Monthly Archives: December 2009

Sex, Gender & Librarianship

This is likely just a brain-dump of a teaser post, as it’s a topic I’ve just gotten started on, which could really grow into multiple posts as I explore it further in the future.

I ran into Dean at my favourite local coffeeshop the other day and we got talking a bit about gender issues and librarianship. Given that I’m a gender studies teacher, and a librarian, it didn’t take much prodding on his part to get my head spinning in that direction. It’s actually more surprising that – while certainly I talk about gender isues, pay equity, library cultures, and the like a lot – I hadn’t sat down and seriously thought about the intersections in a methodical way before. And wow, once you start thinking there’s a lot of interesting stuff to explore in terms of sex, gender and LIS, isn’t there?

Here’s my brainstorm list of topics to play with, as of this morning. All of these thoughts are themes to explore with an eye to sex & gender, race & ethnicity, socio-economic class, and ideally also attributes such as age, dis/ability, sexuality, etc.

I’m super interested in poking my mind down these paths, so if you’re reading and thought on these bullet points, or other suggestions for related topics, I’d love to hear them:

  1. Pre-Dewey librarianship, and the historical Western masculinity of literacy
  2. Melvil Dewey& the feminization of library education & professions
  3. Modern (past 100 yrs) images & protrayals of librarians
  4. Studies of library cultures/subcultures (including “guybrarian” “gaybrarian,” the systems vs public services great divide, corporate librarianship vs non-profit, school teacher-librarians, IT in libraries, etc.)
  5. LIS research and gender/race/class assumptions and approaches
  6. Information behaviour & user groups
  7. Technology uptake & influence among user groups
  8. Social issues in design of info & communications systems
  9. Techie & g33k culture(s) and accompanying masculinities and semi-masculinities (this can probably be divided up into eras, like the library bullet points above, but I’m not yet knowledgable enough to brainstorm how – other than to say that:
  10. OSS and other “open” movements should probably be their own bullet point here

Dean suggested this topic area might make an interesting grad course, and I have to completely agree. With the right framing (including critical sex/gender 101 for LIS folks and LIS 101 for non-LIS folk), it could be cross-listed between LIS and gender studies at any given institution with both grad programs, as a “sex, gender and information issues” or “gendered aspects of information” or some such.

Why would this be important? Well, to me it’s clear that diversifying LIS work is essential. I don’t mean “attract more men to librarianship” because if that was the only goal, we could probably do it by raising salaries and changing language. I mean real change, that will make libraries representative of the populations we serve, and help information services or various types understand user needs as well as employee strengths and needs.

And in order to make change we have to understand what’s going on now and how we got here. Anyone who supervises other workers can really benefit from a critical analysis of race/class/gender issues in their profession. Anyone who is setting the agenda for the future of a profession must understand such issues, or their agendas will lead down the path of diminshing returns.

More on this topic after I’ve had time to explore further. Feedback is welcome.



Filed under gender, LIS education, The Profession

CMAJ “No longer free for all”

I’ve been thinking about the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ)‘s decision to convert from being 100% free to read online to only partially so, come January.

Access Change

The Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) has been entirely free to read, online, since it first went digital in the mid-1990’s.

This is about to change.

Letters from the publisher and editor inform us that, beginning in January,

“Editorials, news, clinical images, abstracts and previously published articles will also remain accessible to all readers. Access to reviews, analysis, practice, commentaries, humanities and supplements will be restricted [to CMA members and journal subscribers]…although these items will become free of charge 12 months after publication.”

Funder OA Requirement Implications

Research – of key concern to any researcher holding funding from CIHR or the many other research funders who require OA to publications before a year’s embargo is up – will remain free to access. However, authors should be advised that publishing in the “Reviews” or “Analysis” sections will not meet the CIHR OA requirement – and there is no pay-for-OA option to remediate that.

Bucking the Trend?

The reason given for the CMAJ’s access change is that:

We must now adapt our business model to respond to current economic conditions and can no longer provide free access to all of our content.

I think this is interesting, given all the journals that have recently been deciding they cannot afford NOT at least offer an OA option. Is there some sort of OA “sweet spot” that is most profitable in 2009/2010? Or is CMAJ just panicking and hoping to get a bit more cash in a recession here?

I’m also curious as to why CMAJ decided to restrict access to readers, rather than charging publication fees to authors. Author-side fees seem to be the current dominant method for publishers attempting to move from subscription to free-to-read models in biomedicine. (Will this be a later phase for CMAJ, post re-institution of subscriptions, effectively making an early adopter of OA end up as also a late adopter of OA?) My guess is that CMAJ authors are generally better funded than the readers. If anyone reading this has insight in to why CMAJ decided to charge readers rather than authors, I’d love to hear it!

