Harvard Scholars to Publish Online?

harvard shield 021208 Harvard Scholars to Publish Online?To publish or perish? That is the question Harvard faculty will face today, when they vote whether or not to publish their scholarly articles online (and open up their research to millions of readers) or continue to distribute their work in obscure journals with steep price tags and minuscule readership. According to Patricia Cohen of The New York Times, the vote’s impact, given the university’s prestige, could be significant for the open-access movement, which seeks to make scientific and scholarly research available to as many people as possible at no cost. So Yale and Columbia could follow suit, as well as other mediums…

“In place of a closed, privileged and costly system, it will help open up the world of learning to everyone who wants to learn,” said Robert Darnton, director of the university library. “It will be a first step toward freeing scholarship from the stranglehold of commercial publishers by making it freely available on our own university repository.”

Under the proposal Harvard would deposit finished papers in an open-access repository run by the library that would instantly make them available on the Internet. Authors would still retain their copyright and could publish anywhere they pleased — including at a high-priced journal, if the journal would have them.

What distinguishes this plan from current practice, said Stuart Shieber, a professor of computer science who is sponsoring the faculty motion, is that it would create an “opt-out” system: an article would be included unless the author specifically requested it not be. Mr. Shieber was the chairman of a committee set up by Harvard’s provost to investigate scholarly publishing; this proposal grew out of one of the recommendations, he said.