As I’ve said elsewhere, it’s been about a year since I retired, and despite having been around research institutions and universities all my adult life, I must say I don’t miss it, except for one thing – easy access to journals.
A surprisingly large amount of information is freely available online, but every so often in my role as a dilletante classicist and amateur Victorian historian one comes up against a blank wall where something that has piqued one’s interest sits securely behind a paywall.
When I was working, this wasn’t a problem – if the institution one worked for had access one just logged in from work, or via a vpn or a proxy server, even if it was nothing to do with the day job. Of course I was in the lucky position where my day job in digital archiving could have allowed me to plausibly claim ‘just testing’ if anyone ever asked but no one ever did.
I no longer have a university login – the first time since 1980 – so I can’t do that. If I still lived in the city, rather than country Victoria, I could get on the bus to my former employer and use the library, but even then I still wouldn’t be able to access the electronic resources as all computers require you to login – no kiosk mode machines for general use or literature searches.
Now I’m not really a serious classicist or nineteenth century historian, so I can get by with secondary sources quite happily, and I’m well enough off to buy second hand copies of any particularly interesting books.
However, having once been a field ecologist, I can see that if I was an amateur botanist, say, being able to access specialist literature would be rather more important than it is to me.
And if we want citizen science, we want it to be good science. And that means access to the literature, which in turn means open source literature, in that the content is freely available.
Now while it’s not exactly cost free, the costs of hosting an electronic journal are minimal compared to the subscription costs, and the costs of simply hosting content are trivial.
And of course it’s not just for the benefit of a few amateur researchers who live in rich countries – researchers in countries where research is poorly funded and which lack the infrastructure of large research libraries ar in an equally difficult position.