What’s An Editorial Board To Do?

This invited contribution to the theme of Publication comes from Paula Kaufman, who recently stepped down from her position as Dean of Libraries & University Librarian at Illinois. She recounts a dispute between a publisher and one of its editorial boards about the ownership of intellectual property and the commitments of the academic community. She concludes by offering some reflections on the future of scholarly publishing. —bM

Itauthorship’s not often that an editorial board faces a major ethical issue, and it’s even rarer when it takes effective action. I served as a member of the editorial board of Journal of Library Administration (JLA) for more than 15 years until I resigned in the spring of 2013, along with all other board members, over a dispute about the publisher’s license agreement terms. Although only time will tell if this action was effective, I think the story has important lessons for authors, editors, and publishers.

Launched in 1980 by Haworth and now owned by Taylor & Francis, which is a part of the Informa plc group, and bearing the Routledge imprint, JLA is a peer-reviewed middle tier bimonthly scholarly journal aimed at informing readers on “research, current developments, and trends related to the leadership and management of libraries.” Traditionally it’s featured articles by well-known professionals who were invited to contribute by themed-issue editors. One issue a year featured presentations from an annual conference organized at the University of Oklahoma by Sul Lee, its library dean and the long-time editor of JLA.  (Disclosure: I presented at this conference several times and my presentations were published in JLA. I amended the copyright license agreements with the publisher before signing them.)

Sul retired from UO, and resigned as JLA’s editor-in-chief in June 2012 and was succeeded by Damon Jaggars, Associate University Librarian at Columbia University (and a GSLIS graduate). Damon rebuilt the editorial board and set the goal of creating a better balance of peer-reviewed and theme issue content to serve as a platform for discussion of issues important to library leaders. He asked several editorial board members, including me, to join the new board. The first issue published under Damon’s leadership in January 2013 focused on digital humanities and was well received.

eduardo_chillida_katezale_d5527599gBut all was not well for long. By February, potential authors were repeatedly voicing strong concerns about language in T&F’s author agreement. Most objectors read the agreement to give the T&F exclusive rights to the author’s work. T&F said it didn’t, and although it wouldn’t alter its standard agreement, to its credit it accepted some amendments, including language that clarified the confusion. All seven authors whose work appears in the January 2013 issue used an addendum. Subsequently, however, two authors of articles that were to appear in future issues withdrew them prior to publication because they weren’t comfortable with even a clarifying amendment, arguing instead for use of some form of a Creative Commons license. This caused us to worry about our ability to attract quality content if the publisher’s agreement continued to be a deterrent to potential authors. All members of the editorial board voiced strong support for resolving the issue, with most favoring use of a Creative Commons license.

T&F took the editorial board’s concerns seriously and in late February it convened a phone conference for Damon with several of its representatives. They told him they were creating a suite of CC-based licenses for its UK journals in response to the government’s OA mandate going into effect there in April 2013.  A decision about extending this new license regime to its US-based journals was to be made and communicated to us within two weeks. True to its word, T&F told Damon on March 13 that it would be rolling out a new suite of licenses that would include two CC licenses. The catch was that they would only offer either CC option to authors who paid a $2995 per article fee. This obviously wasn’t a viable option for our authors or much different from its then-current open access option, of which to our knowledge no JLA author had ever taken advantage.

Editorial Board reaction was swift and unanimous in support of resigning as a group. In several more exchanges T&F continued to maintain that its author agreement is “a liberal and progressive license” and that it didn’t understand why authors would find it restrictive. It refused to consider any other changes.

Andempty-chair-300x224 so the entire Editorial Board resigned.  We conveyed to T&F that we thought its licensing terms were too restrictive and out of step with expectations of authors in the Library and Information Science community, and expressed disappointment that T&F wouldn’t engage in thinking about how to address the continued viability of journals like JLA while at the same time advancing the profession’s commitment to supporting authors’ control over their own intellectual property. It was clear to us that the license terms were a deterrent to attracting authors, that our ability to generate high quality content would be inhibited, and that charging $2995 for a less restrictive license wasn’t a viable option for most of our authors. We pledged to only join advisory boards of publishers who embrace licensing terms that are friendlier to authors and their intellectual property concerns.

