Edition 2022.05

First up today, something that's been bothering me for a while. Most institutional voices in the open access research discussion – particularly within Australia – like to take on a route-agnostic pose when it comes to how research become free-to-read. But this simply avoids addressing the consequences of the choices the academic system collectively makes about how to share research.

Article Processing Charges (APCs) and the new enclosure of research

Lin Zhang and Gunnar Sivertsen outline clearly and concisely the problem:

In 2020 we estimate the annual revenues from article processing charges (APCs) among major scholarly journal publishers to have exceeded 2 billion US dollars. Alongside these revenues, a pattern of mergers and takeovers in the industry indicate that publishers find APCs to be an even more profitable business model than subscriptions. This has significant implications for research and researchers, as researchers who cannot make their country, institution or project pay are not able to fulfil their research, ultimately closing access to research.


Publishing is an inextricable part of the research process. As such, we consider the mainstreaming of APCs as a ‘paywall’ to perform research, using the same term as is used to characterise the subscription model in publishing from a reader’s perspective. The global trends towards paying to perform research seem less dependent on the OA policies of countries than on the dynamics of the commercial publishing market. Notably, we found that APC expenses have sharply increased among six countries with different OA policies: the USA, China, the UK, France, the Netherlands, and Norway.

Prepare for increasing critique of the recent trend towards “Read and Publish” agreements, which if poorly managed and planned are simply an accounting trick. APCs, after all, were originally sold as a “temporary transitional arrangement” just as Read and Publish agreements are now.

Working Knowledge: Catalogers and the Stories They Tell

This amazing ethnography project by Amanda Belantara and Emily Drabinski asked cataloguers in a number of academic libraries to verbally narrate their thought process as they produced original catalogue records.

In the exploratory project Catalogers at Work, we draw on ethnographic methods to capture the crucial, complex, detailed, and yet largely invisible labor of resource description in libraries. By recording alongside catalogers as they work and documenting what is primarily an internal dialogue, we surface the knowledge-making that librarians do each day, revealing the stories, the frictions, the people, and the labor behind catalog records and how they are constructed.

Not only did this surface the mistruths in the official story libraries and sometimes cataloguers themselves tell about how they make decisions, it also resulted in an amazing audio record of how cataloguers go about their work.

The metadata that catalogers select and place in a record can uphold or disrupt the “master narrative” of official knowledge organization systems, quietly creating meaning for patrons as they navigate catalogs and library spaces based on the directions and decisions that catalogers inscribe. In documenting the process of cataloging, Catalogers at Work makes audible the power that metadata workers have to reproduce and resist ideological formations as they craft the stories that catalogs tell about the world.

This one is definitely worth a read (and a listen – some audio edits are included).

Q: Can You Revoke a Creative Commons License? A: No. Er… Sort Of? Maybe?

I'm unlikely to make a habit of increasing the distribution of articles from Scholarly Kitchen or by Rick Anderson, but this one is actually quite useful. The question of revocation of CC licenses comes up all the time, and Anderson is quite right to point out that it's confusing. I do think sometimes Anderson can be deliberately obtuse, however:

This brings up some fairly mind-bending questions. For example: given that the CC license represents an irrevocable contract between the copyright holder and the public, and given that there is only one public, to whom could the copyright holder subsequently “offer the Licensed Material under separate terms”?

I am also not a lawyer but I would have thought it was pretty obvious that this refers to the fact that the copyright owner, well, owns the copyright and can therefore come to any arrangement they like with any particular entity outside of the Creative Commons license they have chosen. As an obvious example, if I license a digital work CC-BY-NC-SA I could still license the work under a private contract to be published in print commercially. This is pretty much what Cory Doctorow does with most of his fiction books, for example.

Anyway, in general terms it's an interesting working-through of how clauses that at first blush may seem to contradict each other work in practice.

Happy reading (and listening)!

Libraries and Learning Links of the Week is published every Thursday by Hugh Rundle. If you like email newsletters you might also like Marginalia, a monthly commentary on things I've read and listened to more broadly.