Library Publishing, the Serials Crisis, and Access

04 Jun 2012

I was recently browsing the Journal of Library Scholarly Communication, a promising new open access journal that has drawn many of the big names in the field for its first issue. My mind started running while watching the introductory video, and, inspired by Kathleen Fitzpatrick's recent post on shamelessness, I decided to just write-n-post rather than scouring to find who's already made the following points, etc.


As is commonly rehearsed, developments in scholarly communication originate from the serials crisis. However, I'm wondering how much of a crisis it really is. I'm not denying that libraries are getting pinched. It's not uncommon to see libraries cancel subscriptions or shift funds from the monograph budget line to cover increasing serials costs. Rather, it's more common for libraries to quietly pay up, year in and year out. For example, remember the kerfluffle back in 2010 with the University of California libraries threatening to boycott Nature Publishing Group because of a sharp price increase? Less publicized was the reconciliation and agreement to continue licensing the journals. Why? Because library patrons need these resources to do their work.

This model of scholarly communication is often labeled unsustainable and as a response we see such efforts as library publishing. Now, I'm all for library publishing because there are many good reasons for it and positive outcomes that can result from it. However, if the library becomes a publisher, then it goes without saying that libraries will assume at least some of the costs of publishing. Something doesn't seem to add up, right? Libraries complain about the cost of journals but still pay up, and as part of their solution to this issue, libraries seek to take on additional costs and become publishers themselves.

Perhaps the driving motivation is less about money and more about access. Libraries might be able to save money on serials and other scholarly materials in the long run as more libraries get involved in publishing and we reach a critical mass, but this is a highly uncertain future. And it should be noted that such a scenario is possible because most library-based publications are open access. Since patrons rely on the resources libraries provide to in order to do their work, and since the serials mess has created obstacles in libraries' ability to provide this access, why not cut out the middlemen and provide less restrictive access to scholarly resources? Librarians have established their reputation as qualified stewards of the print record, so why not apply these same ideas and principles to digital resources?

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