Are iPads Paper?

The title to this post may seem like a strange question—I mean, of course iPads aren’t paper; they’re made of metal and glass and wiring, and not from wood pulp. iPads are the latest development in the evolution of computers, one of a string of developments that have revolutionized the way the world works in many fundamental ways over the past thirty or so years, while paper has remained fundamentally the same for many hundreds of years. So, is an iPad paper? No… but also, maybe, yes.

Last night a question was asked, and answered, that I think represents a major moment in the acceptance and use of technology in corporate and governmental environments. Many better writers than I am are discussing the events surrounding Wendy Davis’ filibuster on the floor of the Texas state senate, but I want to talk about an exchange that happened at slightly before nine o’clock last night when the question arose about whether Wendy Davis could read from her iPad during the course of her filibuster and it was determined that, yes, for the purposes of the current legislative process, an iPad counted as paper.

Although this wasn’t something that many people commented on, it caused a bit of a flutter amongst my iSchool friends. At the UT iSchool, one of our core courses included discussion of the infamous “Is an antelope a document?” article by Michael Buckland, which asks questions and encourages its readers to think in the broadest possible way about what constitutes a document.

In the iSchool, we’ve been trained and conditioned to question the fundamental building blocks of information, with the idea that we, as information professionals, are going to be involved at the most basic level with whatever changes in technology and legitimacy begins to arise in the world of documents and the media used to transmit information. The exchange between Lt. Gov. Dewhurst and Sen. Ellis was a teaching/learning moment for iSchoolers around the country.

But what are the implications of this seemingly off-the-cuff exchange? What will the long-term effects be? Can iPads be considered paper in future governmental proceedings? Should they?

One of the things about iPads—and Kindles and Nooks and other tablets/eReaders—that people consistently point to in discussions about their benefits is their ability to store (or access) much larger quantities of books and documents than a single human person can carry around. If I printed out all of the PDFs, books, and other documents that I have loaded on my iPad (or stored in my Dropbox folders, which I can access via my iPad), I’d probably have far more material than I could carry around without a handtruck. I also feel like I’ve saved countless trees by using my iPad to read and annotate articles rather than printing them out and highlighting them like I did as an undergrad and during my first (pre-iPad era) master’s.

Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth during her filibuster of SB 5. Austin, Texas (Photo: Chris Fox, 1080 KRLD)

The benefit to me of considering an iPad as paper in official governmental proceedings is that it can similarly reduce the environmental impact of printing and carrying so much paper. When Wendy Davis was filibustering yesterday, she had a binder full of the testimonies of women who had hoped to speak before the Texas state House of Representatives about the proposed legislation, as well as other relevant analyses and contextual information. Most senators had their copies of the relevant senate rulebooks and other documents that were relevant to the questions they asked Sen. Davis or the points of order or parliamentary inquiries that they raised over the course of the debate. That’s a lot of paper that could be saved, especially since things like the rules books are frequently revised and republished, and are likely to be revised in light of the rulings yesterday regarding giving aid to a senator during a filibuster and, yes, about whether an iPad constituted paper.

iPads are gaining ground as paper-equivalents in other areas, too: the U.S. Air Force and some major commercial airlines are beginning to replace the weighty bags of paper-based manuals and maps that pilots and other crew members carry with iPad apps designed for the purpose. Electronic flight bags stored on iPads are set to revolutionize air travel in a small but meaningful way: by removing the need to carry 35+ lbs of paper materials, it’s been estimated that “a minimum of 400,000 gallons and $1.2 million of fuel annually” can be saved, according to American Airlines, which is the first major national carrier to make the switch. Crucially to the topic at hand, the Electronic Flight Bags have been recognized by the FAA as being the equivalent of paper flight bags.

Of course, one of the major concerns that needs to be considered is about how secure iPads can be and whether they can compete with more traditional means when it comes to transporting important government documents. But doctors, bound by federal privacy laws, have been using iPads to access patient records for years, and storing information in paper form does not necessarily lessen the chance that it will be lost, stolen, or destroyed.

