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Let’s Talk: Why Suing Librarians is a Bad Idea
February 14, 2013 - 10:04pm

It suddenly seems as if suing librarians is the new business model for some publishers. There are a lot of reasons this seems unwise. For one, pissing off your customers is likely to cause your market to dry up.  For another, it’s going to result in a lot of publicity, but not the kind you want.

But most importantly, we grownups have better ways of dealing with criticism. It’s called argument. It requires an open mind, evidence, and reasoning.  It would seem the wiser course of action to try that first, rather than a legal action. It’s how scholars usually do things.

So far as I know, Edwin Mellen Press never tried discussion in response to Dale Askey’s blog post, in which he said what people have said for years: that Mellen has a bad reputation. Other people were prepared to engage in dialogue by commenting on that now deleted blog post (which can still be read at the Wayback Machine), and Askey responded civilly and thoughtfully. Someone from Mellen could have joined the conversation and made a case for the publishing house's value. 

Apparently it’s now open season on librarians who are reckless enough to share their professional opinions. Jeffrey Beall (who maintains a list of publications he believes are preying on desperate scholars, willing to pay author fees to appear in undistinguished open access journals) has now been threatened with a lawsuit by a publisher, one I’d never heard of.  It isn’t asking for millions of dollars, as Mellen is, at least not yet, but is demanding removal of his opinions and $10,000 to cover the costs of the lawyer who drafted the letter. (The RIAA used to do this a lot; they finally decided it wasn't working.)

I have not always agreed with Beall, but the best way to counter any of his claims that a publisher is not on the up and up is to provide an argument that it’s actually worthwhile. Beall’s list is only as good as his reputation as a snake oil spotter. If you got on his list but you shouldn’t be, tell us. We’ll listen.

Scholars need to decide where to publish their work, so make judgments about the quality of publishers all the time. So do librarians. We do it because we’re entrusted with the stewardship of limited resources. We talk to each other, just as scholars do, and these days that conversation happens in public. Nobody should be sued for sharing their informed professional opinions, even if they turn out to be wrong. Because part of being part of the academic world – or simply of being an adult – is to talk through our differences and evaluate claims on their merits.  You know, the skills we teach undergraduates.  

If that’s too much to ask, let me give you a piece of simple advice: you can’t sue your way to a good reputation. 

 

 

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