Is the Academic Publishing System Unbalanced? My response.

A comment that I added to Andy Woodworth’s recent post Is the Academic Publishing System Unbalanced? 


Ok… spent some time reading and re-reading this and I think I have some valuable insight here. The first thing I’d like to point out is that the system has already started to change, albeit slowly and with much difficulty. Just yesterday the University of Kansas announced the formation of COAPI (Coalition of Open Access Policy Institutions) which includes 21 high profile universities who have all adopted open access policies calling their faculty to consider alternative options for publishing their research. Many schools tenure and promotion committees, including Florida State University where I am working on this exact issue, are adapting the faculty bylaws and allowing open access research and digital publications to hold some weight in the tenure process. 


In addition to what university adminisrative bodies are doing, individual faculty members and groups of interested folks are taking these matters into thier own hands and recreating the entire system of scholarly communication from the ground up. Take for instance Media Commons – this project aims to “transform what it means to “publish,” allowing the author, the publisher, and the reader all to make the process of such discourse just as visible as its product.” Basically, it is an experiment in “open peer review,” allowing the ubiquitious comment feature of the modern web to serve as the process by which the scholarship is tested and approved. Projects like this are a long way off from adoption in many schools with ridgid processes and guidelines about how Scholarship is supposed to work, but its picking up steam. 


The underlying point that all parties agree on is that juding scholarship by peer review is the most essential aspect of its value, and that model must remain in place. The good news is open access institutional repositories, open access journals, digital publications (like some blogs), juried art exhibits, etc. etc. all are totally compatible with the peer review process. So no big deal right? Wrong. The issue lies with the culture of how and why faculty publish in journals, and the gift economy that complicates the journal’s place in this process. 


Here’s the scenario – Prof. A writes an article. She is 2 years from tenure and needs to publish it in a high profile journal. Lucky for her, the article is accepted to said journal. She donates her scholarly work – the article – for free, to the journal. Prof.’s B, C and D serve as reviewers for said journal. They read (peer review) the article, donating their time, for free, to continue the process. Finally, said journal publishes the article in a nice fancy booklet, and perhaps a digital version too, and sells that product to the very library and the very instituion where Prof. A is employed. The library MUST have this journal available and pays ever increasing rates to ensure access to these articles for faculty and students on campus. And thus continues the cycle. Free work from scholars is sold to their libraries. 


Open access offers an option to alter this system. Scholarly blogging offers another option. But, fundamentally, faculty at our universities continue to participate in this cycle because it’s just what they do. Teaching, Service and Research – where service and research are wrapped up in this off-kilter model of production. My work right now, and I think the work of many librarians in the future as this stuff grows into the fabric of what we do, is to inform faculty that there are other options to consider. And you know what? It’ll take a bold, rebellious faculty member to consider breaking outside of the cycle to try something new. The bottom line, and a selling point for open access that seems to ring well with faculty, is that publically funded research, morally, should be publically available. I think on the horizon that open peer review will be a plausible model in which peers, grad students, undergrads and the general public will all be able to openly participate in the scholarlship of our professorate. But, for now it’s still an uphill battle. 

I could go on for hours – if you’d like to explore this more, feel free to email me, or comment below. 



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