One excellent consequence of this summer's sabbatical is that I have pondered scholarly communication issues more deeply than I have in many years. To this end I recently read the white paper produced by K|N Consultants, "A Scalable and Sustainable Approach to Open Access Publishing and Archiving for Humanities and Social Sciences."
As that title suggests, this paper focuses upon humanities and social sciences scholarship. But I see this work, produced by K|N Principals Rebecca Kennison and Lisa Norberg, as a template for the transformation of all of scholarly communication. For this I am grateful, and recommend that all interested people read the white paper.
The nutshell/elevator pitch: Kennison and Norberg propose a reallocation of funds to provide universal and enduring access to scholarly research in the humanities and social sciences. Their proposal is inclusive of all stakeholders, not a zero sum game in which either libraries or publishing companies perish in the fires of the digital age. I endorsed this collaborative spirit in my post a few months ago, "How Librarians and Publishers Can Be Friends Again."
The longer version: Kennison and Norberg's proposal is to develop a communal pool of funds that supports open scholarship and archiving in the humanities and social sciences, which would be centrally managed for the benefit of all. Currently individual libraries procure most resources, leading to very high costs (because it is hard to scale this model) as well as inefficiencies since this process is library-by-library even though many libraries want the same things. The resulting resources are only licensed for current students and faculty, leaving an institution's alumni who wish to continue accessing these resources out in the cold.
Rather than spend our money this way, Kennison and Norberg propose that all institutions pay a small fee (at the most $5 per student at the top level of the Carnergie Classification) into a central fund that would support the creation, dissemination and preservation of scholarship in the humanities and social sciences. All institutions would pay in, so all institutions and their alumni would have perpetual access. Projects would be grant-funded, with protocols in place to preserve sustainability rather than one-off efforts. Anything of scholarly value--not only a journal article or monograph chapter--would be supported. Publishers, librarians and researchers would have every incentive to work together.
Crucially, the monies would come from an institution's general fund rather than library budgets. Library budgets are small relative to that of their parent institutions; spending the same amount of money feels very different depending on where it comes from.
The logic is unassailable. Kennison and Norberg align incentives rather than pitting groups against each other, and do so at an unafforable cost. My concerns are on the implementation side of this equation, as we have a collective action challenge of very large proportions. Everyone will benefit from Kennison and Norberg's proposal, but everyone will need to change drastically. Libraries will not need procurement offices and publishers will not need sales reps. What seems great in the abstract looks scary in reality, and the status quo rolls along like a juggernaut.If that happens Kennison and Norberg will not be to blame. They have set the conversation in motion, and it is now up to all of us to make this plan a reality.