On ALA, CLA, and Open Access

The Canadian Library Association recently issued a new, strongly worded open access statement ("Position Statement on Open Access for Canadian Libraries"). Peter Suber commented on this statement, saying "Many organizations have called on their governments to mandate OA for publicly-funded research, but the CLA is first I've seen to regard embargo periods as a temporary compromise, justified only to help publishers adapt during a transition period."

The American Library Association is a member of the Alliance for Taxpayer Access and the Open Access Working Group, and. as such, has signed a variety of targeted statements about free access to government-funded research. The most active ALA Division in terms of open access support is the Association of College and Research Libraries, which has a number of activities geared towards promoting it.

Such statements and activities are praiseworthy, but the question remains: What kind of open access to these associations provide to their own journals?

CLA appears to embargo the current issue of Feliciter. If so, CLA cannot be said to be providing full free access to the journal; however, as embargoes go, it is a generous one.

Since it publishes more journals, the situation for ALA is more complex, and it is summarized below in a discussion of its major journals.

ALA Journal Free Access?
Children and Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children No
College & Research Libraries Embargo (current volume?), with e-prints that are removed on issue publication leaving a free access gap
Information Technology and Libraries Six month embargo
Library Administration and Management No
Library Resources & Technical Services Embargo? (last complete issue listed on site is from 2006 and last free volume is from 2006)
Public Libraries Embargo? (last listed issue on site is from 2007)
RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage Embargo? (last listed issue on site is from 2006)
School Library Media Research Embargo? (last listed issue on site is from 2007)
Reference & User Services Quarterly No (there are no issues listed on site)
Young Adult Library Services No

Given that several journals are far behind in listing back issues, some have no listed 2008 issues, and one has no back issues whatsoever, it is difficult to make definitive statements about their open access policies. It is possible that this confusion arises from difficulties in the timely maintenance of ALA journal Websites. What can be said is that, as of today, those missing digital issues are not accessible to anyone from the ALA site.

One thing is clear: it would be very helpful if ALA journals would clearly and prominently state their open access policies. Although it will not be discussed here in any detail, several journals have conflicting or unclear copyright agreement policies. It is assumed that ALA offers its two copyright agreements (Copyright Assignment Agreement and Copyright License Agreement.) for all journals, but this cannot be verified from all journal Websites.

While it is not uniform, ALA is making progress towards providing more free journal content; however, it cannot be said that ALA fully supports free access to all of its major journals. Moreover, to my knowledge, ALA itself has never made an open access position statement that is similar to CLA's and those of other library organizations, such as IFLA's (this excludes any statements by ALA divisions or joint statements). As the open access movement nears the decade point, it would seem desirable for it to unambiguously do so.

ALA is a major voice in the library community, and, if its open access efforts are to be taken seriously by publishers and scholars, it should state whether it supports green access (self-archiving), gold access (open access journals), or both. If it wants to support gold access, it should first reform its own journal publishing business model. If not, it would be helpful for it to clarify and make consistent the terms of its embargo access at an organizational vs. a divisional level.

3 thoughts on “On ALA, CLA, and Open Access”

  1. What percentage of articles published in the journals of ALA, CLA, ASIST, etc, do you think are publicly-funded? Even were legislation to expand the scope of open access to include all articles derived from publicly-funded research, do you think the journals of professional societies in the field of library and information science would be affected? And, since authors in these journals are unlikely to have federal grants that they can use to pay for publication of their papers, the journals would not be able to turn to the author-financed model of publishing. So, what financial model do you recommend for the journals published by these professional societies? Raise dues of the membership? The membership already receives the publications as a benefit of membership. They are already paying once for the publication. Would you have them pay additionally to underwrite access by non-members? I’m not suggesting the open access ideal is unachievable. I’m curious what you see as the solution for the journals of professional societies like our own.

  2. My posting about ALA points out that, although it and some of its divisions have issued statements in support of open access, I cannot definitively identify a single major open access journal that it publishes. Moreover, while it appears that ALA’s two copyright statements are options for authors of all ALA’s major journals, this is not clear from the copyright statements on several of these journals. Consequently, it is not possible to say that ALA fully supports self-archiving.

    If it does not publish open access journals and it does not fully support self-archiving, it would appear that ALA is verbally supporting open access, but not practicing it. It is up to ALA to decide if it wants to support open access to its journals and how it should fund it if it does (in FY 2007, ALA’s total revenues were $52 million dollars); however, its credibility as an advocate for open access is undermined if it does not. It may be the case that ALA supports self-archiving, but not open access journals. If so, a clarification of its position and better wording on its ambiguous journal sites would clear this up, and no one could say that ALA was not “walking the talk.”

    ALA’s major journals publish a fairly low volume of papers on an annual basis. If I were to offer ALA advice, it would be this: stop printing issues, stop offering subscriptions, stop marketing journals, stop restricting access, utilize the open-source Open Journal Systems software to publish PDF versions of articles, and announce new issues on appropriate mailing lists. In short, cut out the overhead involved with publishing dual print/electronic journals on a commercial basis and focus fiscal resources on editing, digital infrastructure, and digital production.

    CLA appears to be very close to offering full open access it its journal; only the current issue appears to be restricted.; however, if this is so, it is not consistent with its statement, which strongly supports open access journals. Again, it’s a question of credibility, although a much smaller question than ALA’s. It is up to CLA to decide if it wants to support open access to its journals and how it should fund it if it does. If I were to offer advice, it would be the same as to ALA.

    My posting about ASIST dealt solely with its self-archiving policy. I have not investigated whether ASIST has issued statements in support of open access; however, it is not a member of the Alliance for Taxpayer Access or the Open Access Working Group, and I’m unaware of it issuing any statement on support of OA.

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