Open Access vs. Paid Access: A Problem Even in the Academic World

Anyone who’s participated in a Google vs. Apple debate (or cat fight) would be quite intimately aware of the open access vs. paid access arguments when it comes to technology.

Well it seems Ivy League schools are coming across a similar tension in academic journals. Harvard University writes that they simply cannot continue subscriptions to many of the major periodicals as it has becoming “financially untenable”. It would seem the Faculty Advisory Council to the Library, in consultation with Harvard Library leadership, are going to rejig their subscriptions and are appealing to researchers to “consider submitting articles to open-access journals, or to ones that have reasonable, sustainable subscription costs; move prestige to open access.” (my bolding).

While this sounds like a noble effort, it would seem librarians at Yale are less confident about the viability of this shift in thinking and claim there are more complicated issues to be considered. From the interview with Yale University Librarian Susan Gibbons, we can observe her opinion on the matter:

(Skip to 5.00 to get to the bit about open access journals.)

Junior academics are striving for tenure. One of the major ways to get tenure is to have articles published in reputable journals. Thus, junior academics don’t particularly desire their articles to be published in open access journals, which are the opposite of exclusive and, therefore, considered non-prestigious (which, of course, is an elitist attitude, but the whole concept of tenure is itself rather entwined with that, is it not?).

On the other hand, once academics get tenure, they (perhaps) feel more compelled to publish in open access, maximizing the audience for the discovery they have worked long and hard to bring to the world’s attention.

Yale, therefore, maintains support for both open and closed access journals because they want to be able to sustain younger professors’ chances to attain their tenure, while also maximizing the accessibility of research that is granted through open access journals.

What do you think? Is it better that Harvard is trying to crush the increased costs of ‘reputable’ journals by encouraging academics to publish in open access journals in order to move the prestige away from the closed access ones? Or is Yale’s model of maintaining support for both types of journal a more realistic and logical move due to the nature of the academic world?

[Via The Atlantic | Photo Credit: Anna Creech]