The ole bait and switch

Prompted by an email from a faculty member who is stalled in negotiations over self-archiving a forthcoming journal article, I had an idea. As we’ve seen in recent months, the Editorial Boards of journals can have substantial impact on the changes in scholarly communication. Often, it seems scholars who are in those positions feel conflicted and tied to their duty (continuing to publish the necessary literature for the advancement of the field) and their personal feelings about open access or being supportive of shifts in research culture. So, I’ve devised a method for librarians and junior faculty members to work their angles without making their senior colleagues out to be the bad guys.

Ask questions. Here’s a good sample one:

Dear Editor, whom I respect immensely, do you happen to know the reason that we are “required” by this publisher to sign away all copyrights to our article in order to publish with this journal? This sounds a lot like I am giving the publisher everything that I just worked so hard on, and I’m not sure that’s in my best interests.

In case you’ve forgotten what most publishing contracts actually say: “The Contributor assigns to Wiley-Blackwell, during the full term of copyright and any extensions or renewals all copyright in and to the Contribution, and all rights therein, including but not limited to the right to publish, republish, transmit, sell, distribute and otherwise use the Contribution in whole or in part in electronic and print editions of the Journal and in derivative works throughout the world, in all languages and in all media of expression now known or later developed, and to license or permit others to do so.”

Ask more questions.

Dear Editor, I’d like to put a version of this article in a repository so it can be read by my colleagues and/or students in the developing world/independent scholars/public schools/different disciplines/underfunded institutions. Am I allowed to do that?

Dear Editor, I noticed that this journal published an article by (colleague) who happens to be on faculty at _____ University. That university has an open access policy that requires them to submit a their article to the repository. My institution does not have a policy like that, but I’d like that option. Could you ask the publisher why they let that person do it, but they tell me no?

It would seem that posing these sorts of questions to those who are actually in a position to make the change might be a good way to bring the groundswell up a level without significantly hindering the junior faculty members’ publishing opportunities. As it happened today, I went through the journal in question and discovered that they had recently published an open access special issue, and several articles by faculty at schools with rights-retention, mandated open access policies. I recommended that the faculty member point these things out to the Editor and then say, “All I want is to put the peer-reviewed version in a repository.” If we (librarians and junior faculty members with open access hearts) can find ways to present the importance of questioning how we publish (not just why, or what) to Editors and Editorial Boards, the Publishers will have more pressure to adapt to the needs of the publishee.

I’ll have to see how this sneaky, back-handed technique to change publishing via the middle man will play out, but it seems like a good way to work with younger faculty members who feel constricted by the “way things are.”

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