Publishing and the POOC, or, why we need open access

Isn’t everything up on the internet for free? Yes, most new books and articles appear in digital format, but NO-O-O they’re not (yet) mostly free. Libraries pay big bucks to license them, and the licenses require libraries to restrict access to narrow audiences (students, faculty, or people physically inside the library).

  • Publishers sell journal articles for $15, $20, $35 or more, but people affiliated with a licensing library get them for free. U.S. copyright law enables restricted access and constructs a formidable barrier to information for anyone without a university affiliation. Some publishers profit mightily from this arrangement. Elsevier, Springer, and Wiley all routinely clear around 30% profit by selling journal articles back to universities through library expenditures.

Elsevier clears more profit than Walmart, Apple, and Disney. Data are from Mike Taylor, The obscene profits of commercial scholarly publishers, 2012. Chart by Stuart Shieber, 2013.

  • U.S. copyright law as applied in traditional scholarly publishing protects publishers interests at the expense of readers and authors.
  • Online digital display of most post-1923 American book titles is limited to a few pages, unless you buy a licensed copy yourself or access it through your library license.
  • Challenging U.S. copyright law and scholarly publication practices, activist Aaron Swartz drew a civil lawsuit for downloading a ton of JSTOR articles using a computer stashed inside a MIT’s library IP-space. (See Lawrence Lessig’s video about Swartz’s copyright activism).

The required readings for the Graduate Center’s Spring 2013 JustPublics365 POOC are selected not only because they’re interesting and relevant, but also because they’re available in a free and open digital format. Lots of what we want to read is still locked up behind digital pay walls; we were only able to liberate some of it. For this course, many of the suggested readings are marked with an asterisk. This means that to reach them online, you have to be a Graduate Center affiliate (with an active GC network userid/pwd) or an affiliate with another subscribing institution.

example: restricted licensed article

example: restricted licensed article from the POOC suggested reading list

The Open Access (OA) movement seeks to change this. OA advocates ask writers, particularly academics who give their work to publishers for free, to publish open access with a Creative Commons license so readers everywhere can at least read/view it for free, then re-use and re-mix according to the author’s rules. Scholars want the widest possible impact by reaching the widest possible audience. Librarians want to stop spending insane amounts of money to publishers for academic work the university has already subsidized with faculty salaries. Readers want to read for free.

Academic authors and activists have to make it happen. Publish in a journal that is all (or “gold”) open access with Or use a SPARC sample contract to negotiate with your publisher to retain author copyright. Or, use the Sherpa/Romeo tool to find a journal’s standing permission for open access author archiving (“green” open access). About 95% of academic journals have standing permission for authors to post already-published articles on the web after a 6 – 24 month embargo. If every academic would post their articles following publisher guidelines already in place, there would be lots more reading available for our Spring 2013 POOC.

A few academic book publishers experiment with open access, but there are relatively few new open access books. Books published in the USA prior to 1923 may be in public domain (unless publishers extend copyright protection), but post-1923 US books can’t be distributed on the web without tempting copyright litigation. Nearly all the books available free online are so old that the copyright protections have expired, or, they’re government works-for- hire, or, the authors subscribe to the principle that academic work should be free to the public. Posting anything online from a copyright-protected book, even a single PDF book chapter password-protected for “reserve” reading by traditional university course, can tempt litigation.

A team of CUNY faculty, students, and librarians select and review every reading for this course. We’ve done our best to point you to the finest open access reading available, but we wish we had more to choose from. It’s up to all of us to transform the academy, to support open access scholarly publishing, and to make the work of public higher education a greater force for the common good.


Posted in Copyright, Open Access, Repositories | Comments closed

Graduate Center Archivist John Rothman

John Rothman began to shape the Graduate Center’s Archive when he joined the staff on February 14, 2001. For the past 12 years, Mr. Rothman has offered form and description to the Graduate Center’s archive, now comprising about 390 linear feet.  After over 11 years of work with the raw data of the Graduate Center’s history — presidential papers, organizational documents, and a range of paraphernalia — his knowledge about the organization is decidedly unparalleled. Check the link above to review Mr. Rothman’s archival finding aids.

