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What if we had to build a new publishing ecosystem from scratch?

by | Nov 18, 2019 | 0 comments

It was a fascinating exercise to consider what would happen if the existing ecosystem disappeared. Moderated by Rick Anderson from the University of Utah, he asked us to imagine Imagine a world with all of today’s technologies available but none of the publishing ecosystem: no established journals, no sixth-edition textbooks, no rows of monographs, no online reference sources – and no libraries in which to house them all.

What would we need to create? We would be forced to ask:

  • What do we do now because we have been doing it for the last 100 years?
  • What do we do because existing systems make them necessary?
  • Why do we do scholarly communication?

Reeta Sinha, Licensing Manager, Springer Nature wondered how often we have the opprtunity to start things from scratch. Journals were started for researchers to share and to show that they were first and the discoveries were unique. The system is still the same, with publishers, content creators, and content consumers. The article has become a part of the researcher’s reputation and that of their organization. But serials price increases and budget cuts resulted in collection weeding. The internet enabled wide dissemination of research results but the costs were about the same.

If we had to start over, we would have a meeting of readers, vendors, publishers. If the library pays for subscriptions, everybody would agree to fund the library. There would be platforms with the features readers want. We should keep moving towards open everything. Prestige, promotion, and tenure would be removed from the scholarly publishing environment. Would we end up with 50 agreements, one for each state’s library system?

Sarah Rouhi, Director, Strategic Partnerships, Public Library of Science, said that we should value the dissemination of any attempt to understand the world: the process, not the products. Are we imagining a world where everything changes, or one where some features stay the same as now? The fundamental difference would be a change in incentive structures. The present system is basically doing what is supposed to do. We should remember that there are communities already considering this question. In a new system, everything goes through peer review and community fed and relied upon. We are prioritizing the process of discovery.

Oliver Gadsby, President, Academic & Professional Publishing, & Littlefield, asked, “Who needs publishing?” We are trading data everywhere we go. We can easily find people we agree with and attack those we disagree with. The heart of this is not technology but people. The motivation to read grows out of writing and communicating. (He referred to Kent Anderson’s article in The Scholarly Kitchen on 102 things publishers do.) Lots of the machinery in publishing works but it needs updating. For the future, we should build on the present and add choice, affordability, and sustainability. We need to work on discoverability, get better at accessibility, and stop shipping physical materials all over the world.

Courtney Young, University Librarian, Colgate University, said that whatever we build must increase the public good. The tenure and promotion system is a stumbling block. If the system stays rooted in the past, the scholarly communication system may not be able to shift. Peer review should become open instead of blind. Open science should become the new normal. Think about our role as consultants and mediators. In a new environment, do our classifications still stay the same? This is an opportunity to influence access. Books are a challenge in this process. We must think of who is impacted by all these changes, foster collaboration. The opportunity to set standards is important: we could finally move beyond the PDF.


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