So, are iPads paper? Are antelopes documents? It’s a very exciting time to be an information professional and get to witness a sea change like this in how we regard information media.

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Oppa Data Style: Using Data to Track the Popularity of PSY

Every once in a while I get the opportunity to write about something for class credit that I passionately love in my non-academic life.  Previously this has meant getting to write about the works of Alexandre Dumas for my senior seminar on Robin Hood literature or talking about how video games incorporate medievalisms in new and interesting ways, but sometimes this means getting to write about things that are really esoteric like the viral video sensation “Gangnam Style” by the South Korean pop artist PSY.  I got this weird and wonderful chance today when The Economist published an article examining the data behind “Gangnam Style”s viewer data on YouTube, which makes it prime material for a blog post for the Digital Curation class I mentioned in my last post.  And because I think this is one of the most fun things I’ve ever written (and I’m still stunned and delighted that I got to talk about “Gangnam Style” for class), I’m going to archive it here for posterity.

Soon there will be a blog post about the amazing experience I had at the International Seminar on the Care and Conservation of Manuscripts in Copenhagen last week, but I’m still trying to wrap my head around all the amazing things I saw and heard there, so in the mean time please enjoy:

On July 15, 2012, the South Korean pop singer PSY released his sixth studio album with the song “Gangnam Style” as its first single. By September, the official video released on Youtube was averaging almost 10 million views per day and the related Gangnam Style mania was being covered and analyzed by a variety of mainstream news outlets, including The Wall Street Journal (as previous linked) and The Guardian (“What’s so funny about Gangnam Style?”). The South Korean pop song spawned a huge number of parodies (as of writing, YouTube returned over 16,500 hits for the search phrase “gangnam style parody”) with parody topics ranging from “UMD Library Style” to “Klingon Style” to “Deadpool Style” (for even more Gangnam-related videos, check out The Week‘s “Gangnam Style: the 11 best parodies of the viral video” and The Wall Street Journal‘s “5 Must-See Gangnam Style Response Videos”).

Needless to say, the overwhelming response of the American public to a South Korean pop song about a district of Seoul very few Americans could probably find on a map has been unprecedented even in the era of YouTube-to-famous viral music videos (by contrast, Rebecca Black’s “Friday” video had earned 144 million videos during its first initial storm of popularity while the official PSY music video on YouTube has over 531 million views at the time of writing). The sensational storm caused by the video has necessarily meant that a great deal of attention and thought has been directed to understanding the phenomenal popularity of the song and its singer, and that’s where the data comes in.

In “The data behind Gangnam Style: the rise and rise of PSY,” writers at The Economist take a look at the data surrounding the video’s popularity and discover that Gangnam Style isn’t “a flash in the pan.” The writers break down the video’s 531+ million views as “At roughly four minutes of video, that amounts to 36m hours of phantom horseback-riding dance moves, which equates to 4,100 continuous years.” This may make Gangnam Style the most popular and influential viral video yet.

But who’s watching it? The Economist‘s writers identify the “top demographic category of fans” as “girls aged 13 to 17, followed by boys of the same ages and then young men 18 to 24.” However, this raw data only tells part of the story since some of the most popular spin-off videos are produced by people outside these key demographics and since it would seem to indicate that enjoyment of Gangnam Style is restricted to the young and predominantly male—as the article points out, however, figures from outside these key demographics such as Ban Ki Moon are showing off their style moves.

Another article by SPIN (“How Did PSY’s Gangnam Style Become the No. 1 Rap Song in the Country?”) blame Billboard’s antiquated and “useless” chart methodology for not accounting for digital downloads and other metrics in the way they (previously, it has recently been changed) determine what songs are the most popular, which were previously only determined by radio airplay data.

