Scholarly Communication

EVENT ANNOUNCEMENT: Q&A with Peter Suber 10/26

October 14th, 2011 in Copyright, Open Access, Scholarly Communication.


This year, BU is again participating in Open Access Week, an international event sponsored by the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC). BU Libraries will sponsor a Q&A with Peter Suber, widely regarded as one of the originators of the Open Access movement.


The conversation will take place WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 26 at 4PM in Stone B50 (basement of the CAS building, 675/685 Commonwealth Ave.)

Peter Suber is a Fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Senior Researcher at SPARC, the Open Access Project Director at the Public Knowledge Project, and Research Professor of Philosophy at Earlham College. He earned his MA and PhD in philosophy, as well as his JD cum laude, from Northwestern University. Suber serves on numerous steering committees and advisory boards for high-profile open access projects. His homepage is here.


Open access is an important and growing area of concern among BU faculty, according to the 2010 Faculty Library Survey Report. The academic publishing industry is in the midst of a complex upheaval, as authors begin to pressure publishers to change copyright-related practices and institutional libraries buckle under astronomically increasing subscription prices for academic periodical literature. Many publishers have changed their standard practices to allow your work to be freely disseminated after a certain period following publication. Some others are in the process of implementing similar changes. Still others are holding fast to practices that ultimately obstruct the dissemination of knowledge.


If you have published articles, and intend to do so again, you are affected. At stake is whether your work will effectively reach your audience. As an author, you have a say in this. BU has resources to help clarify your rights, the current state of academic publishing, and venues for disseminating your research.

You are affected as a reader, as well. Open access directly influences how much material is available to you for research, irrespective of library budget constraints.


You spoke, and BU listened. The 2010 Faculty Library Survey Report indicates that there is a growing interest in open access among our faculty. Please come with questions about open access and what it means for you and your research. After a brief introduction, we will open up the floor for the Q&A.

Sponsored by BU Libraries’ Digital Initiatives and Open Access Group

Next Generation Digital Books

May 12th, 2011 in Digital Scholarship, iPad, Scholarly Communication.

Even as the BU Libraries are rapidly adding ebooks to the collection, we recognize that most of them are simply electronic versions of print books. We are beginning to see a new generation of books published in digital format. It might be better to call such books something other than ebooks. Perhaps “digital books?” The video below is an example of such a book.

The Future of the Textbook according to publishers

February 28th, 2011 in Digital Scholarship, Scholarly Communication, student-resources.

Josh Fischman’s post on “The Wired Campus” section of The Chronicle for Higher Education includes a podcast with William D. Rieders, executive vice president for new media at the publishing company Cengage Learning. Rieders says ““An e-book is not an engaging experience….” Publishers are working to provide much more than simply replicating print textbooks in an electronic format such as homework tools, assessment mechanisims, etc.

Video:The Ivory Tower & The Web

February 17th, 2011 in DigiLib BLog, Digital Scholarship, Scholarly Communication.

Dan Cohen’s plenary talk “The Ivory Tower and the Open Web,” given at the Coalition for Networked Information meeting in Washington in December, 2010. A general description of the talk:

The web is now over twenty years old, and there is no doubt that the academy has taken advantage of its tremendous potential for disseminating resources and scholarship. But a full accounting of the academic approach to the web shows that compared to the innovative vernacular forms that have flourished over the past two decades, we have been relatively meek in our use of the medium, often preferring to impose traditional ivory tower genres on the web rather than import the open web’s most successful models. For instance, we would rather digitize the journal we know than explore how blogs and social media might supplement or change our scholarly research and communication. What might happen if we reversed that flow and more wholeheartedly embraced the genres of the open web? (Dan Cohen)

The Ivory Tower and the Open Web from CNI Video Editor on Vimeo.

Scholars Create Influential Journal for About $100 a Year

February 3rd, 2011 in Open Access, Scholarly Communication.

