Harvard University’s announcement Tuesday that it will soon begin publishing the completed academic articles of Harvard faculty online for public viewing has some members of the academic world unsure about how the move will affect the future vitality of scholarly journals.
The Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard voted earlier this week to provide open access to Harvard scholarship by cataloging articles in a free online database. Professors have the option to withhold their work from the database, and publishing online does not prevent them from publishing in scholarly journals.
Online journal catalogues such as Journal Storage, or JSTOR, which provide other academics with articles written by Yale faculty, have been available to Yale students and faculty with University Net IDs for years, but not to the public.
Other universities, such as the University of California at Berkeley, have created similar online journal catalogues, but materials in those databases are included on a volunteer basis, and as a result, fewer academics choose to submit their articles.
According to an op-ed by Robert Darnton in Tuesday’s Harvard Crimson, director of the University Library at Harvard, the university’s new initiative is designed to provide open access to academic articles that would otherwise only be available in extremely expensive journals. Some journals’ high costs limit the publications’ audience, preventing the general public from using these resources, Darnton wrote.
Journal subscriptions are also largely limited to libraries because of their high costs, he said in the op-ed.
Some Yale graduate students, however, expressed concern that Harvard’s move will adversely affect thier future ability to publish their work. Lauren Jacks Gamble GRD ’12, who is studying the history of art, said the digitalizing of scholarly work could render scholarly journals obsolete.
“It would be disappointing for those of us just beginning our academic careers to lose the chance to have our early work published and peer-edited by senior scholars,” Jacks Gamble said. “And what if future students never get to experience the joy of learning about new scholarship by flipping through the latest issue of American Art?”
But William Hochman, an associate professor of English at Southern Connecticut State University and an advocate for open access, said journals are more likely to die because of rising paper and printing costs than because of online publishing.
He said Harvard is actually executing a subtle branding scheme — by publishing Harvard documents for free on the Internet, Harvard is bolstering its image as an intellectual center and increasing its academic credibility, he explained.
“At Yale you have all of these wonderful minds. Why wouldn’t you want to advertise that by putting their work online for everyone to see? Why would we imagine that information doesn’t want to be free?” Hochman said.
Yale College Dean Peter Salovey and Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean Jon Butler both said they could not comment on Harvard’s move because they were not familiar with the details of its proposal.
“It’s an interesting idea whose actual application remains somewhat mysterious,” Butler said.
Last fall, Yale launched the Open Educational Resources Video Lecture Project, which has made videos of some popular lectures available to the public for free online.
MIT has provided free online public access to its course materials through the OpenCourseWare program since 2001. The MIT program now offers course material for over 1,800 classes.
The launch date of Harvard’s online catalogue has not yet been announced.