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Don’t Throw the Baby Out With the Bathwater

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Nearly every day I receive an email message that includes a link to at least one new article related to the Open Access movement. Some of these articles are written by members of the scientific community, some are written by professional journalists who at times combine fact with fiction to tell a compelling story, and some are statements of policies being established in academia in relation to faculty members, posting policies, and scholarly publishers—of which ACM is one. Some of these articles are well written and make perfectly good sense to me, while others not so much. I read every one of these articles because I take the issue of open access very seriously and I am a firm believer in the ideal of open access as well as the viability of certain OA models put forth by the community. But, above all else, I want to understand the different perspectives on the issue to become more informed, so that I can help contribute to the solution and not the problem.

I am also a scholarly publisher and a member of the ACM staff. I understand firsthand what is involved in building a publication like Communications or a publication platform like the ACM Digital Library, the complexity of the infrastructure that exists, what long-term investments are necessary to develop the ACM brand, where those investments come from, and all of the good that ACM does for the computer science community as a forum for the exchange of ideas and as a sustainable central repository for knowledge for the field. When articles are written that minimize or dismiss the value that scholarly publishers bring to the scholarly communication process or suggest the scientific community would be better off simply posting articles freely on the Web without publishers involved in the process, this shows a clear lack of understanding and appreciation for how peer-reviewed information is created, distributed, and consumed. These articles also strike me as pure idealism without the input of data, facts, and practicality.

Much of what ACM does relies on the existing subscription model and while this may change over time, there are many risks associated with a transition to a new model and especially to a model that is to date not proven to be sustainable for the computer science community. While I do believe that many of the so-called "Gold OA" models (models typically based on grant funding instead of library funding) show a great deal of promise, there is no clear path of transition for the hundreds of small- to mid-sized scholarly publishers and societies serving millions of students, researchers, and practitioners around the world who have come to rely so heavily on the publications and services provided by those organizations.

Revenues generated by ACM publications are pumped back into the community and the community itself benefits, including faculty members and students at the same institutions working to change the system they helped create.

Creating this clear path takes time and must be a collaboration involving the key players in the publication value chain (authors, end users, universities, librarians, and publishers), not the result of a one-sided mandate by the largest and most powerful academic institutions to boycott all subscription-based publishers because some of them have benefited more than others. To be certain, some of these organizations have benefited financially from the existing model more than others, but ACM is not one of them. Revenues generated by our publications are pumped back into the community and the community itself benefits, including faculty members and students at those same institutions working to change the system they helped create.

Change can be good and I am a firm believer that ACM, its members, and the computer science community can benefit from implementing open access in a well thought out and sustainable way, but this will take time and require collaboration and patience, not mandates and threats.

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