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Paperity Hopes to Create a Comprehensive Index of Open Literature
Posted On November 25, 2014
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OA and the Future of Scholarly Publishing Are Still Uncertain

One often-touted advantage of OA is that it leads to greater impact for research. However, in The Scholarly Kitchen blog post “Is Open Access a Cause or an Effect? Phil Davis writes that research on the impact factors of OA versus traditional publications during the past 10 years produced uneven results, suggesting that OA is perhaps only one of many factors affecting impact and that it may, in fact, be impossible to demonstrate that OA leads to a citation advantage.

In a recent exchange of communication in The New York Review of Books, the nature of OA itself was raised between Robert A. Schneider, editor of the American Historical Review and a professor at Indiana University–Bloomington,and Robert Darnton, a professor and librarian at Harvard University. In the exchange, Darnton spoke of the fundamental difference between “on the one hand, journals that run on the principle of maximizing profits for shareholders; on the other, non-commercial journals whose sole purpose is to disseminate knowledge.”

Darnton describes the current OA marketplace in the following way:

The success of open-access journals has proved that the new model is feasible. Seventy percent of them do not levy article processing charges (APCs), because they are supported by professional associations or foundations; and many of the others subsidize APCs for authors who cannot afford them. Subsidies also come in the form of grants to researchers, especially in the natural sciences, and through programs like Harvard’s HOPE (Harvard Open-Access Publishing Equity). As more journals switch to open access, more subsidies will be necessary, but at the same time, libraries will reduce their expenditure on periodicals, freeing funds to cover more APCs. A research group called Societies and Open Access has identified 868 learned societies that publish fully open-access journals. Far from relying on starry-eyed idealism, open access offers an effective way for academics to take back control of the diffusion as well as the production of knowledge.

However, Darnton also describes OA as “only a means to an end, not an end in itself. If professional bodies like the American Historical Association can successfully support academic journals, so much the better.” This has led others to question the various interpretations of OA. Is OA the revolutionary new publishing system of the 21st century or an alternative among many options? Are we seeing fragmentation among academics?

“What this leads me to wonder,” notes Rick Anderson, associate dean for scholarly resources and collections at the University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriot Library, “is whether we’re seeing an ideological split in the movement between, on the one hand, those who see its ultimate goal as the complete eradication of access restrictions and, on the other, those who want access to be more open than it currently is, but are not opposed to toll access in principle as long as pricing is reasonable and revenues are funneled back into scholarly work rather than into the pockets of shareholders or publishing execs.”

University of Colorado–Denver scholarly communications librarian Jeffrey Beall is another critic of the OA movement. In a “tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique” article, Beall charges that “the open-access movement isn’t really about open access. Instead, it is about collectivizing production and denying the freedom of the press from those who prefer the subscription model of scholarly publishing. It is an anti-corporatist, oppressive and negative movement, one that uses young researchers and researchers from developing countries as pawns to artificially force the make-believe gold and green open-access models to work.” Beall also charges that institutional mandates for publicly available versions of research represent “unnatural mandates that take free choice away from individual researchers. … Instead of arguing for open-access,” he concludes, “we must determine and settle on the best model for the distribution of scholarly research, and it’s clear that neither green nor gold open-access is that model.”

The movement to incorporate technological opportunities into academic publishing that Paperity exemplifies continues to forge ahead; however, the path is not well-defined and the ultimate destination is unclear. Still, efforts to make research—all research—more readily available and easier to find is something that can be applauded by all.

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Nancy K. Herther is a research consultant and writer who recently retired from a 30-year career in academic libraries.

Email Nancy K. Herther

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