Change is rapid and constant, except in changing scholarly communication

In the June blog posting, I talked about how our collections have changed and will continue to change. Increasing costs is one of the constants we experience and I shared our hope that faculty will become more engaged in supporting our efforts to increase open access to scholarly publications. Increasing costs are not new.  Over twenty years ago, in “Issues in Scholarly Communication I: The Looming Crisis”, authors Professor David Bressoud, DeWitt Wallace Professor of Mathematics and Joel Clemmer, former VP for Library and Information Technology, wrote:

“…the electronic age is bringing both unprecedented opportunities and great dangers…Commercial ventures are moving rapidly into this field and shaping it to fit their needs.  As scholars and as educators, we have a responsibility to help determine the future of scholarly communication…”

This excerpt  is taken from the first in a series of three articles written in 1995 and published in the Colloquy.  

The  Colloquy was an irregular campus print publication that started in 1982 as a newsletter for the Bush Program for faculty development.  The last published issue was October 2003. During its run, the publication included essays and commentaries by faculty and (sometimes) staff. In 1995, a series of three articles were co-written by Joel Clemmer David Bressoud on scholarly communication.  The articles were: I – “The Looming Crisis”; II – “The Looming Opportunities”; III – “The Looming Responsibilities.” This series focused on the scholarly crisis that had been developing, but was then accelerating due to two factors: expansion of information as well as increasing costs. The authors outlined the following as part of their background information:

  • Increase in number of published math papers
    • 1840 – 840 math papers
    • 1960 – 7,800 math papers
    • 1990 – over 50,000 math papers
  • Increase in costs of databases in the library over 10 years
    • 1984 – $1,700
    • 1994 – $66,500

At the time of the Colloquy articles, two national digital projects had just launched:  Project Muse, with the intent to digitize 44 traditionally print journals; and JSTOR, with the intent to digitize the backfiles of journals. The concept of JSTOR was based on a proposal  by William Bowen, at the time president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

“…[T]o help university and college libraries provide adequate space for an ever-increasing amount of published scholarship. Bowen’s solution: convert printed scholarly journals into electronic form and store them in a centralized digital archive. Participating libraries and their institutions could free physical space, reduce capital and other costs associated with collection storage, and vastly improve access to scholarly research.”

Now, JSTOR provides access to over twelve million academic journal articles and Project Muse has expanded to over 600 journals and more than 50,000 books. Note that our current costs for databases is considerably more than $66,500 per year and in fact, one database now currently costs us $47,000 annually.  There is no question that JSTOR has expanded access to journal articles, but it has also come at a cost. At the time these articles were written, the authors optimistically stated in the conclusion of their first article: “This is our opportunity to shape the future.”

The reality is that 23 years later, we are still trying to shape the future and commercial interests are still trying to shape the scholarly publishing landscape.  As a result, we continue to see an exponential increase in the number of publications, and costs continue to rise at an annual rate of 7-11% for journal subscriptions. Every year we have requests from faculty to increase our journal subscriptions. And every year we have to explain that to add one, they need to drop one or two of equal value in order for our subscriptions to remain steady state.  Meanwhile, as mentioned in my last post, faculty submit articles for publication without being paid, yet academic libraries have to pay in order to provide access to these articles given away for free. Unfortunately, these costs are increasing beyond the ability of our budget to keep up, and most academic libraries are in the same position. There are, however, options for scholars to access a version of a published article that may be behind a paywall. And I’m not talking about using Sci-Hub. The options I am referring to include placing articles on dedicated preprint servers, or depositing post-print versions in institutional repositories. Many more publishers are allowing these options for authors.

These changes have been partially a result of an increased demand for providing open access options, along with an increasing number of institutions that have open access mandates–policies that require faculty to provide a copy of accepted, peer-review articles to be made openly available to all through their institutional repository. Internationally, there are more than 700 institutions with such a mandate including some of our peers–Amherst, Grinnell, Middlebury, Smith, and Trinity University, among others. Simultaneously, we have seen an increase in the number of subject specific preprint and postprint servers for posting a version of articles accepted for publication.