In the end, however, I think that while the data collected by The Economist and others will be important to researchers hundreds of years from now who will chart the inexorable spread of Gangnam Style’s influence in world culture, I don’t think raw (or even analyzed) data is ever going to be able to tell the whole story of exactly why this weird and wonderful video has so effectively captured the hearts and imaginations of so many people around the world.

For more in-depth analysis of Gangnam Style and the culture and artist that created it, The Atlantic‘s “Gangnam Style, Dissected: The Subversive Message Within South Korea’s Music Video Sensation” is an exceptionally interesting read.

New Frontiers in Journalism: the Development of the Guardian’s “Data Journalism”

One of the classes I’m taking this semester seems likely to push me outside my “comfort zone” of book history studies and “traditional” library skills like cataloguing.  It’s called “Digital Curation” and it focuses on the active and on-going management of digital artifacts through their lifecycle, particularly by maintaining and adding value to a trusted body of digital information for current and future use.  I initially signed up for it because I thought it would complement my class on Digitisation, which is a practical course teaching both technical digitisation skills and digitisation project management (including grant-writing, something I am really looking forward to!), but after working through the readings and assignments on “big data” management this week, I’m also excited about the class because of the emphasis on data collection, analysis and visualisation.

As part of the class, we have to write blog posts each week on a topic related to this week’s readings, and this week I got to talk about one of my favourite websites, the Guardian’s Datablog, so I thought I would repost the text of it here:

In August 2011, London experienced some of the worst rioting it had seen in a generation.  Following the shooting of a young man in north London, the rioting spread across the city and to other areas of England over the course of four days.  To learn more about the events and timeline of the riots, the BBC maintains this excellent website with archived BBC coverage of the riots.

In the wake of the riots, the Guardian newspaper’s online editors undertook a massive collection of data generated by the rioters and victims of the rioters’ activities, and began to analyse it in cooperation with the London School of Economics.  They began collecting data by sending teams of online journalists to the London courts to document the public information related to each rioter that was arrested and charged with an offense: name, occupation, home address, crime committed.  They also began collecting data publicly available through social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook and publishing their findings as part of their (then) new Guardian Datablog and, eventually, as its own collection of articles and analysis: Reading the Riots.

By doing deep analysis of the data they collected, the researchers at the London School of Economics and editors and journalists at the Guardian were able to eventually begin drawing broad conclusions on the social and economic factors that contributed to the widespread and violent nature of the London riots, but the development of Reading the Riots also contributed to the Guardian’s realization that large data sets can make good journalism and led to the establishing of the Guardian’s Data Journalism site and creation of the Guardian Datastore, a webscale repository of journalistic data collected or curated by the Guardian.  Much like using Twitter to track the cholera epidemic in Haiti, data journalism tracks trends in data generated by social media to create analysis and visualisations related to major world events, such as the Olympics or public elections.

But is the Guardian’s capitalization on data collection and analysis as forward-thinking as all that?  It certainly sets them apart from other traditional newspaper companies in Britain, such as the Times, but does it presage a sea change in journalism as we know it?  Is data analysis “real” journalism, and do the articles produced by the Guardian’s Datablog deserve to be on the front page of the website?

Medieval Manuscripts Fragments as Binding Materials, a New Project at the Harry Ransom Center

A medieval manuscript text used as the binding material of a 1561 copy of Aesop’s Fables. Image from the Ransom Center Fragments Project’s Flickr.

Medieval and early modern people were great re-users.  The concept of processing used materials into new products to prevent the waste of expensive materials wasn’t an unusual or extraordinary idea to them: times were tough and in the business of manuscripts and books, materials were expensive and could be hard to come by.  There wasn’t a sense of uniqueness or the desperate need to preserve for future generations, as there is today, so parchment manuscripts that we might consider priceless today were scraped clean to have new manuscripts written upon them.

