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  • The Small Market Professional Journal: How Idiosyncrasy Informs the Future and Why It Matters
  • Charles B. Lowry (bio)

On February 12, 2008, the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted on a resolution presented by the Provost’s Committee on Scholarly Publishing, which may have far-reaching impact on scholarly communication if it is rigorously applied. Then again, it may prove to be yesterday’s news. The key clause states, “Each Faculty member grants to the President and Fellows of Harvard College permission to make available his or her scholarly articles and to exercise the copyright in those articles. In legal terms, the permission granted by each Faculty member is a nonexclusive, irrevocable, paid-up, worldwide license to exercise any and all rights under copyright,” with the key means of executing the policy to be posting on a repository managed by the Harvard Libraries.1 Then comes the caveat, “The Dean or the Dean’s designate will waive application of the policy for a particular article upon written request by a Faculty member explaining the need.”2 This provides a potentially large loophole that might well reduce compliance to near zero, as did the “voluntary” aspect of the first NIH posting policy.

Provost Steven E. Hyman observed of the positive vote on the resolution, “Today’s action in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences will promote free and open access to significant, ongoing research. It is a first step in the creation of an open-access environment for current research that may one day provide the widest possible dissemination of Harvard’s distinguished faculties’ work.”3 Robert Darnton, director of the Harvard University Library, put it more bluntly, “It will be the first step toward freeing scholarship from the stranglehold of commercial publishers by making it freely available on our own university repository.”4 Somewhat surprisingly, the reaction from Allan Adler, vice president for legal and governmental affairs at the Association of American Publishers was muted. He said that “mandates are what publishers object to, as when Congress required that any work financed by the National Institutes for Health be funneled through PubMed Central, an open-access repository maintained by the National Library of Medicine.”5 This oblique approval of the Harvard action is based on the fact [End Page 223] that faculty may opt-out, and that may say legions about whether the long-term impact is really as revolutionary as assumed. I should add that the NIH policy for PubMed Central posting is not open access but rather public access, allowing, as it does, a 12-month embargo, which is applied only to research funded by NIH. The Harvard action is presumably far broader.

Those of us who are engaged in the scholarly information enterprise—research faculty, librarians, commercial and not-for-profit publishers, funding agencies, and consumers—are, to use the old Chinese curse, “living in interesting times.” Everyone in the academy and publishing world is all too well aware of the powerful forces arrayed around copyright and use issues. I would observe that there is really only one problem as the camps face off—academic libraries cannot afford to purchase the information that they need to deliver in order to satisfy the appetite of our teaching and research mission. If we could, then there would be a lot less tension in the current dialog. The University of Maryland Libraries are a good example of the fiscal challenges to which I refer. Between 1991 and 2005, the university has, through the budgeting process, incrementally reduced the libraries’ share of the total educational and general (E&G) expenditures. No doubt, this has occurred without conscious attention to the fact, but it has happened nonetheless. Although the libraries’ expenditures declined from 4.7 percent to 3.1 percent of the total university expenditures, the acquisition budget expenditures held up somewhat better, declining proportionally less from 1.38 percent to 1.35 percent. In simplest terms, this means that the total budget needs of the libraries suffered more than acquisitions, and this is principally reflected in lower staff numbers that limit the capability of the libraries to innovate. On the other hand, the rate of inflation for library materials (meaning...


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