Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

More background on the Harvard OA mandate

Newsmaker Interview: Harvard University Librarian Robert Darnton, Library Journal Academic Newswire, February 26, 2008.  Darnton is a Professor of History and the University Librarian at Harvard.  Excerpt:

...To start, can you talk a little about your role in drafting and advocating for this open access (OA) motion?

Formally, the motion was sponsored by Stuart Shieber as a member Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Of course, I'm a member of the faculty as well and could have been a co-sponsor. Stuart had been working on this even before I arrived at Harvard and the Provost had appointed a committee to examine these issues. When I arrived, I threw myself into this as one of my own, personal, top priorities. It's been a team approach. Stuart is a terrific expert in computer science, and I represent the more general university view, one that that applies to all of the schools, including the business and law schools.

This motion applies to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, but you mentioned Harvard's other schools-are there plans to expand this mandate to the professional schools?

My position is to spread the FAS motion spread throughout the whole university. That is going to be one of my top priorities in the weeks and months ahead. I will be discussing this with the law school, medical school and business schools.

Is the library prepared to handle what has to be the enormous job of capturing, maintaining, and distributing the output of Harvard's faculty?

Yes, we've already started. The technical or financial challenges here are not insuperable. That's more of a management issue than the more global questions of scholarly communication. We're hiring a programmer, a manager. We have a budget. We're starting an office of scholarly communication within the library and we're appointing an intra-faculty oversight committee. Stuart Shieber will be the director of this for the near future. There has been a lot of consultation with the university counsel. We're recruiting some law school students to man the phones as we expect a deluge of questions from faculty members about exactly what to do and how to do it.

There have been some who, although praising the mandate, have questioned how the opt-out provision will affect compliance. Was the opt-out necessary?

As someone who was part of the drafting of the motion, I was in favor of the opt-out. This motion is genuinely collective, and the faculty is committed to it, that is, everyone is enjoined to submit to it. I think it would be a mistake, however, to make it an absolute requirement because I don't think Harvard University should dictate to faculty members what they do with their intellectual production. I know there is an argument on the other side, and I don't dismiss that as silly. But I myself do not go for that argument. If we tried to be too bullying, it could create a counter-reaction....

Update.  Also see Part II of this interview (February 28, 2008) or my blogged excerpt.