This academic year, Purdue paid $10 million for digital copies of research articles used within its libraries, and some researchers are beginning to boycott the process.
Paying for these research journals is part of the reason student tuition must be increased each year and University attempts to lower costs through open access have remained ineffective so far.
This price will keep going up every year and Purdue will keep paying because the University doesn’t have a choice, according to James Mullins, the dean of libraries. There is no other option for publishing or viewing published research articles.
“We need those journals, so they can tell us ‘Well, take it or leave it.’ We can’t leave it,” Mullins said. “If I, all of a sudden, told the faculty ‘Well, we’re just going to cancel all the Elsevier (a commercial research journal) titles,’ I wouldn’t be around here very long because they might theoretically agree with the stance, but when it comes down to it, they have to have those journals to do their research.”
One of the most interesting parts of the process, Mullins said, is that the University is paying to see its own produced research. Also, digital format is not cheaper than print even though there are no printing fees.
“We’re paying for content, not the format, that’s what the publishers tell us,” Mullins said. “Even though the content is generated by our faculty, other faculty researchers publish to these commercial publishers like Elsevier.”
With research companies, Purdue and other universities send their articles to an editorial board to be edited and blind
peer-reviewed for free. The editing and reviewing is done by volunteers from the universities. Approved articles are pushed onto the commercial journals. The commercial companies’ members then compile the articles under appropriate titles and sell them back to the universities.
The university pays for 25,000 journal subscriptions a year, most of them digital. Elsevier is one of the many commercial research companies Purdue uses, and they hold over 800 different journal titles.
Elsevier has charged the university $2.3 million this academic year for the subscription. According to Mullins, the price goes up 5 percent incrementally each year, and Elsevier does not have the highest increased prices.
“That’s beyond inflation,” Mullins said. “There was one publisher who wanted to raise our rate 16 percent and we had to argue him down to 8.”
This money is coming from state funds, tuition, endowments and overhead charges for research paid by sponsoring agencies, according to Mullins. This is one of the unavoidable costs increasing tuition.
Although they need the journal for research purposes, about 10 Purdue researchers have signed an online boycott against Elsevier. This boycott says the signers will not edit or publish using Elsevier.
Marcus Rogers, a professor in computer and information technology who has signed the petition, said one of things companies like Elsevier do that cost the University unnecessary funds is something called bundling.
“There is this concept of bundling; basically, where the publishing companies sell in bundles and libraries are forced to buy the whole package,” Rogers said. “There are predefined packages, of say, 10, and if you only want two or three journals (you’re) still stuck with the package.”
Rogers also said his department has created its own type of open access, one with the necessary peer-reviews and editorial boards, and it’s free to subscribe. This is so other people who cannot afford to pay for subscriptions can still view the work and be inspired to create their own research.
“Medical is doing this, engineering is doing it. Almost every area is doing this kind of backlash and push for more open access,” Rogers said.
Besides the need to see the published articles, researchers still have to publish in the journals to remain prominent in their fields. It is also needed for tenure and promotions.
“A faculty member can then show that ‘I have had an impact in this field’ by the fact that a number of people have already cited this article and are using it to build their own research so it’s contributing,” Mullins said.
Other areas, such as physics, have also been making sure they are using open access so everyone can see it. Some of the faculty there have been posting their articles on arXiv, an open e-print archive, before sending them on to a professional journal. This allows for people to see the article without paying.
With open access sites like arXiv, publishing companies only allow for the post-print article, the last draft before being sent to the company, to be put online. This can only be done six months or longer after the official publication in the journal, and it is accessible by anyone with Internet.
Mullins said the reason commercial journal companies allow for universities to do this is because those wishing to cite the article still have to go to the Elsevier source. This, they can still only get by paying for the subscription or being a member of a library who does.
“The publishers don’t want us to be competing but they do see an advantage of having us direct people to their publications and that’s what they’re more or less supporting,” Mullins said. “Now in the long term, our hope would be faculty will start using that open access, bypassing commercial publishers, and going to open access publications.”