Students

Faculty: Get Help Linking to Articles on Blackboard!

Linking to articles and e-book chapters on Blackboard is a great way to help your students save money on classpacks. It's also a good way to stay in compliance with copyright law! We've created a new guide to help you find and create permalinks to articles and e-books in library databases - links that will persist over time and are best for including in an online reading list. Check it out here!

IRis, Northeastern’s Digital Archive, Reaches Milestone: 1 Million Downloads!

When the Northeastern University Libraries launched IRis in 2006, the idea of an "institutional repository" was still fairly new. Universities were starting repositories to share their intellectual and administrative output - faculty-authored articles, dissertations and theses, student-run publications, university-created reports, and other documents. Seven years later, many more colleges and universities around the world have digital repositories of open access materials created by their faculty, students, and staff. These repositories often also host open-access journals and other publications - at Northeastern, IRis has hosted the Annals of Environmental Science since 2007, and also provides access to faculty-authored and -edited books. IRis began with only a few collections in 2006, but has grown exponentially since then. Today, IRis contains over 6,000 items, and as of Tuesday, October 15, 2013, these items have been downloaded one million times! Although it's not possible to determine which one item received the lucky one-millionth download, we know that on that day, 649 items were downloaded 1147 times. Here's a breakdown of the types of materials downloaded that day: Here are top downloads in each category, for October 15, 2013: As you can see, slightly more than half of the items downloaded were dissertations or master's theses. An important contributor to the growth of IRis has been the university's transition to an Electronic Thesis and Dissertation (ETD) program in the 2007-2008 academic year - instead of depositing print copies of dissertations and master's theses in the library's archives, graduate students now submit their ETDs to ProQuest and an open-access copy is made available through IRis. Both undergraduate and graduate research output is very popular in IRis - in fact, almost every month our most highly accessed collection is the Honors Junior/Senior Projects! In the coming months, we will be expanding on the success of IRis with DRS - Northeastern University's Digital Repository Service. The DRS will offer even more functionality for users and depositors, such as more flexible sharing options, the ability to manage permissions, and options for curated and noncurated collections.

Affordable Textbooks 2012…Now, With Even More Options! [Updated]

It's been two years since I last posted about textbooks, and with classes starting this week, I thought it was a good time to write an update to that post. Since then, a few things have changed.

First, the Bad News...

The cost of textbooks just keeps going up. The New York Times article from October 2009 that I cited in my previous post estimated that college students spent, on average, between $700 and $1,000 each year on textbooks. Fast forward to August 2012... the Wall Street Journal just reported that the average student's textbook bill is now up to $1,213 a year. (Of course, you can always try selling a purchased textbook back to the bookstore at the end of the term, but, having stood in the buyback line myself recently, I know as well as you do that it's not exactly a money-making opportunity - if you're able to sell it back at all, that is. Textbook editions change so frequently that the copy you just bought may well be worthless in only a few months.)

Okay, How About Some Good News?

There now are more alternatives to paying the full amount for a new, hardcover textbook. Textbook rental programs have really taken off in the past couple of years - the NU bookstore has been offering a rental program since Fall 2010, with both print and e-textbooks available for rental. If you're taking ENGL 1102 this semester, for example, you can choose between buying a new or used copy of Ways of Reading, or rent a copy for about half the cost of buying a new one. Rental can be a good option when you can't picture yourself referring back to your dogeared copy after you're done with the course. Online rental companies are also popular - Chegg has been around for a while, and Amazon just got into the textbook rental market, too (although at least one blogger found their selection a bit "skimpy"). It seems like we've been hearing a lot about e-textbooks for a long time now, but the iPad has really helped that market take off in the last year. More publishers are working to convert their traditional textbooks into iPad apps, which allow for interactivity in ways that an e-book on, say, a Kindle doesn't offer. It looks like publishers are realizing that an e-textbook can be much more than a PDF. "Open" textbooks are also gaining traction, as more faculty choose to adopt them for their courses. Publishers like Flat World Knowledge and Boundless offer online learning materials that are free or available for purchase on a sliding scale. Individual faculty are creating open educational resources (OERs) as well - here at Northeastern, Dr. Albert-László Barabási's network science course website offers a great example of how OERs can be much more than static texts.

