Open Access, Harvard Delight Edition

An extraordinary and delightful communiqué from Harvard on journal pricing has surfaced (early reactions here and here and here). It was actually issued almost a week back, but the Twitter hive mind (or my corner of it) appears only now to have noticed (h/t to JamieSW for that). The contents are pretty extraordinary, even too good to be true. The preamble is brutal about the current state of the journal system, observing that Harvard spent almost $3.75 million last year on bundled journal provision from some publishers (10% of all collection costs and 20% of all periodical costs for 2010); that “profit margins of 35% and more suggest that the prices we must pay do not solely result from an increasing supply of new articles”; that “[t]he Library has never received anything close to full reimbursement for these expenditures from overhead collected by the University on grant and research funds”; and that “[i]t is untenable for contracts with at least two major providers to continue on the basis identical with past agreements. Costs are now prohibitive” (I’m guessing one provider at least is Elsevier).

Then some options-cum-recommendations for Faculty are laid out:

1. Make sure that all of your own papers are accessible by submitting them to DASH in accordance with the faculty-initiated open-access policies.

2. Consider submitting articles to open-access journals, or to ones that have reasonable, sustainable subscription costs; move prestige to open access.

3. If on the editorial board of a journal involved, determine if it can be published as open access material, or independently from publishers that practice pricing described above. If not, consider resigning.

4. Contact professional organizations to raise these issues.

5. Encourage professional associations to take control of scholarly literature in their field or shift the management of their e-journals to library-friendly organizations.

6. Encourage colleagues to consider and to discuss these or other options.

7. Sign contracts that unbundle subscriptions and concentrate on higher-use journals.

8. Move journals to a sustainable pay per use system.

9. Insist on subscription contracts in which the terms can be made public.

Note in particular point 3. Harvard is asking its academics to seriously consider resigning from major journals if substantive good-faith moves are not made towards open access or “sustainable subscription costs” (read: a major reversal of current practice). As previously suggested, only serious insurgencies within major centres of academic prestige will undo the private stranglehold on knowledge-in-common. On those grounds, I’m tempted to giddy excitement. The question, of course, is which other major institutions (and which serious academic figures) will have the solidarity and good sense to follow this example. As a rallying point, social sciences and social theory need some version of The Cost Of Knowledge manifesto that spans the entire issue of journals and knowledge production. At the very least, we now have a new rhetorical device: open access is good enough for Harvard: why isn’t it good enough for you?