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Library forums to promote scholarly publishing dialogue

book covers


Scholarly publishing faces a crisis. Longstanding business models for producing and distributing academic journals and books are becoming unsustainable.

Cornell University Library is engaged in national and international efforts to put scholarly communication on a new footing, and the library's most recent endeavor — a community reading initiative co-sponsored with Cornell University Press — aims to spark campuswide discussion about the future of scholarly publishing.

The initiative includes a series of public forums that will focus on two new books: Kathleen Fitzpatrick's "Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy" (NYU Press) and Peter Suber's "Open Access" (MIT Press). The library is offering each faculty member and graduate student a free copy of the one of books, as long as supplies last.

Academic libraries experience the scholarly communications crisis daily. At one end of the spectrum, libraries struggle to cover exorbitant subscription costs of important journals offered by commercial publishers. At the other, librarians work with faculty and graduate students whose fields depend on not-for-profit publishers that can barely sustain themselves through sales.

Geared toward scholars in the humanities and social sciences, Fitzpatrick's book makes the case for using digital media to make scholarly publishing and the ways the academy evaluates scholarship more open, interactive and economically viable. Fitzpatrick, director of scholarly communication at the Modern Language Association and professor of media studies at Pomona College, spoke last fall at Cornell's Institute for Computer Policy and Law.

Suber, director of the Harvard Open Access Project, is one of the leaders of the open-access movement. His book is an open-access primer, explaining how and why he believes scholarship should be made freely available to the public.

"These books provide an ideal starting place for this conversation. Suber's book is a thorough and very readable summary of the arguments for open access," said Kizer Walker, Cornell Library's director of collection development, who is leading the community reading initiative. "The Fitzpatrick book is a clear-eyed look at the problems facing book publishing in the humanities, in particular."

When the initiative was announced just before the winter break, the library gave out nearly its entire stock of 100 books in just a few days. Supplies have been replenished, and dates have been set for discussion of the books:

  • March 28, 12:30-2 p.m., Kroch Library, Room 2B48 (discussion of Fitzpatrick book);
  • April 1, 4-5:30 p.m., Mann Library, Room 102 (discussion of Suber book); and
  • April 17, 4:30-6 p.m., A.D. White House, Guerlac Room (discussion of Fitzpatrick book).

"The systems we have for disseminating academic work are reaching their limits, and we need a focused discussion of the issues involving all the stakeholders on campus: faculty and grad student, authors and editors, librarians, administrators, the university press and other campus publishers," Walker added.

The community reading initiative is one of the library's many collaborative efforts to help create and manage alternatives to traditional scholarly publishing. See links at right.

Cornell faculty members and graduate students who are interested in receiving a book can email Walker at or contact the library liaison to their department or program.

Gwen Glazer is the staff writer/editor for Cornell University Library.