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.

Weird Interlibrary Loan Printing Requirements

This May, the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers released a new Statement on Document Delivery that suggests, among other things, that “on site print document delivery” is a principle that libraries ought to adhere to in order to comply with Berne Convention requirements.

As described in Insider Higher Ed post Dispatches from the Future, this could mean that students and faculty would need to travel to the library to pick up ILL requests.

This requirement is not the norm in contemporary e-journal licensing language related to ILL.

I just completed a study of 216 e-journal licenses spanning 2000-2009 representing 11 publishers and 52 state institutions including 10 consortia based on a data set gathered by Ted Bergstrom.

While I can’t post the paper here because it is under review, I can say a couple things:

1.  Print-First: The vast majority of our licenses (82% in the most recent time period)  included what I call a “print-first” requirement that required or implied that the sending/loaning library should print off a copy of the e-article prior to rescanning it and sending it via secure transmission system to the receiving library.

2. Print Pick Up: Very few of those (2%, and all from one publisher) modify the print requirement such that the receiving library print off the article and require the end user pick up that physical copy.

The print pick-up clause looks like this “…for that other library to make a single paper copy of that document available to an Authorized User of the said other library for the purposes of research or private study…”

Based on our survey of ILL clauses in licenses, the print pick-up clause is highly unusual and falls well outside the norm of  ILL licensing language.  It was only used intermittently by at least one non-commercial publisher in our sample.

Most ILL clauses say something like:

“..Licensee may ..supply to another library..(whether by post, fax or secure transmission..)…for the purposes of individual research or private study.., a single paper copy of an individual document.”

The former dictates the receiving library create the paper copy for an end user. The latter is much more ambiguous.  Note both clauses are from the SAME publisher with different institutions.

Contemporary model licenses go further and encourage removal of  print-first requirements by offering alternative text that does not mention printing or paper.

More info:

Inside Higher Education Dispatches from the Future

Kevin Smith Duke Libraries A Second Front

Public Library Internet Access in Wisconsin is Integral to Job Seeking and Improving Employment Opportunities

 Public Library Internet Access in Wisconsin is Integral to Job Seeking and Improving Employment Opportunities
by Kristin R. Eschenfelder, Catherine Arnott Smith

High speed access to the Internet is now an integral part of modern American life, yet proposed elimination of WiscNet, and through WiscNet Wisconsin public libraries’ low cost internet access, would  hurt the most vulnerable citizens in our state: the unemployed, the underemployed and those struggling to make ends meet and better their situation in tough economic times.

Computers and the high speed access to the internet are now a must have for job searching, investigating the health options for one’s family, interacting with banks and investing to generate wealth, engaging with educational institutions, interacting with government agencies to obtain services, and fully participating in democratic society.

Those without high speed internet access stand at a distinct disadvantage.

For example, according to Pew 56% of 18-29 year olds and 46% of 30-49 year olds felt that lack of broadband access conveyed a “major disadvantage” in terms of finding employment and improving job skills.

Yet Pew Internet and Society and  US Department of Commerce reports confirm that in 2008 and 2009 around 1/3 of the American public did not have high speed internet access at home (2010).  Many of these non-subscribers depend on public libraries for high speed internet access.

How does public library internet access support job seeking?

Public library internet access is used by the unemployed to fill out job applications and correspond with potential employers via email.  Moreover, for those lacking basic job hunting skills, public libraries increasingly provide internet and computer training on how to use the internet to find jobs and how to write resumes. Our ongoing research on public libraries and financial literacy shows that public libraries see helping citizens find jobs as their most pressing financial related information service (http://publibraryfinlit.wordpress.com/).

Public library free internet access becomes more important during times of financial stress. It is part of the public library’s very reason for being to provide services either free or at low cost; public libraries are located everywhere in the country, have more open hours than other kinds of community agencies, and are often accessible by public transportation (Xie & Bugg 2009).

A 2007 study showed that for over ¾ of American communities the public library was the only reliable source of free internet access for the general public and that public demand for more terminals and more time continually challenged library resources (Bertot, McClure, Jager 2007).  The number of free internet computers in Wisconsin public libraries varies from Milwaukee public library’s 388 reported internet computers to Lowell Public Library’s 2 internet computers (DPI 2009).

What do people use library internet computers to do?  One 2008 study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project investigated requests for government information in public libraries. These researchers found that respondents went to a library for help in:

*Making a decision about schooling, paying for education, or getting training for self or a child [20% of respondents]
*Changing jobs, retiring, starting your own business [11%]
*Serious illness or health conditions in self or someone close [10%]
*Property taxes or income taxes [10%]
*Medicare/Medicaid/food stamps [10%]
*Social Security/military benefits [10%]
(Pew 2007)

Libraries are a major source of access to the internet by low-income, jobless, or transient.   Families with household income of <$15,000 are 2-3 times more likely to use library computers than those earning >$75,000.

While no differences by race and ethnicity have been found in library use overall, African-American and Hispanic adults have been found to be significantly more likely to use the public library when researching employment opportunities and writing resumes (American Libraries 2006). In addition, African-Americans were the largest demographic group in one survey reporting computer use at the library—80% respondents in contrast to just over 50% of White library users (Pew 2007).

