Three Jeremiads, by Robert Darnton

A most profound piece by Robert Darnton has just been published by the New York Review of Books.

In a not-too-long article Darnton, as the Harvard University Library Director, makes a strong case for open access publishing, given that exorbitant price of journal subscriptions is draining library resources, diverting university funds from purchasing monographs. This managerial approach is blamed for creating the ‘publish or perish’ syndrome.

Darnton ends up by calling for the creation of National Digital Public Library, built on the success of Google:

Why not adapt its formula for success to the public good—a digital library composed of virtually all the books in our greatest research libraries available free of charge to the entire citizenry, in fact, to everyone in the world?

I especially admire the seemingly sudden expansion of the ‘entire citizenry’ to ‘everyone in the world’. This is a truly democratic view of a scholar, putting information availability ahead of copyright law, corporate profits or anything impeding the right for access to information.  Living in Russia, where most useful databases in the humanities are not available at all, I was more than relieved to read the ending:

Rather than better business plans (not that they don’t matter), we need a new ecology, one based on the public good instead of private gain. This may not be a satisfactory conclusion. It’s not an answer to the problem of sustainability. It’s an appeal to change the system.

Change the system indeed. Yes, it’s time political rhetoric should be put to a better use, to overcome the only real gap – the one in information access. We still remember these words —

We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace.

Now do it in your own backyard. Tear down this wall.

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About beggingscholar

I am a scholar of Early Modern English literature and culture, teaching quite a number of English-related subjects at Kazan University, Russia. I am mainly interested in the formation of the Early Modern public sphere, scandals, subversion, non-literary discourses in literature and other forms of destructive creation.
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