Academics must be applauded for making a stand by boycotting Elsevier. It’s time for librarians to join the conversation on the future of dissemination, but not join the boycott.
“Blog posts and campaign statements published by an anonymous scientist and blogger @FakeElsevier have struck a chord with Dave Puplett. Here he explains why the blogger’s call to arms appeals to his inner ideological librarian... This anonymous scientist recently posted an open letter to Elsevier employees expounding their own take on the causes of the increasingly widespread dissatisfaction with Elsevier held by researchers. The result is one of the most concise and passionately argued pieces I’ve read on the subject of scholarly communications for years... [From the @FakeElsevier open letter] ‘It’s not about money and never has been...’ The Librarian voices in the Open Access movement have in my opinion too often been distracted by using spiralling journal subscription costs as a rationale for pushing for Open Access... Fundamentally the librarians in research supporting roles that I know want to bring down barriers to accessing scholarly research. Inflexible packages and rocketing prices don’t make that goal any more likely... [From the @FakeElsevier open letter] ‘As far as we are concerned, publishers have ONE JOB: disseminating the results of our work to the widest possible audience...’ Again, Libraries want the same thing, and we want to help. University Libraries have a critical role in helping people find research, and many are now helping researchers make their work accessible with repositories or even hosting journal titles... [From the @FakeElsevier open letter] ‘In the internet age, Elsevier is doing an unbelievably sh*tty job of accomplishing its ONE AND ONLY PURPOSE: to distribute our work as broadly as possible’ Some readers may remember Elsevier withdrawing free access for Bangladeshi researchers to its content about a year ago. Although Elsevier reversed the decision once pressured, it sent a message to the academic community about its priorities in widening access and maximising profit. I understand why scientists are angry with Elsevier, and I think it’s because of the growing distance between the goals of academia and those of some major publishers. [From the @FakeElsevier open letter] “Adapt, or be disintermediated” Publishers do add value to the process of scholarly communication, but it should be kept in context. I’ve always liked the thinking behind describing publishers as midwives: ‘The Scholarly Publisher as Midwife’ (Information Today; Jul/Aug2001, Vol. 18 Issue 7, p32, 3/4p)... Academic publishers, researchers and librarians all care passionately about the creating and dissemination of knowledge. The tensions emerging were inevitable when some publishers saw online dissemination as an opportunity to lock down access and squeeze more profit rather than a chance to maximise access. This ideological gap poses the problem, but the fundamental goals of Academics and Libraries are what has made academic publishers successful in the first place. There remains enough space in this arena for all parties... Major research libraries have taken a stand recently but the Elsevier boycott is something that I think libraries should remain interested observers in and not much more. The role of academic libraries here should be, as ever, to support the process of scholarly research and communication. We are not here to try and define its course. If the academic community chooses to make a stand on widening access then I applaud it for using its voice. Librarians should be ready to join the conversation, but not the boycott.”