Welcome to the blog of Kristin R. Eschenfelder.

I am a Professor  and Director at the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  I am also an affiliate of the Holtz Center for Science and Technology Studies, the School of Journalism and Mass Communications and a founding board member of the Wisconsin Digital Studies program.

Fall 2013 recruiting update:  I am interested in taking on a new PhD student to work in one of the following areas: 

  • any aspects of scholarly or popular publishing (electronic or otherwise)
  • licensing of journals, ebooks, databases
  • open access
  • data sharing issues from the data repository perspective
  • intellectual and cultural property issues

If you are interested in working in one of the above areas please send me an email. We have a highly competitive admissions process, but we fund everyone we admit!

Contact Information:

Professor Kristin R. Eschenfelder
4228 HC White Hall
600 N. Park Street
Madison, WI  53706
(608)338-8783 (fax)


Kristin R. Eschenfelder (PhD, Syracuse 2000) is a Professor at the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research interests focus on access and use regimes – or the complex, multi-level networks of laws, customs, technologies and expectations that shape what information we can access in our daily lives and how we can make of it.  Her recent work examines development of and changes to access and use regimes for digital scholarly works including electronic publications (journals, books, citation databases), digital cultural materials, (such as museum, archival or anthropological works) and data sets. Her past work explored web based government information and policy and management issues inherent in digital production of government information and records.  She has also published in the areas of public libraries and financial literacy.

Her work has been published in venues including The Information Society, First Monday, the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, College and Research Libraries, the Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, Government Information Quarterly, and Library and Information Science Research.

She teaches courses in research methods, social informatics theories, electronic resource management, database design and introduction to organizing digital resources.

More stuff on this blog: List of Publications \ Research Projects \ Classes I Teach \ My Service

Elsevier Boycott?

This is the type of activity needed to force real change in scholarly publishing!


The Cost of Knowledge boycott encourages scholars to pledge to stop publishing in, refereeing for and doing editorial work for Elsevier journals



1. high cost

2. bundling practices that force universities to spend money on lower quality journals

3. Elsvevier’s support of legislation that would undermine open access efforts.

What would be EVEN BETTER is activities within each field to track the costs of journals by publisher to sustain efforts,

accompanied by continued efforts to lower prices via increased competition by creating alternative lower cost venues (and avoid those venues being purchased by a larger publisher), and

continued efforts to move high prestige titles away from high cost publishers (editorial boards jumping ship)

That being said, the only Elsevier journal i have published in to date is Library Information Science Research, so the boycott doesn’t mean much for my publishing/reviewing activity.

JSTOR Atlantic editorial

Thanks to Nancy Sims at Minnesota for writing a nice augmentation/correction of the JSTOR critique in the Atlantic. Thanks Nancy!

Thought: We need to educate people about how the structure of the political economy of scholarly publishing.   How does journal publishing work? Where does the money go? Who owns the copyrights? Who are all these crazy intermediary platform companies?

Lots of smart, well-meaning, energetic people making less-than-optimal arguments because they don’t have a clear picture of the structure of the industry.

The truly interested/e-publishing wonks might want to read:

Roger C. Schonfeld JSTOR:A History Princeton University Press, 2003.

I will work on this problem…but things are too crazy until May….

More Like This Please…

Monibot, George (Aug 29 2011) Academic publishers make Murdoch look like a socialist: Academic publishers charge vast fees to access research paid for by us. Down with the knowledge monopoly racketeers. guardian.co.uk

I do not buy everything in this article, but it is a good overview of the scholarly communications crisis geared to motivate a general audience – which is what we need instead of more hacking of JSTOR.


It draws attention to the real problem: the growing monopolization of the scholarly communications field and the subsequent inordinate profits of _some_ publishers at the expense of universities and ultimately the public.  Greater public outcry about expenses of journal databases, if combined with public pressure on publishers to reduce prices, could be very helpful.  More like this please!

Other comments:

While the author’s solution of a single archive funded by libraries seems initially attractive, I think there are strong counter arguments to the proposal of a single archive funded by libraries.

One counter argument is innovation. To their credit, commercial publishers — in cooperation with libraries and other stakeholders — have created really great tools for crunching the literature. Examples: Web of Science citation chaining, Link Resolvers.

I am skeptical that this type of innovation would occur under a one-size-fits all article archive.

I believe we need specialist publishers who serve certain areas that can respond to demand for new tools. And those tools do incur some expenses. At the same time, sleepy little publishers should continue to exist whose customer scholars do not demand high end tools.  I have to believe that lumping both sets of publishers in one category or library would dampen innovation.

But innovation could occur in other sorts of markets with greater competition or less profit maximizing actors.

Moreover, we have a long history of commercial publication of scientific information.  Undoing that infrastructure would be incredibly politically and socio-technically difficult.   But I admit I am a bit of a pessimist about these things.  It would be nice to be wrong.

At the same time, it is also clear that things have gotten out of hand the taxpayers are paying a lot for their public universities to buy access to databases whose publishers report record profits.

Perhaps a more realistic approach would be to pressure the Justice Department to revisit some of its antitrust decisions with regards to big publishers?  See work of Mark McCabe, Ted Bergstrom.  It would be nice to have more people brainstorming alternative realities in this area.

Here is a related article about an anti-trust investigation into e-book pricing.

