Brand asks in her op-ed, “how did we—libraries and publishers, guardians and purveyors of knowledge—become so polarized?”
Amy Brand, director and publisher of the MIT Press, published an op-ed in Times Higher Education discussing the role publishers, universities, librarians, and others play in the open access debate. The MIT Press has long been a proponent of open access; we published our first open access title in 1995 (City of Bits by William Mitchell), and have since grown our open access program to include a variety of initiatives, including our Direct to Open publishing model. Brand argues that open access stakeholders have become divided—but in order to succeed in opening more scholarship, “rigid black and white thinking must be checked at the door,” she writes.
Read a short excerpt from Brand’s piece below, and continue reading on the Times Higher Education website.
I enter a room of scientists, funders, policymakers and academic administrators. We’re gathered to fix what’s broken in how researchers communicate, with both one another and the wider world. I want what everyone else here wants—a faster, fairer system for mobilizing knowledge.
But I’m the only task force member with “publisher” in my job title, and there’s a battle raging among those in the once collegial professions of knowledge stewardship. Not, as you might expect, against the pernicious forces of science denialism, book banning or weaponized disinformation. It’s a righteous war between the academy and publishing—in particular, big publishers of science.
In the cartoon version of this tale, all publishers—even non-profit university press directors like me—stand accused of overcharging, fortifying barriers to access and impeding scientific progress itself. Librarians and outspoken advocates of open access, it seems, are on the side of the light.
How did we—libraries and publishers, guardians and purveyors of knowledge—become so polarized? To be sure, there are some colorful villains in the history of academic publishing, like Robert Maxwell—that Maxwell, father of Ghislaine, former British MP, media tycoon. Back in the 1950s, he recognized the explosive post-war growth in research spending for what it was: an opportunity to get rich minting hundreds of new academic journals and selling research back to the academy at exorbitant prices.
The high-priced subscription model is now out of sync with the interests of researchers and just about everyone else on the planet, but a viable replacement has yet to be found. The stakes are high in a world that is quite literally on fire, when we need research advances to be shared quickly and openly to solve dire global problems.
Solutions with staying power will only emerge from the 30,000-foot view, and through multi-stakeholder coordination. That means university leaders need to enter the fray, and both for-profit and non-profit publishers should be at the table. But rigid black and white thinking must be checked at the door. We can’t afford to get this wrong.