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Another blow to the myth of meek librarians

Posted by Christopher Shea  June 10, 2010 10:19 AM

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Librarians at the University of California system are promoting a boycott of the Nature Publishing Group, which publishes some of the most prestigious--and expensive--academic journals, unless the company backs down on a proposed fee increase. According to the system's chief digital librarian, UC has learned that the price of "Nature" and 66 other journals will rise by 400 percent, beginning next year, an amount that would add more than $1 million to the cash-strapped system's budget.

Accepting the Nature price hike would effectively wipe out the cost savings achieved through cooperative arrangements with other journal publishers, the librarians say.

Laine Farley, the executive director of the California Digital Library, based in the office of the UC president, accused the Nature Publishing Group of being "singularly unresponsive to the plight of libraries" and of pursuing "a 'divide and conquer' strategy that directs major price increases to various institutions in different years." (Read her letter here [pdf].)

A chief source of the university's ire is that journals rely for their raw materials on the unpaid (by publishers) labor of academics. In the past six years, Farley said, UC researchers have contributed 5,300 articles to Nature Publishing Group journals, including 638 to "Nature" alone.

The boycott would be directly organized by a biochemist and dean at the University of California at San Francisco, Keith Yamamoto, who led a successful boycott against two other publishers, in 2003. It would involve having all UC professors resign from editorial positions at Nature journals, stop submitting articles, and declining to perform peer review.

The boycott would present clear "hardships" for UC professors, Lane acknowledged, but would help to "break the monopoly that commercial and for-profit entities like NPG hold over the work that we create."

"The longer-term solution is to have the research funders--especially NIH and NSF--start paying for journals directly," wrote Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at UCLA, on his blog this week. "... But in the meantime, it’s guerrilla warfare, and I know which side I’m on."

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