In his new article “Putting the ‘Public’ Back into ‘Publication’”, Mike Valente uncovers the outrageous profit-making model of commercial publishers of academic journals. Publishing houses like Elsevier and Springer generate enormous profits without actually contributing anything to knowledge production. They neither produce content nor pay the ones who do. They do not even review papers, but instead delegate this task to voluntary academic editors and reviewers. Yet, publishers continue to charge $30 or more per paper download and $4,000 to $20,000 for annual journal subscriptions. Thanks to online distribution and reduced printing costs, publishers can turn 40% of their revenues into profit. Commercial publishing has not only hindered public access to academic knowledge, but has created high costs for university libraries and justified high student fees. So, why does nobody care to change this profit-making model, and what would it take to change it?
By Erynn Herman (PhD Student at UMass Boston, OSC Track).
On September 20, 2013, CBS Philadelphia published an article called South Philadelphia Nonprofit Creates Pop-Up Libraries For High School Students. It was meant as a human-interest piece narrating an issue we are becoming increasingly familiar with – the slashing of public school budgets. In this case, it resulted in the closure of several Philly high school libraries. The article caught my eye because of the innovative idea of pop-up libraries from a nonprofit organization called Mighty Writers. The organization decided to collect donated books from the community and is now displaying them outside its three city locations after school where students can pick them up. How creative!
However, after getting over my initial excitement about this inventive idea, I started thinking more critically about how this solution might actually make a difference. I asked, is this a good, rational decision for the organization? Or is this a case of bounded rationality where, in the name of benevolence, the organization offered a mediocre solution simply because it was attainable? As its name denotes, Mighty Writers is an organization Tim Whitaker, a retired journalist, founded to ensure Philly-based children learn to write legibly. Writing vs. reading – does that not constitute mission creep?