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re: AAUP Statement on Open Access

[I have just posted the following to the AAUP directors' listserv, but thought it would be of interest to this list as well, given the subject matter.]

In thinking further about OA, I have come across an article by Colin Day that I recommend highly to all of you: <http://www.press.umich.edu/jep/works/colin.econ.html> ("Economics of Electronic Publishing"). It appears in the open-access Journal of Electronic Publishing that he founded at Michigan when he was director there.

I have always found Colin's writing about our industry among the most insightful and stimulating. I frequently cite his JEP paper (originally delivered at an AAUP/ARL/ACLS conference in 1997) comparing the costs of electronic and print publishing as the best answer to those Pollyannas who see e-publishing as vastly cheaper than traditional publishing: <http://www.press.umich.edu/jep/04-01/day.html>

In this even earlier paper, Colin as usual proved himself way ahead of the curve in analyzing our business. As probably the only trained economist among university press directors, he can help us all with insights from economic theory, and here he particularly zeroes in on the theory of public goods, which is a framework that the recent ACLS Report on cyberinfrastructure also invoked (without providing as illuminating a discussion as Colin provides in this article). His paper compares how presses and libraries each have a role in adding value to the system of scholarly communication in the different but complementary ways they perform the functions of gathering, selecting, enhancing, and informing. Toward the end he raises a question that is on many of our minds today: just how might presses and libraries fruitfully collaborate, along with faculty, to confront the challenges we all face today?

I quote a few remarks to tantalize you and spur you to reading the full article:

"...whether making decisions based purely on market criteria is wise for intellectual and culturally important services and goods. Subsidization of music and theater by both government and private donors certainly suggests a pervasive belief (but sadly not universal) that some things are too central to our culture to be left to the Darwinian struggle of the market place.... First I should return to the basic problem: one entity is worried about cost recovery [university presses], while another entity is worried about the impact of increasing prices on its budget [libraries]. In most cases of this general kind, the two entities are distinct and distant, we therefore need a solution that works through a market-type mechanism to a solution that ensures, at least viability for each entity and moves us to a position that minimizes social costs and maximizes social benefits. Amazingly one can in many instances devise solutions that approximate to those objectives.

"However, in the particular situation that we are considering and in which we are involved, we can cut through many of those complications: the main participants are already under common ownership. University presses and libraries and the faculty they both serve are all part of the same institution -- the university. Yet a model has become established in which presses relate very much at arms length with libraries. The prevailing mindset is a customer-supplier one. In other words we have mutual ownership but seek none of the benefits that mutual ownership should give us....

"I am not going to provide a full solution here. It is something that needs more thought and discussion, indeed mutual discussion, to define suitable arrangements but the essential first step is that libraries and presses on individual campuses begin to think about their problems in a system-wide way. Individual pursuit of solutions to problems perceived in the narrow can combine to perverse solutions. Those of you who read The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge will recognize a point that he makes and makes most persuasively: one must think of the whole system and not separate units of the system."

That last is a sentiment I wholeheartedly endorse. Indeed, at the same 1997 conference where Colin presented the other paper I have cited above, I gave a talk titled "Thinking Systematically about Scholarly Communication." One of the points I raised there-the tension that exists between librarians' "rational" decisions not to buy revised dissertations and promotion-and-tenure committees' "rational" decision to require one or two books of junior faculty as a basis for tenure-is still very much with us and, though briefly noted in the recent MLA Report, still cries out for a system-wide solution.

P.S. On Colin's article, I would also note that he wrote it in a pre-Google era. Thus, what he says about the "gathering" function would need to be suitably qualified.

Sanford G. Thatcher, Director
Penn State University Press