Open access and ALIA

When I announced my candidacy for the ALIA Board of Directors on Twitter, and invited questions, one of the first questions I received was from @HughRundle. He asked ‘What’s your position on open access for ALIA professional journals?’

To answer this I feel it is important to review the current situation, because I often find that misunderstandings abound about ALIA and its various services and offerings. ALIA publishes two professional journals: Australian Library Journal (ALJ) and Australian Academic and Research Libraries (AARL). I’m going to talk about both journals together, because I believe they should either both be open access, or neither.

At the moment both journals are available along the following model:

  • Issues from the previous year are available to subscribers only, in print. Note that institutional members of ALIA get one free copy of the journals in print.
  • Issues from the year before that, currently from 2011, are available online for ALIA members.
  • Issues from the year before that, currently from 2010 backwards, are available online for all and sundry.

There’s a way around the above restriction for members – ALIA gives members access to a package of LIS journals via ProQuest which includes ALJ and AARL. So if you’re an ALIA member you can access the most recent issues; if you’re not, you have to wait for two years. One thing that ALIA National Office should do immediately is change the ALIA website access so that members can access the most recent issues directly, given that they can do this anyway.

The other thing you need to know is that from the beginning of this year both journals will be published by Taylor & Francis. The announcement states that ‘A fully open access route (freely available issues with no Author Publication Charges) was also considered, with both journals becoming online only, but the cost to the association would have been too great to go down this route.’ There’s an interesting comparison table of the previous model, an open access model, and the new model. How the new publishing model will impact on how we, as individual members, get access to online copies of articles I’m not yet sure. It may be that we go via a Taylor & Francis website instead of the ALIA website. What I’ve described above is how things were on the 3rd February 2013. It may change by the time you’re casting your vote for ALIA Director.

To return to the original question – do I think that the journals should go open access? Well, I’m not privy to the debate that was held amongst current board members, but I can see from the last annual report that both journals cost a lot more to publish than they brought in income – in fact they cost about twice as much as they bring in. Presumably that income comes from a combination of paid subscriptions and advertising. If the journal became open access, the income from subscriptions would disappear – but how would the advertising income be affected?

You’ll notice that I’ve still not answered the question. And I still won’t, not quite yet. It’s important that we talk about money first, because the thing about open access is that someone has to pay for the journal to be published. It appears that ALIA ruled out the idea of asking authors to pay – which is good, because that’s a model that’s just asking for corruption. So if readers don’t pay, and authors don’t pay, then the publisher has to pay – and that means ALIA has to pay. Which means you and I have to pay, because you and I are ALIA.

Ask yourself this: if moving the journals to open access meant that your membership fees increased by an extra, say, $10 a year, would you support it? What if they increased by $20? By $30? Personally, I would pay that – I’m lucky, financially, and I can afford that. But not everyone can and I’d hate to impose that on other members unless I knew that it was what they wanted. Which brings us to the real issue here – these journals ‘belong’ to ALIA, which means they ‘belong’ to members. Members, not any single member, should make this decision.

My position on open access for ALIA journals is that, as a member, I would support the movement, however individual members and Board members have different obligations. If elected to the Board my role would be to oversee the financial affairs of the Association and represent members – all members, not just my own interests. If members brought a motion to the Board (putting a motion to the AGM is one way to do this; another would be to convince one of the board advisory committees to submit a proposal to any Board meeting), then I would happily debate the matter, but I would want to know that the majority of members would be in favour of such a move before supporting it at the Board level.

I hope this has not only answered @HughRundle‘s question but also given you an impression of how I would examine issues from different perspectives. I welcome your comments on this and hope that, if I am elected to the Board, there is an opportunity to review this matter again.

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4 responses to “Open access and ALIA”

  1. Hugh Rundle says :

    Thanks Alyson for your considered and reasonable response.

    I think the ‘comparison table’ reveals a lot about how the current Board members think about journals and open access. The ‘Open Access’ model includes a cost for layout and subscriptions, yet the Statement clearly says an Open Access journal would be online only. If it’s open access then subscriptions can be simply automated, but the inclusion of a consideration of layout indicates the Board thinks ‘publishing online’ means ‘make a PDF just the same as the gallies for a printed journal and whack it on a web page’, which is how InCite is “published online”. The point of Open Access is that it is easily accessible, not just that it is free of cost to the reader. Best Practice would be to publish in native HTML rather than PDF. The fact that, as you have noted, the ‘subscriber only’ restriction in Year 1 can be circumvented by members through Proquest also shows a perverse view of service to members and what journals are for.

    I understand the need to keep the Association solvent, but we’re a Library and Information association for goodness sake. The comparison table talks about ‘exposure’ but not about ‘access’. If the Board wants to save money they would be better off getting rid of InCite. Or they could sell ALIA House. Or any number of other things. Why charge for the journals, but offer the Copyright advice service for free? Why not the other way around? If a Library and Information association can’t even make its own research journals freely accessible, it makes me wonder what our Board members think the purpose of the organisation is. What ALIA can ‘afford’ to do isn’t just measured in dollars.

    • alysondalby says :

      Thanks for your reply Hugh – I really like your phrasing that ‘what ALIA can afford isn’t just measured in dollars’, and I’m going to remember that, because I like the way it puts things like industry leadership and member needs higher on the agenda.

      I’m not sure I agree with your particulars – ALIA House, for example, is a reasonable source of revenue for the the Association, and I’m not sure that sacrificing a well-branded and easily communicated publication like inCite to increase the accessibility of an academic journal serves the Association’s wider interests. But that doesn’t mean these things shouldn’t be examined, closely and regularly. My information on finances is, after all, based on the 2011 financial report – things could have changed since then.

      I don’t know what the current crop of Board members think the purpose of ALIA is, but I know what I think it is (and it’s the subject of a long blog post that currently in draft form until I can make it more succinct!). I’d be very interested to hear what you think it is – the same goes for any other members (or potential members) out there.

      Don’t forget that there are ways to ensure these debates happen at the Board level, whether I’m elected to the Board or not – as above, any member can add a motion to the AGM agenda, and every board advisory committee that I’ve dealt with has been very pleased to hear from members.

Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. What is ALIA’s purpose? « Alyson in Libraryland - February 12, 2013
  2. ALIA Votes 2013 « It's Not About the Books - March 2, 2013

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