About Author: Wendy Robertson

Posts by Wendy Robertson


Monographs are important in the humanities – but consider open access

On Monday, The Guardian’s Higher Education Network posted an item by Melissa Terras “Want to be taken seriously as scholar in the humanities? Publish a monograph“. The entire short post is worth reading, but here are a few excerpts:

We don’t write humanities monographs for riches. We may do so in an attempt to earn academic fame. But the career kickback for me was rapid promotion. In the humanities, the monograph’s the thing.

With digital publishing comes the uncoupling of content from print: why should those six years of work (or more) result in only a physical book that sits on a few shelves? Why can’t the content be made available freely online via open access?

Isn’t this the great ethical stance: making knowledge available to all? Won’t opening up access to the detailed, considered arguments held within humanities monographs do wonders for the reputation and impact of subject areas whose contribution to society is often under-rated?

The humanities’ dependency on the monograph for the shaping and sharing of scholarship means that scholars – and publishers – should be paying attention. How will small print runs of expensive books fare in this new “content should be available for free” marketplace? How will production costs be recouped?

The latest Jisc survey on the attitudes of academics in the humanities and social sciences to open-access monograph publishing makes an interesting contribution to this debate, showing how central single-author monographs remain to the humanities, and how important the physical – rather than digital – copies are. People still like to read, and in many cases buy, them.

The monograph is still the thing: anyone who wants to be taken seriously as a scholar in the humanities should work towards having one. Open-access requirements are on the horizon, so broach them with the publisher. Don’t accept £10,000 costs. Brandish this survey, and say “people still buy books”.


The Global University Press

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education provides another perspective on University Presses. “The Global University Press” (July 23, 2012) by Peter J. Dougherty, director of Princeton University Press, looks at the global market and how University Presses can benefit from increased international focus. Dougherty discusses several trends in global scholarship and lists innovations that can aid University presses:

  1. University Press Content Consortium’s Books on Project MUSE and Books at JSTOR
  2. Transnational advance of online book merchants
  3. Print on demand, or POD
  4. Digitally driven publicity
  5. Use of social and other digital media to communicate with local sales representatives in foreign countries

He adds, “The most crucial work in creating the global university press lies with acquisitions editors, who will be building the lists of the future.”


Interview with Gita Manaktala from MIT Press

The fourth post in Adeline Koh’s series Digital Challenges to Academic Publishing in The Chronicle of Higher Education  is “What is the Future of Academic Publishing? An Interview with Gita Manaktala from MIT Press”. Koh asks about open access publishing of monographs, alternative peer review, libraries as publishers and the future of University Presses. Makaktala states:

There are many possible futures for the scholarly monograph. Ultimately its fate is not in the hands of university presses, which have struggled to keep it alive in spite of declining readership. (Academic libraries have likewise struggled to support the monograph despite falling circulation.) The future depends on whether scholars themselves value the monograph enough to keep reading it. If so, funding models for monographs can and will be found.

The full interview can be read at http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/what-is-the-future-of-academic-publishing-an-interview-with-gita-manaktala-from-mit-press/41335.


University Presses

Ever since the University of Missouri announced on May 24 that it was closing its Press, university presses have been generating quite a bit of discussion.  In the last few days several items of interest have appeared.

On July 6, The Iowa City Press-Citizen interviewed Jim McCoy, the director of The University of Iowa Press, about the future of the UI Press (“University presses seek out new roles and new markets”). McCoy said “we have an incredibly supportive administration who understands that we fill a necessary function. … We bridge the gap between research and teaching.” He also noted that they are very small in terms of people but publish a far higher number of books per staff member each year than other presses. He emphasized the value of working with the UI Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, Prairie Lights and The UI Libraries.

Inside Higher Ed published an opinion piece on July 9 by Marshall Poe of Iowa’s history department (“What Can University Presses Do?“). Poe would like to see presses move towards open access publishing and new modes of outreach. This item generated quite a few comments from people familiar with university presses and is worth reading for the responses it has generated.

