SPARC’s new Open Access teasers send a message

A couple of weeks ago Peter Suber pointed to some new “teaser cards” released by the Scholarly Communication & Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) intended to promote Open Access among college students. The brightly colored cards are meant to be distributed wherever students hang out, “in library carrels, around the coffee shop, or around the department,” as a form of “guerrilla” marketing for Open Access.

There are six cards in all, with six different messages:

  • Access to scholarly journals can cost as much as a car, every year. Your library can’t afford it.
  • The article you couldn’t read might have earned your paper an A+. But you’ll never know.
  • While researching the newest cancer treatments for a family member, you can’t get past the abstracts.
  • Your research will continue after graduation — the same time your library card expires.
  • Our taxes funded the research you need. But you can’t read it.
  • The journal you need right now is at the library — 100 miles away.

By my count, four of the six messages could be interpreted as dissing the library. While SPARC clearly intends the message to be, “Our taxes funded the research you need. But you can’t read it because it’s locked away in a subscription database and publishers are greedy“, I think it’s just as easy to read it this way: “The article you couldn’t read might have earned your paper an A+. But you’ll never know, because your library sucks.”

It’s become accepted wisdom that librarians aren’t very good at marketing, and that if libraries are to remain relevant they need to develop better marketing strategies. But I think even the most unsavvy librarian would object to distributing fliers implying that the library does not have the resources students need. We work really hard trying to send the opposite message: “If you need something, don’t go to Google, come to us! If you can’t find what you need, ask us! We can help you get it!” Suggesting that the library does not have what students need completely defeats the purpose of our nascent marketing efforts.

That said, it’s true that rising subscription costs are forcing libraries to cut journals. It’s true that most taxpayer funded research is not available to the public. It’s true that students might write better papers if they had access to more scholarly work. I’m just not sure if students are the best audience for this message, in this form. What about faculty, who choose to publish in expensive journals? What about Congress, which is suddenly showing a lot of interest in the price of textbooks? Bringing students into the Open Access movement is a nice idea, but selling them on OA at the expense of their libraries is not going to do anybody any favors.

APA’s godawful NIH compliance policy

The title about sums it up. The American Psychological Association’s policy for complying with the NIH Public Access policy is godawful.

Here are the details, from the Digital Koans blog:

The American Psychological Association’s “Document Deposit Policy and Procedures for APA Journals” outlines its policies and procedures regarding the requirements of the NIH Public Access Policy. It indicates that authors are not to deposit accepted articles in PubMed Central. Rather, the APA will do so, billing the author’s institution a $2,500-per-article fee. Upon acceptance, the APA will deposit the author’s Word file “with all changes based on peer-review editorial feedback and found acceptable by the editor.” The APA will retain the article copyright, and authors are not allowed to deposit the final peer-reviewed manuscript in any other repository. A deposit form must be submitted for each article.

In other words, authors may not keep any rights at all in their work, and taxpayers must pay $2,500 per article to access the results of research we already funded. If researchers wish to publish with the APA, this is their only option; they may not choose to deposit the article in PubMed Central themselves in order to avoid the fee.

The kicker is where the policy states “The deposit fee of $2,500 per manuscript for 2008 will be billed to the author’s university per NIH policy.” Um, no. That’s not in the policy. Here’s the entire text of the policy, from the NIH Public Access website:

The Director of the National Institutes of Health shall require that all investigators funded by the NIH submit or have submitted for them to the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central an electronic version of their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts upon acceptance for publication, to be made publicly available no later than 12 months after the official date of publication: Provided, That the NIH shall implement the public access policy in a manner consistent with copyright law.

I see a lot of articles that begin, “Librarians are up in arms about…” These days that sentence usually ends with “Google,” but this policy offends me way more than Google’s scanning project ever could. It’s appalling, unadulterated greed, coming from an organization that purports to represent the interests of psychologists and the public good.

Take a look at the APA Mission Statement:

The objects of the American Psychological Association shall be to advance psychology as a science and profession and as a means of promoting health, education, and human welfare by

  • the encouragement of psychology in all its branches in the broadest and most liberal manner
  • the promotion of research in psychology and the improvement of research methods and conditions
  • the improvement of the qualifications and usefulness of psychologists through high standards of ethics, conduct, education, and achievement
  • the establishment and maintenance of the highest standards of professional ethics and conduct of the members of the Association
  • the increase and diffusion of psychological knowledge through meetings, professional contacts, reports, papers, discussions, and publications

thereby to advance scientific interests and inquiry, and the application of research findings to the promotion of health, education, and the public welfare.

That last bullet – about increasing the diffusion of psychological knowledge – is exactly the opposite of what the new deposit policy aims to do, which is to lock up psychological knowledge and hold it for ransom.

So which is it, APA? The engouragement of psychology and the maintenance of the highest standards of professional ethics? Or ruthless exploitation of your own author/members, at the expense of American taxpayers?

Update (7/15/08, 10:50 pm): The bit about the fee being charged “per NIH policy” has been removed from the site. Thanks for the heads up, Kathleen!

Update 2 (7/16/08, 11:47 am): Lots of people must have objected to the policy. Now the site says:

A new document deposit policy of the American Psychological Association (APA) requiring a publication fee to deposit manuscripts in PubMed Central based on research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is currently being re-examined and will not be implemented at this time. This policy had recently been announced on APA’s Web site. APA will soon be releasing more detailed information about the complex issues involved in the implementation of the new NIH Public Access Policy.

Thanks Darlene and David!

Another presentation on Slideshare

I’ve uploaded another presentation to Slideshare, and given it its own page here:

Open Access for Subject Specialists

I gave this presentation to a meeting of subject specialist librarians at the University of Michigan, as a part of a larger forum that included a brief statement from University Librarian Paul Courant, and presentations from a number of subject specialists who have worked with faculty on various open access endeavors such as re-releasing an out of print mathematics textbook for free online, depositing in our institutional repository, and doing outreach on author rights. The goal of my presentation was to help bring everyone up to speed about open access, define some of the confusing terms (gold OA vs. green OA, for example), and give people some tools to keep up with new developments. The rest of the forum was dedicated to talking about the many ways that librarians can engage with their faculty about OA.