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The University of Iowa Libraries

The University of Iowa Libraries


Scholarly Publishing: The Issues

The Issues

Scholars have lost control of the process

The original intents of publishing in peer-reviewed academic journals include sharing scholarship, establishing priority in making discoveries, and initiating conversations among scholars. Such publication has also become a tenure requirement for faculty in most disciplines, especially at institutions focused on research. Publishing represents one of the most effective paths to getting recognition and building a reputation. As a result of the pressures to publish in conjunction with long-standing tradition, faculty often sign away to publishers all rights to their scholarly work in exchange for publication. Scholars who sign away rights can find themselves needing to request permission from publishers to place their own articles on a personal web site, in a course pack or institutional repository, or to distribute copies to colleagues.

Faculty members are concerned about tenure and promotion

Rewards in the academic environment are often based on the prestige and impact of a faculty member’s publication record. Younger faculty seeking tenure and promotion must publish in journals known for their quality. More and more journals, however, are issued by profit-making entities, charging on average 4-5 times the price charged by non-profit societies. Publishing in journals owned by commercial publishers perpetuates high prices, restrictive access and often undesirable licensing terms. On the other hand scholars may be reluctant to submit their work to publishers operating under alternative publishing models such as open access from concern over the reputation of new publishing outlets. Will publication in an open access journal be valued less by tenure review boards than publication in a traditional print journal? ISI, publisher of Journal Citation Reports and Web of Knowledge now includes many open access titles in their indexes and several open access journals have impact factors at the top of their field (e.g., PLoS Biology).

Alternative models have emerged for disseminating scholarship

New ways of disseminating scholarly information are emerging. Internet technologies and new business models could increase the reach of scholarly publications. Open Access (OA) refers to scholarly literature that is online and freely available on the Internet and offers generous rights for educational use. OA publishing includes peer-reviewed literature as well as author pre- and post-prints and other materials placed in digital repositories. A well-known mandate requiring open access publishing is the NIH Public Access Policy, which ensures that the public has access to the published results of NIH funded research. Several universities (Harvard, MIT, Duke, Princeton and Kansas among others) have passed institutional open access mandates that require all faculty journal articles to be deposited in their institutional repository unless a waiver is sought. The University of Iowa's institutional repository, Iowa Research Online, accepts work from Iowa faculty and other researchers when appropriate rights are available.

Journal prices have increased significantly

Journal prices have increased significantly for more than two decades. Library acquisitions budgets have not enjoyed similar increases, though Iowa has seen generous increases over the past decade or more. Academic libraries are purchasing fewer books and journals. Some large journal publishers are aggregating or "bundling" electronic content, offering libraries packages of journals with strong economic inducements to buy the package over selecting individual titles. Libraries lose the ability to deliver titles of most value to the local community and must commit larger and larger portions of their budgets to fewer publishers. In FY2011 28% of Iowa’s acquisitions budget went to five commercial publishers (Elsevier, Nature, Sage, Springer and Wiley).  Mergers among and acquisitions by commercial publishers are increasing, usually resulting in higher journal costs. Read more about the cost of scholarly information on the Resources page.

A Definition

The scholarly publishing system includes the process of creating and evaluating scholarly content, disseminating it to the scholarly community, and preserving it for future use.One of the fundamental purposes of the system of scholarly publishing is to facilitate inquiry and the creation of new knowledge. The majority of scholars pursue their research and disseminate the results with little or no expectation of direct financial reward.

[image by George Mayer, via Flickr, 8/30/11]