Mr. Rothman joins the Graduate Center with the most distinguished of archival credentials. His archival career spans nearly 50 years. He was editor of the New York Times Index from 1964-1976, and then the New York Times Director of Information Services 1967-1975. He developed the Index and the paper’s Reference Library, the Photo Library, and the News Research Section. He then advanced to Director of the New York Times Research & Information Technology 1975-1981. He ended his professional work as Director of the New York Times Archives, 1981-1990. In 1991 he began private consulting. His clients included Cyrus R. Vance (former U.S. Secretary of State); William W. Scranton (former Governor of Pennsylvania); Newsday, Inc.; the Pierpont Morgan Library; and the Museum of the City of New York.

John Rothman is currently at work on the Doctoral Students Council paper archive. Find him in the Graduate Center archive most Mondays and Wednesdays before 4 p.m. in the Graduate Center Archive, C196.04;

Posted in CUNY Libraries, CUNY Library Services | Comments closed

Elsevier Costs Too Much

When journals evolved from exclusive print formats into some variety of electronic hybrid, librarians valued the extra service their formats offered, and we justified paying more for them. Scientists in far-flung labs off campus enjoyed easier access to the journals they consult and publish in. Humanists steadily gained deeper access to primary and secondary sources.

But for the past 10 years, Elsevier, and its closest competitors Springer and Wiley, have been making obscene profits in academic publishing. Other academic journal publishers and distributors show that marketing can serve the academy without tremendous offense. But Elsevier has caught our attention. E-journal purchasing has risen exponentially over my career, and Elsevier – and its competitors Springer & Wiley – are the main reason why. Today, with cheap server space and ubiquitous search engines, there’s no good reason we should continue paying outrageous prices for journals we could manage just as well, and with less expense to the academy and to the public.

So today I finally signed the Cost of Knowledge petition pledging to boycott use services to Elsevier. I hope the Journal of Academic Librarianship will leave Elsevier with its back files for another open access distributor soon.


Posted in Open Access, Repositories | Comments closed

State to CUNY-NYPL: Drop Dead

When President Gerald Ford rebuffed New York City’s request for federal financial assistance in a financial crisis, The  Daily News ran its  famous headline October 29, 1975, “Ford to City: Drop Dead.” On a micro-level parallels between this situation and the one I discuss here are pretty slim, but that old headline can’t help but pop from memory. State and City support for the New York Public Library on behalf of public higher education has steadily eroded in good financial times, and in bad. In 2010 dollars, the $1 million the state provided in 1968 would equal $6.2 million today. We’re getting nowhere near that level of support.  Here’s the story.


Mina Rees, the first President of the CUNY Graduate School and University Center, upon finishing her 10-year term, wrote in 1972:

In 1968, a competent and interested group, assembled by the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) surveyed the problems of NYPL as well as the library needs of SUNY and CUNY and urged that substantial financial support be provided to NYPL by the City and State in exchange for increased New York Public Library support to the public universities.

“The Research Libraries of NYPL hold the necessary research materials for doctoral and postdoctoral research and their availability for such research could be significantly increased,” the report said. “But NYPL is increasingly threatened by deficits which face it with the alternatives of cutting into the endowment…or diminishing present services to research.”

The report envisioned such eventual major benefits to the universities (in addition to helping to insure the continuance of the research libraries) as the availability of tapes of future accessions, augmented bibliographical services, faster photoduplication and microfilming services, individual desks or carrels for doctoral and postdoctoral research, longer hours of service, and acquisition programs responding to the needs of SUNY and CUNY.

In the fiscal year 1968-69, the City responded to these recommendations by including $500,000 in the CUNY budget — to be matched by another $500,000 by the State  — to provide for special services by NYPL to City University. Because full funding was not provided until the end of the fiscal year, the New York Public Library extended the arrangement to 1969-70. A few special services were granted to a limited number of faculty and students, including reserved study space in the Library’s 42nd Street Wertheim Room, where books may be paged and reserved for an extended period, and the use of a special Scholars’ Room in the Lincoln Center Library. Unfortunately, the City has not included the NYPL matching support item in the CUNY budget beyond the first year allotment. On an informal basis, a number of City University scholars still have access to the Wertheim and Lincoln Center Scholar’s Room, but the continuance of these special privileges and the granting of additional special assistance for the future are in doubt, as is the very survival of the research collections. The recent $500,000 matching federal grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities has provided some temporary relief for the Library, but adequate long-range financing is imperative.

