1 Oct 2013

Is it a Case of 'Publish or Perish' for Libraries?

Image Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/shmuel510/5546944073/ (Schmuel 510)
Whilst the increasing shift towards open access is creating new roles and opportunities for both libraries and librarians, some argue that it is threatening one of our key functions as the unlocker of paywalls to subscription journals. In reality, I believe it is a catalyst for creative destruction rather than a "threat"; our traditional role will change for sure, but ultimately this will generate even more opportunities to be involved in supporting research.

One possible strand of this is the library's involvement (or otherwise) in administering, or even funding, the article processing charges (APCs) levied by many commercial journals for making articles freely accessible. Such charges represent the cost of publishing (which is not free, although usually significantly lower than APCs) and the often-cited "value added" by publishers through branding, editing, marketing and so on. However, another route points to the potential for libraries to become publishers themselves. Libraries are intrinsically credible, reliable and neutral - three characteristics that make them ideal partners in scholarly communications. Our traditional association with collecting, archiving and providing access to information should ensure we are perfectly placed to extend these activities to academic publishing. Selling our services as publishers should even be easy in theory; we have as good an understanding of research workflows, copyright issues, research dissemination and impact as anyone. Is this not also "adding value" in the same way that commercial publishing houses do now? Just as our Special Collections serve as a unique and priceless point of differentiation, so too can our output as scholarly publishers. Creating and publishing unique content is potentially a very powerful way of demonstrating our value.

There are already significant opportunities for digitising back issues of existing print journals, opening them up to a new audience and a more sustainable future (the Journal of The Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland, recently made openly available by Trinity College Dublin, is a great example of this). However, perhaps the biggest barriers that libraries face in moving into this space are the existing practices, traditions and culture, an issue identified by Stuart Lawson's research at Anglia Ruskin who notes that "the question of whether there is sufficient support for such as service among academics...is still uncertain".

There are signs that existing traditions and culture are changing however, especially in some disciplines. The success of the PeerJ model points to this for one. Until more libraries actively engage in publishing projects and demonstrate that they can serve as valuable partners in the process (as many have already successfully done), there will likely be some hesitation and uncertainty that the concept can work effectively. However, it is very difficult to argue with the "value added" by libraries involved in projects like the JSSISI, and open access publishing at the University of South Florida, University of Pittsburgh and York University.

For more ideas and discussion of libraries as publishers, see The Lib Pub blog.


Post a Comment