Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Thursday, February 21, 2008

More on the Harvard policy

Lila Guterman, Celebrations and Tough Questions Follow Harvard's Move to Open Access, Chronicle of Higher Education, February 21, 2008 (accessible only to subscribers).  Excerpt:

...Other universities (as well as other schools within Harvard), said [Peter Suber], will want to adopt similar policies in order "either to keep up with Harvard or get the synergistic benefit, because the more [institutions] do it, the more publishers will have to accommodate [it]." ...

"It changes the default position in the negotiation" between authors and publishers, says Michael W. Carroll, a professor at the Villanova University School of Law, who is an open-access advocate. "It does mean that the authors are choosing to stand closer together instead of having to deal with the publishers one on one."

The University of California has been working for several years on a policy that resembles Harvard's. Comments on its draft last year reflected "almost universal support for the concept," says Gary S. Lawrence, director of systemwide library planning, "but a great deal of concern about the implementation details." Harvard's success in creating an arrangement that faculty members agreed on, he says, "provides us a lot of encouragement."

Harvard's new policy makes no mention of any delay between the time of publication in a journal and the paper's being made free online, a provision that some publishers require, and which the NIH allows in its policy. Faculty members who choose to publish in journals with that requirement can apply to waive or modify Harvard's license to post their papers online, says [Stuart M. Shieber, a professor of computer science who proposed the open-access policy to the faculty]....

[C]omplaints about the policy were muted. (Some have appeared on The Chronicle's Brainstorm blog.) Patricia S. Schroeder, president of the Association of American Publishers, has in the past criticized the push toward open access, arguing that it overlooks the potentially detrimental effects on scholarly societies' publications. This time she praised Harvard's decision to allow faculty members to opt out but wondered if hidden pressure would keep them from doing so. Have scholarly publishers sounded alarms? "No one's called here in hysterics," she says....

Sanford G. Thatcher, director of Penn State University Press and president of the Association of American University Presses, calls Harvard's policy "shortsighted" because it might result in the loss of subscription and reprint income to humanities and social-science journals. His own press receives two-thirds of its journal income through royalties from Project Muse, an online collection of journals. "If that were to collapse," he says, "so too would our journals disappear from the face of the earth."

Mr. Carroll finds that prospect unlikely. "I fear that people are unwilling to do anything innovative like Harvard's done," he says, "because of these highly speculative fears."

Besides, Harvard has an interest in maintaining the livelihood of scholarly journals, he argues. If its repository begins to hurt them, the university could take steps to reduce the impact on publishers, such as allowing a delay before posting articles online....

Mr. Thatcher and others also wonder whether Harvard faculty members will actually make the effort to comply with the policy. But open-access supporters observe that faculty members themselves were the ones who voted for it.

"My guess is that if opt-outs and forgetfulness together make compliance fall off from 100 percent to 95 percent, it's not going to bother anybody," says Mr. Suber. "It's not even going to bother me."

Update. Also see Gavin Baker's comments on Sanford Thatcher's quoted remarks.