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2003 Faculty Forums Background

Systemwide Library Planning
April 21, 2003

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History

At its meeting in November 2002, the Academic Council endorsed a proposal to hold regional seminars to explore the challenges and the future of scholarly communication. Envisioned to engage a broadly diverse group of University of California faculty, it was hoped the seminars would initiate an evolving partnership for the mutual education and exploration of scholarly communication issues between UC faculty and the Systemwide Library and Scholarly Information Advisory Committee (SLASIAC), the University Librarians, the office of Systemwide Library Planning, and others.

In July 2003, invitations to nominate attendees were distributed to senate divisional chairs, the University Committee on Library, SLASIAC, and the campus University Librarians by then Academic Senate chair Gayle Binion and University Librarian Daniel Greenstein.

Discussion at the November meeting acknowledged the rapid change in the ways in which research and scholarly results are recorded, disseminated, archived, and made available. While many of these changes are driven by advances in networked information technologies, collectively they present a substantial set of challenges and opportunities for UC faculty, UC libraries, and other stakeholders in scholarly communication.

Digital publication and communication methods may help address structural problems in the current system, such as hyperinflation in the costs of scientific and medical journals. They may also greatly increase the rapidity and reach in disseminating results while providing alternative approaches to the quality control and protection of intellectual property.

By engaging the faculty, the seminars were a step in assisting the University to influence the direction of change in order to maximize benefits for the academic community, and to anticipate the effect of change on the University’s own policies and practices. The seminars were structured to identify actions that the University can take to address problems and pursue opportunities in the changing scholarly communications environment.

Planning for a Decade of Change

There is ample evidence that networked information technology is beginning to effect fundamental changes in the manner in which the results of research and scholarship are recorded, communicated, archived, accessed, and used.

Over the next decade, the emergence of digital publication and communication methods will have a profound impact on the way faculty publish and use the results of their work, and on the way that the quality of this work is assessed. At the same time, it is evident that these technologies are already having a significant influence on the practices and prospects of the traditional scholarly communication system, including commercial and society journal publishers and university presses.

New technologies provide an opportunity to address some of the longstanding problems with the current system, such as hyperinflation in the costs of scientific and medical journals, but also present significant challenges.

UC now has an opportunity to influence the direction of change in order to maximize benefits for the academic community, and to anticipate the effect of change on its own policies and practices and plan for their adaptation to a new scholarly communication environment.

Many of these issues were discussed at length at a joint meeting of Systemwide Library and Scholarly Information Advisory Committee (SLASIAC) and the Standing Committee on Copyright on May 23, 2002, including the opportunities presented by new methods of scholarly communication and the barriers to exploiting these opportunities.

Pursuant to those discussions, the Office of Systemwide Library Planning and the California Digital Library, in consultation with the leadership of the Academic Council, proposed a pair of regional seminars in northern and southern California to further explore these issues with a broadly representative group of UC faculty.

Each division chair nominated four or five faculty members from each campus. The resulting group of participants was supplemented to ensure both broad disciplinary representation. In view of the increasingly important role of libraries in the rapidly changing scholarly communication environment, the University Librarians were also invited to attend.

The objectives for these seminars included:

  • Considering means to encourage and support the faculty exploration and adoption of alternative means of scholarly publishing.
  • Shaping education and outreach initiatives that might inform and educate faculty about the extent of the scholarly communications crisis and how they might help address it.
  • Identifying challenges to the assessment of faculty work that arise from new publication methods and practices, and considering strategies to address them.
  • Considering steps that could be taken at a Universitywide level and by the campuses to address these issues and promote constructive change.

Background Issues

The prices of scholarly journals have escalated in the past decade and require an increasingly greater percentage of the total library budget. At the same time, the amount of scholarly information available has grown. The increasing quantity and costs of serial publications have become unsustainable for even large research universities.

In the view of many, the problem has been compounded by the transition of publishing responsibility from institutions, university presses, and scholarly and scientific societies to commercial publishers, which has removed control of publishing and pricing decisions from the academic community.

In traditional scholarly publishing, researchers submit their articles and reports to peer-reviewed journals without compensation. Then other scholars in the field read and evaluate the articles or reports, also usually without compensation. The publishers of these peer-reviewed journals then sell subscriptions (and/or access licenses) to these scholars’ own institutions.

It is clear that the digital environment has enabled new ways of publishing and accessing scholarly information. Increasing numbers of students, faculty, and other scholars turn to online information as the first step in the research process. Researchers appreciate the ready availability of online catalogs, databases, and articles from the desktop.

