All posts by Samuel Moore

Dr. Jessica Gardner on the ongoing negotiation between Cambridge and Elsevier

This post by Dr Jessica Gardner, Cambridge University Librarian, introduces the context for the ongoing negotiation between Cambridge University and the publisher Elsevier. It is the first in a series of posts on the negotiation from members of the Cambridge community. If you would like to contribute your own post, please get in touch via the link in the post below. 

As Cambridge University’s Librarian, I am mindful of the need for our academics to be able to access the journals they require and publish in the journals they feel most befit their research. The library is here to support Cambridge’s academic mission to develop and share new knowledge, which requires comprehensive access to the scientific record. Through the coming months, as we continue our negotiations with Elsevier, we want to listen to the academic community to better understand how these negotiations may impact their work.

But the university and its library also have a strong mission around open research and a commitment to sharing knowledge as openly and freely as possible. Regardless of where you are around the world, we want you to be able to access and build upon the world-leading research produced at Cambridge. As we have seen over the last 18 months of the pandemic, open research has the potential to truly revolutionise how research is conducted and shared, allowing us to address challenges affecting local, national and international communities. The library will continue to lead this open agenda while serving our academic communities with the resources and expertise they need within different disciplinary settings. 

Across the UK, our total spend with Elsevier is likely to reach £50 million in 2021. For Cambridge, our share of this figure includes what we pay for journal subscriptions and article-processing charges for open access. With our current agreement due to expire at the end of this year, we have a fiscal responsibility to review this deal and to ensure that we are paying the correct amount to access and publish with Elsevier journals. Working in a consortium organised by Jisc, we are seeking to renegotiate this figure (through a ‘transitional agreement’) while ensuring a meaningful reduction in the price paid. You can read more about the negotiations and our objectives here. 

In order to ensure that all voices are heard relating to these negotiations, we are engaging with staff and students through a number of channels. We are seeking input from the Cambridge community, and hope you can tell us what you feel our future relationship with Elsevier should be. There will be a University-wide consultation in Michaelmas Term 2021. In the meantime, we welcome feedback and expressions of interest from anyone wishing to participate in future events and engagement plans. In addition, we will be hosting town hall events in September to keep the community informed and seek further input (stay tuned for details). This blog will also be used to highlight the views from across Cambridge. Please do get in touch with Samuel Moore, Scholarly Communication Specialist at the library, if you would like to write a blog post on any topic relating to the negotiation or the future of scholarly communication at Cambridge.  

Though Cambridge is aiming for a deal, it is important to understand that, as in any negotiation, there is a possibility that one cannot be struck. We are committed to dialogue but also aware that we cannot continue to simply meet rising prices year on year or to accept deals that do not further our open access goals. The university sector is facing multiple financial pressures, including those arising from the pandemic, and we expect publishers to take the financial situation and the sector’s needs into account. Given Elsevier is the largest publisher in the world, the stakes are undoubtedly high, but we are confident that our sector will work to get the best deal possible. Nevertheless, as a sector we may have to hold the line, push back and challenge, keeping in mind that many other universities around the world have walked away too. In such a scenario, we know that effective strategies for journal access will be critical to the academic community in Cambridge.    

Looking further ahead, it is beholden upon us to look beyond the negotiation with just one publisher. The last twenty years have seen a decided shift towards open access and open research and it is clearly the direction of travel. In some academic subjects, this has been vital to the world-wide pandemic response through rapid sharing of results, such as via preprints and data sharing. Libraries have been committed to the OA agenda and are leading the way through a variety of models, including through the kinds of agreements we are seeking with Elsevier to transition us to a fully open access world. We are now at a point of transformative change that will lead us to a time when it is a normal practice to make things openly accessible, and we look forward to working within the disciplinary needs of the Cambridge community to make this open future a reality.   

Staff introduction: Dr. Samuel Moore, Scholarly Communication Specialist

I am delighted to have joined the Office for Scholarly Communication here at Cambridge and wanted to post a brief introduction about my previous work in scholarly communication and the vision I have for my role as Scholarly Communication Specialist.

I have been involved in open research and scholarly communication for the past fifteen years, having both worked for a number of open access publishers and completed a PhD on the transition to open access in humanities disciplines. I am an information studies researcher by training and a strong advocate for openness in scholarly research. I therefore hope to help Cambridge continue to steer towards an open future for scholarly communication, but importantly one that does not leave any discipline or researcher behind.  Open research needs to be sensitively embedded in our disciplinary cultures so that it is a natural and easy thing to practice.

My doctoral research in the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London explored the contrasting approaches to open access publishing of policy-based and grassroots initiatives. From studying the UK funder policies, I identified a tendency to frame open access in terms of compliance rather than something good for its own sake. This meant that many researchers found open access an institutional burden or something not relevant to their own discipline or working practices, while others assumed that OA is just another way for commercial publishers to make increasing amounts of money. Though I think this reputation has improved, my position at Cambridge will be based on helping to show the exciting potential of open research, particularly its ability to contribute to a healthier publishing culture across all scholarly disciplines. For example, a focus of my initial work will be around monographs and the various ways of supporting researchers to explore the diverse ecosystem of long-form open publishers that exists in the humanities, especially those presses that do not charge a fee to publish.

Yet in order to move away from the culture of compliance across all disciplines, we not only have to show the full range of open access publishing opportunities available to researchers, we also have to build upon the work of educating our colleagues about publishing not just as a practice but an industry that shapes this practice. Fairly or unfairly, the publishing industry receives a great deal of bad press within higher education and this has led to a continual reappraisal of academia’s relationship with publishing, specifically with respect to open access. Using this blog and other channels, I hope to inform the university of the debates around the future of scholarly publishing so that researchers can better understand how their publishing decisions are situated in this changing environment. This will involve showcasing a range of views on publishing and the changing ways in researchers communicate and distribute their work.

One way of increasing academic engagement in scholarly publishing is through community consultation on forthcoming developments. The libraries have recently announced a renegotiation of Cambridge’s contract with Elsevier, which is due to expire at the end of this year, in order to seek an affordable Read & Publish deal with the publisher if possible. We are hoping to hear from as many voices at Cambridge about what the university’s future relationship with Elsevier should look like. Alongside showcasing views on this blog, we encourage academics to get in touch via this form to let us know your views and to stay informed about future activities in this area. Please do also contact me if you are interested in writing a blogpost on the topic or interested in learning more.

Related to the future of open access, I am also interested in providing support for academic governance of scholarly communication. I am a scholar of digital commons and community governance and I hope to impart of some of this knowledge to ensure greater accountability of publishing by research communities themselves. Currently, academics have a great deal of editorial oversight over the publications they edit, but less surrounding issues of price, ownership and other policy-related matters, despite the free labour and content we give to publishing houses. I will be discussing with academics and publishers about how we can work together to return accountability of publishing to research communities from the market at large.

Finally, I hope to support and showcase all the excellent work going in scholarly communication at Cambridge. There are pockets of activity across the university that would benefit from wider recognition and greater support, and I have already been contacted by colleagues looking to start or reinvigorate their small-scale publishing project. I will be exploring the ways that libraries can help here, ideally through resources and software, but also through sharing expertise with one another. Again, do get in touch if you have a publishing project that I should know about or can help with.

Scholarly communication is changing rapidly, not least due to the pandemic’s demand for openness, collaboration and immediacy of dissemination, but also through policies like Plan S and the soon-to-be-announced revised UKRI Open Access Policy. As we move in the direction of openness, it is important that all voices in the academic community are heard and that researchers feel confident that open research works for them. I look forward to working with colleagues to help shape Cambridge’s strategy for the future of scholarly communication.