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Librarians who pay for nothing (Re: Economics of Green Open Access)

> I believe that most librarians are very smart.  Because they 
> are smart, they will not purchase things that they can get for 
> free.

Joe is stating an obviously true principle here, but of course 
the reality on the ground is a bit more complicated. Librarians 
don't have the luxury of simply making straightforward 
value-for-money decisions, because we're under pressure from a 
variety of different directions: from publishers (especially of 
science journals) who want to increase prices at rates that are 
patently unsustainable given library budgets; from researchers 
and students who insist that ongoing access to those journals is 
essential; from administrators who don't have a lot of money to 
give libraries and who expect strong ROI from the money they do 
give them; from institutional priorities that value some 
disciplines more than others; and from other librarians (some of 
them powerful) who expect everyone to join in the good fight for 
greater public access, especially to the published results of 
publicly-funded research.

All of these factors play out in complicated ways when issues 
related to OA arise. One upshot is that librarians sometimes do, 
in fact, pay for things that we could get for free. One example 
is the arXiv, which is currently being supported by libraries 
that have nothing direct to gain from paying for it -- we pay 
because we believe that the arXiv is important and that investing 
some of our scarce resources in the project of keeping the arXiv 
open constitutes a wise use of those resources. Something similar 
happened with the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

One important question, I think, is what kind of future any 
publishing model can have if it relies on people ponying up for 
stuff that they could get for free. I tend not to be optimistic 
about the future prospects of such a model. As Joe pointed out, 
some models (Green OA, hybrid journals) complicate things by 
blending OA with non-OA content, so it's not always a binary 
question. But to the degree that stuff gets made available for 
free, and to the degree that budgets continue to contract or 
remain stagnant, it's hard to see how any system based on 
voluntary payments can survive in the long run. Even the arXiv is 
probably going to have to eventually find a different model. Here 
at the U of U, we're preparing for a $300,000 journal and 
database cut next year, with every expectation that we'll cut 
that much again the following year. I can easily foresee a future 
scenario in which we have to say "We love and believe in the 
arXiv, but we simply can't afford to support it anymore and will 
have to hope that others step up behind us as we drop out."

Rick Anderson
Assoc. Dir. For Scholarly Resources & Collections
J. Willard Marriott Library
University of Utah