Harvard Library Urges University to Take A Stand Against Big Publishers
Excerpt from “Harvard University says it can’t afford journal publishers’ prices” by Ian Sample
Exasperated by rising subscription costs charged by academic publishers, Harvard University has encouraged its faculty members to make their research freely available through open access journals and to resign from publications that keep articles behind paywalls.
A memo from Harvard Library to the university’s 2,100 teaching and research staff called for action after warning it could no longer afford the price hikes imposed by many large journal publishers, which bill the library around $3.5m a year.
The memo from Harvard’s faculty advisory council said major publishers had created an “untenable situation” at the university by making scholarly interaction “fiscally unsustainable” and “academically restrictive”, while drawing profits of 35% or more. Prices for online access to articles from two major publishers have increased 145% over the past six years, with some journals costing as much as $40,000, the memo said.
More than 10,000 academics have already joined a boycott of Elsevier, the huge Dutch publisher, in protest at its journal pricing and access policies. Many university libraries pay more than half of their journal budgets to the publishers Elsevier, Springer and Wiley.
As one of America’s premier institutions, it could potentially have long ranging consequences for the publishing business if Harvard decides to take a stand against absurd subscription prices. If Harvard and some other top tier institutions make a stand, it is likely that the University of California system will follow suit. Not sure when and how this will happen, but the current model for publishing is not sustainable with shrinking academic budgets.
Edit: commentary by Michael Eisen, co-founder of the PLoS journals and Open Access advocate.