Librarians Find Themselves Caught Between Journal Pirates and Publishers

Posting to RadCat

I wanted to share this from the Chronicle:

This article discusses some of the issues with Sci-Hub and Library Genesis and how librarians are caught in the middle. I am sure we have all heard the arguments about “open access” and the publishers’ side is summed up quite well with: “John S. Tagler, vice president of the association and executive director of its [i.e. the
Association of American Publishers–JW] Professional and Scholarly Publishing division, argues that Sci-Hub’s piracy has undermined the infrastructure of scholarly publishing. “If you take away the revenue stream that sustains these journals, it is a threat,” he says.”

Of course, that “revenue stream” is based on the exploitation of scholars who need to publish. As a result, taking away the revenue stream does indeed hurt the journals, but it does not hurt the article creators (who get nothing anyway), except it hurts them in a rather strange way. Although there are all kinds of new methods today to share your knowledge and your discoveries, the traditional methods of publishing are still required. Why? Mainly because getting published in specific journals or by specific publishers has become the only way to become “recognized”. After all, who cares if you have created some new digital tool that helps colleagues in your field around the world collaborate on topics that have never been discussed before? That won’t get you very far at all. What you must do is publish yet another scholarly article, or much better: batches of them, and get them into specific scholarly journals, if you want to advance in your career. If you receive more citations from your peers, we are to believe that translates into greater impact in your field, and that is when you *might* get a promotion and/or tenure, or another institution *might* try to lure you away for greater financial rewards, and so on.

Or they might not.

This does raise an uncomfortable question: how many people actually read those scholarly articles? The number of papers that are never cited is illustrative. ““Only” 12% of medicine articles are not cited, compared to about 82% (!) for the humanities. It’s 27% for natural sciences and 32% for social sciences” ( There are more questions of course. How many of those citations are really self-citations, that is, where you cite one of your earlier publications? Additionally, there is the fact that many (most? the overwhelming majority of?) readers rarely get beyond the abstract or executive summary.

The traditional model is changing whether the publishers want it or not. Based on these statistics, changing the infrastructure of scholarly publishing may not be such a bad thing but expecting it to change soon is just not very realistic. Nevertheless, the entire structure has a “Rube Goldberg” feel to it.

On a personal note, I remember a time when a business man (I am using antiquated language) might have looked at something like Sci-Hub differently. Instead of getting mad at the situation and wanting to shut everything down, the now-obsolete business man would have said, “Sci-Hub represents a huge number of people who want my product. There is the demand. How can I make money out of that?”

For a similar discussion about Library Genesis, see the excellent article by Bodó Balázs, Pirate libraries: A central and eastern European perspective (