As reported by Jen Howard in The Chronicle for Higher Education (January 30, 2011)

A group of herpetologists—researchers who study reptiles and amphibians—has been quietly demonstrating that it’s possible to put together a well-regarded, researcher-run journal with the tiniest of budgets and no help from a publisher.

The journal, Herpetological Conservation and Biology, caught my eye as a well-developed example of a movement for grass-roots scholarly publishing that has been rapidly picking up speed. The herpetology publication, founded in 2006, is an online-only, open-access, peer-reviewed journal with a budget of about $100 a year. (That money comes out of the editors’ pockets.) Unlike most science journals, it charges no author or download fees. It has a submission-to-publication turnaround time measured in weeks or at most a few months.

And it has just hit a milestone: The editors learned in December 2010 that HCB will be included in Journal Citation Reports, a service run by the commercial publisher Thomson Reuters that calculates impact factors for journals—a significant measure of importance for many researchers. HCB will receive its first impact rating in 2012 or 2013, and the editors expect the journal to rate highly. That credential will help reassure potential contributors, especially researchers who don’t yet have tenure, that publishing an article in HCB will be good for their careers.

About That $1B Per Year

January 18th, 2011 in Open Access, Scholarly Communication.

© 2010 Brad Wheeler. The text of this article is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License (

EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 45, no. 6 (November/December 2010)

Brad Wheeler

Brad Wheeler ( is the Vice President for Information Technology and CIO for Indiana University

The economic crisis that began in 2008 is prompting a large-scale search for cost savings in colleges and universities. For example, a number of institutions have engaged management consultant firms (e.g., Bain & Company, Accenture, Hackett Group) to help them rationalize business processes, benchmark costs, and seek economic efficiencies of the type that are presumed in the private sector. In most cases, public reports from this work point to potential efficiency gains for basic business practices such as centralizing procurement, making greater use of common IT systems, and reducing layers of management. The ultimate goals of these efficiency exercises are to redirect more of an institution’s resources into its core missions of research and education and to spend less on basic, non-core, administrative-support activities. However, since the largest proportion of the budgets of higher education institutions is (appropriately) in the core areas, gains in both efficiency and effectiveness are essential there as well if institutions are to adjust to the economic realities of this decade.1

Renting the Copier

Imagine if an efficiency consultant uncovered the following situation. In 1984, an important business function in a university began using a convenient copy service for $0.10 per copy. The university staff provided most of the labor, and the copy service company provided the machine. Twenty-six years later, the university is still using the copy service and still providing most of the labor costs, but the price has changed—to $0.85 per copy. In addition, the copy service now imposes restrictions such that only certain members of the university can read the copied documents. If others want to read the copies, the university must pay extra for the number of potential readers of the document rather than just the per-copy fee.

Ridiculous? A fee that is 850 percent of the rate twenty-five years earlier? The fee should be approximately $0.21 per copy if it had tracked with the U.S. inflation rate and had gained no technology efficiencies in twenty-six years.  Surely, no efficiency expert would affirm continuing to rent the copier under these terms. The expert would undoubtedly point out that the university could own and operate a copier for a much lower cost and without any restrictive use rules that impede the university’s work. If this situation were found in a non-core administrative area, it would be viewed as outrageous and would be changed immediately.

Renting the “Journal Copier”

In fact, a very similar situation exists today in a core area of research and education. This copier example is imperfectly illustrative of the cost and restrictive use imposed on most academic libraries by academic journals. For example, in 2006 a group of 275 doctoral/research universities paid a combined $1 billion to essentially rent the “journal copier” system that would provide their faculty, staff, and students with access to scholarly journals.2 In 2010, they are paying even more, and the real scale of the cost to colleges and universities spans globally to institutions of all sizes. A sweeping study from the United Kingdom estimated total annual expenditure for journals at £597.4 million (approximately U.S. $952 million) in 2006–7. The total estimate for scholarly communications—inclusive of faculty time for editing and reviewing—was £5.4 billion (approximately U.S. $8.6 billion).3

Librarians and others have long chronicled the “Crisis in Scholarly Communication,” so I will not repeat it here.4 The move from libraries owning paper copies of journals to paying for electronic access via annual subscriptions—that is, “renting” the material—has shifted absolute pricing power to the publishers. Prices have steadily escalated even as electronic distribution has cut production costs and as colleges and universities continue to supply most of the labor and intellectual skills required for journal writing, reviewing, and editing.

