Open Access at Harvard – Seriously

Sorry to tread on Steven’s heels with another post so quickly – but this is a story worth reading.

Publish or perish has long been the burden of every aspiring university professor. But the question the Harvard faculty will decide on Tuesday is whether to publish — on the Web, at least — free.

Faculty members are scheduled to vote on a measure that would permit Harvard to distribute their scholarship online, instead of signing exclusive agreements with scholarly journals that often have tiny readerships and high subscription costs.

Although the outcome of Tuesday’s vote would apply only to Harvard’s arts and sciences faculty, the impact, given the university’s prestige, could be significant for the open-access movement, which seeks to make scientific and scholarly research available to as many people as possible at no cost.

“In place of a closed, privileged and costly system, it will help open up the world of learning to everyone who wants to learn,” said Robert Darnton, director of the university library. “It will be a first step toward freeing scholarship from the stranglehold of commercial publishers by making it freely available on our own university repository.”

If adopted, the system will be opt out, not opt in – and as experience from both the NIH and library repositories goes, opt in hasn’t created a groundswell among researchers. This is a bold move.

UPDATE: The Faculty of Arts and Sciences has approved the plan. Wow.

About Barbara Fister

I'm an academic librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Like all librarians at our small, liberal arts institution I am involved in reference, collection development, and shared management of the library. My area of specialization is instruction, with research interests also in media literacy, popular literacy, publishing, and assessment.

4 thoughts on “Open Access at Harvard – Seriously

  1. This is the kind of small story that can have tremendous consequences, as more students could have more ready access to the research and ideas that shape their own. The more open our professors/colleagues are with their research, the more open and broadly-based the people engaging with them.
    As an independent and active proponent of openly accessible and peer-reviewed journals, I am eager to applaud the decision-makers at Harvard for a choice well made!

    A plug: My project, SearchPigeon.org, is designed for primarily English-speaking students in the humanities, enabling them to search hundreds of open access journals across the humanities. Please visit and offer critiques!

  2. I’m working on a research project right now and I found an entire journal issue devoted to my topic, except it’s only available at big research university. No problem, I have sneaky back door access. Except there’s a 1 year embargo and they don’t have the print! ARRRGGGGHHH!

  3. And you can’t get a special issue of a journal through interlibrary loan. This is really too bad because a special issue devoted to a topic can be really useful, but publishing an edited collection of essays these days is quite difficult. They’re a tough sell, and the timeline for developing an edited book is so long it can only address topics that aren’t …. topical.

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