Scholars and activists stand in solidarity with shuttered research-sharing sites

Cory - Check your first paragraph: the verb (claim) never gets resolved (expecting transitive ‘claims to own outright’ or similar)… Thanks for your great work in this area!

The reason that we put up with it is often that it is a requirement of accreditation and publication is expected for tenure, promotion, and grants. College and Universities are very old and large institutions with long institutional memory. Making things move is like trying to push a very large, square rock down a slight slope. Things move, but not fast.

Libraries do our best, but to be honest, it’s difficult to save money, get the content our users need for their research, which they have to publish for grants, promotion, and tenure.

Elsevier is a huge problem, but so are organizations like the American Chemical Society, which publishes journals in chemistry and accredit the programs. ACS recently clarified their accreditation requirements from vague “You should probably just buy all our journals (at 35k a year for a >3000 fte undergraduate program)” to “you need journals covering the following subjects…”. ACS also charges 3k for a basic search engine that will find their articles. I’m in charge of making sure we get the best bang for our buck and went out for bids. Elsevier quoted us a package collection that was nearly $100,000. That was the bulk subscription discount for a small school.

We are already paying for our journals coming and going. We’re not getting them for free. We have no Elsevier content here. We can’t afford it.




like, I spent 2 weeks pouring over spreadsheets regarding access to journal articles not just the citation and abstracts to save us what is going to amount to 32k over the next 3 years.

A certain publisher quoted us a price in the 100,000 range for journal ACCESS. not a subscription where we own the content… ACCESS.

Another lowered their rate to 27k after being 35k for years because we got a group discount. We pay for access on a system that only works nights and weekends on campus.

When people can’t get access to their articles, they yell at the librarians. We, being librarians, are not made of money and can’t pay 5k for ONE journal.

I have many incoherent feelings right now, but they generally form the shape of a middle finger.


Elsevier isn’t even the worst, just the largest. We stopped subscribing to Ferroelectrics by Gordon and Breech when the price hit $28,000/yr. in the 1990s…I danced a little when they got bought out.



I’ve only been a library person since 2007, and I’ve never done collection development at this level, but apparently NO ONE ELSE WANTED TO.

And I can’t blame them. I’m the college archivist and collection development for me means something completely different.


The author who choses to publish with Elsevier also choses to place the work behind a paywall and to give the rights to Elsevier. If authors published in rigorous, reputable Open Access journals instead, then there would be no problem.


How about whoever payed for the research? That would be you and me, friend. The journal doesn’t pay the people who wrote the paper, the people who reviewed it, or the people who edited it. The taxpayers pay all of those people, and a few companies are still engaged in rent-seeking, for a service that is close to free in this digital age.


That’s depressing but not surprising. What’s frustrating, in my experience anyway, is the extent to which libraries simply accept this. It’s not just publishers like Elsevier but companies like ExLibris that build library tools like link resolvers. They provide lousy service? They’re not responding to our complaints? Okay, let’s cut 'em another big fat check but don’t say anything.

Libraries should be working collectively to tackle these problems but sadly there doesn’t seem to be much interest in doing so. And as long as the majority of customers only grumble to themselves but keep on paying there’s no reason for the companies to change.

Part of the issue is that libraries don’t have much leverage, in part because we gave them that power. Here’s how:

  1. Don’t provide adequate training to library students, instead focusing on technology basics from the late 80s early 90s.

  2. Don’t pay librarians to code and innovate even if we can, because if you can code, you’ll go to one of the vending companies. Paying a librarian well to do something that would provide this substantial benefit is apparently too much money.

  3. Decide that paying for a company to do this is easier than paying a librarian or even working with open source solutions, which do exist.

  4. Cut your staff so even your skilled librarians do the job of 3 or 4 librarians. (EG. I’m the college archivist (The reason I was hired). I am also the college record manager(other hiring reason, fine makes sense, whatever). I also am a reference librarian and outreach librarian, the digital publishing/copyright librarian, the nursing librarian, the biological sciences librarian as well as being in charge of English and History. I am also a system admin and do collection development. I report to two people, my actual boss, and her boss and they never agree on anything so I just do whatever needs doing 90% of the time and assume they’ll just argue and stay out of my way).

