Open access to scholarship may become one of the key issues for academics in the next twenty years. More and more libraries have only electronic access to journals, especially in the sciences, as university systems (rather than individual institutions or—more archaically yet—department libraries) negotiate deals for hundreds of journals at once from outfits like Elsevier and Taylor & Francis. The paper version may never enter a library at all; rather, as in California, it is stored in a warehouse.Users have access only to the electronic version. Not only have prices increased greatly, but access to back numbers is controlled by the publisher, not the library (as is the case with bound print journals). Imagine what it would be like for all the back issues of the Journal of philosophy to become inaccessible: that could happen if the publisher of an entirely electronic journal goes out of business. (If the issues are protected by password, then archives won’t be able to store them.)
John Willinsky, Pacific Press Professor of Literacy and Technology at the University of British Columbia, has started the Public Knowledge Project, which includes software for open access journals (Open Journal Systems) and conferences (Open Conference Systems). The software is available for free. it produces a table of contents, an archive, a form for email notification of new issues, registration for contributors, and so on. Nicely done, although the HTML it produces is old-fashioned (it uses tables for layout, not CSS) and buggy (there are syntax errors in the output).
In his book, The Access Principle, Willinsky argues that
A commitment to scholarly work […] carries with it a responsibility to circulate that work as widely as possible: this is the access principle. In the digital age, that responsibility includes exploring new publishing technologies and economic models to improve access to scholarly work. Wide circulation adds value to published work; it is a significant aspect of its claim to be knowledge. The right to know and the right to be known are inextricably mixed.
I’m not sure I would state the commitment in just this way. “As widely as possible” is too strong. On the other hand, I do think scholars ought to consider the accessibility of their work in selecting venues for publication, with a bias toward accessibility to everyone with some minimal means of viewing online material. (See Pam Long’s Openness, secrecy, authorship, Johns Hopkins, 2001, 2004 (pb) · 0801880610, for a history of attitudes toward the accessibility of scientific knowledge in antiquity and the Renaissance.)
(Via Digital Koans, 20 Apr 2005.)