The H-Bomb in Open Access to Scholarship

As confirmed in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences has just adopted a groundbreaking mandate “that requires faculty members to allow the university to make their scholarly articles available free online.”

Some coverage elsewhere:

Peter Suber’s blog is a comprehensive source for Open Access news. Some of his posts covering the Harvard mandate:

Why are those news so important? Well, it’s the first such university mandate in the United States, so it does set a precedent in and of itself. (The UC system might be the second one.) But, of course, Harvard’s prestige is an important factor. Hence the “H-bomb” title: just mentioning “Harvard” has a very strong effect, so much so that some Harvard graduates refrain from mentioning their alma mater. As Suber assesses, Harvard’s support for Open Access makes it unlikely that publishers would refuse articles from Harvard faculty. Personally, I would even go so far as to say that the FUD spewed by “academic” publishers might become much less effective than it has previously been.

In other words, this is a big victory for scholarship. Too bad publishers see it as a defeat. Maybe like “content” lobby groups RIAA and MPAA, publishers will finally be hit by the “cluestick” and will begin to understand that it is, in fact, in their best interest to embrace openness.

Yes, call me naïve.

6 thoughts on “The H-Bomb in Open Access to Scholarship”

  1. Hey that’s really interesting! When I was an undergrad in Boston, I tried to get the Harvard libraries to give me access to the lone copy in NE of a book I needed for research and was denied access. I don’t know if it would be different had I been a grad student, but it really frustrated me and I saw it as a question of protecting privilege. Maybe they are opening up or maybe I was wrong to judge them that way.

  2. Of course, this mandate is just for articles in peer-reviewed journals, not for books. The basic idea is typically that results of research should be widely distributed so as to benefit everyone. Books obey a different set of rules, for different reasons.
    The library systems at universities and colleges in or around Boston could be more directly connected. I remember that even at Tufts, it was a bit of an issue. What’s sad about it is that much could be gained from more collaboration between those institutions but that some libraries see their collections in terms of a “competitive advantage.” Which shouldn’t be the case at Harvard as they don’t really try to “compete” in getting more students. In fact, they can sustain themselves with less students and less money from tuition than most other institutions.
    So, the main thing I see in this particular case is that Harvard’s involvement in OA will benefit the OA movement as a whole. This movement should eventually carry over to other spheres of academic activities. It’s taken a lot of time to happen but all the pieces are falling into place.

  3. You’re absolutely right, it was books not articles. That said, I’m glad to see that you too saw this issue about library access in Boston, the city of universities. It made me so bitter I am only now coming to terms with it, largely because Harvard has become so irrelevant in the years since I lived in Boston. Hrmph.

  4. Erm… Harvard irrelevant? Now, I like H-bashing as much as the next guy but isn’t that a bit strong? To be honest, it sounds a bit like Bolton calling the UN irrelevant…
    And, actually, are you referring to the commotion over Summers’ inability to respond to faculty members’ demands?
    The thing about Harvard, to me, is that it’s a bit like the university equivalent of the New York Times. Like the NYT, Harvard is a “reference” for a number of intellectuals in the United States. People love bashing it, but they keep talking about it. Both institutions are also perceived as old-fashioned yet both of them are occasionally able to do things in a new way.
    What’s funny to me is that the same isn’t necessarily true of other Ivy League institutions. University and college administrators all over this country are making every effort possible to attain the level of recognition reached by the Ivy League, internationally. And while many universities in other parts of the country are as prestigious as any member of the Ivy League, “worldwide brand awareness” for most Ivy League institutions remain higher than for almost any other institution. Yet, Harvard takes the cake as anybody who has heard about any North American university has probably heard of Harvard. Even if they have never heard of Yale, Cornell, Brown, or Princeton.

    Having said all of this, my own perception of Harvard is that it’s both overrated and misunderstood. Overrated because it’s not the center of the academic universe that some people make it to be. Misunderstood because it’s able to do things many universities cannot do, such as not caring much about enrolment.


  5. Well, it’s probably a bit strong. Overrated is probably more appropriate…I’m just going on where I see the interesting research and thought coming from.

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