February 7, 2013
Academic Librarian Sued For Dissing Publisher In A Blog Post
A post in the Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog describes an incredible legal attack on a librarian at McMaster University in Canada. Edwin Mellen Press sued the University and the librarian over the content of a blog post that is described thusly by Leslie Green of Oxford (via Leiter’s post):
A professional librarian at McMaster University’s library complained, in a 2010 blog-post, that Mellen was a poor publisher with a weak list of low-quality books, scarcely edited, cheaply produced, but at exorbitant prices. Librarians are expert at making such judgments; that’s what universities pay them to do. And the post made a key point about the public interest: ‘in a time when libraries cannot purchase so much of the first-class scholarship, there is simply no reason to support such ventures.’
Mellen is demanding $3 million in damages for the alleged libel in the Ontario Superior Court. I recommend reading Green’s comments via the link to Brian Leiter’s blog. I can’t imagine a suit such as this making much progress in a U.S. court. Otherwise every bad book review ever written would be the subject of litigation.
Before I had been alerted to this, I had no knowledge of the Edwin Mellen Press. A search is WorldCat shows that Mellen publications populate libraries with an aggregate listing of 12,679 book titles. This figure came from searching Edwin Mellen Press in the publisher field. Of course, placement in libraries, even in the amount noted does not imply quality one way or the other.
I happened across one of the forums in the Chronicle of Higher Education that is devoted to Mellen. I would think that the publisher might find the 20 some pages that span some three years of posts to be at least as objectionable compared to the opinion of a university librarian. Mellen has its defenders including posters who claimed to be representatives of the company. The positives were that it was an outlet for academic publishing when other presses rejected manuscripts. As such its catalog contains any number of narrow topics that might not get published elsewhere. I suppose there is value in that.
The negative comments, however, were very negative. The various posts appeared to suggest that Mellen was the imprint of last resort for an academic that could not find an outlet elsewhere for a manuscript. Further comments suggested there was a quality problem, though this was engaged by the Mellen supporters to the contrary. I don’t know who is right, but if I took the 20 pages of comments to heart I would think that Mellen indeed has an image problem that is consistent with the opinion of McMaster University librarian. Perhaps the Chronicle has better lawyers to account for the lack of legal engagement on its end.
I want to make it clear that my lack of knowledge of Mellen does not give me the ability to agree or disagree with any statements made by anyone commenting on Mellen. I have to say, however, suing a librarian is not going to silence any of the other critics of Mellen. I don’t know the details of Canadian libel law but I do think bringing attention to this matter will likely backfire on Mellen no matter how it comes out. Read more at the Academic Librarian Blog from Princeton.
Update: The Chronicle of Higher Education has a lengthy article with more of the back story on the suit. Read it here. [MG]
Once upon a time, I feel into the trap that legal publishers actually cared about a Librarian's opinion. First it was lexis (they subsequently complained to my boss and tried to get me fired). The second time it was CEB (and they threw a tantrum and again, tried to get me fired). How dare any Librarian stand up and declare that resources are either substandard or not worthly of their patrons' time. Thing is, if publishers can't handle criticism of their products (or how they do buisness), then they probably shouldn't be in business in the first place.
Posted by: Noel | Feb 8, 2013 8:58:36 AM