The movement toward providing open access to scholarly research seems to be continuing. I’ve noted before the decisions by a number of different organization, including Princeton University, the Royal Society, the JStor research archive, and, most recently, the World Bank, to provide open access to some or all of their research publications. According to an article at Ars Technica, a faculty advisory council to the Harvard University Library has just issued a memorandum urging all faculty members to move to open access publication as much as possible, because of what it terms “untenable” and “unsustainable” trends in the pricing of traditional academic journals.
… the Faculty Advisory Council is fed up with rising costs, forced bundling of low- and high-profile journals, and subscriptions that run into the tens of thousands of dollars. So, it’s suggesting that the rest of the Harvard faculty focus on open access publishing.
The library’s current budget for journal subscriptions runs to about $3.75 million. Admittedly, this is not a large sum compared to the size of Harvard’s endowment, roughly $32 billion; but it is clear from the language of the memorandum that the members of the council have had enough of continually increasing prices that, in their view, have little economic justification. Some of their complaints, such as the “bundling” of journal subscriptions, will sound familiar to readers familiar with the boycott of Reed Elsevier journals, organized via the Web site, thecostofknowledge.com. (Incidentally, when I first wrote about the boycott back in January, there were 1,335 researchers who had signed up to participate; the current total is 10,200.) They feel that the increasing consumption of library resources for these expensive journals will compromise other parts of their mission.
The Faculty Advisory Council to the Library, representing university faculty in all schools and in consultation with the Harvard Library leadership, reached this conclusion: major periodical subscriptions, especially to electronic journals published by historically key providers, cannot be sustained: continuing these subscriptions on their current footing is financially untenable.
They urge faculty members to submit research to open access journals, or at least those with reasonable access policies; to try to raise the prestige of open access publication; and to consider resigning from the editorial boards of journals with unreasonable subscription policies.
The recommendations are not binding on the faculty, but I hope that they will realize, along with academics elsewhere, that they do have the power to effect considerable change. After all, they supply the “raw material”, in the form of their papers, that the journals need to exist, and they also supply most of the editorial work, usually for no compensation. For too long, some of these journal publishers have not only bitten the hand that feeds them, but charged the rest of the body for the privilege.