Sometimes it’s hard to get a sense of what your average, intelligent member of the general public thinks of academic research libraries, or if s/he thinks about them at all. I have a handy rule of thumb that helps a little with this: pay attention when Robert Darnton is talking. Darnton’s article in the Dec. 23, 2010 issue of the New York Review of Books is entitled “The Library: Three Jeremiads,” and in it he reviews the “plight of American research libraries” for members of the public and of academe.
You may not have access to the article linked above unless you or the institution to which you are affiliated has paid for access to the NYRB. And that’s a very small object lesson in what has Darnton, the director of the Harvard University Library, so riled up: the ever-increasing cost of electronic subscriptions to scholarly periodicals (especially in the sciences) takes up a huge portion of most research library budgets, even though the faculty of the institutions contribute most of the content to those periodicals.
Duke’s Academic Council has adopted an open access policy which confronts this problem by supporting the deposit of published articles by Duke’s faculty in an online institutional repository, open to the public. You can read about the policy, the repository, and the reasons for the decision to support open access here. Duke’s Scholarly Communications Officer, Kevin Smith, has also discussed it extensively on his beloved Scholarly Communications @ Duke blog.
Darnton’s article has already borne some fruit, with planning for a Digital Public Library of America underway at Harvard’s Berkman Center for the Internet and Society. As for the development of institutional repositories at Duke and elsewhere: stay tuned!
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