Evolutions in Scholarship

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Fair use infographic

Friday, August 23, 2013 3:19 pm

Do you love infographics? Do you love fair use? Do you love libraries? Then you’re going to love the new infographic from ARL, American University’s (AU) Washington College of Law, and AU’s School of Communication about the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries. You can find the full-size PDF and 8.5×11″ PDF files here.

Impact of impact

Monday, July 8, 2013 2:08 pm

If you’ve been around the scholarly journal publishing scene, either as an author or a librarian, you’ve likely heard talk of impact. Often, that’s impact with a big “I” – the Journal Impact Factor. Published annually each June by Thomson Reuters, the impact factor is a metric that ranks journals by the average number of citations to articles published in that journal in the preceding two years. Researchers look to it when identifying top journals in their field. Librarians look to it when making collection decisions. P&T review committees look to it when assessing journal quality and influence.

The 2012 impact factors were recently announced, and one journal in particular saw a precipitous 16% drop in its impact score from 2011 to 2012. The journal? PLoS ONE. Now, PLoS ONE is a revolutionary journal, and not just because it is open access. It is a massive, multidisciplinary, rapid peer-reviewed journal that has been making waves since 2006. It publishes tens of thousands of articles a year, and its early success – its impact – is only serving to increase annual publication rates. As one blogger explains, the fall in PLoS ONE’s impact factor is the victim in PLoS ONE’s own success.

But is it a victim? Notice that when I quickly explained the impact factor above, I noted that it is a metric, not the metric. Too often, impact factors are (mis)used as an evaluative tool to quickly assess a journal’s influence, and by extension, the presumed influence of an author’s article/research. But it only counts citation rates, and citations can be gamed. Citations also aren’t the only measure of impact, as not every use of an article will be cited in a formal publication. What about articles that get blogged? Tweeted? Facebooked? Picked up by news media? Shared by patient advocacy groups? Incorporated into classroom teaching? How are those legitimate impacts being measured? Not by impact factors, that’s for sure.

Enter altmetrics. Recognizing that the scholarly ecosystem has evolved beyond paper-based journal publication and citation to include online tools for discovering, indexing, and sharing influential articles, altmetrics “reflect the broad, rapid impact of scholarship in this burgeoning ecosystem.” ImpactStory and Plum Analytics are two altmetrics tools to aid researchers in assessing the broader, richer impact of their research. I don’t know much about either one, yet, but what I do know is exciting! In the coming months, I’ll be exploring altmetrics in greater detail, and expect to share what I learn with you here. Stay tuned!

My MOOC Experience

Monday, May 6, 2013 2:07 pm

Earlier this semester, I completed my first MOOC, An Introduction to the U.S. Food System, offered through Coursera by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. While I didn’t learn as much new information as I assume others did (not a criticism of the course, more that I’ve been learning about food issues for a number of years now), learning about our food system was only a partial goal in signing up. Given all the hoopla around MOOCs, I wanted to personally experience what some seem to see as the shiny new future of higher ed.

MOOCs are Massive Open Online Courses, and they have captured the fancy of many in higher ed, and beyond. MOOCs offer students the opportunity to learn from noted scholars, without incurring tuition costs, from the comfort of wherever they happen to be. While MOOCs may not be the future of higher ed reform – and there’s been some recent criticism – they can’t be overlooked entirely.

I embarked on my MOOC hoping to be wowed into tempering my cynicism that they are the saving grace of higher ed’s current problems. That didn’t happen (criticisms below), but there was one surprising insight that only occurred once I became a student myself: if MOOCs are going to stick around in some variation, it is imperative that researchers make sure their articles and books can be used for course content; aka, scholarship must be openly accessible. I came to this realization myself while working through my MOOC assignments, but was reassured to learn that Kevin Smith at Duke University also sees the need for a MOOC-Open Access correlation.

My MOOC involved weekly video lectures, required and optional readings, discussion forums, and quizzes. The readings are where I felt the closest affinity to a traditional course, as both my MOOC and a Geography course on food systems I took as an undergraduate relied on articles in lieu of a textbook. However, the nature of those readings were quite different. In my MOOC, of 55 readings (the vast majority optional), only 8 were scholarly articles, 7 OA. One optional reading was an article that explicitly required institutional access (alas, WFU didn’t subscribe), and two were non-research articles from scholarly journals. The rest were newspaper articles, reports, websites, and other pertinent but not scholarly readings.