As horrifying as it sounds to us postmodern peoples, for whom any scrap of medieval manuscript text has enormous value, in the early modern period medieval parchment manuscripts were unbound, sliced, diced, chopped, and julienned to be re-used in the bindings of newer, “better” printed books.  Parchment was an ideal material for strengthening a book’s spine as a liner, or for use as an easy, cheap cover or endpaper.  Indeed, some scholars believe it was common practice to dismantle a manuscript book into such “manuscript waste” fragments once the book had been set out in type and printed.  We can be thankful the Winchester Malory manuscript of Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur did not meet this fate, as it spent several years sitting around William Caxton’s printing shop while he worked on his printed edition.

Since the practice of using and re-using manuscript waste was so prevalent, it’s not all that surprising to find bits and pieces of medieval manuscripts tucked into early modern books held by research libraries around the world, and it seems like cataloguing, describing, digitizing and exhibiting such finds is becoming more and more popular: two years ago, the Yale Law Library created an exhibit around 150 medieval manuscript fragments in early modern law books in their collections, called Reused, Rebound, Recovered: Medieval Manuscript Fragments in Law Book Bindings.

Closer to home (and my heart), the Harry Ransom Center is beginning a project of cataloguing, describing, and digitizing the medieval manuscript fragments in their collections.  Conducted by Micah Erwin (who recently discovered the impression of a pair of medieval spectacles on such a fragment, as I mentioned here on my blog), the project aims to survey the fragments and share  knowledge and awareness of them with other medieval manuscript scholars and librarians:

The Harry Ransom Center’s on going project to survey manuscript waste in their book collections. It is managed by Micah Erwin, Project Archivist, and supervised by Joan Sibley, Senior Archivist in the Archives and Visual Materials Cataloging Department.  The Harry Ransom Center is currently conducting a survey of medieval manuscript fragments and binder’s waste found in the Book Collection. We are posting low resolution images of some of these fragments on Flickr and Facebook to share with others. We would be grateful for any comments and/or additional information that you would like to contribute about these items.

It’s an exciting project to me, personally, as it draws on both my love of medieval manuscripts and my dream of using the resources made available to scholars and librarians by social media sites such as Flickr and Facebook to connect researchers to materials so that knowledge and understanding can grow out of such connections.  It’s the perfect example of my idea of book archaeology in the digital age!  By working collaboratively to identify the fragments, we can possibly learn more about early modern bookbinders and the spread of early modern books.

The first step, of course, is getting awareness of the project out there, and that’s what I’m hoping to help with!  Please consider liking the project’s Facebook page and sharing it on your timeline, or tweeting and retweeting the link to the project’s Flickr page!

In The (Local) News: Medieval Spectacles

Micah Erwin, a UT iSchool alumnus and fellow medievalist who now works at the Harry Ransom Center, has written this amazing blog post about the impression of a pair of medieval spectacles that was found on a bit of medieval manuscript waste that had been used to bind an early modern printed book:

Early printed book contains rare evidence of medieval spectacles

While conducting a survey of manuscript waste found in early printed books I noticed a faint reddish-brown impression of a pair of spectacles on the rear parchment endpapers of a copy of the Opera of Fr. Luigi di Granata. The endpapers in this book comprise a piece of parchment taken from a page in a medieval manuscript (it was a common practice in the hand-press period to reuse old disbound parchment manuscripts for endpapers, pastedowns, stubbs, or spine linings).

What a fascinating and exciting thing to find in a book here in Austin!  Tidbits like these are what make medieval studies so exciting to me.  Medieval history can be so amazing because, as Barbara Tuchman noted in the title of her book, it is a distant mirror of ourselves and our own time. Taking away the specific issues of banking crises, global warming, and what have you, we’re still struggling with some of the same fundamental problems that they were 600 years ago: sickness, malnutrition, insufficient housing, poverty, ignorance, superstition, prejudice and governmental selfishness.

