Harvard College Library

Librarians Explore the Transformation of Scholarly Communication

March 7, 2002 -- Since 1985 Harvard libraries increased spending on serial publications by 162 percent, while the total number of serials they purchased rose only 7 percent. The addition of electronic versions of journals has added to the expense. The growing gap between the price of information and the ability for libraries to purchase it requires the need for new models of scholarly communication. The Harvard library community recently gathered to explore the issue at a program entitled Transforming Scholarly Communication, held on February 28. This program was viewed as a way to raise awareness in the library community in anticipation of taking these issues to faculty and graduate students.

Jeffrey Horrell, Associate Librarian of Harvard College for Collections and Mary Case, director of the Office of Scholarly Communications for the Association of Research Libraries
Mary Case, director of the Office of Scholarly Communications for the Association of Research Libraries, spoke on the crisis facing libraries. She contends that the current system is unsustainable and that it is incumbent upon the libraries to play a key role in affecting change. According to Case, the consolidation of publishers and the rise in commercial, rather than not-for-profit, publications has been one factor in increasing prices. With commercial publishers controlling the market, a publishing cycle is created that supports the publishers and their shareholders financially, but leaves scholars with little control over their work and institutions with high prices to pay in order to make the work accessible to faculty and students.

Case was instrumental in starting the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), an international alliance of libraries that is working to build a more competitive scholarly communication marketplace. SPARC focuses on enhancing broad and cost-effective access to peer-reviewed scientific, technical, and medical research. The group pursues its objective of working to strengthen not-for-profit publications, creating competition in the form of alternative journals, and negotiating favorable copyright terms. In addition, SPARC promotes public advocacy of fundamental changes in publishing and in the culture of scholarly communication.

Markus Meister, Jeff C. Tarr Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Mark Kirschner, Carl W. Walter Professor of Cell Biology and Head of the Department of Cell Biology, Harvard, Medical School

Informing scholars and authors of alternative ways to publish is necessary to confront this cycle. However, according to the workshop speaker, Mark Kirschner, Carl W. Walter Professor of Cell Biology and Head of the Department of Cell Biology, Harvard, Medical School, changing the norms of a culture in which publishing is linked to reputation, job opportunities, and tenure is a daunting challenge. The current system of publishing is so ingrained in academe that faculty are often reluctant to experiment with alternative methods of publication or to encourage post-doctoral students and colleagues to take the risk.

The final presenter, Markus Meister, Jeff C. Tarr Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, is an advocate of free online access to scientific journals. He elaborated on the current publishing cycle and its disadvantages. It all begins with institutions helping to fund scholars' research. Once an article is selected for publication the scholars often pay the journals to have their material peer-reviewed and published. At the same time the scholars sign away the copyright to their work. To provide intellectual access to the materials, institutions must purchase costly subscriptions to print journals and licenses for the journal in electronic format. One of the creators of BioMed Central, an online scientific journal, Kirschner supports a non-profit approach to online publishing in which scientists pay only a nominal fee for their articles to undergo review by named peers and be published electronically.

"This is really about intellectual property," said Jeffrey Horrell, Associate Librarian of Harvard College for Collections, "We need to find ways that the scholars can assert their rights over their material. Librarians will not solve this problem, authors and scholars will."

Librarians discuss how they could approach the scholarly communication issues in break out sessions following the program.

At the end of the program breakout groups discussed what specific activities Harvard should undertake, what objectives Harvard should pursue to affect the scholarly community, and how Harvard could manage the process of spreading information and creating change.

A working group comprised of Horrell, Ivy Anderson, Digital Acquisitions Coordinator, Lynne Schmelz, Librarian for the Sciences, and Judith Messerle, Librarian for Countway Library of Medicine is currently formulating a list of recommendations to submit to the University Library Council concerning ways Harvard can proactively address these issues.

"There will most likely be more than one approach to these issues. Different Harvard faculties will have different ways to reach their staff. One thing we will recommend is a locus within the University where these concerns will continue to be dealt with and brought to the attention of librarians and scholars," said Horrell.


This story appears courtesy of the Harvard College Library Communications Office
http://hcl.harvard.edu/news/
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