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There has been quite some talk about the future of libraries recently, not only online but also at the recent conference "The public, the media and politics: intellectual debate and science in the age of digital communication" I attended. At the conference I made several proposals to the librarians there, which were discussed quite lively at the meeting. Two of these propositions I'd like to post here as well.

The first one is to try and cut as many subscriptions as is allowed by the contracts with the publishers, starting with the lowest ranking journals (doesn't matter which rank is used). The importance is to cut the subscriptions below the cuts that have to be made due to budget constraints anyway. This allows the library to keep some 'extra' funds which are not spent in subscriptions as open access funds: whenever a scientist approaches the library and asks for a new subscription (or where one of the old ones has gone), the library can tell the scientist that they now support OA publishing instead, which would resolve all subscription problems. Of course, to pre-empt future price-gauging, ideally only non-profit publishers should be supported. If that would be done over several years, a substantial shift of funds from subscription-based to author-pays publishing models would be the result.

A second, more far-reaching proposition is to use the saved funds to start a library-based publishing model. Given the ever-sinking cost of publishing, what's keeping the libraries from doing in a modern way what they've been doing traditionally for centuries: archiving the intellectual fruits of their faculties? Why do university faculties pay libraries who pay publishers? All that is technically required for publishing today is a computer and an internet connection. The saved funds could be used to pay for some hardware with experts who would then be able to handle all the peer-review and other technicalities of publishing. All that would be required is some sort of standard, which would make the databases in each library interoperable with each other. Why isn't there a "World Library of Science" which contains all the scientific literature and primary data? Why do we have so pay many middlemen to publish science in 24,000 different journals? Why do we have so many different databases for primary data and whenever one of them starts working really well, the funding agencies lose interest and the databases are faced with collapse? Why don't we just cut out the middleman and every library takes on its small share of publishing primary data and primary literature? This middleman is making a net profit of over 5 billion US$ every year - these funds should go quite a long way towards a World Library of Science, if these tax funds were invested rather than distributed among private shareholders who have nothing to do with science. This seems so natural and logical to me, that I have to keep reminding myself of the historical circumstances which brought about the current overly convoluted and thus expensive publishing and data archiving system.
Posted on Monday 21 February 2011 - 10:59:02 comment: 0
libraries   databases   publishing   literature   open access   


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