Thursday, 9 May 2013

Are publishers "the enemy"?

  This interesting issue came up (again) at the Author ID Tutorial delivered within the 4th COAR Annual Meeting in Istanbul - and it might be useful to devote a couple of reflections to it here. This Author ID Tutorial was jointly delivered on May 8th by Titia van der Werf from OCLC and myself as part of an attractive set of four tutorials at the COAR event - with the selected topics for the tutorials being as good a hint on the way things are evolving around repositories as the workshops themselves.

ORCID was big on the Author ID tutorial, to the extent that the timeschedule for the activity had to be updated on the spot in order to make room for the large number of questions and reflections prompted by the ORCID presentation. I'd like to address one of these questions more thoroughly here, namely the reluctant attitude some very qualified colleagues show towards ORCID due to the fact that the initiative seems very much publisher-driven - this making it probably not that interesting for the scholarly community.

This is again about the antagonism between publishers and the academia, and about whether both communities may at some point overcome such antagonism - real or perceived, it does not make much difference - in order to jointly work for pursuing a common benefit. This discussion is certainly interesting since it goes to the heart of a critical issue that has traditionally prevented a deeper implementation of Open Access, namely the fact that both publishers and Open Access community see each other as "the enemy". Mike Taylor - to mention just one inspiring example - regularly writes in an eloquent fashion about the reasons why the scholarly community may consider publishers to be the enemy of knowledge dissemination. However, same way as a certain degree of (informal) agreement was reached at the COAR event that the fight between advocates of Green and Gold OA is a pointless diversion of energy and will only harm their common objective, it could very much be argued that making emphasis on the differences and the misbehaviours over the good practices in collaboration may result in blocking win-win cooperation opportunities.

It is true that publishers such as Elsevier and databases such as the TR Web of Science or Scopus are a big driver behind ORCID - although the fact that over 130,000 researchers worldwide have chosen to individually register their ORCIDs as of May 3rd should not be overlooked either. It is evident too that a widely implemented successful persistent author identifier scheme will benefit publishers very much - but it will benefit institutions and especially authors even more. There was again an agreement at the author ID tutorial that this is something that needs to be done, and when examining the wide range of previous attempts to achieve the goal of author and work identification and disambiguation, it becomes clear that having publishers involved in the initiative provides it a significantly larger chance of succeeding.

I have repeatedly written here about the encouraging effort the EC-funded PEER project did in bringing together publishers and Open Access repositories and how advisable it would be to try to further explore opportunities for collaboration - some of which are indeed being exploited, see for instance Wiley's direct involvement in the JISC-funded PREPARDE project for research data publishing. ORCID is certainly one of these opportunities and with all due respect to constructive dissent, it would be an exercise in shortsightedness to let it slip away.

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