Isn’t “Open Source” academic publishing kind of a moot point?

As I finish up sorting through my RSS feed, I have to note posts from Alex, Jeff, and (via Jeff) Anne regarding Dana Boyd’s call for academics to boycott closed/”locked down” journals. It’s all kind of interesting in an, um, academic way; but is this dust-up really all that relevant?

Boyd seems to be kinda steamed because her article in the journal Convergence is not just “out there” on the Internets for one and all to grab for free/as an open source document. Without getting into the pros and cons of all this (though I think I agree with the general sentiment of folks I link to above, that while open source is a good idea, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to boycott journals that haven’t gone that route), I guess I am just having a hard time getting too excited one way or the other about this. Yes, I can’t get Boyd’s article directly from the Internets. But we also have this old-timey academic technology called “the library,” and from there, I am sure I will be able to access this article, either electronically or, if EMU doesn’t subscribe to Convergence, via inter-library loan. The last time I got an article via interlibrary loan, they emailed it to me as a PDF. So while this might not be as open and as easy if it were “just there” on the web and while the EMU library probably doesn’t do this for people coming in off the street (though they might, actually), it’s still pretty quick and open and accessible if you ask me.

One of the things that most of these (kind of, but not really) closed access journals get you is paper, and paper, as I discuss in this section of version 2.0 of my article “Where Do I List This on My CV?” can matter. Granted, these closed (but again, not really) journals don’t have the reach of stuff that’s just up on the ‘net; on the other hand, paper doesn’t just disappear, which is something I experienced with the first version of this piece.

Besides, if Boyd (or anyone else) wants to put up an academic article that they wrote up on the web, well, go ahead. Anne makes a point of saying that she has written this into contracts for things that she’s published. That’s probably the legal and proper way of doing things, but I don’t think that’s even necessary. As I wrote in this article (also in the section I quote above), plenty of scholars in my field just put things up on the web– Carolyn Miller, Michael Day, most of the people in my blogroll, etc. I haven’t gotten around to it yet, but I intend to make links to PDF versions of stuff I published that came out in closed journals available under the “Scholarship/CV” tab. If some academic publisher wants to email me and tell me to take it down, then I will. But really, is that going to happen?

4 thoughts on “Isn’t “Open Source” academic publishing kind of a moot point?”

  1. I actually have access to Convergence via my school, too, but it is hard for smaller colleges to keep up with the increases in subscription rates, and packaging deals required by the publishers. No one is more pro-open access, in my experience, than librarians. Moreover, this means that only those who are affiliated with a university can read her stuff. She contends that it is our responsibility as scholars to put our work out there where the public and policy-makers can easily access it.

    I think danah notes that she tried to negotiate a change in her contract, and I know that it depends a lot on the publisher. She notes that some people just decide to violate their contract with the publisher, and while I agree that there is some value in that, I am pretty uncomfortable doing so. When I agree to something, I like to stick with it, unless completely unavoidable. As you know, I don’t agree with danah’s tactic here, but I certainly agree that OA is a really important issue.

  2. Actually, yes. Sage requires that you sign their contract that explicitly forbids you from putting it up online for one year. You can’t get out of this contract nowadays (I tried). I don’t know the repercussions of blatantly not following the contract, but I’m not one for flouting contract law. I have no interest in dealing with that lawsuit since I’d clearly be on the losing side.

  3. Well, three thoughts:

    * My first tenure-track job was at a very small and very poor (as in impoverished– I thought it was a decent enough school, actually) public college/university called Southern Oregon U, and they had an extremely effective inter-library loan program. I don’t want to generalize too much from that one example, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t cheaper for most academic libraries to do this than to subscribe to various services. So it’s not a perfect system, but it’s not bad.

    Alex, I think you’re right about librarians’ goals for OS stuff, and largely because of that, I have a feeling if some person wondered in to just about any university library in the U.S. and passionately asked for danah’s article, I be that librarian would help that person try to get it, even if they weren’t associated with that university.

    * One solution– something danah might want to think about here– is to try to do everything but publish the article (an abstract, a link, a summary, etc., etc.) on a personal web site and say “hey, if you want a copy of this article, send me an email and I’ll hook you up.” Because I cannot believe that Sage or whoever is going to say it would be some violation to send interested readers a personal copy. Which leads me to my next point:

    * I guess I might be tempted to test Sage’s willingness to enforce the letter of the law of their contract. I just have a hard time believing that Sage or anyone else is going to go after a writer like this, and I assume they would give you a “cease and desist” kind of notice. It’d be bad PR for them and good PR for the writer.

    Of course, I say that without actually having done it myself. I didn’t put my abandoned textbook project up online until after I got the rights back….

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