Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Access denied

This is bad:

In June the journal shelves at the Health Sciences Library of the University of Pittsburgh began showing holes. Where current issues of Leukemia Research were once stacked, now stands a small cardboard sign: “Issues for 2003 are available only in electronic form.” The cardboard tents have replaced print copies of hundreds of journals…. And at the library’s computer terminals, where employees and students of the university can tap into the fast-growing digital collections, other signs advise that “You need an HSL Online password to use these computers.” Restrictions in the contracts the university has signed with publishers prohibit librarians from issuing passwords to the public….

[O]rdinary citizens have for decades enjoyed free access to the latest scientific and medical literature, so long as they could make their way to a state-funded university library. That is rapidly changing as public research libraries, squeezed between state budget cuts and a decade of rampant inflation in journal prices, drop printed journals in droves. The online versions that remain are often beyond the reach of “unaffiliated” visitors….

Research libraries are likely to continue carrying print copies of general-interest journals, such as Science, Nature and the New England Journal of Medicine. And a few powerful institutions–among them the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California at San Francisco–have insisted on “walk-up” clauses in their contracts that allow any patron full access to their online journals at workstations within the library. But they are the exception; as a rule… publishers insist that their online journals remain “protected” from the general public.


[via Bill Cockayne]

1 Comment

  1. Yes, this is bad.

    About a month ago, someone posted on an academic listserve to which I belong, extolling the virtues of a new database of early modern texts. Hundreds and hundreds (perhaps thousands) of otherwise inaccessible texts, available in PDF format, and just a click away. This is indispensible! You must convince your library to subscribe!

    Now, my uni library subscribes to the above, and I’ve used it, and I have to say that it really does kick *ss. But:

    A librarian then entered the conversation with some sobering figures. Apparently access to the collection costs half a million dollars, with an additional yearly fee of ten thousand dollars just to keep up the subscription. As said librarian pointed out, what this means is that in order to subscribe to the online collection, a library will have to cut back on book acquisitions and hard copies of journals.

    The public should have access to the collections at publicly-funded colleges and universities. But it seems that the terms of the contracts for online literature don’t allow for this principle of public access.

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