LA Times: “In University of California Battle With the World’s Largest Scientific Publisher, the Future Of Information is at Stake”
Boiled down to dollars and cents, the battle between the University of California, the nation’s premier producer of academic research, and Reed Elsevier, the world’s leading publisher of academic journals, can seem almost trivial. UC is paying almost $11 million this year for subscriptions to some 1,500 Elsevier journals. That’s not much when measured against the university’s core budget of $9.3 billion.
But in fact it’s a very big deal — big enough for the university to consider dropping the subscriptions entirely when its current five-year contract with Elsevier expires on Dec. 31. Scores of town hall meetings for UC faculty to discuss the ongoing negotiations between UC and Elsevier have been scheduled across the system as the deadline approaches. What faculty are likely to hear, in the words of Jeff MacKie-Mason, the university librarian at UC Berkeley, is that “we’re pretty far apart at this point.”
That’s because more than money is at stake. The key issue separating the university and the publisher is the concept of “open access.” At its core, says Dennis Ventry, a UC Davis law professor who is vice chair of UC’s committee on library and scholarly communication, open access means that “research should be immediately and freely available to the public upon publication, and not behind a [subscription] paywall.” The goal of science, after all, is to disseminate knowledge, not keep it sequestered.
Elsevier says it’s a believer in open access. “We absolutely support public access to publicly funded research,” Gemma Hersh, its vice president for global policy, told me. But she says the best solution is to integrate open access into the “menu of options” that Elsevier offers its customers. The vast majority of academic papers are still offered via subscriptions, she says, because many customers prefer to pay for access over time rather than upfront via publication fees.
About Gary Price
Gary Price (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com.