On July 10, The Chronicle of Higher Education included an interview with Patrick Alexander, the head of the Penn state University Press, by Adeline Koh (“Is Open Access a Moral or a Business Issue? A Conversation with The Pennsylvania State University Press“). This is the 3rd piece Koh has written in her series “Digital Challenges to Academic Publishing”. This interview discusses differences between STEM publishing and humanities publishing


Ethical Practices of Journal Editors

A voluntary Code of Conduct for journal editors now exists. Editors can affirm their support for the five points, which include refraining from coercive citation practices, keeping marketing strategies separate from the peer review process, encouraging data transparency, and communicating relevant ethical standards to the editorial board. One of the two editors that started the code, Steven Rogelberg of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (editor of Journal of Business and Psychology), said a letter in Science in February about coercive citation practices convinced him of the need for a code. Inside High Ed defines coercive citations as:

those that editors seek to add to authors’ pieces not because they are needed, but to make various journals appear more influential. Many people use various measures of journal influence that are based on counting how many times journals’ articles are cited — so extra citations yield a more influential journal.


Local costs for journals

A boycott of Elsevier journals has been growing to show opposition to their support of the Research Works Act and their 36% profits (see Research Bought, Then Paid For – an Op-Ed in the New York Times, Elsevier boycott gains momentum, Elsevier responds to the boycott, and “Of goats and headaches”–The Economist on journal publishing for previous posts on these issues ).

There have also been prominent articles about the lack of public accessibility of academic research, such as “Locked in the Ivory Tower: Why JSTOR Imprisons Academic Research”  which appeared in The Atlantic on Jan 20, 2012. This particular article points to JSTOR as an example of the “broken economics of academic publishing”. Nancy Sims from University of Minnesota wrote “Academic publishing is full of problems; lets get them right” which is a good response to the Atlantic article, correcting some of the specifics.

Since that time, we have seen faculty taking note of the cost of some e-journal packages and collections of titles, most notably the $2.9 million figure from Purdue when that institution came close to cancelling their Elsevier package in December. (“Purdue re-signs contract for online scholastic access” )

In order to keep Iowa faculty informed about the cost of journals from a variety of sources, we offer these figures for University of Iowa costs from FY 2011:

 Publisher  Cost # of Titles
Elsevier  $       1,641,530


Wiley/Blackwell  $           868,031


Springer  $           607,540


Sage  $           243,647


JSTOR  $             97,602


Cambridge UP  $             43,940


Project Muse  $             33,210


Oxford UP  $             21,313


Please note that the JSTOR figure is for back content (the so-called moving wall), not current issues.

The following chart offers another way to view the relative size shares of the pie different publishers receive from our acquisitions budget (the denominator for these percentages is total spending on e-journals). The data is slightly older than that used above.


Do ‘the Risky Thing’ in Digital Humanities

Kathleen Fitzpatrick, the director of scholarly communication at the Modern Language Association, recently wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education called Do ‘the Risky Thing’ in Digital Humanities.  She recounts a story where she encouraged a graduate student to do the risky thing and pursue an innovative project rather than a traditional dissertation. Fitzpatrick added  “Make sure that someone’s got your back, but do the risky thing.” She adds:

“That is not to push experimentation for experimentation’s sake, but it is to say that reining in a project a graduate student really wants to do to conform with a traditional structure is counterproductive, deflating both the student’s passion and the thing that makes her work distinctive.”

Fitzpatrick continues by identifying the support from an adviser as more critical. This support continues through helping graduates in their first jobs explain to senior faculty about their work.

“Too many young digital humanists find themselves cautioned away from the very work that got them hired by well-meaning senior colleagues, who now tell them that wacky digital projects are fine on the side, or once the work necessary for tenure is complete.

“In giving that advice, we run the risk of breaking the innovative spirit that we’ve hoped to bring to our departments. And where that spirit isn’t broken, untenured digital scholars run the risk of burnout from having to produce twice as much—traditional scholarship and digital projects—as their counterparts do.”


