Monday, 26 March 2012

Autosubversive practices: where we're all going wrong, and what we should do to get it right

Stephen Abram kicked us off this morning with a rallying call to librarians to shape up or move out. Following him on the podium is Martin Eve, an early career researcher from the University of Sussex. He has all of UKSG's "stakeholders" in his sights: academics, librarians, publishers are each working against their own interest in some way. We need to find common ground to build our future on; the current status quo is:
  • Younger researchers are reacting angrily against the current publishing system; they see a premium being charged for a service they don't value, while they can't access the content they need and they are suffering cuts elsewhere even as the serials budget continues to rise.
  • Yet the academic process is built on the currency of reputation, which is tied up with publishing. There is a "culture of credentialism" (encouraged by REF), and the "best" place to publish is not necessarily aligned with researchers' ideals.
  • Libraries cannot entirely predict what content is required and have to make best-fit decisions, for example, buying big deals - they too get the blame when academics can't access the wider literature.
  • Green open access is a stop-gap measure; it's unsustainable. OA needs to be gold, and the culture of credentialism needs to change. There are good examples already of the gold OA model working well, but "author pays" are scary words. Funders often don't understand it, and institutions at the bottom of the chain don't have the money.
(along the way, Martin lays down a gauntlet: UKSG's hospitality is too generous. How can we afford such nice treatment for our speakers when academic conferences can't? Thoughts on that welcome!)

What is each group doing wrong? publishers are:
  • Bankrupting libraries: academics aren't getting rich; why should publishers?
  • Pay walling: doesn't support the spread of knowledge
  • Blackmailing authors for their copyright (because authors have no choice where to publish)
  • Making libraries take the rap for being unable to afford content
  • Politicking to protect and outdated model of profit
Martin's tip for publishers: "you have to make your product as good as the alternatives that have no charge, and then you'll be valued for what you do".

Libraries: what will happen when you are no longer the custodian of paid for collections? Youll lose your power, and be replaced by IT contractors. If there's value in the library's role in centralising knowledge, you need to stop being passive.

Researchers: we drive library acquisition by where we publish; we have our heads in the sand. It's because of us that the system is as it is; we need to defeat REF, not destroy throw the good things about the publishing system out with the bad.

How can we move forward?

We can only improve the current system if we attack it together, not separately. Publishers have priced themselves out of the market, and the current alternative (OA) threatens the role of librarians. Can we solve bring these two together - the library as publisher? Only "those who are profiting without contributing to the system" would lose.

Question: are you proposing to reinvent the small scholarly society press?
It's a bit different. Martin doesn't underestimate the effort and expertise required in publishing process, particularly at scale. There is a role for publishers and librarians in the future, but it's not the same role. (is the issue here about publishing salaries? Martin posits a library press run by 30 people on £30k - are publishers pricing themselves out of this market?)

Question: "tear it down and build it up" - but what exists in the interim? How do we make the transition? Institution-specific publishing systems would need to exist everywhere at once or people would have less access, not more.
Martin: scale it down, rather than tearing it down. Start small: get five institutions to demonstrate the model and its potential. Once viability is proved, it can escalate.

Martin closed by quoting a Banksy image: "laugh now, but one day, we'll be in charge." An amusing but chilling way to remind all of us in the room who we're serving, and the importance of meeting their evolving needs - our system is broken, and we need to embrace, rather than prevent, change - or we will be ousted.

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