What strikes me about the non-scholarly nature of the majority of the readings is that: a) this is a topic that can be covered by non-scholarly articles and reports, but that b) only ONE of the required readings was an OA scholarly article. I cannot speak to whether or not the reliance on non-scholarly readings would be similarly reflected on the syllabus of a correlated course taught at JHU, but my guess is that if this had been a traditional course, more than one of my assigned readings would have been from a scholarly source.

Setting aside my additional criticisms (simplistic assignments, no real feedback opportunities, unwieldy forums) that cast MOOCs* in a poorer light than traditional courses, college classes incorporate scholarship through assigned and supplemental course readings and student research. But when the availability of scholarly readings are limited, as they are in MOOCs, I fail to see how it can be argued that they are an acceptable substitute for credit-based classes.

Does this make my MOOC inherently bad? Of course not! I quite enjoyed my learning experience, despite a strong base of knowledge coming in. But having experienced both a MOOC and a traditional course on essentially the same topic, I cannot buy into the claim that MOOCs are the future of higher ed, without substantial shifts to open scholarly publishing and distribution systems.


* Admittedly, I’m making a broad generalization here, as I’ve only taken one MOOC, so my experience is quite limited. I’ve heard that other have more rigorous assignment. My second MOOC starts today – perhaps I’ll have more “homework” to do this time around!

Looking back, looking forward

Friday, February 15, 2013 4:05 pm

Until yesterday, 2013 has not been a year of positive movement in the scholarly communication realm. In early January, many were shocked and saddened to learn of the death of Aaron Swartz, a leading advocate for open access. Although his methodology has been questioned by some, the principles that inspired his actions are sound. In late January, updates I heard from various lawyer-librarians on the Kirtsaeng v. Wiley case before the Supreme Court and the implications for ALL, not just libraries, if Wiley gets even a partial “win” (Miss Pollyanna here refuses to believe an outright “win” is possible) were disheartening.

February didn’t get any better, as the publishers in the Georgia State copyright case filed their appeal at the end of January, and February greeted us with the chilling news that the US Dept. of Justice requested additional time to determine if they were going to file an amicus brief not in support of GSU, but either for the publishers or for neither party. (See Nancy Sims’s take for an excellent analogy to eating fast food burgers.) Then we learned that an academic librarian is being sued by a publisher, and another academic librarian has been threatened with litigation. After a particularly uplifting 2012 – Research Works Act squashed; researchers rebelled; victories one, two & three rolled in – this has been a difficult year to stomach.

But yesterday, on the 11th anniversary of the Budapest Open Access Initiative, which launched the Open Access movement (and also Valentine’s Day no less), hope glimmered again with the introduction of the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR) in both the US House and Senate. This is an updated version of the Federal Research Public Access Act, which was introduced in the past but never brought for a vote. FASTR would require all Federal agencies that fund $100 million+ in extramural awards annually to make publications stemming from funded research available to the public within 6 months of publication. But FASTR is better in two critical ways: 1) it would also require that the publications be in formats open to reuse for “computational analysis by state-of-the-art technologies” (that’s text-mining, baby!), and 2) it was introduced simultaneously in both the House and Senate, with bipartisan support, in a non-election year. SPARC and InfoDocket have additional information.

May the glimmer become glitter this year!

Open Access Explained

Friday, October 26, 2012 4:48 pm

It’s international Open Access Week 2012, when librarians and researchers around the globe are talking about OA and related issues. Here at Wake Forest, I led a workshop for faculty and staff on fair use and copyright in teaching and scholarship Thursday afternoon (slides). On Tuesday, I gave a guest lecture on OA to faculty at Furman University (slides).

The guys behind PhD Comics have created a fun video explaining OA. While it focuses only on OA journal publishing, and is science-specific, it’s a wonderful, quick primer on the principles of OA. Enjoy!


Busy week across the courts

Thursday, October 11, 2012 5:20 pm

It has been a busy – and exciting! – week in courts across the country, with important implications for libraries and fair use. Last Thursday, it was reported that Google and the Association of American Publishers (AAP) reached a settlement in their long-running case surrounding the Google Books project. Although the terms of the settlement have not been disclosed, we do know that publishers will have the option to opt-out of Google Books for out-of-print yet still in-copyright content, and the digital scans Google created will be removed. For those publishers who elect to stay in, Google will continue to provide 20% views via Google Books, sell full-text access via Google Play (with revenue sharing), and provide the publisher with a digital copy. On the whole, this changes things very little for users in practical terms – and does not end the class action lawsuit by authors still pending against Google – but ends one aspect of a 7 year lawsuit that libraries have been monitoring closely.