And yet in the midst of all the filth and horror they contemplated the divine in ways that we just can’t. In Lincoln Cathedral there are carvings and bosses so high up on the ceiling that they are almost inaccessible, even to modern scaffolding. Why are they there? Why did anyone go to all the trouble of making them when they couldn’t even be seen or appreciated? They were made for the sheer joy and love of making beautiful things, even if the only person that could see them was God. Perhaps especially if God was the only one who could see them. People just don’t do that any more. The medieval world created so much beauty, and so much of it has survived! What’s going to survive from our time? New buildings built on the UT campus are designed to last 50 years now. Paper’s gotten crappier and crappier and no one can know how well eBooks and eReaders and other electronic media is going to survive. Medieval people lived with such dignity and inventiveness, and I just don’t see anything like their creations when I look around me now. I think that’s why I love the middle ages so much.

I think the similarities between us and medieval people get lost in translation so easily, because people focus on all the cosmetics that make our time different from them. But nothing has fundamentally changed since then! We’re still doing a lot of the same things! I mean, Hoccleve’s Regiment of Princes with a modern translation could so easily be marketed as the next big self-help book for corporate managers. (In fact… why hasn’t it? Hm.) We’re still wearing spectacles (and leaving them sitting on open books!) and we still have fingerprints.  For all our technology, we’re really not that different.

In The News (Again): The Cuthbert Gospel

Last July when I first started this blog, one of the things I wrote about was the British Library’s appeal to raise £9 million to acquire the Cuthbert Gospel for the nation.  The Gospel dates back to the seventh century and was produced in North East England.  It was on long-term loan to the British Library until its owner decided to sell it.  It would have been a great loss for Britain if the book had been sold abroad, but luckily the British Library was able to raise the funds!

British Library acquires the St Cuthbert Gospel – the earliest intact European book

The British Library has announced that it has successfully acquired the St Cuthbert Gospel, a miraculously well-preserved 7th century manuscript that is the oldest European book to survive fully intact and therefore one of the world’s most important books.

I am so happy that the British Library will now be able to continue displaying this amazing piece of English and world heritage!  I’m also happy that the book will be displayed part of the time in Durham, which is close to the book’s place of origin.

I am also ALSO happy that during the initial conservation assessment of the book, the British Library has digitised the entire manuscript and made the digital images available for scholars and other interested folks around the world.

Apples and Oranges: eBooks and the Justice Department

I’ve been reading a lot recently about the Justice Department’s decision to sue Apple and several major book publishers who are accused of “price fixing” eBooks. There’s a lot of debate, naturally, about Apple’s business practices and their market domination of music with iTunes (not to mention Amazon’s equally questionable business practices) and also about what the “real” price of an eBook should be (should it be more in conjunction with a print edition or should it cost less because it costs less to produce?). Personally, I side with the camp that finds Amazon more at fault than Apple, for setting prices that undercut both publishers AND authors, as nicely summed up in this New York Times article “Book Publishing’s Real Nemesis” by David Carr.

By coincidence, this is the week in my Collection Management class that we are discussing legal, copyright, and ethical issues in libraries, and one of our readings brought up this Supreme Court decision from the 1984 Sony Corp. of American v. University City Studios:

The monopoly privileges that Congress may authorize are neither unlimited nor primarily designed to provide a special private benefit. Rather, the limited grant is a means by which an important public purpose may be achieved. It is intended to motivate the creative activity of authors and inventors by the provision of a special reward, and to allow the public access to the products of their genius after the limited period of exclusive control has expired.

It seems to me that this quote speaks to the heart of the debate about eBooks and the battle between Amazon and Apple, and I think it strengthens Carr’s argument that allowing Amazon to create a minority in which eBook prices are artificially driven down to allow Amazon to drive Kindle sales is contrary to the Supreme Court’s position in 1984. Granted, the current Supreme Court Justices may think differently, but I believe it is wrong for the Justice Department to allow Amazon to create an almost state-approved monopoly that does little to protect the meager profits made of authors. In the long run, if authors can’t make enough money by writing to support future creative activities, won’t the number of books available eventually start to dry up? Or worse, be nothing but endless fanfiction-turned-legitimate-novel Twilight spinoffs?

