Walk-in access? Seriously?

November 26, 2013

Reading the Government’s comments on the recent BIS hearing on open access, I see this:

As a result of the Finch Group’s work, a programme devised by publishers, through the Publishers Licensing Society, and without funding from Government, will culminate in a Public Library Initiative. A technical pilot was successfully started on 9 September 2013

Following the link provided, I read:

The Report recommended that the existing proposal to make the majority of journals available for free to walk-in users at public libraries throughout the UK should be supported and pursued vigorously.

I’m completely, completely baffled by this. The idea that people should get in a car and drive to a special magic building in order to read papers that their own computers are perfectly capable of downloading is so utterly wrong-headed I struggle to find words for it. It’s a nineteenth-century solution to a twentieth-century problem. In 2013.

Who thought this was a good idea?

And what were they smoking at the time?

I can tell you now that the take-up for this misbegotten initiative will be zero. Because although it’s a painful waste of time to negotiate the paywalls erected by those corporations we laughably call “publishers”, this “solution” will be more of a waste of time still. (Not to mention a waste of petrol).

I can only assume that was always the intention of the barrier-based publishers on the Finch committee that came up with this initiative: to deliver a stillborn access initiative that they can point to and say “See, no-one wants open access”. Meanwhile, everyone will be over on Twitter using #icanhazpdf and other such 21st-century workarounds.

Sheesh.

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13 Responses to “Walk-in access? Seriously?”


  1. It is shocking. It assumes people can actually get to those public libraries in the first place. One thing about Open Access is that resources can be accessed from anywhere in the world as long as you have Internet access and a more or less recent device to access the Web. It would be amazing if public libraries had collections of academic journals, though, but that is another matter altogether.

  2. Mike Taylor Says:

    “It assumes people can actually get to those public libraries in the first place.”

    Yes. In flagrant disregard of what the phrase “open access” actually means:

    “… without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself.”


  3. Whereas proper Open Access would enable people to read the article in a public library just as well as on their home computer or phone, should they so wish.

    (Assuming their public library is still open.)

    I’m all for walk-in access — as usually practised in academic libraries — as a point-of-principle workaround solution for paywalled content. But takeup is so low as to be invisible.


  4. Have you seen this hilarious propaganda article which is featured on the American Mathematical Society homepage?
    My humour may be so twisted that I see fun where there isn’t any.

  5. Mike Taylor Says:

    Right. I am in favour of scholarly content being available from library computers. Because I’m in favour of scholarly content being available from computers, and library computers are computers.

  6. Nick Gardner Says:

    The problem now with the idea of walk-in access is that it assumes the library can even afford the journals in the first place!

    Disgusting.

  7. Mike Taylor Says:

    I think the idea is that public libraries are given zero-cost access to the journals.

    On 27 November 2013 13:36, Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week

  8. David Groenewegen Says:

    This is clearly invented by the publishers because it does two things for them:

    1. Gives them easy revenue from the government, without the need to do any actual sales work, or even convince people they need all these journals.

    2. Allows them to say “we don’t need open access, everybody already has access”.

    They don’t care about whether people can get to the library, or whether they get used. It is free money, that scores a political point. Genius really.

  9. Anthony Says:

    The issue here really seems to be the serious under-funding of the public library system. If it wasn’t for the Tory (translate as Labour, LibDem, Conservative to suit) cuts and lack of investment in public libraries, the world’s scholarly output would be much less than a car journey away to all under this scheme.

  10. Mike Taylor Says:

    Library cuts certainly make things worse, but they are very far from the core issue. The real brain-fail here is the category error of a physical-world solution to an online-world problem.


  11. […] Hmm, so for example, being based in Glasgow, this would be a 302 mile round trip to Newcastle. Once I get to the library, if I manage to get access the such material, I can’t download/save anything. Think I’ll just stick to reading Open Access papers from right here. I had concerns about Access To Research in 2012 and in light of this post, my concerns were totally justified:- http://steelgraham.wordpress.c…Also see Mike Taylor’s post “Walk-in access? Seriously?” at SV_POW!:http://svpow.com/2013/11/26/wa… […]


  12. […] the UK. The launch quickly generated a fair amount of publicity, albeit with equal measures of scorn poured upon […]


  13. […] it depends. When I wrote last year about the travesty that is “walk-in access” — the ridiculous idea that you can […]


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