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25 April 2012, 17:06

Harvard University to become a beacon for open access

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Harvard University

In a memorandum, the Harvard University Faculty Advisory Council has warned that the university's library can no longer afford the subscription rates for scientific journals from major publishing houses. As a consequence, the university is encouraging its scientists to move towards the free publication of the university's prestigious research results in line with the "open access" model.

In consultation with the Harvard Library leadership, the Faculty Advisory Council has decided that subscriptions, particularly those to electronic journals of former key providers, can no longer be sustained. Without mentioning any names, the council writes that existing contracts with at least two major publishers have become untenable.

Among a range of options of action, it is encouraging scientists, faculty staff and students to consider publishing their scientific contributions in Harvard's own DASH online archive. Externally, articles should only be published in "open access" journals or in journals that offer "reasonable, sustainable subscription costs", advised the council. The council added that those who are on the editorial board of a journal should determine if articles can be published as open access material or independently of publishers who practice high pricing; if not, the council asks them to consider resigning from that board.

"Many large journal publishers have made the scholarly communication environment fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive", said the Faculty Advisory Council. According to the council, this situation is exacerbated by certain publishers only offering journals as part of a subscription bundle, thereby increasing their price. The Faculty Advisory Council said that Harvard spends almost $3.75 million on journal subscriptions each year. Reportedly, some journals cost as much as $40,000 per year. Prices for the online contents of two publishers have risen by 145 per cent in the past six years, the council pointed out.

The director of Harvard Library, Robert Darnton, told The Guardian newspaper that he hopes that "other universities will take similar action". Darnton said that all universities face the same paradox that their faculties do the research, write the papers, referee papers by other researchers and serve on editorial boards. Then, he added, they have to buy back the results of their own labour at "outrageous prices".

Dutch publisher Elsevier, the target of a boycott campaign that has already attracted several thousand signatures, has issued a statement saying that it has a good relationship with Harvard. Among the largest scientific publishing houses are Springer and Wiley. They justify their prices by pointing out the value that is added through their editing, printing and layout work as well as their marketing efforts.

(Stefan Krempl / ehe)

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