MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XVI No. 5
April / May 2004
FPC Statement on
Representation of Minorities
Leadership, Management,
and Education at MIT
Update on Women Faculty in the
Sloan School of Management
Update on Women Faculty in the
School of Architecture and Planning
The MIT/WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography and Applied Ocean Science and Engineering
The Picower Center for
Learning and Memory
MIT's Not-So-Green New Buildings
Mauled Ilusionist Goes Home
Haystack Observatory
The Changing Environment of Scholarly Communication: Challenges and Opportunities for Faculty
Security on the MIT Campus
Beyond the Anecdotes
My Experience with the
Artist-in-Residence Program
Faculty Satisfaction
Printable Version

The Changing Environment of Scholarly Communication: Challenges and Opportunities for Faculty

Ann J. Wolpert and Markus Zahn

The Faculty Committee on the Library System has been monitoring changes in the pricing and distribution business practices of scholarly journals for the past several years. A number of these changes threaten the ability of the MIT Libraries to adequately serve the education and research needs of MIT students and faculty. Of particular concern are the costs of print and electronic journals, and the increasingly constrained contract terms under which digital access may be licensed. This article is intended both to inform faculty and to request support in addressing an issue critical to the entire MIT community.

In the December/January 2003 issue of the MIT Faculty Newsletter [] we alerted you to several particularly disturbing trends, including product bundling and licensing strategies developed by publishers with the intent of retaining market share. These content licensing practices require libraries to maintain an annually inflated level of expenditure with a given publisher, or else lose access to a significantly greater number of titles than would have been the case under a purchased subscription model.

Underlying and exacerbating the constraints of this licensing environment are the continuing rapid price increases for science, technology, and medical/biomedical (STM) journals. Many faculty do not realize just how expensive scholarly journals have become. Over the past decade, increases for the MIT Libraries' subscriptions have averaged approximately 8% per year, compounded – a rate that far outpaces the Consumer Price Index.

Fiscal pressures on universities and libraries in the last few years have made the need for change in the system of scholarly publishing more visible and urgent. Unable to pay for increasingly expensive content, and working within the confines of licenses that dictate problematic terms of use and impose penalties for cancellations, all academic libraries are finding it increasingly difficult to balance the needs of faculty and students across the disciplines on their campuses.

For many years, society's support for research universities has rested on the assumption that the output of research universities will benefit society. It follows that publication of research results should likewise be readily available to others.

Yet, the scholarly publishing system is dominated by large commercial and society publishers whose primary obligation is to their shareholders and members, not faculty and students. The price increases and pricing structures imposed by these publishers have the effect of narrowing the selection of information sources available to the entire academy. To change this system will require broad, cumulative change. There is encouraging evidence that this change is beginning.

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One such change is the "open access" movement, a strategy that has attracted the interest of many disciplines. The philosophy behind this movement was defined in the Budapest Open Access Initiative of 2002:, signed by hundreds of individuals and academic and scientific organizations throughout the world. The Initiative recommends two approaches to providing open access to the research literature: (1) open access journals, and (2) institutional or individual self-archiving in digital repositories.

Open access proposes a new method of distribution of scholarly information for journals, one in which access would be free to all readers worldwide. Any costs for editorial review and production would be paid for by mechanisms (e.g., page charges) other than personal or library subscriptions.

The Public Library of Science (PLoS) is perhaps the most visible example of this approach to journal publishing in that it publishes high-quality, peer-reviewed open access journals. PloS is an organization of scientists and physicians committed to making scientific and medical literature freely available on the Internet. PLoS has attracted eminent editors and outstanding submissions for its first journal, PloS Biology , and several additional journals are planned. A multi-layered funding program supports PLoS efforts: grant funding, processing fees from authors, and institutional memberships. Another example of an open access publisher is BioMed Central, established in May 2000.

Institutional digital repositories, such as the MIT Libraries' DSpace, provide another avenue for open access to the research literature. The sidebar to this article documents the Libraries' plans to make it even easier for faculty to contribute their articles and other research publications to DSpace, where they can be immediately available, indexed by search engines such as Google, and preserved indefinitely. Click here for a quick look at DSpace. Faculty also can take advantage of Creative Commons licenses when contributing to DSpace. The DSpace software is available for free under a BSD (Open Source) license, and it has been downloaded by thousands of institutions and organizations, worldwide. Dozens of MIT's peer institutions are now establishing digital repositories using DSpace and other software environments.

Institutional repositories and open access journals are both important new developments in the search for solutions to over-priced, usage-constrained scholarly journals. Together, these initiatives illuminate the base-line costs of reviewing, preparing, disseminating, and preserving research output, and they permit the research community to experiment with new business models. These and other initiatives have the potential to provide viable alternatives to a scholarly research publishing system that has become even more problematic in the digital environment.

What can you do as an individual to contribute to change in the system? We encourage you to consider the following actions:

  • place copies of your research papers and related material in DSpace
  • publish in and review for journals that are open access or reasonably priced
  • sign agreements with publishers that enable you to retain rights to the content of articles and books you publish
  • consider alternative publishers for a journal you edit, if you do not agree with the current publisher's business practices
  • become familiar with your society's publishing program, and be an advocate for change if it is warranted
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What can academic research libraries do? Last year (FY04), faced with reduced or constrained library budgets, many libraries took steps to regain control over selection and cancellation decisions in their serials lists. Libraries at Duke, Cornell, Harvard, and the University of North Carolina all revised their license terms with major commercial publishers and refused contracts that would have locked them into obligatory, annually inflating spending rates. In each case, due to the licensing terms established by the publishers, these libraries were required to substantially reduce their titles in order to realize budget savings.

While the MIT Libraries did not experience serials budget reductions in FY04, they declined three-year contracts with both Elsevier Science and Wiley InterScience due to uncertainties about FY05 funding. Now, with less than full inflation funding for FY05, MIT Libraries are planning to take the same action as these colleague institutions did last year. Elsevier Science subscriptions account for approximately 27% ($1,537,000) of MIT's serial subscription funds but provide less than 15% (769) of journal titles. It would be unreasonable for the Libraries to protect Elsevier titles at the expense of the remaining 85% of journals that support the broad academic interests of our community.

The cancellations needed to adjust the relationship with Elsevier this year are likely to be extended to other large commercial publishers in the coming years. The Libraries' obligation in making this change, is to support all education and research programs at MIT fairly, regardless of which publishers support what academic disciplines. The Faculty Committee on the Library System supports the Libraries' difficult decision to cancel some subscriptions. We are hopeful that if other prestigious libraries follow suit, it will contribute to change in the larger system of scholarly communication.

Early last month, a memo was sent to the academic department heads describing the situation the Libraries face and the planned action. Librarians with selection responsibilities are currently gathering price, usage, and impact factor data and soliciting input from departmental liaisons to guide decisions. The Libraries very much appreciate the support and assistance of faculty.

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