Scholarly communication—the process used by scholars to share the results of their research—is fast approaching a crossroads. Individual disciplines and the scholarly community as a whole will soon need to make far-ranging decisions about how scholarly information is formally and informally exchanged, because current methods of scholarly communication are increasingly restrictive and are economically unsustainable. The purposes of this Web page are (a) to inform Cornell faculty of some of the key issues that drive the debates over scholarly communication, and (b) to suggest action that faculty might consider to support needed changes.
1. Copyright of Faculty Publications. There is no one reason for—no single approach to—the crisis in scholarly communication. It is perhaps most easily described in terms of access, ownership and compensation. Suppose a scholar writes a paper and submits it to a well known journal. The editors accept the paper and agree to publish it. In many instances it is still the case that the publisher requires that the writer give the ownership (copyright) of the paper to the publisher, in return for publication. Anyone whose library does not subscribe to the journal, or who does not have a personal subscription, can then often only gain access to the article by paying a (frequently significant) copyright fee. Access to such specialized information is in any case highly restricted to ensure that publishers are effectively compensated. One approach to making scholarly information more broadly accessible is for scholars to retain more control over the ownership of their own publications. This Web site will suggest how this can be done by making adjustments to copyright agreements when submitting materials for publication.
2. The Crisis in Scholarly Publication Prices. The prices of scholarly publications, and especially those of serials, have increased at a rate far above inflation and much more rapidly than increases in library budgets. This is especially the case with many commercial publishers—and also a few society publishers. The result is that libraries are now only able to provide their users with access to an increasingly smaller portion of the total needed scholarly output. This is affecting access and services not just in the sciences and technology but in all subject areas. We are providing Cornell faculty on this Web site a fuller explanation of the reasons for these pricing problems, as well as some suggestions about actions scholars might take to reduce such pressures.
3. Alternative Publishing Models. Scholars and libraries, preferably working closely with publishers, need to take action to ensure that scholarly publication remains scalable and sustainable, and so that all who need access to specialized scholarly information have it. Leading academic libraries in the U.S. and abroad have been developing a range of alternatives to the current scholarly communication paradigm. We will describe and link to some of these options on this Web site. We will discuss especially what we are doing here at Cornell, where the Library co-manages, with Duke University Press, Project Euclid, an online publishing service for mathematics journals. The Library is also responsible for the heavily used physics pre-print server, arXiv. Cornell has, in addition, an institutional repository, where faculty can deposit online copies of their publications and data. The Library also has the ability to assist faculty in starting their own online publications. Perhaps most importantly, the Cornell Library—and the academic library community—are committed to the long-term preservation of any and all electronic materials entrusted to their care.
4. Open Access. One particularly intriguing and promising alternative to traditional scholarly communication is open access. The basic concept is that neither the reader nor the reader’s library would pay for access to scholarly publications: these would rather be freely accessible to the world on the Internet. Such an approach would be inadvisable and indeed impossible for popular publications, but it certainly does make some sense for (at least some kinds of) specialized scholarly publications. The obvious question is, if the reader (or the reader’s library-agent) does not pay for access, who does pay—i.e., who pays for the costs of production and distribution? There has been a great deal of discussion of, advocacy for, and objection to open access over the past two years. This Web site will provide Cornell faculty with a summary of the current debate, as well as links to further information.
The work on these pages are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.