University Library Publishing

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 13 Oct 2000 12:54:11 +0100

---------- Forwarded message ----------
On Fri, 13 Oct 2000, XXX wrote:

> Dear Professor Harnad,
> I wish to make a proposal to my university (XXX)
> library, to set up a digital publishing division that will
> organise and promulgate the intellectual output of this institution. This
> may be extended to a service for other universities in our region and
> networking with international groups.
> I have read widely on this topic and have consulted our local and visiting
> academics. However, as you are at the forefront of this subject, I would
> greatly value your opinion.
> Would you be able to offer any broad advice on making such a proposal? Can
> you provide any concrete material from case studies? The trouble with the
> articles I have read is that they tend to generalise.
> I certainly would appreciate any help or advice you can give.
> best regards,

Yes, I have two suggestions that I hope will save you some time,
effort, and needless misunderstanding:

Separate COMPLETELY the issue of online PUBLISHING from the issue of
online ARCHIVING. Conflating the two only produces misunderstanding and
misdirected efforts.

A university can decide to what extent it wants to become involved in
publishing, whether of books or journals, whether on-line or on-paper.
This is NOT NEW; it is not a special topic; and the usual constraints
apply. The only difference is a lower-start-up cost barrier on-line, but
that is not a very significant difference.

(Researchers prefer established publishers to new ones, especially for
submitting journal papers; a great deal is being published already; new
publishers and new publications always have trouble finding a niche;
publication depends on quality control (peer review), so that has to be
given exactly the same resources whether on-line or on-paper. In the
end, a publisher is merely a quality-control certifier, but the
established publishers, with established track records, imprimaturs,
authorships and impact factors are already performing an extremely
important function well, in shaping and then certifying the quality of
their titles; there are no empty niches here.)

Archiving is a completely different story, and here things ARE new, and
special. This is not true for the literature as a whole. Books will be
treated much the same way, whether on-line or on-paper: They will be
sold. So there will be no University archives. University Presses do
publish books, and when more books become on-line, or even online-only,
University Presses will likewise publish them online (inclduding their
own institutional authors, where appropriate). But that is entirely
different from the archiving question.

Online archiving becomes relevant when it comes to refereed journals.
For in that case the Universities have an extra stake: It is their
one researchers' research that is currently being published in refereed
journals (whether on-line or on-paper). And their researchers have
always given those papers away (both to the publisher and to reprint
requesters). University online archives in which their authors can
self-archive this give-away work now make it possible for the authors'
and the the universities' research impact to increase enormously,
because the impact-barrier of having to pay to access it (through
Subscription/Site-License/Pay-Par-View S/L/P) will be bypassed by the
freely accessible drafts in the University Eprint Archives.

And a second bonus, over and above the greatly enhanced potential
research impact for its researchers and research will be that as all
Universities do this, their researchers will gain free access to the
papers in the archives of all the other universities too, thereby not
only giving each of them barrier-free access to the entire refereed
journal literature, never before possible even for the richest
universities, but also eventually saving on institutional S/L/P serials
budget money that can now be used to buy books and other things.

So it is in the domain of creating University Eprint Archives for
self-archiving refereed research that the universities (probably
through their libraries) can and will take a role presently, NOT in the
nebulous area of "online publishing," which is probably best left to
the established journals, until and unless they find they do not wish
to down-size to the role of being only quality-control/certification
service providers, which is all that may be left once S/L/P revenues
shrink. For those established journal titles whose publishers would
rather pull out than downsize at that point, Universities and Learned
Societies will stand poised to take over their titles, inheriting their
editorial boards, referees, authors, imprimatur, track record and
impact factor.

But until and unless that eventuality comes, it is an error and a waste
of time for universities to try to compete with the established
journals by becoming online "publishers" now: There is no advantage
whatsoever to authors in switching from their established high-impact
journals, and plenty of disadvantage. And with the non-give-away
literature, online-only books are not only premature, but again, there
is no advantage to an author in switching from an established,
prestiguous publisher to their own university's new online-only series
(essentially a Vanity Press until it establishes a track record with
its demonstrated peer-review quality standards and titles: there's
nothing whatsoever that is new in that, so whatever it was that always
restrained a University from trying to become a Publisher in this sense
in the on-paper era, the lower start-up costs of doing it on-line only
are no reason to expect much more success now either -- with one
exception: esoteric monographs that would otherwise have had trouble
finding any publisher at all; but that is a minoritarian special case.)

So my advice is to put all the weight of the university behind
establishing eprint archives and seeing to it that their institutional
authors fill them, with both their pre-refereeing preprints and their
refereed postprints. The rest will take care of itself.

What I accordingly suggest you do is to pick up the software for
establishing OAI-compliant eprint archives at your university now,
install it, and get those archives filled; and get others to do the
same. The rest of the pieces will fall into place in due course.


Best wishes,

Stevan Harnad
Professor of Cognitive Science
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 23-80 592-582
             Computer Science fax: +44 23-80 592-865
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing free
access to the refereed journal literature online is available at the
American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00):

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Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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