Open access: the world is your consortium

Oct 12 2010 Published by under Open Access

I promise I'll get back to datablogging after the end of next week, but right now Open Access Week is eating my brain like a demented zombie, so…

I had an odd thought last night, partly in response to Eric Hellman's idea of an open-access rights-purchasing consortium for ebooks. (I think this is a fantastic idea, by the way, and I hope it's tried!)

Over time, the academic literature has been bought less individually and more collectively. Libraries weren't the initial market for scholarly journals; Henry Oldenburg didn't even know if libraries would buy such things, though he must have hoped so. No, the market was the individual gentleman-scholar who would otherwise be stuck reading third-hand letters that other gentleman-scholars had gotten their grubby hands all over.

Eventually this market expanded, even as the research enterprise did, and the individual scholar had to stop pretending he could—or even wanted to—buy every journal there was. Typically he still bought some, whether via individual subscription or as a perk in a scholarly-society membership, but if he wanted to look at a greater breadth of journals, he went to his nearest academic library, the collective operating on behalf of him and all his institutional colleagues.

Then the serials crisis happened, and even libraries couldn't individually get their hands on any appreciable swathe of the journal literature any more. So collectives expanded. On the demand side, libraries banded together into consortia to multiply their buying power. On the supply side, publishers and aggregators started banding journals together into what we librarians now call the "Big Deal."

So, looked at in this light, the open-access movement is just one more step into collectivity of journal production and acquisition. We're buying everything for everyone, this time.

Makes sense to me…

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One response so far

  • Robin Sinn says:

    I like that point of view, Dorothea.
    To me that makes it obvious that we all have to cooperate to keep the scholarly enterprise going. Libraries, learned institutions, scholarly societies, publishers, faculty, editors, all of us. All these groups have to think of themselves as one group, with one mission. That certainly doesn't describe the current situation.