Information Culture

Information Culture

Thoughts and analysis related to science information, data, publication and culture.

Small professional societies and open access


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.

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

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