Harvard University, where I’m headed to speak next week, has the largest endowment of any university in the world: 27.6 billion dollars (in 2010). But they have a policy of not using that money to finance independent units of the university: their unofficial motto is “every tub on its own bottom.”
I’m not sure whether that applies to the libraries, but the Guardian has a new article implying as much, “Harvard University says it can’t afford journal publishers’ prices.”
Exasperated by rising subscription costs charged by academic publishers, Harvard University has encouraged its faculty members to make their research freely available through open access journals and to resign from publications that keep articles behind paywalls.
A memo from Harvard Library to the university’s 2,100 teaching and research staff called for action after warning it could no longer afford the price hikes imposed by many large journal publishers, which bill the library around $3.5m a year.
The extraordinary move thrusts one of the world’s wealthiest and most prestigious institutions into the centre of an increasingly fraught debate over access to the results of academic research, much of which is funded by the taxpayer.
More than 10,000 academics have already joined a boycott of Elsevier, the huge Dutch publisher, in protest at its journal pricing and access policies. Many university libraries pay more than half of their journal budgets to the publishers Elsevier, Springer and Wiley. . .
See Elsevier’s lame defense of its policy: its price increases have been “among the lowest in the industry for the last several years, averaging around 5%.” Yeah, because their prices are bloated to begin with, and 5% of a higher price still represents a larger dollar increase.
According to the Harvard memo, journal subscriptions are now so high that to continue them “would seriously erode collection efforts in many other areas, already compromised”. The memo asks faculty members to encourage their professional organisations to take control of scholarly publishing, and to consider submitting their work to open access journals and resigning from editorial boards of journals that are not open access.
The profits of these gouging journals are exorbitant, and they’ve gotten away with it simply because they can: libraries were flush, and scientists need the journals. But the profits are way out of hand:
The memo from Harvard’s faculty advisory council said major publishers had created an “untenable situation” at the university by making scholarly interaction “fiscally unsustainable” and “academically restrictive”, while drawing profits of 35% or more. Prices for online access to articles from two major publishers have increased 145% over the past six years, with some journals costing as much as $40,000, the memo said.
Forty thousand dollars! I’d love for some reader to give me the name of that journal. It’s absurd.
And it’s unsustainable. Libraries can’t afford it, and scientists are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it any more.