I got an email today from one of our current batch of students, who will – all being well – be collecting his MA in the next few months.*
The essence of the email is this: over the course of his time with us, he’s found that his interest in medical ethics and law has been sufficiently tickled that he’d like to keep his hand in.** The problem is that he’ll lose access to the journals that he currently gets through the library. Now, it would appear that certain other universities around the country offer their alumni a subscription service whereby they can still get access to the library and some of its resources. And I know, too, that there’s a certain university in the midlands that has an open-door policy in its library: members of the public don’t, I suppose, have a right to use it, but they’re allowed to. (I did a good chunk of my A-levels there; during my brief stint as a schoolteacher, so did a number of my students.) That means no borrowing, but the opportunity to browse the shelves and photocopy.
A subscription service offered to alumni so that they can make use of their alma mater‘s electronic resources strikes me as a good idea – but I don’t actually see why a paid subscription is necessary. It’d be lovely if universities made a habit of giving their graduands, alongside the certificate and the silly costume, a login that’d give them access to electronic resources.
It wouldn’t cost libraries anything – unless they currently sell a subscription to electronic journals – because at the moment, alumni just vanish in the main. Even those that sell subscriptions already wouldn’t lose much: my correspondent cites figures of around 40 quid a year, which really isn’t a lot. Nor can I see that there’d be much worry about copyright: once again, the publishers wouldn’t lose out on an existing market, and worries about people sharing their password are no more serious than worries about people lending out their library cards. Academic journals – even the JME – aren’t exactly high on PirateBay’s*** list of targets.
I can think of only one group of losers: the societies that sponsor or publish the journals. For example, I’m a member of the Royal Institute of Philosophy and the Society for Applied Philosophy. Partly, this is fuelled by nostalgia – the SAP was closely related to Hull, whence I graduated first time round. Mainly, though, it’s simply because I like their journals, and they’re a LOT cheaper to members. Had I free – or next-to-free – access to those journals, I’d’ve been less inclined to join the societies; and while I don’t kid myself that the marginal value of one member is vast, the value of us all is.
But I still like the idea of free access. All we’d need is a couple of millionaires whom we could kill and whose estates we could distribute to various learned organisations.
It’s been suggested in the past that I’m just a big old utopian. Well, DUH.
*OK: I’ve not gone to the effort of de-anonymising his marks and second-guessing the markers, second markers, external examiners, and exam board – so he oughtn’t to take this post as any indication of his actual results, I’m just being nice; no, really, legal disclaimer, blah, blah, blah…
*** Other illegal downloading sites are available. Apparently.