The ACRL Scholarly Communications Initiative: A progress report

C&RL News, September 2004
Vol. 65, No. 8

by Ray English

I’m pleased to report on the progress of the ACRL Scholarly Communications Initiative, which was authorized by the ACRL Board in January 2002.1 The purpose of the initiative is to enable ACRL to play a prominent role, in cooperation with other organizations, in working to bring about fundamental change in the system of scholarly communication.

The recommendations establishing the initiative called for ACRL to recognize scholarly communication as a high strategic priority and to implement changes in its structure and staffing in order to become active in educating librarians and faculty on scholarly communication issues, to build coalitions within the library and higher education community in order to advocate change, and to facilitate research on scholarly communication issues.

To implement the initiative, ACRL established a new Scholarly Communications Committee with overall responsibility for coordinating the initiative, under the general direction of the ACRL Board. It also established the temporary, part-time position of visiting program officer for scholarly communication. To support the initiative, the Board allocated up to $90,000 annually in budget resources for an initial three-year period.

The Scholarly Communications Committee has been quite active in working to realize the goals of the initiative. In addition to coordinating the activities described below, the committee formulated a document entitled “Principles and Strategies for the Reform of Scholarly Communication”2 as a foundation statement that provides overall guidance for the initiative. The committee has also created an annual “ACRL Scholarly Communications Agenda” to guide each year’s activities.3

Educational programming
A fundamental goal of the initiative has been to broaden the base of academic librarians who are knowledgeable about and concerned with scholarly communication issues. To that end, ACRL has engaged in a wide variety of educational programming activities. These include partnering with SPARC to hold an “ACRL-SPARC Forum” at each ALA Midwinter Meeting and Annual Conference. Forum topics have focused on such issues as publisher mergers, open access journal publishing, best practices in campus advocacy, and (most recently at the Orlando ALA Annual Conference) open access in the humanities. The new ACRL Scholarly Communications Discussion Group, which was established at the beginning of the initiative and is led by Richard Fyffe (University of Kansas), has also routinely coordinated the Midwinter Meeting and Annual Conference presentations and discussions, many of them on the same topic as the “SPARC ACRL Forum.”

Programming has also included a panel at the 2003 ACRL National Conference that featured David Shulenburger, provost at the University of Kansas; a panel of antitrust issues at the ALA Annual Conference in Orlando with Albert Foer, president of the American Antitrust Institute; Mark McCabe, a economist who is the foremost expert on publishing industry mergers; and a recent preconference presented by members of the Scholarly Communications Committee that provided basic introduction to scholarly communication issues. The committee hopes to offer the content of this very successful preconference in other venues.

ACRL has worked in partnership with both SPARC and ARL to issue a new version of the Create Change brochure and to produce a very attractive Open Access brochure. Both items support campus communication and education about scholarly communication issues.

A new Web-based “ACRL Scholarly Communications Tool Kit” will be made available to ACRL members this year. The tool kit, created by Karen Williams (University of Arizona) during her recent sabbatical leave, provides a basic introduction to scholarly communication issues, summary information on strategies for change, and practical guidance for campus communications efforts.

Regular columns on scholarly communication issues have appeared in C&RL News since the beginning of the initiative. They have featured prominent scholarly communication figures, such as Peter Suber, editor of the “SPARC Open Access Newsletter”; Helen Doyle of the Public Library of Science; SPARC’s Rick Johnson; Mary Case, who until recently led ARL’s scholarly communication efforts; and David Prosser, director of SPARC Europe.

Coalition building and advocacy
Since the beginning of the initiative, ACRL has worked to build partnerships with other organizations concerned with scholarly communication issues. Our collaboration with SPARC (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition), which had begun even before the initiative was undertaken, has been especially gratifying and productive. SPARC remains the most prominent and effective organization in promoting scholarly communication change, and we’re especially pleased that the initiative has solidified our relationship with them.4

In addition to various on-going activities in partnership with SPARC, ACRL has also participated in two major scholarly communication coalitions—the Information Access Alliance (IAA) and the Open Access Working Group (OAWG).

IAA, which is composed of the major library associations in the United States and SPARC, was formed to help address a variety of issues related to publisher mergers and the continuing process of consolidation in the scholarly journal publishing industry.5 The alliance, which was initially led by ARL’s Mary Case, created a white paper that documents the link between mergers and price increases and describes the ultimate negative effect of mergers on access to scholarship.

IAA also challenged (unfortunately without success) the merger of Kluwer and Springer publishers under a private British equity firm. IAA is now planning a small, invitational conference on the implications of publisher mergers, which is scheduled for February 2005. The conference is being designed to heighten knowledge and interest in publisher mergers among policy makers, federal regulators, and state attorneys general, and also to encourage further research on the issue.

ACRL has also been active in OAWG, a coalition of libraries and advocacy organizations that is working to promote open access.6 OAWG, led primarily by SPARC’s Rick Johnson, has focused its efforts on encouraging open access to federally funded research. The group has developed a broad federal strategy that is focusing initially with the National Institutes of Health. Progress in this regard has been enormously gratifying, as will be described below.
ACRL will continue to work with IAA and OAWG on the issues of concern to both groups. ACRL also hopes to build upon its existing liaison relationships with higher education organizations to strengthen its coalitions and advocacy efforts.

For the research components of the initiative, ACRL hopes to document the effects of the scholarly communication crisis on all types of academic libraries, including smaller universities, liberal arts colleges, and community colleges. The Scholarly Communications Committee encourages ACRL members to contribute to this goal by undertaking research topics that are listed in the “ACRL Scholarly Communications Research Agenda,” which was recently approved by the ACRL Board and is provided as a separate box adjacent to this column.

