Re: Leading academics back UK Research Councils on self-archiving

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 6 Sep 2005 13:01:24 +0100

On Tue, 6 Sep 2005, David Goodman wrote:

> Stevan can only "second-guess" the logic, but I can specify a little
> more knowledgeably about how libraries will think
> when substantial journal content is available OA. As he recognizes,
> at any given institution there will be some marginal journals that
> have just escaped cancellation. Why does he not recognize that the
> additional factor that first 25%, then 50%, then 75%, then almost all,
> of the content is readily available elsewhere will be quite enough for
> most librarians (and faculty) to justify their cancellation. Then next
> year there will be the next stratum of lowest-value journals still
> remaining, and again the percentage readily available otherwise
> will be a factor. And, as he says "seriatim. "

I assume that David is aware that self-archiving, being anarchic, means
that, on average, all journals' percentage OA will be distributed
about equally, and rising at the about same rate.

So if the weakest journals are the ones at risk of being culled when we reach
25%/50%/75% OA, which are the ones at risk of being culled (and being culled)
right now?

Library serials budgets are finite; the choices have to be re-assessed
annually (or whenever the subscription/license runs out); assuming no
windfall growth in acquisitions budgets, one can expect that cancellations
will simply proceed apace, exactly as they do now, with self-archiving
and %OA not influencing their *direction*, merely their *urgency*: For as
%OA grows, the concern about depriving one's usership of access to *any*
journal shrinks (evenly)....

> Like Stevan, I think it probable that this will not seriously affect the
> high-quality journals, and for the reasons he cites, but we cannot
> prove it, only wait and see. However I think it almost certainly will
> affect the lower quality journals, but I cannot prove it, or he disprove
> it.

The point is that the lower quality journals are at risk already, and
have been for some time, and this is not changed by a growing percentage
of self-archiving. So why are we even speculating about all of this,
either way? What hangs on it? What are the alternatives at issue? Should
we not be going ahead with what has already been demonstrated to benefit
research and resew archers with enhanced impact and access, instead of
occupying ourselves with this open-ended and unavailing prognosticating,
on which nothing hangs, one way or the other?

> There are ways of preventing or minimizing the loss of subscriptions,
> and it is suggestive that physics, which has seen few cancellations, is
> the area where many of the most important journals have had no
> price increases for several years. If other publishers did the same,
> perhaps their journals would survive. I see that a few are
> not increasing prices for next year, so perhaps others
> too will come to a clearer understanding of their basic interests.

We are now back into the librarian's standard fare: pricing.

Fine. But can you not see that this has nothing to do with OA or
self-archiving, one way or the other?

Cancellations will proceed apace, based on quality, price, and available
funds, as they always did. Anarchic increase in % OA, distributed across
all journals, will not affect the choice of what to cut, differentially,
one way or the other; that will be determined by policy, price, and
available funds, exactly as it always was. But meanwhile the increased %
OA will be benefiting research and researchers more and more (and that we
*know*, because it has already been empirically tested and found to do so
-- in contrast to all this hypothetical and ineffectual guess-work about
its notional effects on cancellations); and this increased % OA will also
be making the choice itself (of which journals to cancel/renew this year)
a less and less drastic matter, because more and more of author-drafts
for *all* content will be there as a back-up for those who cannot afford the
publisher's version.

> Librarians are responsible to the students and the faculty
> for getting the material that users need.
> While publishers provide this most effectively, they will buy as many
> journals as they can afford. To the extent that this is not
> most effectively done by publishers, they will make use of other routes,
> of which OA is the most obvious and the best.

This, as far as I can tell, adds nothing to what is under discussion
here. It is a tautology that librarians can and do make-do with what
funds they have, to the best of their ability. Anarchic, distributed,
across-the-boards growth in average % OA has no differential effect
whatsoever on that, so I have no idea what David means by "make use of
other routes" -- unless we are back to yet another red herring here,
namely, OA journals (which is not what the RCUK self-archiving mandate
or this discussion thread was about).

But, yes, for the record, if -- apart from mandating self-archiving
-- RCUK also makes some funds available to its fundees to help pay OA
journal publishing costs, that will help (the few: 5-10%) OA journals,
slightly; it will slightly weaken their competitors and slightly increase
the likelihood that they will be cancelled.

But, to repeat, that is not what we are talking about here! On the
contrary, we are trying to *disentangle* the two things -- (1) the
RCUK OA self-archiving mandate and (2) the RCUK funding of OA journal
publishing -- because (2) and the slight help it may give to "publishing
economic-model change" has been used by ALPSP and STM to try to impugn
(1), which has nothing to do with OA publishing or economics.

Please let us not play into this.

> The authors and readers do have the last word, which they express
> by what journals they publish in, read, or cite, all of which
> librarians routinely measure. When price increases require cuts,
> cuts there will be--the most the faculty will need to decide is which
> particular titles shall be cancelled.

It is not at all clear why are we being told all this: Who does David think
is unaware that authors publish where they publish and readers read/cite
what they read/cite? And that librarians measure costs, and cut when there
isn't enough money to pay. And (most important) that faculty decides on
what to spend the available money on and what not. This has all been said
countless times before and it adds absolutely nothing to the discussion, one
way or the other. (That faculty, not librarians, determine which titles are
cancelled or kept has already been explicitly stated in the Open Letter, as a
counter to the ALPSP claims about COUNTER statistics.)

> The library budget is not set by the physics faculty. When prices
> increase more than funds, if the faculty intend to keep all their
> journals, they must contribute some money.
> In twenty-five years as an academic librarian, I have know only one
> instance of such contribution, and it was not in the sciences.

I am quite perplexed as to why this Forum's time is taken up with truisms
like this, which are of absolutely no informational value at all. It is
not the library *budget* that is set by faculty, but the choice as to
what is to be kept or culled within that budget's finite yearly size.

Stevan Harnad
Received on Tue Sep 06 2005 - 13:21:36 BST

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