A brave new world of scholarship

Rochester librarians are pushing for a shift in scholarly publishing
Author: Matthew Cook
Illustration showing the cost of publishing

Adopted in 1946, resolution 59 of the United Nations General Assembly recognizes freedom of information as an “integral part of the fundamental right of freedom of expression.” As crucial access points, libraries must extend and open access to information wherever and however possible. 

This is where the conversation on sustainable scholarship begins. 

At the University of Rochester, Lindsay Cronk, head of Collection Strategies and Scholarly Communications, spearheads efforts at the University to help make scholarship more affordable, accessible, and sustainable. We asked her to take us into the world of sustainable scholarship for a closer look. 

In advocacy of sustainable scholarship

There has never been a painless way to reconcile the cost of scholarship and the value of the knowledge it provides. Libraries have faced this challenging dichotomy for decades.

As one of the University of Rochester’s primary stewards for both the University’s scholarly estate (University publications) and its scholarly investment (the materials budget), I’ve wrestled with how to preserve Rochester’s scholarship and provide access to leading-edge research. Through tactical negotiations, creative problem-solving, and financial strategy, we’ve curated an impressive research collection with a breadth and depth that rivals those of peer institutions. 

Earlier this year, budgetary constraints across the University presented a new challenge. Thanks to a River Campus Libraries-wide effort, we were able to identify $500,000 in resources that would give us permanent annual cost savings and increased financial stability for the University. That project will conclude in mid-July. However, sustainable scholarship is an ongoing effort, and COVID-19 has served as a reminder of why these efforts are so important.

The urgency surrounding research to address the pandemic has necessitated an unprecedented pace and scale of scholarly sharing. Unfortunately, the existing publishing system does not support that pace. And that’s only the latest shortcoming of this system.  

Commercial publishers, notably Elsevier and Wiley, reap huge margins—some exceed those of Apple, Google, and even Amazon—because the current publishing system is designed almost exclusively for their benefit. All a publisher has to do to profit is provide the platform for publication because scholars, often faculty or graduate students, rely on their work being published in journals to receive support for their work by their institutions and private and federal grants. The publisher doesn’t even have to vet the papers because the author's work goes through a peer review process.

This system is extremely lucrative for publishers, but it creates costs that higher education institutions must bear, in addition to the investments in the research that ends up in journals. Considering that the taxpaying public funds the bulk of University research through grants, this isn’t just unsustainable; it’s indefensible. As a Tier 1 research library, we are in a position to do something about it.

The Sustainable Scholarship Team and I are committed to advocating for Rochester’s knowledge creators and consumers—this means negotiating transformative agreements with publishers, investing more in the open access infrastructure, and more. We also aim to educate and inform because this challenge is greater than any single research library or institution. Success will require many champions and perspectives, which is why we are eager for feedback and participation.

We look forward to collaborating with the University community to build a system of sustainable scholarship that will better serve researchers, universities, learners, and the public good! ∎

If you are interested in learning more about sustainable scholarship or want to get involved, contact the Sustainable Scholarship Team. Enjoy reading about the University of Rochester Libraries? Subscribe to Tower Talk.