Academic Commons Solution Stories

The 2.5% Commitment to Support Shared Research Infrastructure

Academic research disciplines and libraries are losing control of scholarly infrastructure, which is making more elements of scholarly and scientific research dependent upon a few industry players that are exploiting their dominance of certain platforms for software, publishing, data analytics, and more. The top five academic publishers now account for nearly 50% of all journal articles, and new business strategies seek to leverage this disproportionate ownership of content to vertically integrate their control of “the academic knowledge production value chain,” in the words of Alejandro Posada and George Chen, University of Toronto Scarborough, with predictable results for rent-seeking, copyright limitations, and anti-competitive behavior.

 

Even though universities have considerable resources for reclaiming research infrastructure, university presidents, provosts, librarians, and others have not mobilized themselves to develop effective responses. In some respects, it is a classic collective action problem of many smaller, disaggregated players that are more focused on short-term individual goals than long-term collective interests. Can these players somehow find a way to collaborate and jointly contribute funds to new institutions that could manage research infrastructure as commons?

 

Even though academic libraries in the US had estimated total expenditures of about $7 billion in 2012 (the latest year of available statistics), they have ceded control of much scholarly infrastructure to private businesses such as Elsevier, Wiley, and Sage, which control dominant platforms for software, publishing, databases and other research functions.

 

David W. Lewis, Dean of the IUPUI University Library, proposes that every academic library commit to contribute 2.5% of its total budget to support the common infrastructure needed to create open scholarly commons.[2] He defines infrastructure broadly to include such things as:

 

1. Open source software projects that support the open scholarly commons. This would

include projects like DSpace, Fedora, Hyku, the Open Journal System, ArchivesSpace or

Islandora.

 

2. Disciplinary repositories such as ArXiv, bioRxiv, or the Humanities Commons.

 

3. Large repositories of open content such as HathiTrust or the Internet Archive.

 

4. Tools from Wikipedia to VIVO to the Open Access Button or Unpaywall.

 

5. Preservation organizations such as the Digital Preservation Network or the Academic Preservation Trust.

 

6. Open educational resources such as OpenStax.

 

7. Organizations that support these developments such as DuraSpace, the Center for Open

Science, the Public Knowledge Project, the Open Texbook Network, Impactstory, Orchid, or Creative Commons.

 

8. Advocacy organizations such as SPARC.

 

Lewis argues, “If the infrastructure is not a community asset, we are all vulnerable.” He proposed creation of “a United Way-like organization that would receive contributions and distribute them across the serious organizations in the ecosystem that would make this process more effective.”

 

Based on an estimated $7 billion now being spent at 3,793 academic libraries in the US, a 2.5% shift of funds to common infrastructure would be about $175 million. This is a significant increase over what is now spent on common infrastructure projects such as Public Knowledge Project ($1.18 million), HathiTrust ($3.2 million), and DuraSpace ($1.78 million). Even two-thirds of the $175 million sum -- $115 million -- would be about the same amount that Elsevier paid for Bepress in 2017, or about one-third of the amount that Elsevier spent on 25 acquisitions each year.

 

But to achieve this goal of a 2.5% commitment, it would be necessary for this goal to become a movement, says Lewis. It would require support from the leading library organizations and national organizations representing Presidents and Provosts. It would also require the creation of new organizations to vet, administer and distribute the funds raised. A suitable commons-based governance structure for the collaboration would be needed.

 

While this poses a formidable challenge, the alternative is the status quo, in which academic research slowly becomes more indentured to business interests free-riding upon the academic research value-chain.

 

--David Bollier

 

[1] Alejandro Posada and George Chen, “Preliminary Findings: Rent Seeking by Elsevier,” G.A.P. [The Knowledge GAP: Geopolitics of Academic Production], September 2017, at http://knowledgegap.org/index.php/sub-projects/rent-seeking-and-financialization-of-the-academic-publishing-industry/preliminary-findings.]

 

[2] David W. Lewis, “The 2.5% Commitment,” ScholarWorks, September 11, 2017, at

https://scholarworks.iupui.edu/bitstream/handle/1805/14063/The%202.5%25%20Commitment.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

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