Publishers launch free journal access for libraries

Academic publishers have launched their scheme to allow free access to research journals at public libraries

February 3, 2014

The proposal was developed during the deliberations of the so-called Finch Group of publishers, libraries, universities and learned societies, which was commissioned by the UK government to thrash out a consensus on how to move to full open access in the UK.

The “Access to Research” initiative will provide online access to 8,400 journals published by many of the major academic publishers, including Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Springer, Taylor and Francis and Nature Publishing Group.

Over half of local authorities have signed up their libraries to the scheme, which will initially run as a two-year pilot while interest is monitored.

Some open access advocates have criticised the scheme as a poor alternative to direct open access from users’ own computers – particularly in an era of library closures and falling library usage.

The Finch report, which was published in June 2012, said such a scheme “would not, of course, meet the demand for access at any time and anywhere. But access free of charge to any user of a public library would provide real benefits to many people who at present face considerable barriers if they want to find authoritative information about research relevant to their interests and needs.”

It expected the initiative to have a “major impact” – particularly if it was accompanied by a “clear marketing strategy” to alert people to its existence.

A spokeswoman for the Publishers Licensing Society said a “high profile” launch event at a London library would be attended by universities and science minister David Willetts, who praised the initiative for connecting students and small businesses in particular to “wealth of global knowledge - maximising its impact and value”. Other marketing tactics include press releases, social media initiatives and posters for libraries.

Richard Mollet, chief executive of the Publishers Association, said the initiative “demonstrates publishers’ strong commitment to developing open access in the UK, and in taking forward the recommendations of the Finch review”.

Janene Cox, president of the Society of Chief Librarians, said it would “further cement the library as a local space for learning for the entire community”.

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Reader's comments (5)

I’m completely, completely baffled by this. The idea that people should get in a car and drive to a special magic building in order to read papers that their own computers are perfectly capable of downloading is so utterly wrong-headed I struggle to find words for it. It’s a nineteenth-century solution to a twentieth-century problem. In 2014. I can tell you now that the take-up for this misbegotten initiative will be zero. Because although it’s a painful waste of time to negotiate the paywalls erected by those corporations we laughably call “publishers”, this “solution” will be more of a waste of time still. (Not to mention a waste of petrol). I can only assume that was always the intention of the barrier-based publishers on the Finch committee that came up with this initiative: to deliver a stillborn access initiative that they can point to and say “See, no-one wants open access”. Meanwhile, everyone will be over on Twitter using #icanhazpdf and other such 21st-century workarounds. Sheesh.

As far as I can tell, there is no way of seeing which journals and articles are actually included. If you could search at home at least you'd know if it was worth the trip to the nearest participating library. But as it is if you find a paper you're interested in you won't know whether it is one of the 1.5 million included in the scheme until you've gone to the Special Magic Building. Alternatively, you could use CORE to search almost 20 million papers and access them all from the comfort of your own home -

I think there is potential in this initiative. Of course it would be great if these resources were available from my home. I also wish valuable business databases were free from home but I have to go to the public library to use them. I agree that CORE and BASE (and Google!) are great for finding free resources. Nevertheless as someone who does research but doesn’t have an affiliation with an academic institution I hit ejournal paywalls all the time and would appreciate what I see as a potential service improvement. Like thousands of others in my town I live within walking distance of my local public library and visiting it is a genuine pleasure. Moreover if we think of this initiative in combination with a broader opportunity for public libraries to re-energise their old role as ‘The People’s University’ there is, I think, rich opportunity. Many academic libraries have re-engineered buildings and have seen massive increases in use as learning spaces. Public libraries could do more along similar lines. They advocate themselves as ‘community hubs’ and there is a vital role for such public spaces in our communities. Strengthening their learning dimension with an offer of free ejournals alongside exploiting MOOCs in attractive learning spaces looks to me to have potential. Learning is increasingly a social activity and just as many public libraries support reading groups I see they could do more to foster ‘Learning Groups’. That might do something to improve the retention rates of student engaging with MOOCs. The main issue I see is the capability and capacity of public libraries to adequately seize this opportunity

DING DING DING As David says "Alternatively, you could use CORE to search almost 20 million papers and access them all from the comfort of your own home - "

“PUBLIC (LIBRARY) ACCESS” — PREDICTABLE PUBLISHER SOP The primary intended beneficiaries of research are the public that funds the research. The primary way in which the public benefits from the research it funds is if all researchers can access, use, build upon and apply it. Research is pubished in journals to which researchers’ publicly funded institutions (mostly universities) subscribe. But institutions can only afford to subscribe to a small fraction of those journals. because of the high price of journals and the scarcity of research funds. That means that researchers are denied access to a large fraction of publicly funded research. That means the public is losing a large fraction of the potential returns on its investment in the research in has funded. Publishers not only overcharge for access to the publicly funded research that researchers give them for free and that researchers peer-review for them for free… Publishers also deny (embargo) non-subscriber access for 6 months, a year, 2 years, or even longer to the researchers who can use, build upon and apply it if their institutions cannot afford to subscribe to the journal in which it is published. And what do publishers offer as a remedy to the researchers, institutions and funding councils who have been calling for access to publicly funded research for all its potential users, not just subscribers? Public library access: Let researchers from institutions that cannot afford subscription access betake themselves to a public library whenever they need to access research published in any journal to which their institution cannot afford to subscribe. And this munificence is offered in an online era when all of research could be at the fingertips of all researchers whenever and wherever they are doing their scientific or scholarly research. Meanwhile, let the public console itself by reading the research it has funded, while the researchers who can use, build upon and apply it are denied access unless they hightail it to the public library whenever they need to use anything to which their institutions cannot afford to subscribe. Good job they didn’t propose that it be made accessible at their houses of worship instead…

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