Faculty in the sciences, especially physics, have long had the preprint server Launched in 1991, it now provides: “Open access to 1,411,323 e-prints in Physics, Mathematics, Computer Science, Quantitative Biology, Quantitative Finance, Statistics, Electrical Engineering and Systems Science, and Economics.”  Preprint servers exist for the purpose of sharing manuscripts that have been peer-reviewed, but are waiting to be published.  As the lag time from when an article is accepted to the actual publication date can be quite lengthy, many scholars turn to preprint servers to find relevant and timely articles. One of the largest organizations for preprint serves is the Open Science Framework.  The following is a list of preprint servers, with those in italics hosted on OSF at


As a result of these activities, we are now seeing a number of commercial publishers who are allowing faculty to archive preprints, postprints, and sometimes the final printed version of articles on personal websites and in institutional repositories.  Sherpa Romeo is a website that allows faculty to check for policies on what is possible with articles that have been accepted for publication.  As an example, here is a screenshot showing the possibilities for one journal title:

screen shot of Sherpa/Romeo page


In conclusion, faculty have options when it comes to publishing and sharing their research, scholarship, and creative works. While the promotion and tenure process often limits where you may publish, publishers themselves have started to allow more options for providing access to a version of your scholarship.  For twenty-three plus years, we have advocated for author rights and tried to move faculty into a more open publishing environment. We are hoping to engage with faculty to encourage them to join in the effort to move even more scholarship into completely open access publications. This is just one means of addressing the effects of increasing costs on a limited budget. We can only provide access to a fraction of the resources that are behind paywalls. But thanks in part to an ever-quickening pace for conducting research and publishing results, more faculty are taking advantage of open access options to distribute and disseminate their research, and thus expanding the reach of their research. This is the goal of OA2020, “a global alliance committed to accelerating the transition to open access.”  We’ve been in crisis mode long enough. It is time to make a commitment to change and to supporting the OA2020 initiative.


My informal signature

Lever Press; supporting new models in scholarly publishing and exploring new techniques with peer review

The DeWitt Wallace Library is just one of the more than 45 pledging institutions who are supporting the new publishing initiative, Lever Press.  Lever Press grew out of several years of study and investigation and you can read more about the background and history of these efforts on a website entitled, Lever Initiative.  Utilizing a new model that is based on libraries pledging financial support, Lever Press is committed to publishing monographs at no cost to the author or author’s institution.  Another distinguishing factor is that all monographs will be open access.  This collaborative project is built on three commitments (excerpts from the website): 

  • Alignment with the mission and ethos of liberal arts colleges. Like the colleges supporting our mission, we welcome works exploring intellectual connections across academic disciplines and divisions…Inspired by the close collaborations between faculty and undergraduate students at liberal arts colleges, we seek path-breaking ideas communicated with clarity and creativity—publications that “teach what they know.”
  • Platinum OA. Lever Press is a fully open access press: all works will be freely available to readers on the web immediately upon publication. Uniquely, Lever Press is committed to what we’re calling “Platinum OA,” in which all the costs of acquiring, editing, developing, and producing the work are borne collectively by our supporting institutions—not by individual authors or their sponsoring departments or institutions. …Platinum OA means one thing  more: that the work we produce is of the highest quality, and has been selected exactly because it is worth investing in.
  • Digitally native. While Lever Press titles will appear in print form wherever possible, we approach publishing as a digital-first endeavor. Unconstrained by legacy publishing processes and leveraging the opportunities for reuse facilitated by an open-access business model, Lever Press will welcome projects of digital scholarship not well served by scholarly conventions limited to print-only outcomes.   

As a new model, another interesting development of this press is related to the peer review process.  The peer review process is a key factor in scholarly publications, but it is managed in a variety of ways depending on the publisher.  Mark Edington, Editor of Lever Press, has developed a proposed system of identification for peer review of monographs based on the Creative Commons icons.  We recently hosted a webinar in which Mark Edington, Editor of Lever Press and Jason Mittell,  Professor of Film and Media Studies and American Studies at Middlebury College and member of the Editorial Board talk about the peer review process at Lever Press.  The webinar is hosted by Becky Welzenbach, Program Manager for Lever Press.  I would welcome your comments after you review the webinar.