There has long been consensus that there is a crisis in scholarly communications. The reasons are evident: rising costs for scholarly materials, particularly journals; stable or declining university budgets; declining numbers of society publishers providing reasonable pricing; mergers within the commercial publishing industry resulting in less competition and increased prices; and a shifting emphasis from communicating scientific information to generating profits for publishing company stockholders. Decades of double-digit increases in journal prices coupled with decreasing support for library budgets have presented powerful dilemmas for librarians and universities. At the same time that prices were rising and budgets were falling short, a monumental shift in publishing was moving materials from print to electronic. Librarians hoped to see reductions in journal costs as a result of the shift, but in fact saw continuing increases. There was lively interest in exploring alternatives to re-invent the world of scholarly publishing.
As early as 1997, there was formal agreement within the University of California system that the current model of scholarly communication was unsustainable. [1
] The University Library Committee of the Faculty Senate of the University of Wisconsin (UW) addressed the topic in its Annual Report for 1998–99, stating that one of the issues of overriding importance to the future of the UW-Madison libraries was "the future of academic publishing, intellectual property rights, and alternative publication outlets for scholarship." [2
] The Association for Research Libraries (ARL) addressed scholarly communications issues with the launch of SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, in June 1998 with the goal of providing a constructive response to a dysfunctional marketplace. [3
] In January 2002, the board of the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) authorized a Scholarly Communications Initiative which would enable ACRL to play a prominent role in bringing about change in the scholarly communications system. [4
] During this same period of time, many academic libraries at universities as diverse as Cornell, Georgetown, University of Florida, University of Utah and the University of California produced exhaustive websites on the subject. At least ten universities across the United States have publicly affirmed their support for change in campus-wide resolutions. [5
The issues began to coalesce into a coherent narrative at Johns Hopkins University with the arrival of James G. Neal as Sheridan Director of the Milton S. Eisenhower Library in the fall of 1995. Founded in 1876 in Baltimore, Maryland, the Johns Hopkins University was the first research university in the United States. Its aim is not only to advance students' knowledge, but also to advance human knowledge generally, through discovery and scholarship. The university's emphasis on both learning and research – and on how each complements the other – revolutionized U.S. higher education. Today, Johns Hopkins has campuses throughout the world – China, Italy and Singapore, among many others. It remains a world leader in teaching, patient care and discovery. The Milton S. Eisenhower Library on the Homewood campus houses the major university collections of over 2 million volumes and over 9000 subscriptions to current journals. The Welch Medical Library on the East Baltimore medical campus serves the schools of medicine, public health, and nursing as well as the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Its services and collections are largely electronic with subscriptions to nearly 6000 e-journals, e-books and databases.
Jim Neal had been actively involved in scholarly publishing and copyright issues for much of his career. During his years at Hopkins, he worked to educate his own faculty about the issues, regularly briefing his management team and using the Faculty Advisory Committee for the Libraries to expand on issues he felt were critical. Neal's early and intense involvement in scholarly communications issues led to a heightened awareness among Hopkins librarians. Library staff began to read widely on the subject, discovering what their own professional associations were doing as well as noticing brochures and websites created by concerned groups such as Creative Commons. Librarians were good at aggregating a lot of data, but how could they share it with the people who needed to know, Hopkins faculty?