Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Embargoes: Impediments to Scholarship Access

I just recently had an email conversation with a faculty member who was frustrated with the embargo periods for journal titles within our library databases.  I can definitely understand his frustration. Juggling access to scholarship with copyright laws and embargoes has long been a struggle for academic libraries. 

I was surprised to discover that he thought this was a library policy!  This was an excellent opportunity to explain more about embargoes, but also the greater issue of open access that lies beneath the surface of this very dark pool.

Rather than library policy, embargo periods and moving walls are imposed by publishers like Elsevier and Wiley in an effort to maintain their own revenue streams, delaying easy access to scholarship and dampening open access efforts that could otherwise have been enjoyed in order to make a profit selling individual journal subscriptions.  As authors, libraries and the Academy have pushed back at publishers with open access initiatives, a sad trend over the past few years has actually been for publishers to saddle us with even longer embargoes

In cases where paywalls prevent direct access through databases, there are a few ways that we endeavor to do in providing seamless access (or at least making it as painless as possible…).  For instance, via ILL with link resolvers on public-facing pages — those “Find text” buttons within databases and google scholar, which pull all the citation information for an article into the ILL request and saving our users a few keystrokes in entering citation information into the request form. Libraries have also banded together into multiple consortia for resource sharing and optimizing performance to reduce ILL wait times.  For instance, my library just recently joined the IDS project, a group of over 70 public and private academic libraries, the New York Public Library, and the New York State Library who have all committed to reciprocal agreements for sharing articles within 48 hours and books within 72 hours among member libraries to reduce both cost and wait times for our library users.  Libraries also strive to be responsive to the needs of our researchers by single journal subscriptions when our budgets allow.  Unfortunately, this can quickly get expensive!

Much more is needed to solve such problems and most of the answers lie in the open access (OA) movement (e.g. encouraging publishing in OA journals, modifying tenure/promotion policy to support OA publishing, adoption of Institutional OA policies by Higher Ed Institutions, implementing and linking content in OA repositories, etc.).  Each conversation like the one with this faculty member is a chance to educate academics about the harm to scholarship that comes with a lack of access; and hopefully create a few more advocates for and change a few minds about the benefits of open access.