What's the Bottom Line?

This is a great time to start investigating alternatives to traditional printed textbooks - and as you can see, there are lots of options. Faculty - I encourage you to "think outside the shrinkwrap," if you're not already doing so. Students - investigate options and talk to your instructors. Let them know that you want to see textbooks become more affordable. And, if nothing else, ask them to put a desk copy of the textbook on reserve at the library! Update, 9/10/12: If you’re interested in learning about new developments in this area, I maintain an up-to-date list of links to news stories and blog posts on Delicious (also available as an RSS feed).  

Open Access supporters petition the White House (Updated)

[Update] On June 3rd, the petition supporters reached their goal of 25,000 signatures! This year, the Obama administration has been actively considering the issue of public access to the results of federally funded research. The administration is currently considering which policy actions are priorities that will it will act on before the 2012 presidential election season begins in earnest. Supporters of  open access to research results hope to demonstrate a strong public interest in expanding the NIH Public Access Policy across all U.S. federal science agencies. As a supporter of open access to information, I agree with them. On Monday, a petition calling for public access to federally funded research was posted on the White House's "We the People" site.  If the petition garners 25,000 signatures within 30 days, it will be reviewed by White House staff, and considered for action. I've signed the petition, and so have over 7,000 other people as of today. For more information on open access issues and initiatives in the library, see the library's information page, the subject guide, or this recent 3Qs with Dean Will Wakeling from news@Northeastern.

Harvard open memo says major journal publishers’ prices are “untenable”

On April 17, 2012, Harvard University's Faculty Advisory Council on the Library issued an open memo to the Harvard community stating that "major periodical subscriptions cannot be sustained" due to high prices and unreasonable publisher practices. If this topic sounds familiar, it's because it's already been in the news recently - in January, mathematician Timothy Gowers-Lee blogged about these issues specifically as they relate to publishing giant Elsevier. In February, a website was created where scholars could sign on to a boycott of Elsevier; as of today over 10,000 signatures have been gathered. The Harvard memo avoids mentioning specific companies, instead  referring to "certain publishers" that receive close to $3.75 million per year from Harvard for its subscriptions to their journals. Harvard's expenses for online journal content from just two major providers has increased 145% over the past six years. The memo states, "The Faculty Advisory Council to the Library, representing university faculty in all schools and in consultation with the Harvard Library leadership,  reached this conclusion: major periodical subscriptions, especially to electronic journals published by historically key providers, cannot be sustained: continuing these subscriptions on their current footing is financially untenable. Doing so would seriously erode collection efforts in many other areas, already compromised." Harvard University is certainly not alone in struggling with rising subscription costs - it's been discussed in the professional literature since the 1990s, when publishers introduced the "big deal" pricing model of requiring libraries to subscribe to less important journals along with their subscriptions to essential titles. Only recently, though, have the mainstream media begun reporting on publishers' questionable practices. Although it's too soon to say whether the Harvard memo will have any direct impact on the industry, it's definitely increasing public awareness of an issue that  not only affects Harvard but is jeopardizing the financial sustainability of academia as a whole. Recommended reading: ⇒ Full text of the Faculty Advisory Council Memorandum on Journal Pricing ⇒ "Harvard Now Spending Nearly $3.75 Million on Academic Journal Bundles," The Atlantic, April 23, 2012 ⇒ "The wealthiest university on Earth can’t afford its academic journal subscriptions," io9.com, April 24, 2012 ⇒ "If Harvard Can’t Afford Academic Journal Subscriptions, Maybe It’s Time for an Open Access Model," Time, April 26, 2012 ⇒ "Harvard panel pushes benefits of free journals," The Boston Globe, April 28, 2012