Coalition of Open Access Policy Institutions

Twenty-two universities and colleges have formed the Coalition of Open Access Policy Institutions (Coapi) to “collaborate and share implementation strategies and advocate on a national level for institutions with open access policies”.

University of Kansas Dean of Libraries Lorraine Haricombe said:

“Society depends on universities for the creation of new knowledge, so we have a responsibility to disseminate and share that knowledge to gain the most benefit for science and society. This new coalition will offer academic institutions an opportunity to stand together and establish open access to knowledge in the sciences and humanities as a broad societal norm.”

Marc L. Greenberg, professor and chair of the Slavic Languages and Literatures department added:

“I always keep the idea of ‘knowledge as a public good’ in mind in doing  work for open access and I view what we do as part of renegotiating the social contract between universities and society. Universities belong to the public.”

See http://www.news.ku.edu/2011/august/3/openaccess.shtml for more information and a list of participating institutions.


JSTOR opens access to pre-1923 journal content

JSTOR is opening access to everyone for their pre-1923 journals in the United States (pre-1870 elsewhere), making them freely accessible to the public. These articles come from more than 200 journals and total close to half a million articles, about 6% of the total JSTOR collection. The content can be re-used for non-commercial purposes. When searching JSTOR, you can limit your search to “only content I can access” in the advanced search. The Early Journal Content will be marked with the word “free”, along with other content that is freely available. A short video tutorial on accessing the content is also available. The content will be released on a rolling basis over the next week.

JSTOR states:

“Our mission involves expanding access to scholarly content as broadly as possible, in ways that are sustainable and consistent with the interests of our publishers who own the rights to the content. We believe that making Early Journal Content freely available is another step in this process of providing access to knowledge to more people; that we are in a position both to continue preserving this content and making it available to the general public; and this is a set of content for which we are able to make this decision.”

Not all pre-1923 content will be made available by JSTOR.

“We do not believe that just because something is in the public domain, it can always be provided for free. There are costs associated with selection, digitization, access provision, preservation, and a wide variety of services that are necessary for content to reach those who need it. We have determined that we can sustain free access and meet our preservation obligations for this particular set of content for individuals as part of our overall activities undertaken in pursuit of our mission.”

We thank JSTOR for making the Early Journal Content freely accessible.

For more information see: http://about.jstor.org/participate-jstor/individuals/early-journal-content and http://about.jstor.org/participate-jstor/individuals/early-journal-content-faqs

See also http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/jstor-opens-up-u-s-journal-content-from-before-1923/33057?sid=wc&utm_source=wc&utm_medium=en


Academic publishers make Murdoch look like a socialist

The Guardian has a short opinion piece on academic publishers, calling them “the most ruthless capitalists in the western world”.  The author, George Monbiot, compares spending £1 for 24 hours of access to the Times with a per article cost ranging from $31.50 for an individual Elsevier article to $42 for a Wiley-Blackwell article. He notes that journals are now 65% of library budgets (we spend a similar percentage at The University of Iowa). Elsevier’s profit margin was 36% in 2010, the same as in 1998, demonstrating that this is not a new phenomenon. Elsevier, Springer and Wiley have bought smaller publishers, so they now account for 42% of journal articles, including many with the highest impact factors.

The author states:

“Academic papers are published in only one place, and they have to be read by researchers trying to keep up with their subject. Demand is inelastic and competition non-existent, because different journals can’t publish the same material. . . . Far from assisting the dissemination of research, the big publishers impede it, as their long turnaround times can delay the release of findings by a year or more.”

While this issue is bad for researchers at universities, it is even worse for independent researchers who would need to purchase each article separately.

“This is a tax on education, a stifling of the public mind. It appears to contravene the universal declaration of human rights, which says that ‘everyone has the right freely to … share in scientific advancement and its benefits’.”

Monobiot concludes with the suggestion that all publicly funded research be made openly accessible (as is current practice with NIH funded research) and that there would be a single global archive of academic literature and data funded by library budgets with money diverted from the private publishers.