The digital environment has made it possible for authors to more easily publish and distribute their own material, since there is little additional cost or equipment required to post an article to the Internet. In this environment, it is possible for scholars to find new ways to publish their articles so that other scholars may read them and benefit without charging fees to view articles and papers.

In fact, published literature is only a portion of scholarly communication. Other types of scholarly communication include datasets, bibliographies, working papers, and pre-published drafts. Each of these has important use in varying degrees for scholarly and research communities.

At the same time, it is evident that the academic community’s traditional methods for assessing the quality of scholarly work and of the work’s creators are deeply intertwined with the traditional system of scholarly communication.

Discipline-based notions of what publication formats are considered acceptable for the publication of serious scholarship, perceptions of the quality of journals or of book publishers, and the employment of citation counts as indicators of quality are all rooted in a long-standing system of print-based publication that influences the behavior of faculty as both producers and users of research and scholarship.

In the short run, these traditions present a barrier to faculty who wish to experiment with new forms of publishing and communication. In the long run, as increasing amounts of scholarship begin to appear in new technological forms, the academic community will be challenged to develop new indicators of quality that are better suited to the emerging environment.

For scholars, the discussion of scholarly communication must include issues of access, dissemination, qualitative assessment, and the acceptance of electronic publication in promotion and tenure decisions. Other important issues include copyright and the preservation and archiving of scholarly works.

Opportunities

New ideas and initiatives have emerged to more effectively exploit the capabilities of networked communication for scholarship and to challenge the primacy of established commercial publishers.

These include:

  • Institutional and disciplinary repositories (including pre-print and working paper collections).
  • Open access journals and archives.
  • Low-cost, non-profit journals established to compete with existing high-cost publications.
  • Encouraging faculty authors to avoid transferring all copyright rights to their publishers by retaining rights for non-profit educational uses for themselves and their institutions.
  • Encouraging publishers to make their content available on the Internet without charge after initial publication.

These and similar initiatives provide expanded roles for the scholarly community and offer potentially viable alternatives to commercial scholarly publishers. They help shift control of scholarly works away from publishers by disaggregating the publishing process.

This process includes the establishment of the intellectual priority of the idea, certification of the quality of the research or validity of the findings, ensuring dissemination and accessibility of the research, and preserving the intellectual output for future use. The new initiatives generally allow scholars more control to manage their own works.

Because repositories and open-access journals must deal with multiple formats and types of documents, they are ideally suited to take a leading role in the establishment of universal standards that will ensure the accessibility of content now and in the future.

Barriers

Barriers to faculty adoption of these new initiatives include:

  • Entrenched and established ways of publishing scholarly research.
  • Publishers have a financial incentive to maintain control of scholarly writings and copyrights.
  • Faculty are concerned that institutions will not judge online or open access publications as favorably as print publications when it comes to promotion and tenure decisions.
  • Faculty are concerned that materials distributed through innovative publication and communication initiatives may be untrustworthy due to unproven peer review mechanisms and inadequate quality control.
  • There is a cost to faculty in changing their behavior and spending the time and effort to make informed decisions about where and how to publish.
  • There is a lack of incentive for faculty to change their behavior if the increasing journal prices are absorbed by institutional budgets and have no impact on their access to scholarly journals.
  • New financial models implicit in most of these initiatives have not been proven and cannot be guaranteed to be sustainable.

UC Strategies to Promote Change

The UC can take specific steps to support experimentation and adoption in each of these areas of opportunity, and is encouraged to do so in order to provide faculty with concrete and credible alternatives to existing publishing practices. UC has already taken one major step by establishing the eScholarship program.

Strategies within the eScholarship framework include:

  • eScholarship Repository: UC, through the California Digital Library and its eScholarship program, has already established the eScholarship Repository. The repository offers faculty a central location for depositing pre-publication scholarship, provides persistent access to working papers, and makes them easily discoverable for researchers and other scholars.
  • Low-cost journals: Several UC campuses are members of SPARC, an alliance of research libraries, universities, and organizations committed to expanding the dissemination of scholarly information in a networked, digital environment. Members subscribe to or purchase the SPARC-endorsed journals, which are low cost and often published by scholarly societies or publishers with library-friendly values and practices.
  • Open-access journals: For example, the CDL, under the auspices of eScholarship, supports Institutional Membership to BioMed Central for all campuses (at a total cost of $21,000 per year).

UC Strategies to Overcome Barriers

Strategies to overcome the barriers described above include institutional changes in how universities evaluate faculty publication and incentives for participating in open access ventures.

Methods for overcoming these barriers might include an education campaign to inform faculty and scholars of the drawbacks of commercial publishing agreements (both between authors and publishers and between universities and publishers) and the benefits of open access publishing.

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