  5. Because the librarians are doing 50 bajillion jobs, no one bothers to read the contracts, they just look at money. For example, my boss recently thought that paying Ebsco 5k to do something they already do for us (index ACS journals, not full text, just index) was a good idea and would have gone with it if I hadn’t caught it.

We should and often try to work collectively and collaboratively, but the massive brain drain from low wages along with a lack of time and training for those who are willing to learn means that these efforts are frequently stymied when the lead developer or a majority of the coders go to our vendors because they are paid and appreciated for those efforts.

The fact that I’m now looking at our subscriptions (even for part of our collection) SUPER critically for the first time in years is a huge step for my institution. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. Basically, libraries have somewhat fucked ourselves on this one. Other fuckery is administrations who want everything but don’t want to pay for it to be done by their own staff because that would require us to be paid what we’re worth.

We’re making bricks without straw or mud.

(Edit: And regarding that nights and weekends system, it was in place long before I got here and my boss refuses to argue with the vendor about it because she’s not very confrontational. I, on the other hand, am very confrontational which is why I’m not allowed to negotiate that particular service.

Also, in hindsight, I should have made this whole thing look like an ASCI middle finger, but I’ve got misconceptions to remedy in my email and knowledge to drop.)


Well, if the research comes out of a public institution, the public is already paying for it… not to mention the money from governmental organizatoins like the NEH or the NSF, etc. The state is paying my stipend, for example, hence, the public is in part underwriting my dissertation. Hence, it’s in part publicly funded.

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They’re not actually, at least not in the humanities. We retain our copyrights, otherwise, we would have a harder time publishing them in academic journals or in academic presses.

Absolutely. That doesn’t mean a reasonable fee is a bad idea - it’s just another way for the public to fund research. Maybe the public should set the fee, rather than private industry, so it’s not a burden to research.

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Some of the smaller classical labels do have institutional reputations.

I wouldn’t object to this, actually. Right now the cost of getting access to this information is far too high, if you’re not a member of which ever academic association (in my case, I’m a member of several organizations and receive their journals, several of which, including one I just published in, are all digital) or you don’t go to or work at a college that has access.

For the most part, there is no expectation that what you publish will ever net you a profit, if you’re an academic. There are exceptions - lots of people have adopted Eric Foner’s US history textbook and he probably sees something out of that. But really, that’s okay if you don’t make any money off of your published work, because it’s not the point, really. You’re paid by a university for the work you do and your publications are sort of the price of admission. The more you publish, the more likely it is that you get tenure, course releases, etc. Because when people ask you to talk on their radio shows or in interviews, they say “Georgia State University professor, blah, blah, blah”. So, it looks good for the university.

Of course, now there is the whole problem of more people not being in the position to move up through the tenure process, and they are teaching heavy course loads, and they have no time for publishing.

But these are all interrelated problems that need addressing… And I’m rambling now!

That’s the current practice and a common assumption. For the reasons that I explained above, I DON’T that there is a strong legal case for this. And with universities increasingly managed by “administrators” little different from other corporate managers, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them to change that bargain, in the same way that Darth changed his deal with Lando.

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I believe that the nitty gritty of copyright between the university and employees is worked out in their contracts, and I think that faculty would revolt (at least those in the humanities, though I image in the STEM fields as well) if the university asserted a claim over what many see as their intellectual property. They prize their academic/intellectual freedom pretty highly and many are well versed on at least the surface of copyright and what it means to their work. Someone above (maybe it was you?) mentioned that patents created by university employees and copyright diverge here, that patents are more often the university’s, while copyright is retained by the faculty, across fields.

Although the lower down you go, in terms of job ranking and the prestige of the university, the less power faculty has, the people at the top tier universities (known names, like Eric Foner, Jill Lepore, Cornell West, etc, you get the point) wouldn’t stand for that changing and since the major universities are in part underwritten by people like that producing knowledge, the state of affairs is unlikely to change, or at least not change without a major fight. Losing a well known academic would be a major blow to a university. It was a pretty big deal when Dr. West left Harvard for Princeton (a lateral move, as he was a tenured prof), it was a huge deal.

That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see lesser well-endowed/well known universities try and take copyright for themselves, but in smaller places that focus more on teaching, their faculty are not publishing as much anyway, because they have far less time to do so.

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