value of cataloging when they see their sparse records improved with wonderful headings that lead to other worthwhile materials. That would be a lot of work for catalogers but at least people could see very clearly the value added. Perhaps the authors would then push for more catalogers because the authors would see how their own work could be helped by the skills of catalogers.

Wouldn't that be remarkable!?

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