Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Thursday, February 28, 2008

More on the Harvard OA mandate from the Harvard librarian

Newsmaker Interview, Part II: Harvard University Librarian Robert Darnton, Library Journal Academic Newswire, February 28, 2008.  Part I of this interview appeared two days ago (and blogged here the same day).  Excerpt:

Some publishers, especially small publishers and scientific societies, argue that open access (OA) will harm their journals. Do you buy that argument?

No. I really don't. There are many, many kinds of journals, and I imagine a near future where there will be coexistence between journals and open access repositories. You take a subject like physics, there are a number of extremely wonderful, successful, expensive journals, and not one is opposed to open access repositories. They don't feel threatened that repositories are going to replace them. They aren't, because these journals package information in a convenient and useful way.

Over the last 20 years, more journals have been founded in more and more specialized fields. I think the function of the specialized, small journal is a valid and a valuable one. The vast majority of college professors benefit from these journals bringing together work from all over the world. Often they have a quasi-newsletter component to them, workshops, colloquia, conferences, etc. I think subscribers understand that and will continue to subscribe for that reason. Put another way, an article from a Harvard professor that will appear every three to five years, will not provoke subscribers to quit a journal and get the article free from the repository.

The Harvard OA motion pertains specifically to articles, but has there been any thought about books?

Yes, lots of thoughts. But we're being very careful moving forward. One thing that I think is crucial for us is to figure out a way to collaborate with the Harvard University Press....

[I]f Harvard University Press goes in the direction of electronic publishing, the library would work with it and you can imagine all kinds of things happening. But we want to be very careful. We're not trying to cut anyone out or monopolize anything. We want to provide leadership in developing high quality scholarly communication, but if that is to happen we will need university presses....

Any thoughts on the reception the motion has received outside of Harvard?

I'm delighted. Of course, there are arguments against, and some are indignant at the whole idea. But anything as innovative as this is bound to get some backs up. That doesn't worry me. On the contrary, it is good that this has captured imaginations and caused debate. Maybe someone will come up with an improved model --it's not as if Harvard has the last word on any of this. I hope this will help transform the whole landscape of learning, making it more open, more accessible, and democratizing the process. I hope it snowballs and will improve things after what has been very, very tough era.