A number of solutions have been proposed for this cost and access problem: the assertion by faculty authors of their rights to deposit work in their institution’s library; models of subsidized open-access publication; and federal open-access mandates for sponsored research. All of these ideas have great merit, and in time, they could favorably affect the $1B problem. I fully endorse them as worthy directions. In the near term, however, I see little real relief for the inflating $1B problem without a more substantial intervention. The economics of the relationship between the buyers (fragmented) and the suppliers (consolidated) are vastly skewed and show no plausible reason for self-correction.

Since scholarly communications span many faculty, institutions, and continents, no college or university can influence the $1B cost problem by acting alone. Few journals are owned by institutions. Many are owned by scholarly associations (e.g., the American Psychological Association), which source the digital production of their journals to a diminishing number of commercial publishing firms (e.g., Elsevier, Wiley). In the sciences, for example, many journals are owned entirely by the commercial publishers. The scholarly publishing industry is thus composed of many fragmented participants and agency relationships for authoring (faculty), buying (libraries), and consuming (faculty/students). There is no locus of decision-making authority among institutions to produce a directed solution to the $1B problem.

How can CIOs and other IT leaders help? A new model is needed—one that uses a low-cost, IT-enabled infrastructure to incent industry evolution to a cost structure and rules that better enable the work of scholars in a financially sustainable way.

The Big Digital Machine

If exorbitant prices for “renting” the journal production infrastructure and restrictive rules of access are the problem, then institutions should shift from renting to owning the “journal copier—or leasing it under more favorable terms. The Big Digital Machine (BDM) is a concept to do precisely that. It envisions aggregating and integrating a set of publishing capabilities for the full cycle of scholarly publishing—from production to distribution to preservation. Its services would include preprints, conference proceedings, journal articles and journals, monographs, and textbooks. It could make a better offer to the many scholarly societies that have outsourced their journal publishing work to commercial firms. By collectively owning BDM, institutions could set the terms for journal pricing and distribution, and they could better manage the costs of the infrastructure—indirectly paid by colleges and universities—on which scholarly societies run their review and publication processes. BDM could be the “back office” system for both existing journal titles and new journals. I assert five reasons for pursuing BDM:

  1. Libraries are nearing (if they are not already beyond) their capacity to cut and prune in all directions to pay for the rising costs of journals. Faculty have long been shielded from these problems, but now the costs of the current model mean that institutions are cutting access to the scholarly record in some fields. This undermines the research mission of the institutions, and in the “Era of the New Normal,” there is no new money to maintain the status quo as prices continue to rise.
  2. We stand as the first generation in a millennium that cannot guarantee access to scholarship for future generations. When copyright is transferred from author to publisher in the current model, institutions must then rent it back each year to read their own scholarship—at whatever price is asked. Ownership means that societies or institutions can set their own terms for access to their scholarship—from open access to subscriptions, per-article pricing, and everything in between.
  3. We have already proven much of the technology and systems that are needed to create BDM. Tools like Open Journal Systems (OJS), Fedora/DSpace/DuraSpace, Connexions, EPrints, libraries’ institutional repositories, and others are fulfilling many of the core capabilities that are needed for a college/university-owned publishing infrastructure.
  4. Colleges and universities can aggregate their resources and run above-campus or cloud service models that serve multiple institutions.
  5. Ownership of the infrastructure means that colleges and universities can make a better offer to the scholarly societies and other journal providers to achieve their goals using BDM. Once BDM is established, it will be difficult to further justify exorbitant rental fees for journals that choose other approaches.

