Start where you stand

I don’t know when I became Anti-Establishment Publishing Lass, but I seem to have done so. (I also think that all vaguely superheroish titles should come with logos and sidekicks. Gimme.) Today’s salvo in this ongoing and protracted war for the future of information distribution came courtesy of a libraryland publisher. An editor for the press had solicited me to write a book. I would like to write a book, but I want to be sure that any decisions I make about copyright for said work lines up with the decisions I advocate other scholars make, that I demand other publishers offer, that I am interested in fostering in my own institution’s financial choices. Essentially, I’m trying not to be either a hypocrite or an asshole about the things I pronounce publicly are Good and the things I choose to do.

So, I proposed, essentially, a one-year embargo on the title, followed by open-access after that time, which I had learned was something another libraryland publisher had recently agreed to. The editor said no.

Alas. Here’s my final reply:

I understand your position, but I’m going to stick firm to mine. I don’t think that we, as librarians, can argue that publishers aren’t sufficiently exploring robust new solutions for content distribution if we continue to move our own scholarship through the same old model that is failing so many of our institutions. Our arguments about sustainability for libraries and scholars only carry the weight of respect if we stand behind them with our own actions, so that’s what I need to do. And I have to pose the question: if our own libraryland publishers can’t find a sustainable digital-age model, or experiment with new solutions to get us all there, what hope do we as librarians have of convincing the rest of the information industry? I hope you at [your press] can find a way to stand with the profession — sustainably, for your ends and ours — as we all move into our new collections future.

Start as you mean to go on, and from whatever ground you happen to be standing on. May our publishing partners find themselves willing to explore new options when presented with them, and may we find the strength in ourselves to say “No. Not on those terms” when presented with the entrenched reality.


  1. Depending on the topic, a one year embargo for a book might not be long enough for the publisher to recoup the cost. I’m certain you considered this, but that may be where they are coming from. Books have a much longer tail than journal articles.


  2. Good question Anna. Take a stand…any stand is better than none. I love that you stand in your integrity.


  3. Anna, I know. But my response is “make me a counter offer that isn’t simply ‘no, we don’t do that, here are our original terms’, and we can talk.” The answer I got, however, was simply ‘no, we don’t do that, but we’ll let you use some of your content for teaser marketing’, which isn’t actually the same thing at all. I’m done with publishing partners who insist that ‘negotiating’ means that they ask for the same thing until libraries and librarians give in to their demands. And I know I’m painting with a very broad brush in that statement, but it’s beyond time to start insisting that they too explore the margins and boundaries of this new information environment.

    And, Deb, *someone* taught me to stand up for what I believe in, and to believe in things, period. Pretty sure you get to take some credit there. 😀


  4. Bravo! I’ve turned down a ton of writing for exactly these reasons. We can’t possibly push things forward if we keep being beholden to “this is the way we always done it” thinking, especially with publishing.

    I’ll get to work on that logo. You’ll have to find your own sidekick.


  5. I used this as one example of how publishing is still broken. I had a good talk with a post doc about open access publishing. I think he’s a bit more informed.


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