Home' Campus Technology : August 2012 Contents LIBRARIES
UNTIL RECENTLY, researchers have largely been insulated
from the pricing strategies of commercial publishers, since
their school libraries have been able to pay the high subscription
fees, which range from a few hundred dollars to more than
$5,000 per year, depending on the title. The situation is not
sustainable, however, with librarians contending that journal
prices "continue to rise well beyond the rate of inflation and
beyond the Consumer Price Index," says Michael Boock, head
of the Center for Digital Scholarship and Services at Oregon
State University Libraries.
Publishers initially explained away high book and journal
prices as being necessary to help build their digital-publishing
platforms, but, Boock points out, "that migration happened a
long time ago now." Due to persistent price boosts, the move
to a digital format---supposed to make accessing publications
easier---has actually decreased access because libraries can
no longer afford to subscribe to as many journals.
In the face of high costs and slashed budgets, libraries are
developing some nimble solutions to fulfill their mission. OSU
Libraries, among others, are moving from the traditional "just in
case" model, where they order books they think their communi-
ties will want, to a "just in time" model, where they buy books
on request or borrow them from other libraries.
Authors submitting articles for the first time must be endorsed by
established contributors, and all articles are moderated to make
sure they're relevant, add value, and are "of refereeable quality."
Despite the lack of a rigorous vetting process, these kinds of
open-access archives are proving to be of enormous value to
scholars. "The really interesting papers get disseminated and
digested and discussed long before they ever appear in a jour-
nal, because they go on the archives and news spreads quickly
through blogs," noted Gowers during a 2012 debate at Oxford
University (UK) about open science and the future of pub-
lishing. "It's very, very natural for a significant percentage of
mathematicians to support open access because it just seems
crazy not to...when all the dissemination is taking place before
publication. That's not true for all papers, of course, but it cer-
tainly seems to be true for the papers that one cares about."
It should be noted, however, that Gowers is an award-winning
mathematician with an established career. His advocacy for
open-access publishing stems from a desire to further academ-
ic inquiry and redress what he perceives to be unfair pricing
by publishers. In the current higher education environment,
though, no up-and-coming scholar can advance his career by
placing articles in an open-access archive alone. In academia,
there's no prestige in self-publishing.
The Prestige Factor
Fair or not, prestige matters. Publishing in high-profile jour-
nals---or failing to do so---can make or break a career in
academia, where the American Association of University
Professors estimates the ratio of tenure-track openings to new
doctorates at around 1:4.
Having an article appear in a big-name publication isn't just a
win for the scholar. Schools use the prestige of their faculty to
bargain for bigger budgets, draw new hires, and recruit students.
Prospective students look for programs with high-profile faculty
whose reputations will give them a boost in the grad school,
post-doctorate, and job markets. The stakes are high, particularly
in the hard sciences where there's big money to be won.
Which explains why new journals---or new digital modes of
scholarship---are slow to take off. A journal's prestige comes from
its reputation; the renown of its editors, reviewers, and contribu-
tors; and from other factors, such as its acceptance rates and how
often its articles are referenced by other scholars. A group of high-
profile scholars can come together to create a high-stakes journal,
but it can still take years to build a reputation.
"The really interesting papers get
disseminated and digested and
discussed long before they ever
appear in a journal."
---Timothy Gowers, University of Cambridge
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