We’re changing
The ACRL Scholarly Communications Initiative is clearly producing a number of important changes within our association. Scholarly communication concerns have become an accepted and essential component of ACRL activities, as evidenced by their integral inclusion in the new ACRL strategic plan. We are clearly seeing greater awareness of scholarly communication issues among ACRL leaders and the broader ACRL membership. The number of programs devoted to scholarly communication concerns in various venues is growing and should continue to increase in the future.

ACRL has begun examining a variety of issues related to its own publishing program, including the question of open access to some of its publications. It is especially gratifying that Mary Ellen K. Davis, ACRL’s executive director, has decided to reallocate internal staff responsibilities in order to create a redefined full-time staff position that will be devoted to scholarly communication concerns and to legislative advocacy.

We are creating change
Our joint efforts with other organizations are producing very gratifying results. Among the highlights of recent scholarly communication developments are the following:
• The Appropriations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives has recently recommended that journal articles resulting from research funded by the National Institutes of Health be made openly accessible through PubMed Central. This is a clear sign that scholarly communication issues are reaching the level of national policy debate. If this recommendation is indeed implemented, it will establish the important principle that the American public has a right to open access to the results of research that it funds through taxpayer dollars. OAWG has been instrumental in bringing this proposal forward, and it will be working hard to secure its adoption by Congress.

• There is a new faculty and university engagement on scholarly communication issues, especially as it relates to large electronic journal licenses. A number of universities have declined so-called “Big Deal” electronic licenses with major publishers or they have negotiated more favorable terms with strong faculty backing. Faculty activism on these issues has been especially heartening.7

• Alternative models of publication, especially open access journals whose contents are made freely available over the Internet, are gaining in both number and status. The Directory of Open Access Journals8 now includes more than 1,100 titles, all of which are peer reviewed. Among the most prominent open access journal publishers is the Public Library of Science (PLoS), which will premier its second journal (PLoS Medicine) this fall. PLoS is one of the cooperating organizations in OAWG.

• Funding bodies within this country and abroad are showing increasing support for principles of open access to scholarship. Examples include the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Wellcome Trust in the United Kingdom, and other European funding agencies. 

• The United Kingdom Parliament’s inquiry into scientific publication has resulted in a very strong endorsement for principles of open access. A coalition of U.S. library organizations, including ACRL, made a submission for the inquiry that recommended changes very similar to those that were adopted in the inquiry’s final report. SPARC Europe, a partner in OAWG, made a similar submission. 

A long road ahead
While these developments are certainly encouraging, achieving fundamental reform in the system of scholarly communication will be a long and difficult process. It will require even broader involvement from academic librarians and much greater engagement on the part of faculty and other researchers. Learn what you can do to help, get involved, and work to Create Change.9

1. For a summary of the purpose of the initiative, including the background which led to it, see Ray English and Deborah Dancik, “ACRL’s New Scholarly Communication Initiative: Addressing a Growing Crisis,”  C&RL News 63, no. 5 (2002). Also available online at

2. Available on the ACRL Scholarly Communications Web page:

3. The 2004–05 agenda is available on the ACRL Scholarly Communications Web page at

4. Rick Johnson, “SPARC and ACRL: Working Together to Reform Scholarly Communication,” C&RL News 63, no. 9 (2002). Also available at:

5. Mary Case, “Information Access Alliance: Challenging Anticompetitive Behavior in Academic Publishing,” C&RL News 65, no. 6 (2004). Also available at

6. Members of the Open Access Working Group are AALL (American Association of Law Libraries), AAHSL (Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries), ALA, ACRL, ARL, Creative Commons, MLA (Medical Library Association), Open Society Institute, Public Knowledge, Public Library of Science, SLA, SPARC, and SPARC Europe.

7.  See the list “University Actions Against High Journal Prices” on Peter Suber’s Open Access Newsletter Web site:

8. See

9.  For concrete suggestions on what librarians can do to promote change, see the “List of Actions for Librarians” that will be included in the ACRL Scholarly Communications Toolkit when it becomes available this fall. Also, visit the Create Change Web site at:

ACRL Scholarly Communications Research Agenda

The ACRL Scholarly Communications Committee proposes the following research agenda on scholarly communication issues. Several of these topics, if successfully researched, would document the effect of scholarly communication issues on all types of academic libraries.

The committee recommends that this agenda be publicized broadly to the ACRL membership to encourage individual research on these topics, especially by librarians taking sabbatical leaves.
List of desired research topics:
• Monograph purchasing levels in recent years across all types of academic libraries.
• Print subscription levels in recent years across all types of academic libraries.
• Levels of electronic journal access at all types of academic libraries.
• The extent to which academic libraries of various types are moving toward e-journal-only access.
• A faculty research profile by type of institution—particularly non-ARL institutions.
• Changes in institutional promotion and tenure structure that encourage or
reward publishing in alternative channels.
• Information on the extent to which academic libraries are cataloging open access journals.
• Usage patterns of open access journals, including geographic origin of readers.
• The impact of open access journals relative to subscription-based journals, measured in article citations and other factors, and building on existing studies.
• Quantifying the cost that libraries are paying for alternative means of access
to the literature to support teaching and research, such as document delivery and costs paid to the Copyright Clearance Center.

About the Author
Ray English is director of libraries at Oberlin College and chair of the ACRL Scholarly Communications Committee, e-mail:

© 2004 Ray English