Monday, August 17, 2009

Compliments of the public good

via Gracchi

There is a worrying trend in which the resources that you can use to do proper scholarship are falling behind subscription curtains - JSTOR, EEBO, the RHS bibliography- are all beyond access for members of the general public to inspect. I don't like this because I think scholarship should be open to access to everyone and I also think that if it isn't there are risks - there are risks to making access to knowledge conditional on holding an institutional subscription (step forward JSTOR) - I understand that there has to be an economic model to support such things - but on the other hand there is a complementary public good, that access to knowledge ought to be free.

Whether you call them academics or priests, exclusive castes who dominate access to knowledge are not healthy for society and the internet ought to be about opening knowledge to everyone- not just to those with a university login.

[Added later:] A glimpse into how one academic library (Hanover College's Duggan Library) values JSTOR:

In 2008, the Duggan Library subscribed to a total of 825 (and still growing) archived titles covering almost 26 million pages of content. This represents 6, 300 linear feet of shelf space. To put that last number in perspective, just imagine all of the periodical shelving behind the reference desk/collection on the first floor.

During the year there were more than 22,000 searches performed, and more than 62,000 viewed pages, with 4,857 full text articles downloaded representing about 5 downloaded articles per student FTE. Based on the cost of our combined JSTOR subscriptions we paid the equivalent of $1.84 per article. Compare this to customary interlibrary loan article fees of $10 to $20 and it is easy to see that we are certainly getting a good return on investment while helping ensure that our users are getting the academic support they require.

Comment: More data like this could lead to a sense of what might be a fair pricing mechanism for open, worldwide micropayment access to JSTOR. It would also be helpful to know how many people attempt to access information hiding behind JSTOR's walls, who are blocked, and how many have somehow hacked in.

My guess is that when all these numbers are brought into relation, we're looking at a low, eminently affordable micropayment scheme that would bring in revenue to JSTOR and its ilk, and permit everyone to use the research which it now wrongly hoards.

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