Open ACM membership cancellation letter

Earlier this year I cancelled my ACM membership. Here’s why:

Dear Vicki Hanson, dear ACM renewal,

A few months ago, my ACM membership expired. I am a senior member of ACM and I’ve been a member since the early 2000s. For several years now, I am having doubts about renewing my membership, because the ACM keeps its publications closed access in its Digital Library (or “clopen” according to Moshe Vardi’s infamous 2009 CACM article). For the past 25 years, I see SIGIR stagnating (even though web search became *the* killer application on the web!), while related fields like Machine Learning (ML) and Natural Language Processing (NLP) thrive – communities that embraced open access early and fully. When I started my career, the ML and NLP communities were similar in size or smaller than the (SIG-)IR community, but now their communities are much bigger, more diverse (including many researchers from low-income countries that cannot afford subscriptions), and their papers cited and downloaded more. Of course, I cannot make a scientific claim about the different developments of ML and NLP vs. (SIG-)IR, but the positive effect of open access on citations and downloads is well-researched and well-documented in many fields, including computer science.

Dear Vicki, your email below did not have the intended effect of pursuing me to renew. On the contrary, I felt that the “commitment to open the DL and make ACM’s publications freely available to all” you mentioned was misleading given ACM’s history and given the fact that ACM publicly denounced open access by signing the letter of the AAP last year.

I would like to change my membership to a SIGIR-only membership, because I really value the SIGIR officers’ commitment to the field. They are doing their work as volunteers, even taking vacation time from their jobs to work on making SIGIR and the SIGIR conferences a success. For years, the officers too, have been misled by the ACM, for instance by the openTOC (open table of contents) policy that puts the burden of open access publishing on the conference organizers and volunteers that change every year. This year, confused by ACM’s misleading statements, the SIGIR executive committee claimed at the SIGIR business meeting that “all ACM SIGIR publications are permanent open access on the DL”. Needless to say, this is not the case, and will not be the case for another 5 years, if I read your email right.

I followed the ACM discussions on open access quite closely. I believe ACM Open, ACM’s transition to an “author-subscription” fee, is problematic in at least two ways. First, it’s risky, because a small number of institutions, the tier 1 institutions, can blow up the deal. Institutions like UC Berkely and MIT know that they’re doing most of the work, and this business model gives them a very strong bargaining position. Second, and more importantly, the $700 to $1,700 article-processing fees for authors of non-participating institutions will hurt the researchers of institutions in low-income countries and the global south. This model (like the current closed model) is effectively excluding researchers from Africa, Middle and South America, South Asia, Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, etc. I know that ACM is not getting many subscriptions fees from institutions in these countries now. Therefore, ACM is not having many members from those countries. That’s one of the problems we need to fix.

ACM needs a volunteer-led, diamond open access digital library, where the author does not pay, the reader does not pay, and the entire mechanism is self-funded, running on the volunteer work by authors, reviewers, editors, technicians, admins, and on micro-donations by friend organizations such as universities and research centers. Such a DL fully aligns with ACM’s member-driven and volunteer-led activities. Sure, this means that ACM will have less income, but our colleagues at related professional societies and journals, such as the ACL Anthology and the Journal of Machine Learning Research, show that this is a viable business model for scientific publishing that in the end benefits the community, and the society’s members, the most. I will re-apply as a full ACM member once that happens.

Yours sincerely,
Djoerd Hiemstra
Radboud University

Report on the ECIR 2021 Discussion Panel on Open Access

On 31 March 2021, the Wednesday morning of ECIR 2021, the conference participants joined with seven panellists in a discussion on Open Access and Information Retrieval (IR), or more accurately, on the lack of open access publishing in IR. Discussion topics included the experience of researchers with open access in Africa; business models for open access, in particular how to run a sustainable open access conference like ECIR; open access plans at Springer, the BCS and the ACM; and finally, experience with open access publishing in related fields, notably in Computational Linguistics.

Appeared in BCS-IRSG Informer Spring 2021. [download pdf]

(Also published by SIGIR Forum June 2021 [download pdf])

Open Access and Information Retrieval

Discussion Panel at ECIR 2021

Most publications in Information Retrieval are available via subscriptions. These include the ECIR proceedings published by Springer on behalf of the BCS, and the SIGIR proceedings published by the ACM. There is a trend to gradually change this situation to open access publishing. At Springer this is done by giving authors the choice to pay for open access, and by international agreements like Springer’s Compact. At ACM, this is also done by giving authors the choice to pay, and by agreements between ACM and individual institutions.

The panel discusses the effects of this situation on inclusiveness of the field, in particular on how we can support researchers from low income countries. We discuss the experience of researchers with open access in Africa; We discuss business models for open access, in particular how to run a sustainable open access conference like ECIR; We discuss open access plans at Springer, the BCS and the ACM; Finally, we discuss experience with open access publishing in related fields, in particular in Computational Linguistics. The discussion panel consists of:

  • Hassina Aliane | CERIST, Algeria
  • Ralf Gerstner | Springer Heidelberg, Germany
  • Min-Yen Kan | National University of Singapore
  • Haiming Liu | University of Bedfordshire, United Kingdom
  • Joao Magalhaes | Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal
  • Hussein Suleman | University of Cape Town, South Africa
  • Min Zhang | Tsinghua University, China

The panel takes place online on Wednesday 31 March at 9:00 UTC+2. More information at:

An Open Access Strategy for iCIS

The Dutch government has set the target that by 2020, 100% of scientific publications financed with public money must be open access. As iCIS, we are not even half way. In the Radboud Repository less than 50% of the publications by Data Science, Software Science, and Digital Security are listed as open access. The slides below make a case for a new Open Access Strategy at iCIS that involves:

  1. Putting all iCIS publications on-line after a reasonable time (as permitted by Dutch copyright law), preferably in the Radboud Repository;
  2. Encouraging so-called diamond open access publishing (where open access publications are paid by donations and volunteer work from authors, editors, peer reviewers, and web masters);
  3. Discouraging closed access as well as so-called gold open access publishing (where authors pay expensive article processing charges);
  4. Complementing the iCIS Research Data Management policy and protocol.

Presented at the iCIS strategy day on 20 October 2020.

[download slides]

Update: iCIS may participate in the You Share, We Care project.

Transitioning the Information Retrieval Literature to a Fully Open Access Model

by Djoerd Hiemstra, Marie-Francine Moens, Raffaele Perego, and Fabrizio Sebastiani

Almost all of the important literature on Information Retrieval (IR) is published in subscription-based journals and digital libraries. We argue that the lack of open access publishing in IR is seriously hampering progress and inclusiveness of the field. We propose that the IR community starts working on a road map for transitioning the IR literature to a fully, “diamond”, open access model.

Published in SIGIR Forum 54(1).

[download preprint]