In which Pomerantz responds to his loyal fans

I’ve gotten a lot of love and kudos from the interwebs from my recent post, in which I document in nauseating detail my taking a principled stand on retaining copyright to an article I and a colleague wrote, and ultimately telling the publisher Taylor & Francis to kiss my shiny metal ass. I haven’t done any data analysis to back up this claim, but my sense is that this was my most-retweeted tweet and most commented-upon blog post ever. I thank you all for your support.

But I’ve also gotten some flak, mostly in the comments on that post. That criticism falls, more or less, into 3 categories:

  1. Why don’t you publish your paper in an OA journal?
  2. Why don’t you put your paper in your universities’ institutional repositories?
  3. T&F and all publishers have more generous contracts in their back pocket, if only you know to ask.

Let me respond to each of those in turn. Because I think those are all fair criticisms, and all get to important issues.

Why not publish our paper in an OA journal?

Well, for one thing, my co-author Diane and I were pretty well sick of dealing with journal editors and publishers by the end of our saga, so we didn’t really want to start all over again from square one. Second, as I wrote, neither of us needed that paper to be published for professional reasons. UNC (my institution) has post-tenure review, and Duke (Diane’s institution) has performance reviews, and publication record is part of those review processes. So another publication would be useful professionally. But this one article won’t make or break either of us.

When I got tenure I seriously considered taking a vow (though to whom, I’m not sure) to only publish in OA journals. (The only reason I ever got involved with T&F in the first place was because my friend and colleague Lorri asked me to write something for her special issue… that will teach me.) But I realized very quickly that taking an OA-only stance in this field is almost completely untenable. There are simply not enough A-list OA journals to choose from. And I apologize if you’re the editor of an OA journal in ILS… nothing personal. Obviously yours is one of the great ones.

Still, despite my protestations, there are plenty of OA journals out there to choose from in ILS. And some of them do have good reputations. And, let’s face it, the only way a B-list journal becomes an A-list journal is if good scholarship is published in it. This is a slow process, like most things in academia: one good article in a second-tier journal won’t do the trick, it takes lots of good articles over the span of years. Which probably means a concerted effort on the part of the editor(s) to raise the journal’s profile. Still, this can be done, and I’ve seen it done, with at least two journals in ILS. (To give credit where it is so abundantly due, the editors who took on this probably pretty thankless reputation-building task for their respective journals are Candy Schwartz, and the team of Michelle Kazmer and Kathy Burnett.)

So: I hereby vow (though I’m still not sure to whom) to only publish in OA journals from now on… to the extent that is possible. I reserve the right to publish in commercially-published journals, in the event that a friend and/or colleague asks me to contribute to their special issue, or something like that. (Lorri will, I feel certain, never ask me to contribute to anything ever again, now that she knows what a pain in the backside I am.) Anyway, that is my vow: to the extent possible, publish only in OA venues. And you, dear reader, should do the same. Be the change you want to see in the world.

Why don’t you put your paper in your universities’ institutional repositories?

Yes, we should do that. And, when I’m less sick of thinking about this paper, I will do that. (I don’t want to speak for my co-author.)

But here’s my problem with IRs: putting a paper in an IR gets me nothing more than self-hosting it, and self-hosting it is easier. Not that it’s difficult to put a paper in an IR, but it’s just so much easier to put it up on my own site. In the case of our paper on liaison librarianship, all I did was make the Google Doc public, and link to it here. Easy peasy.

As for the “gets me nothing more than self-hosting”: don’t get me wrong, I think IRs are a good idea, in principle. But I have to say it, IRs are a perfect example of one major thing that’s wrong with many digital library projects. (And I think I get to say this, given that my research is, in large part, on DLs, and I teach the DL course in my School, so I therefore spend a lot of time thinking about DLs.) This one major thing is this: IRs are, by and large, hidden silos. Part of the point of OA publication is that the publication is freely accessible to the reader, but equally important is that it’s discoverable. Freely accessible without discoverability is, quite frankly, close to useless. The problem with most IRs is that they their contents are not discoverable through Google. Try this sample search. For whatever reason, someone thought that it would be a good idea for the Carolina Digital Repository to exclude search engine bots. So the only way to know that my paper is in the CDR is to search in the CDR, or for me or someone else to link directly to it. This is of course an easy fix: The CDR could simply be opened up to Google. But it isn’t currently. While my site is. And so, obviously, is Google Docs. So if I put our paper in the CDR, it’s in principle publicly available, but in practice invisible.

Publishers have more generous contracts in their back pocket, if only you know to ask.

Well, I know that now. And now, so do you. Others have very generously told their stories in the comments on my previous post: see those to learn about what to ask for.

But look, it’s completely ridiculous that authors have to ask at all. (And, in my case, browbeat.) The ALA has two copyright agreements, copyright assignment and copyright license, and they give you the option up front, no hassle. Why is that not standard practice?

Others have said it before, many times, but let me say it again… Authors donate content for free to publishers. Reviewers and editors donate their time for free to publishers, to add value to that content. Commercial scholarly publishers take that content, typeset it, and sell it back to us for insanely high profit margins. It’s exploitation, pure and simple. And while they’re at it, they want to own that content forever, in every medium currently known or that will ever be invented between now and the heat death of the universe, and prevent authors from ever using it again? Oh, but no, don’t exaggerate, Pomerantz… We’ll give you your copyrights, of course we will. The forms are in the bottom of this locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “Beware of The Leopard.” What’s the problem? Well, I’m sorry, but fuck that. Play nice or get out of my house. Commercial publishers, what have you done for me lately?

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2 Responses to In which Pomerantz responds to his loyal fans

  1. Erin O'Meara says:

    Jeff,
    Not to worry – the robots.txt file will be removed from the CDR tomorrow when we deploy a new UI. We were having problems with UNC search engines trying to crawl large .wav files housed in the repository and it took down the site. Now we have the issue fixed and Google indexing will happen for metadata and (soon) full-text from documents housed in the repository.
    But, I understand your hesitancy to deposit. It would be great to open up the dialogue with you and your students about these issues related to IR as yet another silo.

  2. Can I just say, speaking as an IR manager, that an IR that excludes bots (aside from abusive bots, which do exist and can reasonably be blocked) is Doing It Wrong? You may wish to consider a disciplinary repository instead of CDR. DList and E-LIS are at your service.

    As for benefits, some IRs (depending on software platform) do a fair job keeping depositors informed of pageview and/or download statistics, and one can generally trust that something in an IR will still be there in five years, which is rather better than the web generally. (IRs haven’t been around long enough to talk about ten years or longer, but I personally trust them that far. Then again, I would say that, wouldn’t I?)

    But you’re entirely right about IR siloing. Current development tendencies are thankfully heading in a small-pieces-loosely-joined direction, which I think is an unalloyed positive.

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