TODD VISION is an associate professor of biology at UNC-Chapel Hill. He studies genome evolution and the architecture of complex traits, with a focus on flowering plants. He served two terms on the Administrative Board of the Library, including a year as chair, and he co-chaired the University’s Open Access Task Force.
Journals are so central to research—particularly in the sciences. The scholarship is not complete until it gets communicated, and we rely on journals to disseminate our own work and to stay current with the field. Conferences in my discipline don’t leave a permanent record, and books and monographs are less relevant. So, journals are critical.
Sustainable scholarship is our ability as a community to maintain access to the publications we use in our research and teaching. For me, that includes the whole universe of people out there trying to access scholarly literature who often aren’t able to. In the academy, we’re kind of oblivious to them on a day-to-day basis. But they are just as important of an audience as fellow academics. Policymakers and people working in industry who can’t easily access to university library subscriptions. Students and teachers in secondary schools and community colleges. Laypeople who want to learn about the medical conditions that their families are experiencing.
That’s where a lot of my passion for this topic comes from. I see us propping up subscriptions and privileged access for the academy when we invest our funds in “big deals” with large publishers. I’d like to see us prioritize investment in more open publishing solutions for our own faculty and community-subsidized open publishing options, like the Open Library of Humanities, for instance. Libraries are still needed to support these, but they don’t take that support and then lock things away. They don’t require authors to sign over their copyright so they later have to ask for, or – worse – pay, for permission to reuse even their own work.
I have had a peek into the hard decisions that the Library makes when they cancel journals and negotiate deals. I wish I could expose those decisions for people who are anxious about that one expensive journal that they read that is getting canceled. It is sometimes hard to justify why the rest of the campus should be paying so much to include it in the collection when it means other titles would need to get canceled. The funds for journals are finite, and science journals from commercial publishers eat up a greater proportion of the funds for books and journals from other disciplines every year. We will have to give up subscriptions to some journals, but by doing so we encourage journals to flip to an open model that is sustainable for us and for them.
I also wish researchers understood that we have more cards than we think in our interactions with publishers. We produce the research, we review the research, we edit the journals. Without us, there is no business for them. It’s madness that we have to then sign away the copyright in our research and pay for subscriptions to access all of it. That system is not equitable or in our own interests, and it’s not sustainable. We shouldn’t think that we need to always accept whatever it is a commercial publisher is aiming to sell us.