Is home broadband affordability a problem?

Why don’t people subscribe to broadband at home? Surveys of non subscribers report that 40% of respondents cite cost, 17% reported not subscribing because of not having an adequate computer, and 15% reported not subscribing because they could “use it elsewhere.”  (Pew 2010; Commerce 2010)

How much does high speed internet access in Wisconsin cost?  This spring our LIS 202 Information Divides and Differences class conducted a town vs rural pricing analysis for about 24 Wisconsin counties using Link Wisconsin data.  In the analysis we could clearly see that rural residents are at a disadvantage because fewer providers offer service in their areas.  Listed prices among wireline providers vary from the mid 20s to upwards of $40 a month for modest broadband speeds. (http://www.link.wisconsin.gov)

Moreover, those who do not live in town on near major roads are at even more of a disadvantage because they may only have access to satellite based broadband which is much more expensive — upwards of $80 per month.

The 40 to 80 dollar monthly charges may not be affordable for families given under and unemployment.  Families stretching to pay mortgages or rent may cancel high speed internet access, increasing their reliance on high speed internet access at public libraries and schools.

Maintaining free high speed access to the internet at public libraries is integral to ensuring that every citizen of Wisconsin has the opportunity to improve their economic situations, regardless of whether they can currently afford home broadband or not.  Tony Evers of DPI explains the importance of WiscNet based internet access for public libraries and the likely increased costs that libraries will incur if WiscNet is abolished: “ninety-five percent of our public libraries get Internet access via WiscNet… and  if our schools and libraries must use other Internet providers most will pay at least 2-3 times more than what WiscNet now charges.” (DPI 2011)

Who doesn’t think broadband internet access is important?
To be fair, there is an element of the population that feels that broadband access is not important, and that not having access entails no disadvantage.  According to Pew polling, that element tends to be 65 years of age or older and that element tends not to current use the internet  (Pew Home Broadband 2010)



American Libraries (2006) New study reveals growth in library usage. American Libraries, 37 no 4, 4 Apr 2006.

Bertot, McClure, Jager (2007) Public Libraries and the Internet 2007: Issues, Implications and Expectations. Library& Information Science Research (30) 175-184.

Department of Public Instruction (2011, July)Department of Public Instruction State Superintendent Press Release (http://www.wispolitics.com/index.iml?Article=238671)

Department of Public Instruction (2009) Wisconsin Public Library Service Data: Statistics at the Public Library Level [data set] (http://www.dpi.state.wi.us/pld/dm-lib-stat.html)

Link Wisconsin Mapping Tool (http://www.link.wisconsin.gov)

Pew Internet and Society (2010) Home Broadband 2010 (http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Home-Broadband-2010.aspx)

Pew Internet and Society (2007) Information Searches that Solve Problems (http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2007/Information-Searches-That-Solve-Problems.aspx)

US Department of Commerce (2010) Exploring the Digital Nation: Home Broadband Internet Adoption In The United States (http://www.ntia.doc.gov/reports/2010/ESA_NTIA_US_Broadband_Adoption_Report_11082010.pdf)

Xie B, Bugg JM. (2009) Public library computer training for older adults to access high-quality Internet health information. Library and Information Science Research. 31(3):155-162

See also:

Smith, C.A.; Eschenfelder, K.R. (2011) Public Libraries and Financial Literacy Research Project (http://publibraryfinlit.wordpress.com/).

LIS 202 Information Divides and Differences in a Multicultural Society (http://kreschen.wordpress.com/classes/lis-202-digital-divides-and-differences-in-an-information-society/)

Thoughts about new business models: Harper Collins expiring books

Harper Collins instituted a controversial plan to have its e-books expire after x number of uses.  This represents a very new configuration of technology, access rights and use rights in the library-publisher realm. In its current configuration, the deal is not very attractive.  But, it could be.

Right now just number of serial uses is configurable.  Ideally it would be great to see price also vary by unlimited uses during a buckets of time (6 months, 1 year, 18 months).  But unlimited users during buckets of time likely generates concerns about undercutting book sales among publishers, so perhaps a compromise would be packages of many (but not unlimited) seats/copies ( a model that allows simultaneous access) for buckets of time.

Say for example I could buy 20 seats/copies for 6 months, then drop to 10 for the next six months, then drop further.  That would accommodate a demand curve, but also keep demand somewhat unfulfilled so that borrowers unwilling to wait in line might be tempted to buy books.

To make this worth libraries time, there would need to be a bulk discount. Purchasing rights to 20 copies of the book should be substantially less than 20 times the cost of licensing one copy of the title.  Particularly since most of the copies will expire.  Perhaps discounts could also be tied to the currently free promotional activities libraries do – like book clubs and reviews.  If you host the title in a book club – you get a discount or deal.

Further, it would be nice if “old” titles that libraries retained for longer term were also deeply discounted if multiple copies were originally licensed during the title’s mos popular period.

I’m not necessarily opposed to having expiring copies as one of many ebook options, including say for instance a library owned and served e-copy that could be a serial use model for lower use parts of the demand curve.