A Modest Start

In 2009, the institutions in the Committee on Institutional Cooperation ( collectively invested $160,000 in early work on the BDM concept. That work developed some technical integration among DuraCloud, OJS, and Connexions software. In addition, these software projects agreed to adopt a common approach to Google Analytics so that authors could assess the use of their content in a uniform way. By the summer of 2010, much of this work was being rolled out in new releases of the various systems.

As of this writing, the next steps for the BDM concept are not determined, but the rising costs and the use restrictions of the current model remain unabated. I believe that visionary leaders can solve the $1B problem that affects the core of the academic mission, but doing so will require the scale of coordinated and visionary action that created Internet2 more than a decade ago.

So, after those management and efficiency consultants help colleges and universities streamline procurement and other non-core activities, we need to turn their attention to fixing one of the big money problems in the core of the academy. Or we could just get started on it ourselves.


1. See William F. Massy, “It’s Time to Improve Academic, Not Just Administrative, Productivity,” Chronicle of Higher Education, January 9, 2009, p. A26, <>.

2. Tai Phan, Laura Hardesty, Cindy Sheckells, and Denise Davis, Academic Libraries: 2008, NCES 2010–348 (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, 2009), p. 13, <>.

3. See John Houghton et al., “Economic Implications of Alternative Scholarly Publishing Models: Exploring the Costs and Benefits,” JISC report, January 27, 2009), pp. XIII, XI, <>.

4. See Michigan State University Libraries, “The Crisis in Scholarly Communication,” <>, and University of Connecticut, University Libraries, “Scholarly Communication Crisis,” <>.

In Praise of Copying

October 26th, 2010 in Copyright, Open Access, Scholarly Communication.

Harvard University Press has recently published Marcus Boon’s book, In Praise of Copying, under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license, and it is available as a hardcover as well as a freely available PDF file. Below is a brief excerpt:

Boon, Marcus. 2010. In praise of copying. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

I know that people reading this book will expect to find here an ethics of copying—but from the outset, I would like to call such a desire into question. Can we really identify an area of human activity outside copying which would make it possible for us to choose or decide whether to copy or not? I will argue that there is no such area, that we are always entangled in the dynamics of mimesis, and I write “in praise of copying” as an affirmation of copying rather than as an ethics. The word “copyright” (nearly 3.8 billion hits on Google) itself sounds a little desperate, as though one had to actually suture the words “copy” and “right” together in order for them to associate consistently. Just to put that number in perspective, “freedom” gets only 315 million Google hits and “truth” 312 million—a factor of ten less than “copyright.” Even “sex” gets only 876 million hits, in case you’re wondering. Don’t you think that the concept of “copy- right” is a little overdetermined? (p. 6)

Crowdsourcing Peer Review and a Response

October 25th, 2010 in Peer Review, Scholarly Communication.

Mike O’Malley’s provocative essay, “Googling Peer Review,” raises interesting questions about the shift from an era of scarcity of information to an era of abundance of information that affect both scholars and  information professionals.

Ear­lier I argued that the era of scarcity in evi­dence was com­ing to a close, because so much pre­vi­ously hard to get mate­r­ial now exists online. Maybe it’s time for the era of scarcity in peer review to end as well. We ought to be able to rethink peer review in ways that make it more effec­tive and less “clubby.” (O’Malley)

He is not the first to suggest that peer review might be re-conceived in a digital context. Kathleen Fitzpatrick, who has been a leader in exploring “open peer review,” has posted a thoughtful response to O’Malley’s essay:

It’s gratifying to see other scholars getting interested in these wacky ideas about reinventing scholarly publishing that I’ve been pushing for over the last several years. In particular, the entry of scholars who are relatively new to the digital into these discussions confirms my sense that we’re at a tipping point of sorts, in which these new modes, while still experimental, are beginning to produce enough curiosity in mainstream academic circles that they’re no longer automatically dismissed out of hand.