In The News: British Library Science Manuscripts Online

Here’s an interesting piece of news from the British Library’s Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts blog:

Science Manuscripts Online Soon

The British Library’s Harley Science Project, generously funded by William and Judith Bollinger, has supported the digitisation of 150 manuscripts, spanning the period from the 9th to the 17th centuries, and embracing many branches of early scientific knowledge.

Ff. 158v-159r of BL Harley MS 3719: illustration combining the features of a bloodletting man with those of a zodiac man. (Image by the British Library.)

This is a project that combines two different professional interests of mine (manuscripts and the history of science/medicine) and absolutely delights my heart.  For those of you who wonder what it is I want to do when I grow up, this is pretty much exactly it!

In The News: Long Overdue

Long Overdue: Changing student needs results in a new chapter for Milner.

When students were asked what they’d  like to see more of at Milner Library, the answer was surprising.

Outlets. No one said books, and a wander through the six floors tells you why…

This is an amazing article from the Illinois State University’s Milner Library about how they are changing the library’s physical space and services offered to adapt to changing student patron needs.  The Milner is among the front runners of libraries that I am familiar with in fundamentally changing the concept of what a library is and how it can best support the research needs of undergraduates.

On a personal note, at the PMA Library we’re currently putting together a report on what our physical space provides for students and what it lacks, and outlets is at the very top of the list of things we desperately want!

In the immortal words of Boromir:

I think that one of the most important things that libraries can do right now is begin to assess exactly what their patrons really need.  One of the best and most inspiring stories of libraries that exist with their community’s real needs in mind is that of the new Canada Water Library, which was built at the cost of £14 million by Southwark (London, UK) Council.  Faced with the closure altogether of several libraries across Southwark—a borough which covers much of London on the south side of the Thames—members of the community spoke out:

“Our libraries have been well managed over a long period of time and what we’ve managed to do is listen to people. Over 6,000 people said they would rather we did things like reduce hours or use volunteers than close libraries. That was enough people saying libraries were important.” (From: “Super Library in Southwark Opens Its Doors”)

The library will hold 40,000 books, but it also has a variety of community spaces such as a café, meeting rooms, and a small community theater.  The library even incorporates an entrance to the Canada Water London Underground tube station, so that patrons can easily access the library and its resources without having to go outside.  By listening to the needs of the Canada Water community, Southwark Council and its library staff are providing a building that provides not only books for education and pleasure, but meeting spaces, access to the Internet, and a community space that is by and for the local community.

What is the library of the future?  In my opinion, the librarians, archivists, and curators of the future must directly engage with their local community to provide institutions that respond to the actual needs of its patrons, not the perceived or idealized needs as dictated by archaic library science theory and philosophy.  The library, archive, and museum of the future should incorporate more than the traditional analogue collections generally associated with these institutions, but it should also be wary of rejecting these traditional collections for digital-only resources.  Above all, libraries, archives, and museums should embrace and respond to their communities’ needs and desires.

 

Rebel Alliances and Evil Empires in the Academic Universe

Probably the hottest topic discussed in my Collection Management class so far this semester is the problem of publishing conglomerates and their “Big Deals,” which lock libraries or library consortia into multi-year contracts with sometimes diminishing levels of access to online journals and eBooks for increasingly larger portions of the library budget pie. In one article, we read that some libraries spend over 50% of their total budget for collection management on these Big Deals from companies such as Springer, Wiley, and (the Emperor Palpatine of the academic world at the moment) Elsevier.

A great many people have summarised the arguments against Elsevier and the issues faced by libraries far better than I can, so here’s a small run-down of articles that have caught my attention lately.