Word of our action spread. Reaction in social media and the library press was swift and supportive. And it was short-lived.

We certainly weren’t the first editorial board to resign en masse. Others have done so over pricing policies and at least once over poor service (for instance, The Journal of Group Theory, a DeGruyter publication, 2011). But open access and poor service weren’t our issues. We didn’t consider trying to organize a boycott; they usually aren’t effective in this realm. JLA now has a new editorial board and I wish them well.

Although JLA continues to publish and continues to use its unchanged license agreement, there are lessons to be learned from this small episode. I think it’s fair to say that you shouldn’t join an editorial board of a publication whose license or copyright transfer policies you can’t support. Too often we’re over-eager to contribute to the profession and/or advance our own careers and we don’t look carefully at the publisher’s policies prior to signing on. It’s also fair warning to authors to read copyright license or transfer agreements thoroughly before signing them, to try to amend them or negotiate changes that matter to them, and to consider alternatives. As to publishers, I wish I could say that the lesson learned is to listen to your editors. T&F let us have our say, but it stuck to its guns, repopulated the editorial board, and continues to publish under unchanged copyright and licensing policies. Time will tell if this strategy will continue to work for T&F.

Scholarly publishing clearly is changing. There are more choices than accepting publishers’ author agreements without question, but understanding the alternatives and navigating what may seem to be rocky water can seem daunting, especially to scholars whose primary interests are to publish for tenure and promotion or to advance new thinking in the most highly regarded disciplinary journals. Librarians can help. Although they can’t offer you legal advice, they’re prepared to discuss with you a wide range of issues and options to consider before and/or when you confront complicated copyright or open access issues.  Here at Illinois, the Library’s Scholarly Commons offers a suite of copyright and scholarly communications services. Scholarly Commons librarians can help you identify points to consider whatever your copyright or license agreement question and they can provide information about alternative publishing venues, Creative Commons licenses, and other related issues, as well, of course, as a wide array of services in other areas of your research and teaching.

As for me, I’ll now look before I leap at the chance to serve on another editorial board.

paulakPaula Kaufman is Mortenson Center for International Library Programs Librarian at the University of Illinois. Formerly Juanita J. and Robert E. Simpson Dean of Libraries and University Librarian, she has more than 25 years of experience in senior library leadership at Illinois, the University of Tennessee, and Columbia. Kaufman is the recipient of degrees from Smith College, Columbia University, and the University of New Haven, and has written and presented widely on topics of leadership, library value, and intellectual property.

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2 Responses to What’s An Editorial Board To Do?

  1. Chris Prom says:

    Paula,
    I found this blog post very interesting as a counterpoint to licensing issues as I see them the perspective of boards having oversight of publication programs in professional/academic societies, as opposed on to commercial publishers.

    While the JAL case seems like a particularly egregious case of copyfraud (being perpetrated on the authors by a commercial publisher), and while I certainly applaud the former board’s action in resigning, I wonder if you have any thoughts as to how libraries can partner with academic or professional societies to ensure that the latter receive enough income to remain going concerns, while still meeting reasonable desire by authors and readers for open access?

    I know this is s different issue that the one you raised, but I think it is important to forge partnerships between academic/professional society publishers and libraries, since our overall missions complement each other very well, in having a focus on authors and readers first, and ‘profit’ second. But in my experience working as publications editor for a professional society, I have come to believe strongly that that we (i.e. the societies) need to strike a balance between income and open access. In some cases, the professional societies’ publications programs frequently underwrite members dues and contribute to the sustainability of the society and the professional programs it sponsors. Even when this is not the case, there is a real monetary cost to the peer review process, copy editing, layout, design, and production, which is invisible even to many members of the boards. Everyone wants everything to be free to them, but someone has to pay these costs, if we care about the quality of the end product.

    This leads me to a question: has your research found any models of library/professional society partnerships that you think would be effective in meeting what might be seen as a dual mandate of ensuring sustainable professional/academic publishers and encouraging open or semi-open access?

  2. Pingback: Making Your Scholarship Accessible -- For A Price - Tenured Radical - The Chronicle of Higher Education

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