Institutions or individuals requiring immediate access to the entire online journal will need to purchase subscriptions unless they are CMA members. (Haven’t heard much buzz on the library wire yet as far as how this $690/yr is going to affect already-shrinking serials budgets in libraries…maybe there’s nothing to say?)

The journal is also planning to publish more frequently online, and less frequently in print, to speed up publication timetables and save on postage. Wish they could scrap the print all together, but I’m not intimately familiar with the reading habits of practicing Canadian MDs, so maybe there is a reason they haven’t done the obvious yet?

CMAJ will continue to participate in the HINARI and AGORA initiatives to bring free or low-cost access to low-income international readership. They’re also giving “media” free access, and while I am really glad CMAJ’s not planning to limit journalists to lousy “press-release journalism,” I’d be interested to know who qualifies as “accredited” media in 2010.

Effect on Journal Impact?

CMAJ is one of the only Canadian biomedical/health journals to be a serious competitor in the Impact Factor rankings (ISI Journal Citation Reports). Since 1997, it’s IF has grown from 1.6 to 7.5, placing CMAJ within the top 10 general medical journals. This stellar climb in a non-U.S.American journal has frequently (but controversially) been associated with it’s wide availability – particularly since other OA journals – such as PLoS Medicine – have made similar sharp climbs. While research articles (upon which the IF formula is based) will remain free to read, it will be interesting to see whether the journal maintains its high IF ranking or slips in the years following this change. My guess is that it would take a long time to slip, if at all, because it is now fairly widely known internationally, compared with a decade ago.

Open vs Free

A couple years ago, back in July 2007, the editors of CMAJ published a commentary congratulating the editors of Open Medicine (OM) on establishing a new journal. While this congratulatory note was interesting in light of the historic editorial schism at CMAJ that gave birth to OM, the letter itself looked nice and innocuous enough. In said letter, CMAJ wrote:

Like CMAJ, Open Medicine is an open-access journal, available free to all who wish to read it and free for all who wish to contribute to it. As open access remains disappointingly rare among general medical journals (Table 1), this is both commendable and of great significance. The birth of Open Medicine thus provides us with a valuable opportunity to remind our readers why open access to the medical literature is important and necessary.

OM’s editors responded a few days later with their own letter, which struck some as less than gracious. In it, they wrote:

Although the endorsement by CMAJ’s editors of open access medical publishing is welcome, we would like to take this opportunity to clarify several points raised in their commentary.1 First, there is an important distinction between open versus free-access publication. Open Medicine has not only adopted the principle of free access, that is, making content fully available online, but endorses the definition of open access publication drafted by the Bethesda Meeting on Open Access Publishing.2 This definition stipulates that the copyright holder grants to all users a free, irrevocable, worldwide, perpetual right of access to, and a license to copy, use, distribute, transmit and display the work publicly and to make and distribute works derived from the original work, in any digital medium for any responsible purpose, subject to proper attribution of authorship. Given that CMAJ holds copyright and charges reprint and permission fees, it is not in fact an open access journal.

It’s significant to note that these letters were written before the Suber-Harnad agreement on the terms gratis OA and libre OA to indicate free-to-read/access vs free-to-read/access/reuse/redistribute. There was more talk about what was and wasn’t “real” OA just a couple years ago. Even taking into consideration the context of the day, though, the OM response could be read as a bit snitty.

However, in light of this recent “Access change” by CMAJ, the OM letter suddenly seems more relevant, almost prescient. Another difference between gratis, free-as-in-no-money OA and libre, free-as-in-freedom OA emerges when journals highlight their ability to take their toys and go home. CMAJ is not saying they’re moving anything that is currently freely available back behind subscription barriers, and they are currently planning to make everything free to read 12 months after publiciation, BUT…we are reminded that CMAJ’s articles are CMAJ’s articles. Whereas Open Medicine’s articles are ours.


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Filed under copyright, digitization, funding, Health, OA, publishing

Online drug advertising & the regulatory challenge

Between the (minor!) bike accident , the kid’s birthday, and being out of town for a bit, blog posting has gone a bit by the wayside the past few weeks. However, something that’s been much on my mind lately, and which I’d like to discuss here, is drug advertising online.

I’ve written various posts before about DTCA – direct to consumer advertising of prescription drugs – which is legal in limited form in Canada, and in much greater form in the US. I think prescription drug promotion of all sorts is a big social justice issue, and that DTCA is a significant and oft-overlooked consumer health info issue that librarians should have on our radar. When we talk about the Pew research on online health info seeking, social media, and “e-patients,” we cannot forget that profit-motivated companies are as interested in our patients’ online information behaviour as we are, just for very different reasons.

