by Sarah Kosofsky

In recent publishing news, the publisher Edwin Mellen Press has brought a libel lawsuit against librarian Dale Askey of McMaster University for a blog post he wrote in 2010 that dismissed the publisher for what he saw as the poor quality of their materials and their aggressive defense of the resources they provide.

There is a lot of support for both Dale Askey and his employer, McMaster University, in the librarian community, and rightly so.  Librarians, as customers of publishers, are entitled to their own opinions of what is being marketing and sold to them.  It is in their rights as academics to determine and discuss if materials are suitable for their students.

Rather than go ahead with the lawsuit, Edwin Mellen Press might be better off spending the time and money wasted on litigation on improving either their reputation or the materials they produce, based on librarian criticism.  Legal battles only thrust plaintiffs and defendants into the spotlight, which has the potential to bring unwanted negative attention to both parties.  In this case, it could severely damage Edwin Mellen Press’ image in the minds of thousands of academic librarians.

On February 14th, the Association of Research Libraries and the Canadian Association of Research Libraries issued a joint statement in support of Dale Askey, McMaster University, and academic freedom.

“… we are highly supportive of Dale Askey and of McMaster University as they confront the lawsuit brought against them by Edwin Mellen Press. We strongly disapprove of the aggressive use of the Canadian court system to threaten Mr. Askey with millions of dollars in liability over the contents of a blog post. We urge Edwin Mellen Press to withdraw this suit and use more constructive means to address its reputation.

“No academic librarian, research library, or university should face a multi-million dollar lawsuit because of a candid discussion of the publications or practices of an academic publisher,” said Brent Roe, Executive Director of CARL. “The exaggerated action of Edwin Mellen Press could only impose a chill on academic and research librarians’ expression of frank professional judgments.”

Librarians and scholarly publishers depend on each other and ideally both have the interest of students and researchers at heart when they do business.  It does no good for academia when one party tries to destroy the other in court over an opinion one has a right to voice.