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If academic publishing is broken, can librarians help fix it?

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Michael P. Taylor,  one of the Sauropod Vertebra weekly image-posters that recently emerged as a commentator on scholarly communication from his academic vantage point,  made a worthy attempt this week at telling readers of TheScientist  about the dysfunctional system of academic publishing that continues to be idealized, resuscitated, and defended, albeit mostly by publishers and their lobbyists.   No competing interest there. :-)   

Mr. Taylor suggests (and I agree) that there probably is more ignorance than fear and loathing among faculty ranks.  This is something that librarians can fix.

Taking a look at the March 5th anti-FRPAA letter being trotted around by lobbyists, there are probably about 50 scholarly societies and associations on the signatory list. Each of these organizations represent dedicated faculty providing the labor-intensive peer review and editing activity in what little time can be gleaned from teaching, mentoring, grant management, and their own scientific research.  Senior faculty provide credibility, authority, and status for journals published by a scholarly society. Junior faculty are concerned about their own academic standing and success that become evidence for a permanent academic appointment.

Every faculty member is connected to libraries and librarians that provide resources and services.  Library liaison and outreach activities increasingly include NIH open access policy publication support, knowledge management education for institutional translational science programs, and essential literature searching for evidence-based systematic review development. In my opinion,  faculty collaboration with  information professionals during the scholarly processes of discovery, organization, writing, and publishing  is more interactive and appreciated.

Librarians can also educate their faculty constituencies on scholarly communication issues, the risks of substandard peer review, and the costs of providing knowledge to their academic community. Here is some of the scholarship from the library and academic medicine community that cites the growing influence of librarians on academic publishing and scholarly communications.

Brower SM. Medical education and information literacy in the era of open access. Med Ref Serv Q 2010 Jan;29(1):85-91.(subscription required)

Koehler BM, Roderer NK. Scholarly communications program: force for change. Biomed Digit Libr 2006 Jun 21;3:6.

Plutchak TS. Searching for common ground: public access policy and the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable. J Med Libr Assoc 2010 Oct;98(4):270-272.

Sperr EV,Jr. Libraries and the future of scholarly communication. Mol Cancer 2006 Nov 7;5:58.

Koehler and Roderer speak most directly to the type of initiative that I envision for every academic medical center library:

  • Conversations and forums to raise scholarly communication issues,  educating faculty about the issues and encouraging  appropriate practical actions.
  • Web sites to promote awareness of scholarly communications issues, initiatives, and practices while offering an interactive space for users’ responses.
  •  Detailed information conveniently arranged about a journal’s publisher, impact factor, local usage statistics, and opinions of local authors who have published in particular journals to comment on their own experiences with publishers.
  • Using all types of student and faculty encounters to make sure that scholarly communications brochures were available and that these meetings provide another opportunity to educate constituents to the changing world of publishing.
  • Consistent and persistent faculty engagement.

The Koehler and Roderer article concludes:

Scholarly communication is approaching a crossroads. If the current system is unsustainable, as many believe, and if technology has changed the landscape of publishing, then a time for serious decision-making is at hand. There is a role for the libraries and librarians in this enterprise – continuing to support authors and to disseminate scholarly communications information until there is an economically sustainable system that provides the widest possible access to scholarship. The goal of the Hopkins’ scholarly communications initiative has never been to undermine the world of scholarly publishing. It is not necessary to make everything free for libraries or to put publishers out of business. Indeed, our goals are to ensure that Hopkins authors know what their rights are, that they manage their own work in a way that benefits science as well as their own needs, that they understand the business plans and philosophy of the journals they work for, and that they take control of their own publishing destinies.

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Tue, March 20 2012 » Uncategorized

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