Yesterday, I attended an event facilitated by the Research Information Network and hosted by Sage Publishing as a roundtable discussion of the complex issues involved in the communication channels, fears and issues surrounding academic publishers, libraries and researchers. I attended this event in the capacity of a researcher who also has experience of publishing under an Open Access model and also as someone with a keen interest in the latter. I just wanted to put forward in this post some of my thoughts of the outcomes of the day.
Much of the day was driven by a distinct possibility of library and publisher extinction. As the technological and economic ground shifts beneath us, adapting business models to fit with the needs of the sector is not an easy task. What is the role of the library?
The expertise held by librarians is twofold. The first of these is a meta-, discipline non-specific skillset which can be taught to enable those within the disciplines to locate the material they need. This should not be underestimated. As we approach the information saturation point, these skills are needed to ensure that overload is avoided. The second area of expertise -- and one which I believe should be more widely disseminated -- is of the funding model of acquisition.
Should researchers have to understand the finance of how libraries get the material they need? I believe so. If you do not understand the incredible budget pressures they face, you will undoubtedly be disappointed when your institution lacks the material you want. However, you will also be out of the loop as to the potential measures you can take to target it.
One of the strongest rationales for publishing in Open Access journals is to consider the cashflow. If taxpayer funded research is then locked away in publications that they have to pay for again, this does not make sense economically. Understanding that Open Access journals save your library budget and will, therefore, mean that you have access to more materials is an extremely persuasive argument for the political significance of where you choose to publish. This argument cannot be made without a basic understanding of library acquisitions.
Of course, the problem with the Open Access model is the role and value of the publisher. Publishers seemingly need to move towards a service-orientated approach where their fees for peer review, copyediting, typesetting and proofreading are all budgeted into a proposal. This, however, does not bode well for early career researchers who are unlikely to secure funding from an institution for Open Access. It seems likely, then, that more universities will move towards an in-house publishing model which will, in all likelihood, be predicated upon the goodwill of academics to perform the editorial functions. I don't think this is right, but it looks like the way things are going. The government has decided that universities will have less money. They need to both publish and acquire. If there are fees to publish, they will be unable to pay. If there are fees to acquire, they will be unable to acquire. They need something for nothing and, undoubtedly, an already overworked contingent of academics will be their answer.
This doesn't bode at all well for publishers. Unless they can demonstrate the value that their brand will offer over and above an in-house press, it doesn't look good. Furthermore, unless they can devise a funding model which will help early-career researchers, a younger generation of academics will find themselves cut out of the loop and will look to publish elsewhere; probably in Open Access journals. Publishers: you can hang back and rely on the older generations of academics for a while; they value your brand and, for the most part, seem unlikely to change. However, neglect the up-and-coming academic populous at your peril. Today, they need you. Tomorrow, they will be the ones you need. Bring the focus back to the researcher; serve them and demonstrate the value you can bring -- be the people who make it happen, not the people who say no, you can't publish and no, you can't read. Librarians, likewise; politicize the issue of publishing -- show how the ecosystem works and demonstrate your place in it.