Institution-specific passwords for online access to scholarly journals are neither technologically necessary nor financially defensible. They blatantly undermine university researchers' traditional rights of access to the libraries of other UK institutions.
In the past, access to other collections required personal visits, which were both time-consuming and costly. These costs forced researchers to rely almost exclusively on their own libraries and made the enhancement of each collection somewhat cost-effective - at least measured against underwriting visits to other collections. Over time, this led to costly replication across the library system.
Restoring access and eliminating replication can be achieved in one stroke by providing researchers with a password that gives them online access to any university library in the UK. This would make all researchers better off, because at least some of the savings from reducing duplication (estimated at more than £100 million a year) could be spent improving the overarching collection they would access.
Scholarly journals need not fear that access reform would drastically reduce their revenues, since some of the savings would be spent expanding subscriptions. However, should their revenues be reduced, fairness dictates that journals set any losses against decades of windfall gains. After all, even after reform, publishers would continue to benefit commercially from the copyright of research they did not pay for, the quality assurance provided by unpaid peer reviewers and the unpaid editorial work of academic researchers.
Penny Ciancanelli, University of Strathclyde.