The development of a permanent rapprochement between the Graduate School and the New York Public Library — with a long-range commitment of public funds under an agreement that would permit the university’s cooperation in the development of those NYPL policies that affect its research collections — should be one of the Graduate School’s top priorities for the near future.

Mina Rees. The First Ten Years of the Graduate School of the City University of New York. August 1972, p. 10.


The NYPL lifted itself, largely through private funding, out of the economic lassitude (from the mid-1960s to the late 1980s) that threatened not only its greatness, but its very viability. CUNY managed to survive as well, growing in size and in transforming in academic stature to one of the great urban public universities. Mutual NYPL-CUNY accommodation has strengthened most notably in recent years with NYPL joining the IDS interlibrary loan network (in which SUNY and CUNY are primary participants), and with NYPL’s embrace of CUNY faculty and graduate students as its primary academic constituency in the MaRLI program, through which CUNY faculty and graduate students may borrow certain selected research collection titles for 8-week, renewable loans subject to recalls in the case of need by another borrower. But, New York State and City aid to these two great public institutions has remained stagnant.

New York State Government Aid for Library Services 2010-11

  • In FY 2008 and prior, NYPL received a flat $2 million from New York State for CUNY Services which NYPL applied toward the purchase of research collection materials. This funding goes to NYPL’s General Book Fund.
  • In FY 2009, the State made an initial across-the-board 2% reduction at budget adoption, as well as an additional 0.88% decrease during the year.
  • In FY 2010, NYS included a 7% budget reduction across the board, and the mid-year deficit reduction plan included an across-the-board cut of 4.6%.
  • The FY 2011 budget from NYS included an additional across-the-board reduction of 2.6%.
  • The FY 2012 budget from NYS includes an across-the-board reduction of 6.5%. NYPL received 1.1 million for collections in support of CUNY Services. This could be reduced further if there is a mid-year cut
  • CUNY Grad Students and Faculty currently constitute about 1/3 of the users of the NYPL’s 2nd floor Wertheim Study – 96 out of 290 total users in 2010 were CUNY affiliates (48 identified as faculty and 48 as doc students). About half of the CUNY Wertheim users are from the social sciences, most of the other half is from the humanities. A few (1-4/year) CUNY affiliates also enjoy Allen Room privileges. CUNY use of the NYPL Art Collection is also substantial, but no specific stats are available.

In 2012, the NYPL received the same $1 million from state that it did in the late 1960s to support research collections to benefit CUNY students. If $1 million in 2010 dollars were contributed to the 1968 budget, that would be a measly $161,385. We must insist that the state reverse erosion of its support for the New York Public Library. Our City’s Library, the most democratic of institutions supporting citizen patrons of  CUNY and NYPL and visiting researchers from around the country and the world, deserves the support our tax dollars can provide.

Posted in CUNY Library Services, New York Public Library | Comments closed

CUNY and the NYPL Central Library Plan

NYPL made public its general plans for Reimagining  the 42nd St. Schwarzman Building (now called the Central Library Plan or CLP) in February 2012 following December 2011 publication of Scott Sherman’s alarm in the Nation. Sherman condemns the plan as costly and ill-conceived. He alleges repeatedly and sensationally (e.g. on the WNYC Leonard Lopate show) that NYPL seeks to construct “a glorified internet café” to replace the closed book stack below ground level. Sherman’s compatriot Caleb Crain also blogs against nearly everything the CLP represents, with special focus on the MaRLI pilot program. Crain fears that loaning NYPL research library books to vetted scholars may someday deprive someone of quick onsite access to a desired title. NYPL’s new lending practice is undemocratic, he argues, on that account. NYPL’s President Tony Marx has responded to CLP criticism on Leonard Lopate’s show, in the Huffington Post, and in Inside Higher Education. There is new detail in Frequently Asked Questions about the CLP on the NYPL site.

