Scholarly Communications

6
Sep12

Affordable Textbooks 2012…Now, With Even More Options! [Updated]

Posted by: Hillary Corbett

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It’s been two years since I last posted about textbooks, and with classes starting this week, I thought it was a good time to write an update to that post. Since then, a few things have changed.

First, the Bad News…

The cost of textbooks just keeps going up. The New York Times article from October 2009 that I cited in my previous post estimated that college students spent, on average, between $700 and $1,000 each year on textbooks. Fast forward to August 2012… the Wall Street Journal just reported that the average student’s textbook bill is now up to $1,213 a year.

(Of course, you can always try selling a purchased textbook back to the bookstore at the end of the term, but, having stood in the buyback line myself recently, I know as well as you do that it’s not exactly a money-making opportunity – if you’re able to sell it back at all, that is. Textbook editions change so frequently that the copy you just bought may well be worthless in only a few months.)

Okay, How About Some Good News?

There now are more alternatives to paying the full amount for a new, hardcover textbook. Textbook rental programs have really taken off in the past couple of years – the NU bookstore has been offering a rental program since Fall 2010, with both print and e-textbooks available for rental. If you’re taking ENGL 1102 this semester, for example, you can choose between buying a new or used copy of Ways of Reading, or rent a copy for about half the cost of buying a new one. Rental can be a good option when you can’t picture yourself referring back to your dogeared copy after you’re done with the course. Online rental companies are also popular – Chegg has been around for a while, and Amazon just got into the textbook rental market, too (although at least one blogger found their selection a bit “skimpy”).

It seems like we’ve been hearing a lot about e-textbooks for a long time now, but the iPad has really helped that market take off in the last year. More publishers are working to convert their traditional textbooks into iPad apps, which allow for interactivity in ways that an e-book on, say, a Kindle doesn’t offer. It looks like publishers are realizing that an e-textbook can be much more than a PDF.

“Open” textbooks are also gaining traction, as more faculty choose to adopt them for their courses. Publishers like Flat World Knowledge and Boundless offer online learning materials that are free or available for purchase on a sliding scale. Individual faculty are creating open educational resources (OERs) as well – here at Northeastern, Dr. Albert-László Barabási’s network science course website offers a great example of how OERs can be much more than static texts.

What’s the Bottom Line?

This is a great time to start investigating alternatives to traditional printed textbooks – and as you can see, there are lots of options. Faculty – I encourage you to “think outside the shrinkwrap,” if you’re not already doing so. Students – investigate options and talk to your instructors. Let them know that you want to see textbooks become more affordable. And, if nothing else, ask them to put a desk copy of the textbook on reserve at the library!

Update, 9/10/12: If you’re interested in learning about new developments in this area, I maintain an up-to-date list of links to news stories and blog posts on Delicious (also available as an RSS feed).

 

Posted in: Scholarly Communications

22
May12

Open Access supporters petition the White House (Updated)

Posted by: Hillary Corbett

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[Update] On June 3rd, the petition supporters reached their goal of 25,000 signatures!

This year, the Obama administration has been actively considering the issue of public access to the results of federally funded research. The administration is currently considering which policy actions are priorities that will it will act on before the 2012 presidential election season begins in earnest. Supporters of  open access to research results hope to demonstrate a strong public interest in expanding the NIH Public Access Policy across all U.S. federal science agencies. As a supporter of open access to information, I agree with them.

On Monday, a petition calling for public access to federally funded research was posted on the White House’s “We the People” site.  If the petition garners 25,000 signatures within 30 days, it will be reviewed by White House staff, and considered for action. I’ve signed the petition, and so have over 7,000 other people as of today.

For more information on open access issues and initiatives in the library, see the library’s information page, the subject guide, or this recent 3Qs with Dean Will Wakeling from news@Northeastern.

Posted in: Information and Society, Research Online, Scholarly Communications

4
May12

Harvard open memo says major journal publishers’ prices are “untenable”

Posted by: Hillary Corbett

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On April 17, 2012, Harvard University’s Faculty Advisory Council on the Library issued an open memo to the Harvard community stating that “major periodical subscriptions cannot be sustained” due to high prices and unreasonable publisher practices. If this topic sounds familiar, it’s because it’s already been in the news recently – in January, mathematician Timothy Gowers-Lee blogged about these issues specifically as they relate to publishing giant Elsevier. In February, a website was created where scholars could sign on to a boycott of Elsevier; as of today over 10,000 signatures have been gathered.

