+ Harvard Will Post Scholarly & Research Papers Online

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The arts and science faculty at Harvard has voted unanimously to post their scholarly articles and research online.  They will be available free to the public.

An article in the Boston Globe by Megan Woolhouse says the vote came after several months of meetings on the subject.

Academic journal officials voiced concerns about whether such a move would affect the quality of research by hurting the peer review process.

Stuart Schieber, a computer science professor who sponsored the motion, says some journals are run like monopolies, charging exorbitant prices for subscriptions.  The journal Brain Research, for example, charges $21,000 a year.

“This can be the first step in the process of increasing access to the Harvard faculty’s writings.  That’s really the goal,” says Sheiber.

The plan is to create an office and repository for professors’ finished papers.  It will be run by the university’s library, and would instantly make them available on the Internet.  The projected name for this office is the Office for Scholarly Communication.

Often, academics sign over the copyright to a journal before publication.  University libraries then buy back the work by subscribing to the publication.

Under the new system, academics would retain copyright to their work, allowing the university to post it unless they opt out by filing a waiver.  Those faculty would then be allowed to publish their work in an academic journal.

The vice-president for legal and governmental affairs at the Association of American Publishers, Allan Adler, praised the opt-out provision, saying it allows authors to continue to seek publication in prestigious joournals.  Still, he expresses concern that the peer review could be harmed.

The way high quality is assured in research is that academics voluntarily and at no cost conduct “peer review” of work submitted to journals.    

Adler notes that many journals have an editing staff that coordinates the peer review process, and that staff must be paid.  He calls the issue a “vendor-customer dispute over price.”

Another computer science professor, Henry Lewis, supports the move because commercial publishers often require university libraries to buy bundled journals at steep prices.

But more importantly, says Lewis, the vote is a win for the open-access movement, which seeks to make as much scientific and scholarly research available as possible.

“Harvard is in a unique position to do the right thing in the academic world,” continues Lewis.  “In this case, I think others will be emboldened by Harvard to follow its lead, and the course of collective action will be greater than the course any individual school will take.”

The director of Harvard’s university library, Robert Darnton, wrote in the Harvard Crimson that the change reresents an opportunity to “reshape the landscape of learning.”  It is a “first step in freeing scholarship from the stanglehold of commercial publishers.”

He writes, “The system would be collective, not cooercive.  The motion give Harvard the possibility of setting an example that could spread.

“In place of a closed, privileged, and costly system, it will help open up the world of learning to everyone who wants to learn.” 

sole source: Boston Globe article by Megan Woolhouse on 2/13/08. www.boston.com

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