Discussions on the art and craft of research

Month: October 2016

Library Budgets and Open Access

It’s International Open Access Week, and so here we offer a summary of our own library’s budget difficulties, along with an argument for why open access initiatives are a crucial aspect of the solution to these issues.

In the most recent issue of Inside Information — the newsletter for the College’s Information Services division — we reported the unfortunate news that a task force created to make cuts to the libraries’ materials budget (books, journal subscriptions, databases, etc.) had indeed reduced expenditures by $100,000, primarily by dropping subscriptions to databases that included Scopus, Royal Society of Chemistry, IoP Science, Newsbank, Art & Architecture, LGBT, Credo Reference, Mango Languages and Book Review Digest, among others. Further, the article states, it’s currently projected that the budget will need to be cut by an additional $60,000 by the end of this academic year.

The cuts have been necessitated by rising subscription costs that are coupled with a flat acquisitions budget — so as the subscription costs go up, there are fewer dollars available to spend on materials. As the Inside Information article, written by Beth Hansen, states, “[w]ithout a substanial budgetary increase, cancellations will continue to be the norm.”

What follows is a revision of what I wrote in the sidebar to the article, regarding open access.

The prospect of another round of cuts in library materials highlights an ever-growing problem: rising annual costs of these materials, particularly electronic journals and databases. These increases exemplify what many observers have called a broken system, whereby colleges and universities support the work of scholars to create new research, which is then published in journals and curated by vendors (Ebsco, ProQuest, Gale, Alexander Street, etc.) in electronic databases. The journals and databases are in turn sold or leased back to institutions’ libraries, often at a substantial markup.

Colleges and universities are therefore paying at both ends, and this double payment is proving unsustainable for many institutions, including ours. As a corrective to this system, many libraries have been pushing in effect to cut out the middleman in the form of open-access policies such as the one passed by our own faculty in 2013. For our part, Connecticut College’s libraries have strongly advocated that scholars adhere to the existing open-access policy and deposit articles in our Digital Commons archive — so that they can be found and used by those who may not have the means to pay the costs associated with access to materials. It’s also why many college and university libraries have undertaken publishing projects of their own, including the Amherst College Press or the Oberlin Group’s Lever Intiative.

Scholars also need to begin to become aware of — and assert — their own rights before they publish an article. Contracts are written to be advantageous to publishers, and not necessarily scholars and writers; thus, scholars can, and often do, unwittingly sign away their rights to their own work when they agree to a publishing contract. It’s also important to realize that contracts supersede whatever copyright had been held initially by a writer. And so when negotiating a contract, it’s a good idea to try to retain the right to deposit a version of the work into an institutional repository — and/or to publish in a journal that meets open access criteria.

One good place to look for more information about these options is the website of SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition), a coalition of librarians and scholars seeking to advance the idea of open scholarship. SPARC’s website includes a page specifically about open access, as well as a handy fact sheet on open access describing actions scholars can take in more detail.

While placing an article into Digital Commons will not by itself change the system, it’s also true that the system of scholarly communication can only be rethought if a critical mass of scholars are willing to rethink their own publication practices. In order for this to happen, it’s important for everyone to understand why and how libraries are getting squeezed, and why emerging forms of open access are integral to thinking about the road ahead.

— Fred Folmer

Google Searches: Mastering Your Domain

As we all know, Google searches typically return huge amounts of results — numbering well into the millions — for practically any initial search. As frustrating as this can be, it’s especially vexing when adding additional search terms not only fails to limit the number of results in any significant way, it also may screen out lots of possibly useful items.

But it turns out that there’s a way to limit your results that doesn’t involve adding search terms — and that can help you retrieve useful items much faster. This method involves adding a domain search along with your search terms. And while this may sound daunting, it’s actually quite easy.

First, you can search in a wide domain, such as .edu, .org or .gov. The latter can be especially useful in finding an array of public materials, such as government reports, statistics and court cases. Suppose we’re looking for statistics on gun violence. If we search for “gun violence statistics” (without using quotes in the search), a Google search turns up 4,550,000 results — a hodgepodge of news stories, government reports, nonprofit organizations (including pro-gun advocacy groups like the NRA) and Wikipedia entries. But if we enter the following string into a Google search, we’re now at 30,700 results:

gun violence statistics site:gov

See how you do that? To whatever search you’re doing, you add the word “site,” followed by a colon, followed by the domain. In this search — which now only looks at sites with the “.gov” domain — the very first link that appears is a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics documenting firearm violence statistics from 1993 through 2011.

Screen Shot gov search
What’s more, once we know that the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics ( may be a useful site in which to look, we can limit our searches to only sites within the Bureau’s domain, that is: “gun violence statistics”. To wit:

Screen Shot bjs search

We now have only 425 results to comb through. Moreover, we can easily see other categories, such as “Weapon Use,” on which the BJS offers information, and adjust our search terms accordingly to pinpoint the items that might be most useful to our project.

This technique can be used to similar effect to search .org or .edu domains — whether we’re looking within entire domains or particular sites. It’s especially useful when searching organizations big, complex web structures, such as the United Nations ( There are, of course, pros and cons to searching any one of these domains, and this may be the subject of a future blog post. In any case, it’s worth remembering that limiting to a wide or narrow domain may help you find useful items quicker, and at the same time lessen one’s experience of information overload.

— Fred Folmer

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