Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The library cannot afford it

Roger Pearce links an article from The Guardian about the pricing of academic journal literature.  The focus is mostly on Elsevier, but also discusses pricing at different publishers and highlights problems for both libraries and independent researchers:
Everyone claims to agree that people should be encouraged to understand science and other academic research. Without current knowledge, we cannot make coherent democratic decisions. But the publishers have slapped a padlock and a "keep out" sign on the gates.
You might resent Murdoch's paywall policy, in which he charges £1 for 24 hours of access to the Times and Sunday Times. But at least in that period you can read and download as many articles as you like. Reading a single article published by one of Elsevier's journals will cost you $31.50. Springer charges €34.95, Wiley-Blackwell, $42. Read 10 and you pay 10 times. And the journals retain perpetual copyright. You want to read a letter printed in 1981? That'll be $31.50.

The other day I posted about a happy migration away from Elsevier by an intellectual history journal.  Two years ago I had written to the editor of The History of European Ideas and requested that they consider taking this very step.  I'm glad they did eventually, and I encourage you to look at my letter and take similar action with the journal Modern Theology, published by Wiley-Blackwell and one of the most well-read systematic theology journals today.  Modern Theology charges U.S. libraries $824 for a yearly print and online subscription; libraries in the UK pay £498. The EU pays €633, the developing world pays $483, and all other parts of the world pay $1121.  This is the most expensive English-language theology journal I'm aware of.  The institutional subscription is more expensive than the Elsevier-published History of European Ideas.  Bill Cavanaugh is one of the editors for Modern Theology, and not the sort that I would imagine as unreceptive to these sorts of concerns.

As I've stated in previous posts about the sustainability of academic publishing, these prices are dwarfed by science publications and are not the biggest contributors to the buckling of library budgets or the unavailability of literature to scholars.  But this doesn't really matter if you're at a small seminary that doesn't subscribe to any chemistry journals.  In such institutions, it's Modern Theology that's making your academic research needs unaffordable.

And it's not just the small institutions.  Here at the University of Chicago, home of the new Mansueto Library and one of the world's great research library systems, we are dealing with budget issues that make subscriptions difficult.  In June I mentioned that the Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon had ended its open access status earlier this year because they couldn't afford to keep it up.  The BBKL now has an option for institutional subscription to the online version, and I recently emailed our bibliographer about the possibility of the University of Chicago getting such a subscription.  Although I had received positive responses to all previous purchase requests that I had made over the past few years, this time she replied that, unfortunately, there is no new funding for electronic resources requiring ongoing payment.  With a subscription of €300/year... much less than a year of Modern Theology... the online BBKL is still unavailable.

Library budgets will not only cut the most ridiculously expensive resources, or the least useful.  Cuts like this always come in odd places, and they come alongside funds allocated to expansion projects elsewhere in the institution.  This means that any number of resources are currently in danger for scholars- from the obscure journal subscription, to the small book series that isn't carried through the library's new vendor, to the 10-hour/week shelving job that pays your bills as a student, to the ILL book that can't be shipped to you without charge because funding for that program has limited the number of monthly requests you can make.

I am not opposed to various open access ventures, and I make use of them frequently enough.  I am also glad that pdf's of articles flow more freely through personal channels amongst scholars than they do through publishers or libraries.  But I'm not convinced that having a scholarly literature market is in itself the problem.  It's not the publishers charging $40 for a hardback that make research inaccessible to people (either by personal acquisition or through local institutions), and if we could create a situation where publishers make a living off of doing what they do while libraries can do what they do within the means of their funding, the result is going to be much more fruitful than an entirely open access situation where everyone expects literature to be completely free... that is, where no one is willing to fund a common effort to edit, print, or curate scholarly work.

UPDATE: Since posting on this, at least two other blogs have weighed in on the article... New APPS and Savage Minds.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

nuts, bolts, & the blogroll

The other day when Ben was transitioning Faith & Theology over to its new location, I was irked to find his blogroll with recent post updates temporarily missing.  Realizing how much I refer to this list as a sort of secondary Google Reader, I decided to change my own blogroll to the same format for the benefit of readers.  I may end up splitting it into multiple lists in order to distinguish theology blogs from other disciplines or aspects of academic research, but for now it's just the same blogroll in a different format.

Something seems to be wrong, though.  My tip-off was that the prolific Jason Goroncy has, according to my sidebar, not posted anything in the last four years.  I've tried deleting and re-entering Per Crucem ad Lucem, but it still shows up at the bottom of the blog list.  My apologies to Jason and anyone else whose blog is failing to update.  Hopefully the issue will figure itself out (because I don't have confidence in figuring it out myself!).

In addition to the changes at F&T, do note that Davey Henreckson has moved from Theopolitical to Reforming Virtue.  Also, Ave Maria University has saved Thomistica.net.  Finally, Paul J. Griffiths's site does not seem to exist.  Does anyone know whether there is a technical problem or he just decided to end it all of a sudden?

Friday, August 26, 2011

A new home for History of European Ideas

Two years ago, I wrote a bit about the publisher Elsevier and its problematic role in academic journal publishing.  In particular, I mentioned the journal History of European Ideas, which is put out by Elsevier for the Sussex Centre for Intellectual History.  I did end up writing the editor of that journal to express my concern about their publisher and recommend that they seek a new publishing home (You can find my letter here).  At the time, the editor responded to me by saying that they "have personally had a very good working relationship" with Elsevier, but that he would be in touch with them about the issues I had raised.  I didn't think anything of the matter and figured that while it was good to voice my concerns, nothing would come of it.

This morning, though, Against the Grain has reported that three Elsevier history titles- including History of European Ideas- are moving to Routledge.  This is good news, and while I wouldn't begin to think that my letter to the editor was what caused the move, I think this outcome does demonstrate that expressions of concern from individual scholars are at least heard by people on the other end, and sometimes might contribute in a small way to a reevaluation of current practice.

[Also note the other intellectual history journal that has been published for some time at Routledge: Intellectual History Review.]  

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A few items...

Posting has died down because we've been busy lately preparing to move, and we'll probably be relatively busy this autumn semester as well.  We're starting as resident heads in an undergraduate dorm at the university, which means our family will be living with the students, managing day-to-day issues, and organizing activities throughout the year for a "house" of about 60 undergraduates.

Here are a few items...

  • The Newberry Library acquired the rare books collection of McCormick Theological Seminary a few years ago, and has just completed a substantial cataloging project on it.  Next Wednesday they'll be hosting a colloquium (free and open to the public) on the new collection.
  • An article from the latest issue of The Journal of Ecclesiastical History looks fascinating-- "Eucharistic Sacrifice, American Polemics, the Oxford Movement and Apostolicae Curae." The authors offer a revisionist account of 19th century theology of the sacrificial priesthood, tracing it from American Episcopal thinkers to the 1841 response of the Catholic archbishop of St. Louis rather than from the Oxford Movement to Apostolicae Curae