We also learned last week that for a second time, the lawsuit brought against UCLA for digital video streaming has been dismissed. Details are scant (and hat-tip to Kevin Smith for cluing me in, as I’d missed this until today), and the dismissal does not mean that what UCLA was doing was either fair use or covered by the licensing terms. Perhaps UCLA’s use is fair, perhaps it’s covered by licensing terms, perhaps the plaintiff did not have the rights to bring the suit in the first place. So like the Google settlement, little practically changes with this dismissal.

The big, fabulous, fist bump-worthy news for fair use and libraries came last night with the ruling that the Authors Guild’s lawsuit against HathiTrust has been dismissed on summary judgement by Judge Harold Baer. In 2011, the Authors Guild, two American authors, and several similar authors’ groups overseas filed suit against HathiTrust and several member institutions on the grounds that the in-copyright digitization that HathiTrust was coordinating, which enables new scholarship opportunities via searching and indexing and greater print-disabled patron access, exceeded the library-specific exceptions outlined in Section 108 of the Copyright Act. Furthermore, the plaintiffs claimed that because of the provisions outlined in Section 108, HathiTrust could not rely on fair use as provided in Section 107 to cover uses that fell beyond 108. Convoluted, no?

In a huge win for libraries, Judge Baer granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgement (MSJ). Nancy Sims provides an excellent explanation of the importance of an MSJ ruling, but the bottom line is that the judge felt that HathiTrust’s fair use defense was so air-tight, a trial was unnecessary as the outcome was a foregone conclusion. As Judge Baer wrote, “I cannot imagine a definition of fair use that would not encompass the transformative uses made by Defendants’ MDP and would require that I terminate this invaluable contribution to the progress of science and cultivation of the arts that at the same time effectuates the ideals espoused by the [Americans with Disabilities Act]” (see pg. 22 of the ruling).

Fair use wins!!

As always, there are deeper nuances in Judge Baer’s ruling, including the role of transformativeness and the option for foreign authors’ groups to pursue a suit based on copyright law in their respective countries, and for more on those I point you to:


Publishers to appeal the GSU decision

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 4:41 pm

Less than a month after Judge Orinda Evans declared Georgia State University to be the prevailing party in the four-year long lawsuit brought against GSU by three scholarly publishers–Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, and SAGE–which hinged on alleged copyright infringement in e-reserves and course management systems, the plaintiffs have announced that they will appeal the ruling. This appeal rather frustratingly comes as little surprise to those who have kept tabs on this long-running case, as it has been clear throughout that the publishers’ interpretation of fair use is fundamentally different than that of GSU, which correlates to the interpretation of many academic libraries, and ultimately that which Judge Evans thoroughly examined in her ruling.

For the publishers, who articulate their dissatisfaction and disagreement in a statement released yesterday announcing the decision to appeal, there is little to lose and potentially much to gain in an appeal. As Brandon Butler, the Association of Research Libraries director of public-policy initiatives, was quoted as saying in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s coverage, “the plaintiffs’ situation [is similar] to that of gamblers who have little left to lose. ‘They’ve been gambling all day, they’re way, way in the hole, they can make one last gamble and win everything back.’”

Interesting times ahead, it seems.

Additional coverage:

GSU is the prevailing party

Tuesday, August 14, 2012 3:27 pm

Last Friday, August 10, Judge Orinda Evans issued her final ruling in the GSU e-reserves copyright infringement case. In her final court order, she dismissed the plaintiff publishers’ proposed injunction, which would have placed severely burdensome oversight and reporting requirements on Georgia State, and found GSU to be the prevailing party in the case. Judge Evans furthermore ordered the plaintiffs to pay Georgia State’s attorney’s fees, which is estimated to cost $2-3million. Although many had presumed GSU to be the prevailing party when Judge Evans issued her decision on the case in May, in which she found only 5 of 99 instances to be infringing, it was not until this past Friday that our presumptions were confirms. And now we wait to see if the publishers will appeal…

Read more on Inside Higher Ed.

Rising awareness

Friday, July 27, 2012 9:24 pm

With the 2012 Summer Olympics underway, many eyes and ears are turned toward London, anxiously awaiting news of much hoped-for victories. But for many involved in scholarly publishing, our attention has been drawn across the Atlantic for some weeks now, as open access news has been coming from both the UK and the EU throughout the summer. To some, the news is welcome and championed as being a step in the right direction for ensuring public access to publicly-funded research. To others, it’s cause for concern. Here’s a quick overview of what is happening, and some thoughts on how these changes might impact us in the US.