In an age where most cost-saving measures at libraries include cutting subscriptions to printed versions of journals in favor of increasing online access to articles*, maintaining online access to major titles is an increasingly important consideration for libraries. However, sometimes not all volumes of a journal are available to researchers online. This is due to a variety of reasons related to the copyright restrictions on newer or older issues; the availability of funds for digitisation of issues published before computers; or fluctuations in what the publisher thinks libraries should be paying for each article.

In January, a sensationalised articled in the Atlantic accused JSTOR (an online archive of digitised academic publications, JSTOR acts as a hub or nexus for a wide range of journals but is not, itself, a publisher) of taking articles written “for free” by university and publicly-funded researches and selling it back to them. According to the Atlantic,

The public — which has indirectly funded this research with federal and state taxes that support our higher education system — has virtually no access to this material, since neighborhood libraries cannot afford to pay those subscription costs. Newspapers and think tanks, which could help extend research into the public sphere, are denied free access to the material. Faculty members are rightly bitter that their years of work reaches an audience of a handful, while every year, 150 million attempts to read JSTOR content are denied every year.

The article has major flaws, and was duly masterfully critiqued by by Nancy Sims, the Copyright Program Librarian at the University of Minnesota Libraries, who pointed out that academic publishing is full of problems. She writes,

But McKenna is really wrong about a bunch of specifics, and there are a lot of people out there (with a lot of money), who want to shape the narrative around the economics of academic publishing in a really different direction. This article is in a fairly high-profile and general interest publication, but it’s so factually incorrect in so many different ways that it invites ridicule to the whole position.

Sims’ article goes to the heart of the issues about journal subscription and individual article prices in academic publishing. As Sims’ points out, some for-profit publishers (such as Elsevier) make 32-42% profits from selling access to academic articles. That’s a bit ridiculous, if you ask me, and while I recognise that this is capitalism at work, my tree-hugging hippie socialist scumbag cries out for more open access to academic research, especially in important areas such as health research.

I fully support the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008 which requires researchers who received funding from the National Institutes of Health to post their final, peer-reviewed papers on PubMed Central, an archival hub like JSTOR that is run by the National Library of Medicine, no later than a year after publication. The Consolidated Appropriations Act still allows publishers to get their share, in that in order to stay up to date with the most current research being published, scientists and doctors must subscribe to high-impact journals in their fields or pay for access to individual articles.

However, there is a great deal of opposition to initiatives like this from the major publishers, who view it as a threat to the profits they can make by selling access to research articles. For Elsevier in particular, their exorbitant journal and article prices were compounded by their support for the Research Works Act, which seeks to protect publishers’ profits by counteracting the Consolidated Appropriations Act. The RWA is often mentioned as related to the erstwhile SOPA and PIPA legislation that was shouted down by the combined voices of the Internet’s major players. Perhaps inspired by the Internet blackout movement and led by Timothy Gowers, a prominent mathematician at the University of Cambridge and winner of the Fields Medal, and his blog article from 21 January, over 7,700 researchers from around the world was signed an online pledge not to publish in, edit, or review journals published by Elsevier. Two great summaries of this action can be found in The Chronicle of Higher Education and on NPR’s On The Media.

In the wake of this mass outcry, Elsevier announced on Monday that it was withdrawing its support for the RWA. However, their carefully-worded announcement means that supporters of open access have only won the battle, not the way. As the humourous @FakeElsevier twitter warned:

Note that our relenting had nothing to do w/ ur puny rebellion. Now witness the firepower of this FULLY ARMED AND OPERATIONAL BATTLE STATION

Mike Taylor at Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week, or SV-POW!, fully decodes Elsevier’s announcement and this article from the New York Times does a good job of presenting both sides of the debate and contextualising it in terms of current American politics. It’s a thorny subject, and the levity of @FakeElsevier only highlights the real drama that researchers, librarians, and politicians around the world are paying close attention to.

* At the PMA Library, for example, we’ve recently cancelled our print subscription to all five series of Physical Review, each single issue of which was published weekly and weighed in at about the same size as the Austin yellow pages, in favor of improving access to the online versions.