Please don’t try this at home part II

I’d like to follow up on the general argument I am seeing in some comments that “Swartz did this for research purposes, and therefore its ok.”   I won’t comment on the criminal charges or penalities.  Out of my range to comment on.  I think an alternative history of JSTOR to complement Schonfeld’s very throughly footnoted volume would be a nice penance.

First, full disclosure – I have gotten my hand slapped for research spidering a site that caused the host sites heavy server traffic.  I felt bad about it.  I didn’t know what I was doing, or that it would have such a noticeable affect. It didn’t involve downloading. Perhaps my own experiences being called to the carpet by very annoyed server admins make me think more about the people inconvenienced by this.  Or maybe i just hang out with info labor people too much.

Ok, he did it for research purposes – but did he think about what kind of effect it was having on people?

From an institutional review board/human subject protection perspective, doing research that causes an entire campus decreased access to an important database, or doing research that causes malfunctions on the publisher’s server end is not ok.

I’m willing to posit that most people would agree as a general principle that it is not ok to do research that throws off all the administrative functioning at a large organization– for quite a length of time!  This wastes people’s time, money, energy.

The research may be worthy, but one ought figure out a way to do it that does not cause users at MIT to lose access, does not cause administrative turmoil at MIT and JSTOR.

That being said, I believe publishers ought to make their text corpi available for research. Further, they ought to grant 3rd party providers like JSTOR permissions to allow research spidering of their works (remember JsTOR is under various obligations to the publishers whose stuff they host — they may not have the rights to grant permission— open question).

My opinion might change. I have many questions: Was the research _that_ crucial to merit the harm that it caused to the users of JSTOR at MIT, or to staff at MIT and JSTOR if no access program existed?  Did he try to negotiate access? How hard?  Could he have waited or found an alternative (less disruptive) way to get the same data? I’ll be curious to see the details that emerge.

Special issue: International Journal of Internet Research Ethics Vol 9 (2008)

Useful article: Academic Data Collection in Electronic Environments: Defining Acceptable Use of Internet Resources, 30 MIS Q. 599 (2006) (with Gove N. Allen & Gordon B. Davis).

p.s. all computer science types who don’t know what human subjects/IRB stuff is, please go take your institution’s human subjects training.

Please don’t try this at home.

This post was largely inspired by some overly-simple “publishers are evil” comments I saw from friends inspired by the Swartz news coverage:

Reasons why I don’t think Aaron Swartz’s massive downloads from JSTOR were a good idea in terms of forwarding the broader goal of promoting more openly accessible work in academia.

Assumptions: I assume that “more openly accessible” includes material that is both open access and material that is reasonably priced to promote a rich and diverse academic publishing environment that includes more publishers and more competition among publishers.

1. He hid, and tried hard to hide- It was not a real civil disobedience effort as per the classic MLK definition of civil disobedience which requires that the protester accept any standing punishment for the action.

2. Scholarly communications is in a crisis with profit maximizing publishers seeking to extract rents from academic libraries.  JSTOR however, is not one of the problem publishers.  JSTOR is not even a publisher.  Incorrect target.  Some publishers have their own distribution platforms such as Elsevier’s Science Direct.  See Bergstrom’s work on most expensive journals.

3. He inconvenienced users and librarians at MIT causing server outages at MIT and JSTOR and requiring MIT users to go through a more onerous login process.

4. JSTOR, as a third party platform, does not contain  “top priority” open access material such as very recent medical or agricultural articles of importance in developing nations.  In fact, journals often only let JSTOR have issues after a few years have passed in order to protect subscriptions (aka “the moving wall).  Again, wrong target.

5. It is not true that downloading a large portion of JSTOR “it’s like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library.”  Libraries own books, they license access to articles on 3rd party platforms. In a licensing situation use rights are governed by a license that pretty much always prohibits end users from “systematically downloading” content.  The license requires the library to take action against any violations (e.g. systematic downloading) or lose access to the material with no refund.

(As a side note, libraries could in fact have policies about the maximum number of books one could check out so allow other members of the public access )

6. JSTOR, as a distribution platform, relies on contracts with publishers to get journal articles. They pay publishers for the right to host their journal articles.  JSTOR does not get them for free!

7. We want journals in JSTOR!  If publishers perceive that JSTOR cannot provide security for their articles, they may pull out from the JSTOR program. Several publishers have threatened to pull out when they realized they could make more money selling their archives (aka “backfiles”) directly.  No doubt they would price it higher.  Publishers pulling out of JSTOR negatively impacts smaller colleges with smaller budgets that rely on third party platform services like JSTOR (see also Academic Search Elite etc.) to provide their students a wide array of journals to use while minimizing the need to negotiate and contract with hundreds of different publishers.  So, Swartz may have harmed JSTOR, but probably did not influence publishers to make their material accessible for more reasonable fees at all.

In sum, I believe Swart’s downloading will have zero impact on pricing debates at publishing houses that actually control the end price that libraries pay or how openly accessible an article is to end users = not a useful enterprise.

While I take the Society for Scholarly Publishing’s word on any access issues with a grain of salt, I agree with their take on this one.

No doubt more interesting information will emerge when the court case starts this fall.

My opinions here do not extend to Swartz’s work on government information.

** Further thoughts **

What if he was doing it for research to crunch a large text corpus and not for civil disobedience purposes?  Ok, well then did he request to use the JSTOR Data for Research Program?  Publishers and 3rd party platforms now routinely field requests for crunching across their data sets.

Could the JSTOR DfR program not accommodate his needs?

I guess the court case in Sept. will reveal all.