Open Access: talkin’ bout a revolution

Recently The Economist (whose parent company made a £58m operating profit last fiscal), ran a story about the recent financial performance of Elsevier: a profit of £724m ($1.1 billion) on revenues of £2 billion—an operating-profit margin of 36%.

Apparently it pays to criticize the profits of others ….

The story rehearses the well-told tale of the commercial publishing of academic journals. The business model for academic publishing is ludicrous. Valiant attempts to mitigate this issue (such as the Canadian Research Knowledge Network) have greatly assisted but the problem persists.

At the recent TEDxLibrariansTO conference Amy Buckland (@jambina – eScholarship, ePublishing & digitization coordinator at McGill University Library), in her own unique way, reminded us that “scholarly publishing is broken” and fixing it will require us to become “revolutionaries:”

revolutionaries are doers, not sayers. revolutionaries don’t make provocative statements, they take radical action.
they are always looking for ways to make society better. they don’t shake their heads and say “but this is how we’ve always done it”.
they challenge legacy processes.
all of them.
it’s a kickass time to be a librarian. so many opportunities to make society better. and that’s why we do this, right? we aren’t becoming millionaires. we aren’t going to rule the world (ok, maybe we will). so what are we?

Most of our faculty colleagues are asleep at the switch on this issue. They don’t pay the bills and the journals have high impact factors. Why worry? Some of our faculty colleagues are fully engaged and get it. Thanks; you are comrades in arms.

I do believe open access and commercial publishing will continue (and should continue) to co-exist. There is room for all. However, the room needs more open access folks in it. A lot more.

Amy has made me see that this issue, at this time, is a defining moment for academic librarians. We have all the tools, all the arguments, all the means, to make open access wildly successful and transformative. We have some work to do with grad students, faculty and granting councils.

Of all the things we should be unrelentingly passionate about, open access is at the top of the heap. Now is the time.

As Amy says “the revolution is coming. librarians wanted.”

Sign me up.



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