Back to Open Access

Or, why doesn’t Oxford University Press play nice with Oxford’s Bodleian Library?

I want to expand a bit on open access today, after taking in presentations from several representatives of Oxford University and Oxford University Press. So far we’ve been defining open access as who can read a published e-document. But Oxford University Press has taken it a bit farther, making sure that OUP databases are not only free, but available in every public library in the UK, at considerable cost to themselves.

So it’s fairly disappointing to realize that across the street, the Bodleian Library is hanging onto to an amazing ephemera collection it has yet to digitize. I know the Proquest/John Johnson project is coming along, but it was pretty sad to learn that the Dickens exhibit we came to see had little more than an online announcement to accompany it. I almost feel as though a library as privileged as the Bodleian should have an obligation to digitize their collection for open access.

Well the next day, Rhodri Jackson offered a few counterpoints to my righteous indignation. Even with the growing push for open access, there are still some valid drawbacks and misconceptions worth pointing out.

In England, the new Finch report is calling for all tax-payer funded research to be made publicly available to tax-payers by 2014. But Jackson claims there’s a tax-payer fallacy at work. We pay twice for services all the time. In New York, our taxes fund the subway, but we still need to purchase our MTA cards to ride them. (Now I think the MTA fares are incredibly over-priced, and a regressive tax on the poor and working classes, but that’s another story.)

Right or wrong, there’s still a cost associated with making content available and somebody’s got to pay for it. In the green model, for example, academics must deposit their articles in a repository. Who maintains that repository and makes sure it’s open to the public? Libraries with their tax-payer funded, ever-shrinking budgets?

The SOAP report also offered two reason not to publish in open access, both of which should matter to academics– funding and journal equality. With the gold model, we run the risk of preventing academics who aren’t at well-funded institutions from publishing their work. And with the pay-to-publish model, it would be all to easy for rich researchers to publish vanity articles.

Now these drawbacks to open access publishing of academic articles don’t directly relate to the difficulties that academic institutions seem to have when it comes to digitizing their primary source materials. But they are related in one way. Both cost money, and it’s not clear who should be footing the bill– authors, publishers, readers, or some combination of the three.

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