Public access to scholarly writings | Life
Have you ever tried to access an item and access a paywall? Whether it’s the local newspaper (oops – sorry Daily News!), A medical journal, or a recipe from Better Homes and Gardens, paywalls are always frustrating.
Paywalls are particularly frustrating when the article reports publicly funded research. Most research is funded by government, higher education institutions, or non-profit organizations. Researchers who receive this funding conduct their work and write articles to share their findings. These articles are then sent to other researchers to be validated in the peer review process (these reviewers are also not remunerated). If approved by the research community, the article is printed in a journal. It is important to note that researchers are not paid by the editor of the journal.
The publishers then resell the journals to researchers, often through university libraries, at exorbitant prices. This system makes the public (you and me!) Pay for the research to be conducted, pay for the results to be written, and then pay to learn more about the results. If you are not associated with a subscribing institution or library, you may not have a way to access this publicly funded research. Obviously, this system is only ideal for the publisher.
Libraries are at the forefront of making research and scholarship more accessible to all, but there are many obstacles. First, publishers love to make money, and the academic publishing industry is extraordinarily lucrative. In 2010, Elsevier, one of the largest science publishers, reported a 36% profit margin, which was higher than Amazon, Apple or Google that year.
Second, universities use the prestige of the journals in which faculty publish to make decisions about tenure and promotion. This means that researchers are rewarded for their publication in well-established and often expensive journals, journals that can only be subscribed to from a single publisher. In a world of publication or disappearance, prestige can be more valuable than public access. Third, the inertia of âthis is the way it has always been doneâ makes it difficult to chart another course.
Although difficult, academic libraries are taking steps to change the landscape of scholarly publishing. We do this, for example, by encouraging and assisting authors to publish articles in open access journals and by providing support and infrastructure for open access publishing efforts. Open access, as defined by the rights organization SPARC, is âthe free, immediate and online availability of research articles associated with the rights of full use of these articles in the digital environment. Open Access ensures that anyone can access and use these results, to turn ideas into industries and breakthroughs into better lives. Open Access gives the public the opportunity to read and use the research they have supported and funded.
Of course, publishing an open access journal still has costs, even if the goal of these efforts is not profit. There are many different business models to support these journals, and academic libraries have been at the forefront of exploring innovative ways to increase access while ensuring high-quality, peer-reviewed content. Many journals are now available free online as a result of these open access efforts. You can view a list of these journals on the Directory of Open Access Journals website.
What can you do about the problematic business model of scholarly publishing? If you are an academic or researcher, consider trying to publish your work in an open access journal or under a Creative Commons license. Legislation and government support are also essential for change to happen, so consider reaching out to your congressman to support public access to publicly funded research. The college publishing industry is down, and these are just the first steps towards finding solutions, but I think we’re headed in the right direction.
Martinez is a science librarian at the University of Idaho.