The Canadian “freedom of expression” lawsuit on this matter has been indefinitely adjourned, but I’ve come to wonder if perhaps debating the merits and perils of television and magazine ads may be rather passé in light of the Internet’s growing centrality as an advertising medium. Maybe CanWest was not just throwing in the towel on a lawsuit that was destined for failure (b/c the FOE argument was pretty weak), but also strategically abandoning old media. Nah, actually, I think CanWest is still pretty wedded to old media, but the rest of us aren’t. And we are the target audience for DTCA.

Now, I know some people (lots of them) still watch TV on TV, even with all this digital conversion business. But will they in a decade? Not so sure. Hulu has been such a huge success in the US, spawning constant rushes of hordes of international viewers to one proxy setup after another in order to see the latest episode of their favourite shows. It’s only a matter of time before online TV is de rigueur in any region with decent bandwidth & reliable connectivity.

The unofficial rules for online drug advertising have, to this point, basically been an extension of the TV advertising regulations. It’s debatable whether this is appropriate or not. I’ll take on whether the Internet is more like TV or more like the telephone in a separate post (soon! I promise!), but I think we can all agree that it’s not *exactly* like TV.

Many online ads, for example, require some active selection on the part of the reader/viewer, and are not necessarily as time limited as TV ads (and thus able to provide fuller information). Typical online drug ads today appear as advertisements in the margins of a website, and attempt to entice the reader into clicking them to go to a website with fuller information on whatever the condition/drug may be.

In a somewhat impressive attempt to be proactive (?), the FDA (US drug regulator) held a couple days of public hearings last month on the topic of online drug advertising. The 5-page list of speakers (pdf) was heave on pharma and health tech investors, followed by representatives of online services both general and health-specific, ranging from Google to WebMD. So that pretty much covers the people who want to advertise, and those who want the money from said advertising. Of note, there were reps of specific social marketing units within pharmaceutical companies on the docket, so Pharma is well aware of the stakes here (e.g. Sanofi-Aventis has a rep, and then the Sanofi-Aventis social media working group had a rep as well). Unfortunately, I could pick out only a very few advocacy/public interest groups, such as the Consumers Union.

To backtrack a bit, this hearing didn’t come out of nowhere, although it was not terribly well publicized.Back in April, the FDA issued warnings to some 14 pharmaceutical companies over their “misleading” online advertising. At issue was failure to fully disclose risks, and these letters focused on search engine ads (aka “sponsored links” in some search engine displays).

November’s hearings, however, were broader in scope, touching on not just search engine advertising, but also ads on websites, and – perhaps most significantly – in social media. This is excellent news, as we know that social sites are an ideal location for what I called “embedded DTCA with a social environment created to reach vulnerable and isolated populations” in my post about the “patient support” site RareShare a year ago.

So what? Where is this going? What does the Internet mean for drug advertising and patient protection?
Well, there some very interesting threads to watch as this policy story unfolds:

  1. The Internet doesn’t do super well with national borders. If laws on DTCA are different in different countries, do they have to appear differently based on site host location? IP address of the end user? How? DTCA on television has taken advantage of lack of political will to enforce existing laws to broadcast US drug ads across the Canadian border. Will the Internet do any better? (Personally, I am doubtful.)
  2. The Internet, however, does allow for end-user participation on a scale unprecedented by other media. Some people have voiced optimism regarding the potential for commenting and annotation to temper, force transparency upon, and generally “culture jam” drug advertising. Google’s SideWiki has received a lot of attention in this regard, but it remains fairly unwieldy to use and market saturation is quite low.
  3. The whole net neutrality debate applies here, and the way this debate influences our view of the Internet will influence the way we feel about things like online advertising. Is the Internet a media for entertainment or communications? Is it a utility, which should be neutral and allow for participation from all, or is it a medium for consumption? We would feel quite different about picking up the phone and hearing an ad than we do about a commercial break from a TV show.
  4. Social media can really blur the line between non-profit advocacy and for-profit promotion in a nasty way. It’s one thing to regulate what can or must be said inside a little “ad” box in the margin of a website. It’s quite another to regulate embedded personalities within a social media site, who are planted there to promote certain products. I will be quite surprised if these hearings/this process even touches on this issue, but variations on hidden advertisements are a phenomenon that’s well-known in the blogging world, maybe less recognized in some other social media fora (Facebook, where everyone is supposedly using their “real name”?)


p.s. During composition of this post I cheked the CBC news online, and lo and behold there was an example of DTCA right on the site. So I snapped a screenshot, of course, to stick up here. This is an example of a currently-legal “disease awareness” ad for erectile dysfunction, from the Health News page of the

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Filed under government, Health, Internet, net neutrality, privatization