In an effort to allow greater access to research, Cornell University Library and the Office of the Provost announced on Sept. 1 that they have established a $50,000 fund to help Cornell faculty and student researchers pay publication fees for open-access journals.
In the traditional model of scholarly publishing, the cost of publishing is paid for mainly through subscription fees, which inevitably pose a barrier to access. Open-access publishing is an alternative model that makes its materials free for everyone. To cover the cost of publishing, however, certain open-access journals have to rely on charging authors publication fees.
With the surge in both the number and prices of online and print scholarly journals, libraries are no longer able to subscribe to all relevant literature. This situation could potentially compromise the ability of researchers and students to access the articles they need to make scholarly progress.
Cornell University Library currently spends an estimated $6 million on journal subscriptions, according to John Saylor, associate university librarian for scholarly resources and special collections.
“Our budgets have not been able to keep up with either the increasing prices or the increasing number of journals,” Saylor said.
As it begins to look more toward the alternative model of open-access publishing, Cornell — along with Dartmouth College, Harvard University, the University of California-Berkeley and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — has signed the Compact for Open-Access Publishing Equity, pledging to provide monetary support for researchers to publish in open-access journals when no other funding sources are available.
With the establishment of the Cornell Open-Access Publishing Fund, Cornell faculty, postdoctoral researchers, staff or student authors now can apply for up to $3,000 of funding per article and up to $3,000 per author in the course of an academic year, according to the COAP Fund website.
Saylor said that he does not know for sure yet whether open-access publishing will be more sustainable in the long run than subscription-based publishing, but his goal is to “put something into the system to make people think about alternatives.”
As a former librarian of 11 years and a scholar of science publishing, Philip Davis grad, has examined the rationale behind the COAP program and found it to be wanting.
“One could interpret it as a solution looking for a problem,” Davis said.
Davis has two main concerns: first, it is not clear how the use of the money will be evaluated, and second, it is not clear how the program will address economic, access or fairness problems.
“$3,000 can buy a lot of journals, books and electronic materials,” Davis said. “The money is not coming out of nowhere; half of it is coming out of the library collections.”
Davis argues that the access issue has been “confounded.” He pointed out that top-down dissemination from the publisher is not the only means of receiving information, since researchers frequently engage in casual peer-to-peer sharing. In fact, many surveys have shown that researchers do not consider access to be an issue, according to Davis.
While the proponents of the COAP Program argue that subscription-based publishing favors individuals in developed nations, the fee-based open-access model is still discriminating in that it alienates those who do not have the funds to publish, Davis said. Davis pointed out that while the COAP funding could only be used as a last resort, those who have already secured funding could easily take advantage of the program.
For instance, Davis said, “I have a $4,000 fund of my own. Let’s say I use up $2,000 for my research. I could use the remaining $2,000 to publish my article. Or I could use it to fund two conferences that would allow me to travel, and then apply for COAP funding to publish my article. What do you think I would do?”
Both Saylor and Davis have expressed hope of bringing a dialogue onto campus concerning the value of open-access publishing.