Long Overdue, Librarians Rise Up In (Polite) Rage

LibraryIn yet another horrible illustration of what happens when the slavering corpocrats get behind the wheel of anything whatsoever, Gary E. Strong, the UCLA University Librarian, passed around a letter yesterday outlining the need for a possible UC-wide boycott of Nature Publishing Group. The letter, signed by Laine Farley, Richard A. Schneider and Brian E.C. Schottlaender, three of the top UC library honchos, is harsh.

NPG has insisted on increasing the price of our license for Nature and its affiliated journals by 400 percent beginning in 2011, which would raise our cost for their 67 journals by well over $1 million dollars per year.

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UC Libraries have already taken a stand against NPG. After recently acquiring Scientific American, NPG doubled the institutional site license fee and raised the price of an institutional print subscription seven-fold. In response, UC Libraries, along with numerous other institutions throughout the country, discontinued their license to the online version and reduced the number of print subscriptions. As a first response to the current NPG proposal, UC Libraries plan to forgo all online subscriptions to any new NPG journals. But more drastic actions may be necessary.

Since California in general and the UC system in particular have been going through a, erm, rough patch lately, the academics are extremely, albeit decorously, pissed off. But these LOLLibrarians have got an ace up their sleeve, it turns out, because NPG is highly dependent on the efforts of their own colleagues:

UC Faculty and researchers author a significant percentage of all articles published in NPG journals and are a major force in shaping the prestige of its publications. In the past six years, UC authors have contributed approximately 5300 articles to these journals, 638 of them in the flagship journal Nature. Using NPG’s own figures, an analysis by CDL suggests that UC articles published in Nature alone have contributed at least $19 million dollars in revenue to NPG over the past 6 years-or more than $3 million dollars per year for just that one journal. Moreover, UC Faculty supply countless hours serving as reviewers, editors, and advisory board members.

Which is Academese for SUCK ON THAT.

The boycott would ask UC faculty and researchers to refuse to peer review any manuscripts for NPG journals, to resign from NPG editorial and advisory boards, and, most interestingly, to go elsewhere in order to publish their own work. The exciting thing about that is that there really is an “elsewhere” in the world of academic publishing: open access journals and repositories for scholarly work, such as the Public Library of Science (PloS), “a nonprofit organization of scientists and physicians committed to making the world’s scientific and medical literature a public resource.”

PLoS journals require the researcher to foot some of the cost of publication (usually covered by the institutions by which they’re employed,) but copyright rests with the author. PloS journals are published entirely under a creative commons license, so that anyone can read, reprint and distribute their content for free. This means real access to leading-edge scholarship for everybody with an Internet connection, which, Yay!

The letter also encourages recipients to “[t]alk widely about Nature Publishing Group pricing tactics and business strategies with colleagues outside UC,” which I AM. Even though I don’t work for UC, I think everybody should know about the chilling effect of vampirically profit-driven academic publishing practices on scholarship and the free flow of information.


Maria Bustillos is the author of Dorkismo: The Macho of the Dork and Act Like a Gentleman, Think Like a Woman.

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