My friend Samira just showed me this blog entry from Shoestring Venture, which although quite sarcastic, absolutely hits the nail on the head. They argue that universities are overpaying for journal articles which vendor are getting, essentially for free. To quote them;
The scheme worked like this: [vendors] charge incredibly high prices for a journal subscription (hundreds to thousands of dollars for one four to twelve issue subscription — no joke), then “bundle” all the journals together at a substantial discount, thus forcing universities to break the bank for a couple journals or break the bank less severely to buy everything in your catalog.
Then they add;
Here’s the kicker. Academic journals are written, refereed, and edited for free by university professors. Since all the work that goes into producing the content of a journal (research, writing, refereeing, and editing) is free labor, why is any university paying for journals in this day and age when all academic work can be researched, written, refereed, edited, and then distributed online for free?
I completely agree, and fortunately a few alternatives are starting to spring up. For one there is the Directory of Open Access Journals which proves open access to thousands of journals, many of them searchable, and covering a wide range of topics. Oxford Journals offered some 90 journals, many in open access format. SCOAP3 gathers open access article in the area of physics.
Major universities like Harvard, Boston University, and UC Berkeley have committed to making most of the literature produced by their faculty available to the world in an open access format. Berkeley has also set up a website encouraging others to participate in this process. Cornell set up the arXiv.org site which gathers open access article in the field of physics, mathematics, computer sciences and the like.
I encourage you to look around because every day it seems more and more people are committing to a free exchange of information!