Gavia Libraria

Translating and evaluating the CONCYTEC announcement

A news piece from Nature alerted the Loon to another Elsevier situation in Perú. She missed the initial announcement from Peruvian consortium CONCYTEC (though the Open Access Tracking Project caught it), and it seems to have disappeared from CONCYTEC’s official web and social media presences.

Nonetheless, the announcement is still out there. The Loon will quietly translate it (n.b. her Spanish is decades-rusty, though still generally functional; corrections in the comments welcome) and not-so-quietly evaluate it, as its rhetoric contrasts usefully with Germany’s and Finland’s.

Services for access to scientific literature

We inform the scientific and academic community that on December 31 of this year subscriptions to databases ScienceDirect and Scopus will end.

So far, so good.

We insist that CONCYTEC has done all necessary paperwork to make maximum budget requests and exhausted all available resources to be able to go on providing this service, which is so important for researchers and above all for university students. Lamentably, we have not obtained the necessary financing and we find ourselves obligated to communicate to you that these information sources will not be accessible through CONCYTEC’s Virtual Library.

No. No, no, no, no, no. This is exactly wrong! The first sentence (and much about the phrasing of the second) is pure defensiveness, inviting a Gowers-style attack (or audit, or…) response. The second sentence lays blame on purse-string holders, whom any consortium needs as allies. Never do that! Blame the vendor, blame the vendor, blame the vendor. CONCYTEC doesn’t even mention the vendor, for pity’s sake; it may fondly believe that will help it in subsequent negotiations, but it will not. (Elsevier would sputter about it, to be sure; vendors always do. But silence is merely what vendors count on; the smart library-side negotiator defies their expectations and their sputtering alike.) The same sentence also hints that more money will solve the problem. Never do that! By now we all know better; no amount of money is ever enough.

In the three years we have provided access, this service has provided more than 3.7 million full-text downloads (articles and books), which would have cost USD$131 million instead of the USD$10 million that CONCYTEC paid.

Statement of impact: good, though a more qualitative narrative in addition would help, as numbers in isolation do not fire the imagination much. (EIFL and the British Library did this rather well in discussing the loss of the British Library’s stellar interlibrary loan program to an ill-omened licensing deal.) Discussing the money: bad, for all the reasons already put forth. What will an administrator or incensed faculty member do in response to this save attempt to pick the numbers to pieces? That is not a reaction CONCYTEC will find helpful.

We will go on working with the indefatigable effort that characterizes us to find financing to continue providing access to ScienceDirect, Scopus, and new collections of international scientific journals. We consider this an essential service for the development of Perú.

No. No, no, no, no, no. This is exactly wrong! The first sentence makes explicit promises to faculty in hopes of placating them. Never do that! Promises damage CONCYTEC’s BATNA in further negotiations with Elsevier, because if those negotiations fail, CONCYTEC is in far more trouble due to promises broken than it would be if it had blamed Elsevier from the start and made no promises. As for “indefatigable effort,” that is self-puffery of the least convincing sort (pace cultural differences; perhaps it plays better in Perú?). “Essential service,” while intended to buff up CONCYTEC’s importance, only really serves to strengthen Elsevier’s hand, the last thing CONCYTEC needs.

The Loon fully understands that this release came from a place of existential terror. Indeed, she thinks that terror wholly justified; CONCYTEC may indeed wind up dissolved in a fit of faculty/administrator pique. That likely wouldn’t make Perú’s access situation any better, mind you—the Loon would bet all available fish on it getting horrifically worse, in fact—but pique is pique.

Consortia. Please. If you wish to survive, you simply must think more strategically about how you approach the destined end of can-kicking. CONCYTEC’s rhetorical tactics here, which are not exactly uncommon, place CONCYTEC firmly in the “poltroon” bucket in the hero-villain-poltroon-ignoramus-bumbler system.

Germany and Finland’s negotiators seem far more likely to come out heroes. Follow their example, not CONCYTEC’s.