Sustainable Scholarship at Carolina
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.
JUANITA LIMAS is a Ph.D. candidate and both an HHMI Gilliam Fellow and a Burroughs Wellcome GDEP Fellow in the Department of Pharmacology within the UNC School of Medicine. Her research focuses on genes with the potential to cause cancer, specifically those that disrupt the cell cycle by affecting mechanisms of DNA replication.
A lot of my work depends on keeping up with the literature. In the biomedical field, you have to stay on top of who’s doing what. And there’s huge pressure as a graduate student to get published.
There is not a single day that I don’t think about publications or journals or scholarly research. It affects everything that I do. I can’t leave here unless I have the right number of publications and they’re in the right journals.
Some faculty still believe you need a Cell, Science or Nature paper. Others are supportive of open access. If you’re a graduate student, you have to learn how to play both games. You’re doing yourself a disservice if you’re not informed about these issues.
Science should be for everyone, but it’s not. The currency by which academia runs is publications. That currency is flawed. If you don’t go to the right school, or live in the right zip code, or have the right amount of money, you’re pretty much locked out.
I taught at a community college for seven years before I started my Ph.D. program. My students would try to research certain subjects, but they couldn’t get access to the articles they needed because our community college library didn’t have the resources that Carolina has. Even now, I have friends at smaller institutions who tell me they don’t have access.
I served in the Peace Corps years ago and have friends who are medical professionals in Latin America. They can’t get access to many journals. This system excludes scientists on the worldwide stage because they often don’t have the funds to pay for access.
Academia has traditionally excluded people like me. I am a first-generation college student trying to navigate my way through this system. I’m trying to make it so that more people like me can participate.
I’m very fortunate to be at Carolina. I’ve had so much access and so many privileges here. But I often think about my former students at the community college who never had access to this information. It’s very inequitable. Open access can help to fix that. It’s an incredibly important issue.
Amelia Gibson, assistant professor in the UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS).
AMELIA GIBSON is an assistant professor in the UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS), where she studies health, wellness, and information practices and access in local communities and on the internet.
As faculty, we build on the work of others when we do research. Journal articles are the medium for having conversations across institutions. That’s important in terms of research and for preserving knowledge in the academy.
But I would say that’s limited because, as a community engaged researcher, I build with people in and outside of the academy, and people outside the academy don’t generally have access to the journals in which we publish our work. That limits my ability to reach people outside of institutions that have money for journals.
I do a lot of work with autistic folks—teens and young adults on the spectrum. I do research with them on information access and marginalization, public data access, understanding public data and health information. This kind of cooperation takes a lot of time—especially from community partners.
When I publish, oftentimes my articles are just not accessible to community members and professionals outside of universities. That’s part of the reason that I use the Carolina Digital Repository. I can then send them a link directly to the article and they can find it there.
As far as I’m concerned, I have a personal obligation to make sure that citizens can access research when they need it to support decision making in local government, or other organizations in communities. They can say, “Hey, this researcher found this thing. You are responsible for making this better or helping us to make this better.” But right now, unless a researcher gives access, that’s not something that is accessible to most people.
One of the messages we get as junior faculty members is that Carolina places emphasis on our research serving the people of North Carolina. I’ve tried to make that a priority in my own work. My first year, a lot of my start-up was spent traveling around the state to meet families and people with different disabilities. That’s a lot of investment in terms of building a research agenda that will benefit the state.
But if people in the state can’t access that work, then they can’t do anything with it. It becomes something that we’ve funded and devoted time and energy to but that sits in a digital space somewhere. Never being accessed, never being used. Or being found too late to be useful.
A message from Provost Bob Blouin and University Librarian Elaine Westbrooks
Dear members of the Carolina community,
We are writing to let you know that, despite more than a year of sustained negotiations, the publisher Elsevier has failed to provide an affordable path for UNC-Chapel Hill to renew our bundled package of approximately 2,000 e-journal titles. As a result, we will not renew this package when it expires on April 30, 2020. Instead, the University Libraries will subscribe to a much smaller set of individual Elsevier titles.
You can find the new list of subscribed titles online at https://library.unc.edu/collections/elsevier-subscribed-titles.
For two decades, Carolina has licensed a large package of e-journal titles from Elsevier. During this time, subscription costs have increased steadily. Extending our current license would now cost $2.6 million annually, a price that is unaffordable and unsustainable.
This problem is not unique to Carolina. Last year, the University of California system terminated its Elsevier subscriptions entirely after failing to reach a satisfactory agreement. Other leading universities worldwide have greatly reduced their Elsevier subscriptions.
In 2019, the University Libraries launched the Sustainable Scholarship initiative to share information with the University community about the growing cost of scholarly information and about Carolina’s commitment to affordability, sustainability, transparency and open access.
This spring, the University Libraries launched a campus survey to solicit important information about researcher use of Elsevier titles. That information, along with data about actual use, costs and other factors, has informed the decisions about which titles to retain.
The University Libraries is committed to providing you access to Elsevier content through both new and existing channels. All members of the Carolina community may use the following services at no charge:
- 24-hour document delivery via Interlibrary Loan – The University Libraries’ ILL service will provide access to journal articles within 24 hours, delivered directly to your email.
- Two- to four- hour expedited document delivery service – For faculty and graduate students who need faster access, the Libraries has implemented an expedited delivery service that will freely deliver articles in two to four hours, even outside of business hours.
As we transition to these new ways of providing access to Elsevier titles, we wish to ensure that faculty and students at Carolina have the resources they need. We welcome your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note that this subscription decision does not limit your ability to publish, edit or peer review for Elsevier or any other publisher. However, if you are interested in helping to curb the cost of scholarly publication, we invite you to learn about ways that you can take action.
We would like to thank the staff of the University Libraries, the Administrative Board of the Library, Faculty Council and all those who have helped us reach this important decision on behalf of Carolina.
Executive Vice Chancellor & Provost
Elaine L. Westbrooks
Vice Provost for University Libraries & University Librarian
Please join representatives from the University Libraries for a conversation about the cost of scholarly information and the implications for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
- Tuesday, January 21, 2020 – 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. in 214 Davis Library
- Tuesday, February 11, 2020 – 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. in 215 Health Sciences Library
- Wednesday, February 19, 2020 – 2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. in 214 Davis Library
- Thursday February 20, 2020 – 2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. in 215 Health Sciences Library
In February 2019, the University of California cancelled its contract with Elsevier due to unacceptable license terms and subscription costs. Elsevier is the world’s largest publisher of scholarly journals. The terms by which it sells content to universities have become unsustainable for most institutions, including Carolina, which is currently in negotiation with Elsevier.
This conversation will provide an opportunity for library administrators to share information about the costs of scholarly information at UNC-Chapel Hill and to hear from members of the Carolina community about needs, questions and concerns.
Suggested background reading:
- Update on Elsevier negotiations from University Librarian Elaine Westbrooks
- The Real Cost of Knowledge (The Atlantic, March 4, 2019)
- Unsustainable Scholarship: How Private Companies Control Research in Higher Education (DTH, September 18, 2019)
- University Librarian Elaine Westbrooks is on a mission to open Carolina’s research to all (The Well, October 11, 2019)
- UNC Faculty Council Resolution 2019-8, “On Containing the Costs of Published Research”