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Small professional societies and open access

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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In the past, I have written about what I want as a user of information from tiny scholarly societies.  This week, I’m thinking a lot about what I want as a member of a tiny scholarly society, the Geoscience Information Society (GSIS).

GSIS is a very small scholarly society made up of librarians who work with geoscientists, mostly at academic institutions.

GSIS is responsible for two major publications: the society newsletter and the more scholarly GSIS Proceedings.  The Proceedings stem from presentations given at our annual meeting, held in conjunction with the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting.  This year’s meeting is happening right now in Charlotte, NC.

Until now, the Proceedings has been a print publication and a benefit of membership.  We are long past the point at which we need to move online, and the society has been discussing the best way to do this.

Like many small organizations, we have several options, including open access and toll-access options.  As the society works through our options, here are some things we are thinking about:

Open Access logo

Organizations considering open access have philosophical and practical concerns

First, many of us (myself included) are committed to the open access philosophy of scholarly publication.  As authors, we aren’t making money off of the publication, so we want the results to be easily and freely accessible to others.

Second, we have some concrete fiscal considerations.  The editorial process of producing the Proceedings is done by society volunteers and costs us nothing.  We do have some print costs to consider, and whichever option we select cannot be too much of a money looser for the society.  If we elect to make the Proceedings open access, we will need a publishing partner who can do this for a very low cost.  Thankfully, many libraries are now able to take on the publication of small journals by using open source publishing platforms like Open Journal Systems.  Even a library as small as mine can help scholarly societies make their information accessible – we are working with a New York education society to help them publish their journal Educational Change.

Third, receiving a copy of the proceedings is included in membership to the society.  If the Proceedings becomes an open access publication, does this change the benefits of membership?  Getting the proceedings volume was not the reason I joined the organization, but others might feel differently.

Fourth, as librarians and information professionals, we are deeply concerned about the long term stability of whichever platform/location we choose to store the virtual copies of the Proceedings.  If we select an institutional or commercial partner, we need to know that they will be reliable in the long term and committed to keeping our content accessible. Can they help us provide DOIs or stable URLs for our content? Long term accessibility is important.

The GSIS is not alone in thinking about moving to open access, and we are not alone in our concerns about how to best share our information with others.  Has your organization recently considered a move to open access?  What concerns did your membership have?  How did you resolve the issue?

In the end, this isn’t really about open access, but the fundamental nature of scholarly communication:  if we don’t share our scholarship, it will be like it never happened.  So our goal is to find the best way to share this with the audience that might be interested.

Bonnie Swoger About the Author: Bonnie J. M. Swoger is a Science and Technology Librarian at a small public undergraduate institution in upstate New York, SUNY Geneseo. She teaches students about the science literature, helps faculty and students with library research questions and leads library assessment efforts. She has a BS in Geology from St. Lawrence University, an MS in Geology from Kent State University and an MLS from the University at Buffalo. She would love to have some free time in which to indulge in hobbies. She blogs at the Undergraduate Science Librarian. Follow on Twitter @bonnieswoger.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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  1. 1. Mythusmage 8:21 pm 11/6/2012

    Of course, many people like to keep information propriatary for much the same way boys like secret handshakes and the Bat Cave; knowing secrets is cool.

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  2. 2. Larry-wa 9:48 pm 11/6/2012

    On Open Access to Scientific Knowledge
    There are two sides to the access to scientific knowledge question.
    First, how was the author funded to support that research and publication preparation? If it was charitable support, then open access to that research is suggested.
    Two, author’s funds used to support that research and publications preparation. Then a small return is in order.

    What type of platform/location do you choose to store the virtual copies of the Proceedings? May I suggest the same method that is used to do research involving huge mathematical problems. Use a distributed system which makes use of unused time and storage on personnel computers. Maybe, namely your members computers. It would have a distributed storage of all journals and when one personnel computer is down or off line, access to one of the other units would be possible. Additionally, huge storage media is extremely low in cost at present and a GSIS office would be the central backup and provide access to distributed systems. There would be many systems storing the data and the probability of loss goes down as the number of distributed systems increase.
    Everette L. Wampler

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  3. 3. StevanHarnad 9:10 am 11/10/2012


    Plans by universities and research funders to pay the costs of Open Access Publishing (“Gold OA”) are premature. Funds are short; 80% of journals (including virtually all the top journals) are still subscription-based, tying up the potential funds to pay for Gold OA; the asking price for Gold OA is still high; and there is concern that paying to publish may inflate acceptance rates and lower quality standards. What is needed now is for universities and funders to mandate OA self-archiving (of authors’ final peer-reviewed drafts, immediately upon acceptance for publication) (“Green OA”). That will provide immediate OA; and if and when universal Green OA should go on to make subscriptions unsustainable (because users are satisfied with just the Green OA versions) that will in turn induce journals to cut costs (print edition, online edition, access-provision, archiving), downsize to just providing the service of peer review, and convert to the Gold OA cost-recovery model; meanwhile, the subscription cancellations will have released the funds to pay these residual service costs. The natural way to charge for the service of peer review then will be on a “no-fault basis,” with the author’s institution or funder paying for each round of refereeing, regardless of outcome (acceptance, revision/re-refereeing, or rejection). This will minimize cost while protecting against inflated acceptance rates and decline in quality standards.

    Harnad, S. (2010) No-Fault Peer Review Charges: The Price of Selectivity Need Not Be Access Denied or Delayed. D-Lib Magazine 16 (7/8).

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