In June, the “Finch Report“–a report of the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings, so-called for the chair of the group, Dame Janet Finch–was released, calling for the British government to support broad public accessibility to funded research articles via open access publishing. While the call for accessibility is laudable, the recommendation that it be achieved exclusively through open access publication and not archiving was sharply criticized. In mid-July, the Research Councils UK (RCUK) announced that under its new open access policy, all RCUK funded research articles submitted for publication beginning April 1, 2013 must be published in journals compliant with the new policy and be freely available to the public within 6 months (STM) or 12 months (social sciences and humanities), effectively meaning that in under two years, all RCUK research articles will be fully open access. The following day, the European Commission followed suit, announcing that under the Horizon 2020 research program, all funded research articles will be open access. While it is too early to predict how the implementation of these policies will impact research budgets and publishing (although some are trying), broad European political support for public access to research output is clear.

Closer to home, this week the U.S. News and World Report published an article on scholarly journals and open access. Although I share a colleague’s criticism of several misunderstandings in the article, the fact that such an article was published in mainstream media is telling. As Barbara Fister points out in her own Olympic-inspired post (hat tip for the theme prompt!), the rising awareness of inefficiency in the scholarly publishing industry and increasing demands for greater access to research outputs has been steadily rolling since January. The Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA) is once again before Congress with strong bipartisan support, and the “We the People” petition to the White House calling for taxpayer access to publicly-funded research garnered over 28,000 signatures in less than half the 30 days allotted to reach 25,000.

Although the White House has not yet responded to the petition, and the FRPAA legislation may yet stall as we move ever-closer to November elections, I am encouraged by the multiple signs of increasing awareness of open access I have seen this year. I hope it continues. Oh, and Go Deacs competing in the Summer Games!

Decision in the Georgia State U. copyright lawsuit

Friday, May 18, 2012 6:25 pm

On Friday, May 11, 2012, nearly one year after hearing concluding arguments in the trial of the 2008 lawsuit brought against Georgia State University by three scholarly presses, Oxford U. Press, Cambridge U. Press and SAGE (funded by the Copyright Clearance Center and the Association of American Publishers), Judge Orinda Evans issued her opinion. As detailed in her 350 page analysis, the defendants clearly prevailed, with Judge Evans finding only 5 instances of infringement out of 99 (only 75 were actually submitted as evidence at trial), amounting to $750 in lost royalties. News is mostly good for libraries looking at this decision for guidance on their own e-reserves practices, although there are a few frustrations.

Fair use determinations came down to the third and fourth factors (amount used and market impact, respectively), as the first two factors favor libraries nearly every time. Under factor three, one of the frustrations is the use of a bright line rule for determining an appropriate amount: 10% of a text with 10 or fewer chapters, or up to 1 chapter of a text with 10+ chapters, assuming that neither amount is the “heart of the work.” This is less flexible than desired, but the silver lining is that Judge Evans rejected the publishers’ assertion that the 10% should only be factored from the text, excluding acknowledgements, introductions, indexes, etc; she followed GSU’s determination of 10% of the work in its entirety. Also, even if an excerpt exceeded 10%, the use may still be fair, depending on the fourth factor.

The fourth factor of fair use assesses market impact, or harm, and in instances where there is a readily available and reasonably priced license for digital excerpts, then the use cannot be fair. Although reasonably priced is not defined (another frustration), Judge Evans was explicit that the readily available license must specifically allow for digital excerpts; if publishers try to force a license for the whole work, then fair use remains a possibility. How publishers will respond with future licensing remains to be seen, but to some this is a victory for the Copyright Clearance Center, as they will have more leverage in enticing publishers to participate in CCC licensing options offered to academic libraries.

Two clear victories for libraries pertain to the third factor of fair use determination: 1) Judge Evans rejected the publishers’ claim that the 1976 Classroom Guidelines should define the maximum amount of allowable copying; and, 2) the court rejected the idea that using the same excerpt for more than one semester somehow makes the use no longer fair–Judge Evans called this “an impractical, unnecessary limitation.”

Below are links to news articles and commentary on the decision, and I especially call your attention to those that are asterisked **. To learn more about the GSU decision and implications for e-reserves at Wake Forest, join me for a discussion of the case on Tuesday, June 12 at 10am. Register at https://pdc.wfu.edu/event/4882/.

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