All that said, I do feel the need to introduce a few words of caution into these discussions, because the business of open peer review isn’t quite as straightforward as simply throwing open the gates and letting Google do its thing…. (Fitzpatrick)

read the full response

UPDATE (10/26):

Mike O’Malley continues the conversation:

Peer review has not only served us badly: it’s cost aca­d­e­mics more and more cul­tural author­ity. The gen­eral pub­lic, hav­ing more sources avail­able online, is less will­ing to trust experts, and  sees peer review as akin to the mon­keys in Kipling’s Jun­gle Book: “We all say so, and so it must be true.”

Kath­leen Fitz­patrick made an excel­lent post on peer review. I highly rec­om­mend it as a deeper and more nuanced take than my ear­lier polem­i­cal version.

Fitz­patrick explains more about what Google does,  and how unclear Google is about how it ranks pages: since peer review is cen­tral to pro­mo­tion and tenure and career eval­u­a­tion, it’s dou­bly prob­lem­atic that Google hides its meth­ods. She adds that talk­ing about open sourc­ing peer review  it won’t pro­duce peo­ple will­ing to do the hard work. She’s right on all points.

But I still think a case can be made for ignor­ing a specif­i­cally aca­d­e­mic audi­ence for peer review, just ignor­ing it, and enter­ing aca­d­e­mic work in the gen­eral inter­net fray. Here’s why.

read more

Peer review in the age of Google?

October 19th, 2010 in Peer Review, Scholarly Communication.

Michael O’Malley’s recent essay, “Googling Peer Review,” raises some really interesting questions about the peer review as we move from an age of information scarcity to information abundance…

Who is not ambiva­lent about peer review?  On the one hand, it estab­lishes a basic, reli­able level of qual­ity in argu­ment and in evi­dence. On the other, it grinds every­thing down to a bland same­ness. Peer review assures pro­fes­sional stan­dards are met, and also enforces ortho­doxy. Anony­mous peer review pre­vents intim­i­da­tion: anony­mous peer review allows  irre­spon­si­ble, spite­ful crit­i­cism. Peer reviews can be extremely help­ful: peer reviews can crush the spirit. They take for­ever, and they also present a sig­nif­i­cant bur­den of uncom­pen­sated labor.

read more

Are the problems with scholarly communication a symptom of a deeper problem…

October 19th, 2010 in Scholarly Communication, Tenure and Promotion.

For all the hype we give Open Access Week, (and yes, at Boston University we work hard to provide activities and events to engage students, staff and faculty) progress toward making open access the default or even dominant model for scholarly communication often seems slow. Dorothea Salo’s “Innkeeper at the Roach Motel” drew much attention when she strongly asserted that ‘the “build it and they will come” proposition has been decisively proven wrong.’ Salo and others are right that the barrier is not technological. Steven J. Bell’s recent essay, “Why I’m Not in the Mood to Celebrate Open Access Week,” points to issues embedded in academic culture that prove to be significant barriers to success for the open access movement. It’s worth a read.

I know there are some interesting new ideas about open access floating around out there, and Barbara mentions some of them here. Dorothea Salo shares some as well in an informative podcast interview with Roy Tennant. For much of the conversation Salo expresses her frustration with our lack of progress in creating change. Some things are beyond our control, but in other ways we can do better. For example, she says that we are at fault for poor communication that fails to make faculty aware of “the very real inequities and difficulties that their own behaviors cause.” Well, when I try do that I hit the brick wall of having faculty point at the current system, and acknowledging that it may be broken but they don’t want to be the ones to change it because it will potentially cost them their chance at tenure, a thousand dollar merit increase or a promotion to a more prestigious university. The Tennant-Salo interview ends on a more hopeful note with Salo seeing some signs that higher education (faculty bloggers, the occasional essay in IHE or the Chronicle) is starting to question the current system. I am feeling less more