Michael Geist points to a Globe and Mail article about the open access movement. I would have liked more from the interview with University of Toronto’s head librarian – the two words about subscription costs (“It’s alarming”) probably distill a 20 minute conversation – but it is good to see this in the popular press. It is also nice to see the humanities get a mention in a conversation about open access.
Yes, academe is in my blood…
That’s why I will take issue with two statements that appear in the piece. They come from both sides of the open access debate: the academics and the publishers. Let’s start with the academic perspective:
Prof. Guédon [professor of comparative literature at the University of Montreal ] predicts that attitude will change over the next five years as academics see the benefits of getting their work to a wider audience. “We don’t want to be in an ivory tower. We want to be relevant,” he says.
True. But open access is not a solution to the old problem of academic elitism and disengagement. Open access could improve academics’ work visibility beyond the ivory tower, but it probably won’t. People outside universities just aren’t interested in scholarship, and won’t be perusing SSRN, PLoS or PubMed Central on their lunch break.
The lesson: Access has nothing to do with relevance. Unless you write something The Public want to read, you stay in the ivory tower.
Even so, I can see some ways open access will encourage non-academics to use journals.
- Scholarship will transmute into culture. Journalists and authors will have increased access to subjects of interest to them and their audiences. Whether or not academic work will receive shoddy interpretation in the popular press is another question entirely.
- Education will drive interest. As more and more people attend universities where professors introduce students to open access resources, the ease of research will encourage graduates to consult topics of interest to them.
- Open access gives authors incentive to write on topics of wider interest. Public access to journals is an open door. Invite people inside. Do this by framing research within controversies, because conflict is inherently interesting. Do it by writing approachable prose. Do it by connecting your esoteric subject to a genuinely important question. Communicating why you love your subject can’t hurt.
Now it’s the publisher’s turn:
Mr. Velterop [director of open access for Springer] insists that open access will never have the clout of traditional houses. It’s like the difference between a Marks & Spencer suit and an Armani, he argues – journals cost a lot because the peer-review process is expensive, time-consuming and complicated.
The dinosaur publishers are right to be worried. They have a losing business model relying on the clout and prestige of brand names – a losing strategy when an academic can get their stamp of approval from a recognized alternative of similar quality. Reputations change as traditions wither and are replaced. How appropriate, then, that the publisher would turn to the fashion world for an analogy.