The Harvard memo avoids mentioning specific companies, instead  referring to “certain publishers” that receive close to $3.75 million per year from Harvard for its subscriptions to their journals. Harvard’s expenses for online journal content from just two major providers has increased 145% over the past six years. The memo states, “The Faculty Advisory Council to the Library, representing university faculty in all schools and in consultation with the Harvard Library leadership,  reached this conclusion: major periodical subscriptions, especially to electronic journals published by historically key providers, cannot be sustained: continuing these subscriptions on their current footing is financially untenable. Doing so would seriously erode collection efforts in many other areas, already compromised.”

Harvard University is certainly not alone in struggling with rising subscription costs – it’s been discussed in the professional literature since the 1990s, when publishers introduced the “big deal” pricing model of requiring libraries to subscribe to less important journals along with their subscriptions to essential titles. Only recently, though, have the mainstream media begun reporting on publishers’ questionable practices. Although it’s too soon to say whether the Harvard memo will have any direct impact on the industry, it’s definitely increasing public awareness of an issue that  not only affects Harvard but is jeopardizing the financial sustainability of academia as a whole.

Recommended reading:

Full text of the Faculty Advisory Council Memorandum on Journal Pricing

⇒ “Harvard Now Spending Nearly $3.75 Million on Academic Journal Bundles,” The Atlantic, April 23, 2012

⇒ “The wealthiest university on Earth can’t afford its academic journal subscriptions,” io9.com, April 24, 2012

⇒ “If Harvard Can’t Afford Academic Journal Subscriptions, Maybe It’s Time for an Open Access Model,” Time, April 26, 2012

⇒ “Harvard panel pushes benefits of free journals,” The Boston Globe, April 28, 2012

 

Posted in: Information and Society, Research Online, Scholarly Communications

7
Mar12

Celebrate Open Education Week – March 5-10, 2012

Posted by: Hillary Corbett

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Today’s News@Northeastern featured a “3Qs” interview with our Dean of Libraries, Will Wakeling. The focus was open access to research, and Will specifically highlighted Open Educational Resources (OERs).  Development of OERs involves remixing resources that are openly available in order to create learning materials that don’t cost students anything. The average college student paid $700 a year on textbooks in the 2009-2010 school year; given that the price of college textbooks is said to be increasing at four times the rate of inflation, that amount is likely higher today. So, it’s no surprise that the need for affordable course materials is becoming critical. Legislation such as the College Opportunity and Affordability Act has placed limits on textbook publishers, but prices are still high.

MIT was a pioneer in the OER field with their Open CourseWare system, which debuted in 2002. It offered anybody, anywhere, the opportunity to access MIT course materials for free – a radical concept at the time. Since then many other institutions around the world have also established OCW programs, as well as an international consortium. That consortium is now sponsoring the first global Open Education Week, “to raise awareness of the open education movement and its impact on teaching and learning worldwide.” Events are taking place around the world this week – many being hosted as online webinars. I encourage you to check out their schedule of events!

How do you think Northeastern can play a role in the development and adoption of OERs? Leave your thoughts in the comments section…

Posted in: Library News and Events, Scholarly Communications

29
Feb12

Scholars call for boycott of Elsevier over high prices and copyright maximalism [Updated]

Posted by: Hillary Corbett

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Mega-publisher Elsevier has been garnering some negative publicity of late. Last month it was revealed that its political action group funded the re-election campaigns of Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), one of the authors of the controversial Research Works Act (H.R. 3699) that would prohibit open access to articles resulting from government-funded research.

[Update: On 2/27/2012, Elsevier announced it no longer backed the Research Works Act, and the sponsoring legislators subsequently announced they will not pursue the bill further.]

Now, thousands of scholars are signing an agreement to boycott Elsevier in protest of its high subscription prices, its practice of bundling journals (so libraries are forced to subscribe to titles they don’t want), and its support of restrictive legislation like SOPA, PIPA, and the Research Works Act. Although members of the library community have protested such practices by Elsevier and other large publishers for years, this marks the first occasion that members of the research community–the people who write the articles and serve as peer reviewers or editors–have taken a large-scale stand.

Timothy Gowers, a prominent mathematician, wrote a blog post on January 21, 2012, in which he discussed the issues outlined above and asked, “Why can’t we just tell Elsevier that we no longer wish to publish with them?” A reader took up the challenge and created a website where scholars could register their dissatisfaction and refusal to provide free labor for Elsevier in the form of research, peer review, and editorial duties. Within its first ten days of existence, the website has collected the signatures of over 2,700 scholars worldwide.

The boycott has received a lot of media attention, perhaps especially because it has grown so exponentially in such a short period of time. And many writers are asking: because scholars are both producers and consumers of research journals, do they have the ability to disrupt the scholarly publishing system and effect lasting change?

Further reading:

Posted in: Information and Society, Research Online, Scholarly Communications