Tag Archives: PDFs

Our battle with EBSCOhost, or the Infrastructural Value of Scholarship

Every six months or so, Kairos gets an email from EBSCO Publishing, asking us if we’d be a part of their database. I’m sure most scholars are familiar with EBSCOhost, but for those who aren’t, here’s what their website says:

The providers of EBSCOhost, the most-used premium research service in libraries and other institutions worldwide, EBSCO offers a suite of more than 300 full-text and secondary research databases covering all subject areas, levels of research, and user communities – from schools, public libraries and universities, to hospitals, corporations and government agencies. (http://www.ebsco.com/aboutebsco.html)

It’s free to join EBSCO, and then they take care of making sure a journal’s content gets included in as many federated searches as possible. They do this by including a journal’s content into their own databases, which requires two things: (1) The journal has copyright clearance on its published content, so as to be able to turn over the content to EBSCO for re-distribution. (2) The journal sends PDFs of its content to EBSCO for easy distribution. This means more readers, and for some journals, it would mean more subscriptions. But you might already know what’s coming next: For Kairos, it’s a different story. While the journal does retain redistribution rights for everything it publishes, copyright reverts to the authors upon publication. This doesn’t seem to be a problem in having the journal’s work in EBSCO, so that was good news for us. However, PDFs are, well, not a reasonable choice for Kairos authors. Anyone who’s EVER read the journal will know that. Of course, the EBSCO representatives don’t actually read the journals whose editors they contact. They just contact. Which is why every six months Doug and I (and previously James) would get the same email from them.

In the past, Kairos editors have responded to EBSCO’s request by asking them how they would handle our non-PDFable content. At which point we’d never hear from them again. Until six months later when a new rep was assigned our account. We’d get the same request; ask them the same question; and never hear from that person again. Three or four times, I feel this has happened, in the last 5 years, at least.

This time, when I got the email from the new rep, I decided that Doug had gone through enough pain trying to sort this out with them in the past, and I had some free time, so I wrote the rep a loong response that relayed our difficulty at getting the sales reps to respond. And I told her I wasn’t going to be bothered going forward on this project unless she could assure me that we woudn’t get lost down the rabbit hole again. If they couldn’t, in fact, archive our work in their database, then she would *have* to remove Kairos from their contact list until such time as they could accommodate the kind of scholarship it publishes.

Luckily, for whatever reason, she understood and was very accommodating, quickly responding to our queries. Until it got to the point where she had to tell us how we would deliver the journal’s digital media files to their server and how the webtexts would look in their database, at which point she said she’d get back to me in a week. Three weeks later, I emailed her with a “what gives?!” Another week passed, and she emailed first thing on a Monday to say that the editorial team couldn’t “maintain the true look and feel of your website within the EBSCOhost environment.” She was very sorry; and I trusted her sincerity, especially after I’d run her through the wringer with a “don’t tempt us without having a pay-off” series of emails.

The thing is, Kairos would LOVE to be in EBSCO. The journal should be in as many indexes and databases as possible. Any editor in their right mind would like more readers, and thus potentially more authors. That the journal cannot be in EBSCOhost because its infrastructure isn’t set up to handle anything but linear, print-like text represented as PDFs means that it’s either never occurred to them to host anything besides peer-reviewed print scholarship or they just don’t care enough to make a change to that system.

I could bitch about it, and leave it at that. But I’m on a new mission to be more productive about enacting change to such staid systems. The fact is, just like with copyright and Fair Use issues mentioned in the previous post, editors (the collective “We” who publish scholarship) have the ability to act, to make change. Bitching on Facebook, in this case, would neither be professional nor does it make change. Acting in this case meant emailing the rep back and telling her that I hope the editorial team would consider this a challenge to improve and expand their system. Kairos is not, after all, the only journal that publishes nontraditional content. (I sent her a list of similar journals early on, to see if any of them were represented in the system.) There will be more in the future, especially if the Kairos OJS plug-in set takes off. EBSCO could be on the cutting edge here.

Of course, my email response (although well received) won’t mean that EBSCO will make any changes. But it did make me feel better. Made me feel like I’d done something to point out the devaluation of nontraditional scholarship within their system. Even if one more sales rep, one more committee of content-makers at some for-profit conglomeration, knows a little more about scholarly multimedia and the needs of nontraditional journals, then I feel like David is on his way to swinging the rock at Goliath. Still, one journal isn’t enough. Time to work more on that consortium.