"Myth: Everything is available for free on the Internet."
If there is one frustration I hear more than any other on the part of hospital librarians, it's the need to combat this notion. In the recently released Myths and Truths About Library Services it occupies a central place in the justification for maintaining hospital libraries. And the myth is false, of course -- according to the document, only 30% of the medical literature is freely available on the web, and only 60% of article content published since 1992 is available electronically at all.
A couple of months ago, there was some discussion on the Hospital Library Section list about the upcoming MLA Symposium on open access. Several correspondents said they wouldn't attend such a symposium since they didn't see how it was at all relevant to their situations. They're much more concerned with justifying their existence by trying to convince their feckless administrators that everything isn't freely available on the internet.
Perhaps they should be more concerned about their colleagues at the symposium who will be trying to figure out how to change the scholarly communication system so that everything is available for free on the internet.
I get a similar sense of cognitive dissonance when I hear librarians holding fast to the argument that publishers needn't fear FRPAA because there's no reason to think that libraries are going to cancel subscriptions if there's a six-month embargo. Personally, I think that is largely true -- but wasn't the point of librarian support for open access that it was going to save us money? And how is that going to happen if we're not able to cancel subscriptions? Have we abandoned the notion that we should be supporting open access because it will help libraries financially?
There are lots of these mixed messages out there. The harder that we work for complete open access, the more we weaken one of the central arguments for the value of hospital libraries. Are we working sufficiently hard to frame new arguments for hospital librarians to use in an open access world?
When Ray English spoke at the Charleston Conference this year, he started his talk by referring to librarian frustration at ever rising subscription prices. He went on to talk about the need to support FRPAA, and dismissed publisher fears about what it would do to their subscription base. And by the end of his talk, he was calling for the end of the subscription system. Is it any wonder that publishers are suspicious when he claims that they shouldn't be worried about FRPAA?
I'm just looking for some consistency. It seems to me that if the end point of the open access movement is to have everything freely available on the internet, we had better start coming up with new arguments for the value of hospital libraries, and quick; and we should be honest with the publishers and say that if we get what we want, we're going to quit subscribing to their journals and that FRPAA is just one tactical step along the way.