Critics express anxiety about the CLP’s return of the SIBL and Mid Manhattan libraries (and their readers) to the NYPL Schwarzman Building. Moving books from the NYPL book stack to the New Jersey RECAP repository, critics fear, means books will be only inconveniently retrieved for on-site examination in Manhattan. Writers seeking texts and solitude in the Main Library will be forced to mingle with the non-writerly public under conditions unconducive to writerly activity. Scholarship will fail. Novels will not be written. Civilization will suffer.

These are visceral reactions to shifts in scholarship already well underway. Readers steadily consult a variety of digital and physical formats, and readers and scholars themselves intersect and overlap in non-exclusive combinations. Libraries must reconfigure to deliver and to preserve a changing mix of media to a changing mix of readers and scholars. Google Books, Hathi Trust, and other world repositories offer growing caches of resources already and perpetually available online. Digital delivery allows anybody to get more, faster and cheaper, than from print-only, building-bound physical volumes. Souped up printers like the Espresso Book Machine can supply print copies for those who want them. NYPL and academic interlibrary loan systems can, with adequate support, turn around requests for PDF articles and book chapters within hours. It is impossible to retain every book for retrieval for onsite only use from a closed, environmentally unstable book stack, and at the same time perpetuate and avail a first-rate research collection.

Leading research libraries, including NYPL, already hold a substantial portion of their holdings off-site (also see the British Library, The Center for Research Libraries (CRL), Harvard, Columbia, NYU). No research library, no matter how magnificent, is able to collect everything. There is too much. All research institutions rely on resource-sharing and lending networks; retrieval and delivery systems are crucial to even the largest collections. The CLP adds an open, circulating collection where there is currently none. Selected special collections and heavily-used scholarly resources  remain at the Main Library. Repeatedly requested works stay onsite within reach by NYPL scholars. In addition, the CLP improves retrieval service for every reader. Online retrieval requests made before 2.30p.m. are promised by opening the next day, an improvement over the onsite paging service in place now. Rather than doubt the NYPL’s capacity to provide this delivery, we must insist on it. Weekend retrieval is important, and NYPL says Saturday deliveries are possible. But to insist that all scholarly materials be retained in Midtown, just in case promised deliveries fail, is to subvert the mission of the NYPL and to undermine real improvements in space and service.

The MaRLI program affords CUNY faculty and graduate students unprecedented access to local research collections. About 1/3 of MaRLI registrants are CUNY affiliates, the largest class of NYPL registrants. MaRLI offers longer loan periods than CUNY now provides, and the prospect of resource-sharing  among NYU, Columbia, and NYPL libraries and their faculty and grads is the most democratic gesture under discussion. Should the institutions agree, a request for a NYPL title unavailable from RECAP could be satisfied for an identical copy from the NYU or Columbia cache. CUNY researchers would continue to tap CUNY libraries and a substantial Interlibrary Loan network. Books are durable objects intended to be loaned, poured over, and shared. With the exception of certain singular, fragile, or expensive titles, books collected by the NYPL research collections are not irreplaceable. A book’s value is realized only if it is read. To encase a book, to leave it undisturbed, to restrict its distribution, is to deny its purpose. Books are built to circulate.

CUNY scholars will gain from the CLP call for expanded 2nd floor scholarly study space and longer hours (til 11 p.m. – better than the current 8 p.m.). NYPL’s Wertheim Study hosts around 300 vetted scholars, 1/3 of whom are CUNY grads or faculty, and a smaller number of Cullman Fellows and Allen Room scholars. Tourists and branch library borrowers will not be herded from the lower levels toward them. The CLP offers scholars and writers more room and more time to work alone or together, but different classes of library users needn’t mingle unless scholars decide to break for coffee or tourists put cameras down to settle in the Rose Reading Room. Thankfully the NYPL, like every other library, will offer vended caffeine shots, but the CLP doesn’t replace the reading rooms with an internet café. That scholars mix it up with the hoi polloi, just a little, in a few spaces, is hardly a detriment – it’s a gift to scholarly life. The New York Public Library’s Central Library Plan, embracing a future mix of readers and reading material, promises that the world’s premier urban library will continue to shape and reflect the city’s cultural capital.



Posted in CUNY Library Services, New York Public Library | Comments closed
Skip to toolbar