Thursday, December 03, 2009

Virginia Libraries: review of Scholarly Communication for Librarians

Thanks to Cy Dillon for this review of my book, Scholarly Communication for Librarians. The review is scheduled to be published in the January issue of Virginia Libraries.


In the summary of her chapter on the economics of scholarly communication, Heather Morrison says, “It is timely to look beyond the continuing serials crisis towards a future of scholarly communication online that can do vastly more for scholars than was ever possible in print, and begin to plan and prioritize accordingly.” In order to respond to this completely worthwhile call to action, it is essential that librarians—especially academic librarians—understand the current complex state of scholarly publishing and its transitional nature. Reading Morrison’s book is the most efficient way for most of us to acquire that understanding.

Admitting a significant bias toward the open access movement, Morrison, a Project Coordinator at the British Columbia Electronic Library Network and an adjunct professor at University of British Columbia's School of Library, Archival and Information Studies, constructs a careful and complete description of the current scholarly publication environment including everything from the reason researchers publish, to the workings of the traditional publishing market, and finally to the overwhelming change in information access that is driven by the internet.

One of the book’s strongest chapters examines the economics of scholarly journals using the concept of the cost per article of producing articles in various types of journals, which can vary thirty or even a hundred-fold, to make it clear that commercial publishing is all too often focused strictly on making money for the stockholders of three or four large corporations. She also describes the business model of these corporations and emphasizes that their profit margins are in the range of 30 percent. Most of us who work in academic are aware that there are science and technology journals that cost as much annually as a good small car, and we are looking forward to the day that researchers and the people who vote on their tenure realize that rigorous peer review is not limited to commercially published journals. Obviously professional society publishers and the various types of open access publishers are presented as alternatives that should attract more interest from authors as publishing changes in the digital environment.

Some readers will recognize Morrison as the author of the blog The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics, a site followed by advocates of the open access movement, and, as might be expected, her chapter on open access is a clear introduction to the various approaches to making peer reviewed research literature available free online. In fact, if you are not perfectly clear on the differences between green and gold access or libre versus gratis access, this chapter is available free as a PDF file at

Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of Scholarly Communication for Librarians is Morrison’s evaluation of the roles librarians can play as scholars writing, archivists managing repositories, acquisitions experts purchasing, authorities on publishing advising faculty, reference librarians answering research questions, and advocates of open access pushing for publishing models that support availability of information over profit for private investors. It is both gratifying and sobering to imagine the impact our profession can have in the next few years as new models of publishing evolve. Morrison’s discussion of strategies for libraries and her examination of emerging trends are rich with examples of resources and concepts librarians should know if they are to serve their community well. Readers will find themselves turning to their computer frequently, so the experience of reading the book is much more involved and productive that the length of the volume would suggest.