Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Monday, November 05, 2007

What do we need to know about scholarly communication?

Establishing a Research Agenda for Scholarly Communication: A Call for Community Engagement, Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL), November 5, 2007.  John Ober and Joyce Ogburn are co-chairs of the ACRL Scholarly Communications Committee, which prepared this white paper.  Excerpt:

The system of scholarly communication – which allows research results and scholarship to be registered, evaluated for quality, disseminated, and preserved – is rapidly evolving....Believing that meaningful research can inform and assist the entire academic community in influencing and managing this evolution, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) convened an invitational meeting on July 21, 2007, to collectively brainstorm the evidence needed to inform strategic planning for scholarly communication programs....

This report thematically summarizes and synthesizes the meeting’s rich discussion, framing eight essential research challenges and opportunities. We invite those engaged in creating, supporting, and distributing scholarship to comment and extend the issues and possible research initiatives. Without substantive comment from librarians and their partners, the goal of outlining a community research agenda cannot be considered complete....

[Participants in the July 21 meeting included] representatives from ACRL, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), the Coalition for Networked Information (CNI), Ithaka, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (Mellon), and Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC)....

Eight themes emerged from the conversation. In non-prioritized order they are:

  1. The impact and implications of cyberinfrastructure
  2. Changing organizational models
  3. How scholars work
  4. Authorship and scholarly publication
  5. Value and value metrics in scholarly communications
  6. The adoption of successful innovations
  7. Preservation of critical materials
  8. Public policy and legal matters...

Post your comments directly for public view [at the project wiki], or if you prefer your comments to be kept confidential, send them to ACRL Scholarly Communication Committee cochairs
John Ober at and Joyce Ogburn at

The discussion of open access takes place mostly under rubric #4.  For example:

New business models to evaluate and publish scholarly products are being developed, but their long-term sustainability and impacts are unknown. Driven in part by longstanding resource constraints, the academy needs to have deeper understanding about the effect of commercial publishers’ profit goals on access to and impact of scholarship. Similarly, we need salient data about alternatives to traditional publication and their potential for lower production costs. This data will allow universities to make investment decisions in a range of open access business models offered by commercial and non-profit publishers. Further, we need evidence on whether and how the focus on traditional publication for promotion and tenure can undermine broader distribution of research and the development of alternatives to high-priced publications....What new services are required in this new environment and how should they be constituted?

We need to better understand the full necessary costs of access controlled models of publication as compared to a truly equivalent open access model to reveal where costs savings are possible and under what conditions. This could provide insights into which functions would be unnecessary in an open access model, and which would need to be included. For instance, what costs are saved by removing access/authorization controls? With the advent of new search and discovery tools, is equivalent marketing needed for both? This research could also suggest ideas to address the hypothesized free rider problem, in which users of openly available scholarships do not help cover the costs of its dissemination.

While we know that disciplinary repositories, open-access peer-reviewed journals, and community-supported reference sources can find content and audiences, we do not yet know, for example, how to distribute the cost of supporting projects like the Physics ArXiv across the many institutions reliant on its success. An understanding is required of the conditions under which an endowment model for publications, such as the one in place for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, can work and be cost effective over a long period. We would profit from exploring the relationship between author or “green” archiving of scholarly articles and the formal publications in which they also appear.

If research reveals that formal publications are of decreasing value or changing significance to scholars, what are the implications for research libraries? For example, what are the economics and funding models of the transition? Should librarians shift funding from journal subscriptions to systems that collect and disseminate new forms of content, and when?

Research Possibilities

  • Investigate the leadership and management support needed to explore alternatives to the prevalent subscription model including a variety of open access publication models....
    • Document instances of successful shifts and new models to create a diverse collection of compelling examples that can be applied in new arenas.
    • Create sophisticated modeling and simulation of current costs projected into the future to test the hypotheses regarding the sustainability of the present system.
    • Explore models that effectively shift funding from collecting published works to supporting new forms of content and its dissemination.
  • Study the costs of the entire publishing and distribution system for traditional, open access and hybrid models of journal publication. Explorations should include but not be limited to studying the costs of peer review.
  • Examine the feasibility, and necessary characteristics of a trusted registry of new business models and experiments concentrating on collaboratively developed, non-profit information products and resources.
  • Research and develop authoring tools, publishing templates and open source software packages for scholarly discourse, teaching and publishing. Examine the feasibility and characteristics of registries of such tools.
  • Methods to identify, track and create metadata to document and promote publication of and access to large datasets....

There's also some discussion under rubric #8:

Federal policies are also being considered or enacted that intend to increase access to the results of scholarship and research, including a “public access” mandate under consideration for the NIH (and other federal funders via the 2006 Federal Research Public Access Act) in the U.S., or in place for the research councils in the U.K. and elsewhere. Rhetorically, both proponents and opponents support advancing knowledge through efficient and well-structured scholarly communication systems. But there are significant differences of opinion and resulting tensions from policy and legal intervention. Meanwhile, libraries are challenged to participate in crafting and debating new policies, informed by an only modest amount of modeling and evidence of their impact....

Research Possibilities ...

  • Encourage local study of the cost and impact of complying with new policies, such as funders’ “public access” mandates, and aggregate that information. Explore the potential for collaborations that provide community-wide compliance services....

Update. Also see the short article on this in Library Journal Academic Newswire, November 6, 2007.