The Hyde Park Debate

Rick Anderson

Rick Anderson

The always popular Hyde Park Debate addressed the proposition

Resolved: APC-Funded Open Access is Antithetical to the Values of Librarianship.

It was moderated by Rick Anderson,  Associate Dean for Collections & Scholarly Comuncation, University of Utah.  Alison Scott, Associate University Librarian for Collections & Scholarly Communication, University of California Riverside, took the pro position, and Michael Levine-Clark, Dean and Director, University of Denver Libraries, debated against the proposition.  The debate was conducted in accordance with the Oxford Union rules; each debater presented their position, followed by a rebuttal of their opponent’s arguments. Audience votes on the proposal were taken at the beginning and end of the debate; the winner is the person who convinced the most people to change their vote to his/her side (not necessarily the one with the highest number of votes).

Alison Scott

Alison Scott

Alison Scott defined OA as online access to published research—the materials comprising the scholarly record. Funding by APCs (Author Processing Charges) means those charges that make it possible for a work to be published openly. OA works enable free access to works by imposing pre-publication fees. They are the author element of gold OA. OA maximizes the impact of new research, fosters the growth of knowledge, and increases the transparency and impact of research. For citizens, OA means unimpeded access to research results. OA removes price and permission barriers to the scholarly record.

Scott does not mean to belittle the aims of OA publication.  Its goals align with many core academic values and principles associated with teaching and learning in higher education. OA is a good thing because it ideallly aligns with academic libraries and librarianship, which are shared resources for the public good. But APC funding a mode of publication represents a threat to the ideals of academic librarianship. Costs shift and are concentrated directly on the producers. That is why APC funding is antithetical to librarianship; it is concentrated on the producers of the literature. Librarians must therefore turn to the functional support of producers.

The solution is not merely moving money from subscription budgets into APC budgets. APCs have been paradoxical in privatizing community resources. APC-funded OA revolves around the propagation of the research and how the finished work enters the cycle of scholarly communication. Individual academic libraries have a responsibility to document the work produced by their own institutions, but they collect and make accessible the records of scholarship. OA cannot become a reality on a large scale without repurposing the large amount spent on subscriptions every year.

Michael Levine-Clark

Michael Levine-Clark

Michael Levine-Clark argued in favor of APC-funded OA and therefore against the proposition. Books are for use and save the time of the reader. Publications cannot be hidden behind a firewall; there should never be barriers to information access. We should always be able to provide our users with the information they need and think about access as broadly as we can. It should be easy to access the information that users need. Our current system imposes barriers and taxes researchers at small institutions who are blocked from some content. The research process slows down while the researchers wait for access, so we are not saving the time of the user. We force our users to log in to a proxy server to get the right to access, which makes access difficult.

We must acknowledge that APCs are not perfect; some institutions now pay more for them than for subscriptions. APC costs are less predictable, so budgeting is difficult. Removing all costs of publications may result in new barriers being imposed. Researchers at poor institutions struggle to pay the costs of publications.

Greater access to information is a core value of libraries. Green OA does not change the current model and does not remove the barriers to OA. APC-funded OA serves the value of librarianship by allowing users without access to a library to meet their info needs. It removes all barriers to access; there are no firewalls and users do not have to rely on access points in libraries. Many libraries have access to large collections of literature; anything they don’t have they can get thru ILL. But many small libraries do not have the subscription budgets big enough to give their users everything they need. Faculty at those institutions cannot do cutting edge research and get grants, so teaching and learning are impeded. APC-funded OA allows users to meet their information need even if they do not have access to a lib. Even the poorest libraries can do some things, but there are unaffiliated researchers all over the world who do not have access to a library’s collection. OA solves this problem to some extent. Green OA breaks down the barriers; APC-based gold OA lets everyone have access.

While there are clear flaws to OA, there are clear benefits. APC-based OA gives greater access to information. APCs allow us to serve our users better and are not antithetical to the values of librarianship.

The opening poll result was 54 in favor and 120 against, and the closing poll result was 88 in favor and 111 against.  The winner of the debate was therefore Alison Scott.

Don HawkinsDon Hawkins
Charleston Conference Blogger and Against The Grain Columnist

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