In Oldenburg's Long Shadow : Librarians, Research Scientists, Publishers, and the Control of Scientific Publishing

. Proceedings Creating the Digital Future : Association of Research Libraries 138th Annual Meeting, Toronto, Ontario (Canada), (2001)


The so-called "serial pricing crisis" has been with us for a long time. The responsibilities are now clearly identified: they rest squarely on the shoulders of commercial publishers. In the last few years, and perhaps because of the added challenges presented by digitization, attempts to slow down, stop and even reverse subscription price increases have emerged. Alternative forms of publishing are being explored and a petition — that of the Public Library of Science — is fueling several discussion lists. In the last 50 years, publishers have managed to transform scholarly journals — traditionally, a secondary, unpromising publishing venture at best — into big business. How they have managed to create extremely high profit rates is a story that has not yet been clearly told. What is the real basis behind this astounding capability? What is the source of their power? How can it be subverted? This presentation will address these questions. Recently, because of the advent of digitization and the Internet, the technical system of scientific communication has undergone a profound change that is still unfolding. We can be sure that scientific communication is morphing. Into what? To whose benefit? What transition phases can we expect? This presentation cannot hope to give final answers to such complex questions; more modestly, it will endeavor to sketch out two scenarios that are presently unfolding on courses that will eventually collide. Each one of these scenarios corresponds to a different take on the paradigmatic shift. Which one will win is unclear; it may even be that these two scenarios will compete for quite some time. This presentation asks whether the results of fundamental research in science, technology, and medicine —results that clearly stand at a pre-competitive stage if viewed in commercial terms, results that may even, in some cases, save lives — will remain part of humanity's knowledge commons, or whether they will be gradually confiscated for the benefit of smaller and smaller scientific and business elites.

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