“But researchers have the access they need”
February 7, 2012
I read an article on the Times Higher Education website: Research intelligence – The emeriti seizing a late licence to roam. It’s about how many retired academics are finding that, freed from the administrative responsibilities of their university jobs, they are able to be more fruitful in their research after retirement.
Interesting stuff, so I wanted to read the paper that the article is based on: Thody, Angela. 2011. Emeritus professors of an English university: how is the wisdom of the aged used? Studies in Higher Education, 36(6):637-653. doi:10.1080/03075079.2010.488721. To its shame, the THE article gave only the title, not the whole reference, so that’s what I started with.
Google’s top hit for the article title was this page on informaworld.com. The link is broken. Google wouldn’t have indexed it if it hadn’t been there, so evidently the page did exist, but subsequently vanished. So — top marks there for commercial publishers’ curation and archiving role.
Next hit is for this page on ingentaconnect.com. On the plus side, the page is at least there. On the negative side, it offers to sell me the PDF for $50.43 plus tax.
No problem, though — I am affiliated with an awesome institution, the University of Bristol, which surely gives me institutional access. After all, everyone knows that researchers have the access they need. I sign in via Shibboleth, return to the page, and find a transformation! Instead of offering to sell me the PDF for $50.43 plus tax, it now offers to sell me the PDF for £31.47 plus tax. Evidently it now knows I’m British. And evidently, “the access I need” as a palaeontologist doesn’t extend to journals about education.
Special bonus iniquity: I checked out ingentaconnect’s refund policy:
You may request the refund of a pay-per-view order you have submitted via the service under the following conditions:
1. there was a technical issue on the service which prevented successful delivery
2. you notify us that the article is no longer required and request cancellation within one day of the order being placed.
Note, “and” not “or”. So if there is a technical issue that prevents successful delivery but you still want the article, then you lose your $50.43 plus tax. Because of their technical fault.
Well, anyway. At this point I think I would have been justified in giving up. But because I wanted to chase right down into the rabbit hold, I went on to …
The Google search result also offered this page on tandfoneline.com. Again, the page hadn’t evaporated, which is a good start. It offered me the option to “Buy now”, but didn’t tell me the price. I was wary of hitting that button, as the “now” suggests a one-click purchase — never good when you don’t even know the price — but I went ahead because I was fairly sure that Taylor and Francis didn’t have my credit-card number. That took me to another screen which offered me these baffling options:
Purchase options Price *
SSH Article Price GBP 23.00
Permanent access to this issue GBP 213.00
What might the difference be between an SSH Article and Permanent Access? “£190”, I answer myself sourly. Beyond that, I have no idea. Nothing on the page explains what SSH is: my best guess is that it’s a system that shows you the paper inside your browser, and that your access evaporates after some period. But how long? No idea.
But wait! Might the University of Bristol come to my rescue after all? I logged in via Shibboleth on this other site, and this time — bingo! So it turns out “the access I need” does include education journals after all. But only when accessed via this particular one of the three different online services that could potentially serve up the PDF.
I wonder how many people would have given up after trying to get access via institutional login on ingentaconnect.com? (I would, usually; I was being more than usually bloody-minded today).
The fact that access is possible is really not good enough. It should be easy. Seamless. Without barriers. If I want to get hold of an article from, say Acta Palaeontological Polonica, things are much simpler. Google for “A new troodontid theropod from the Late Cretaceous of central China”, hit the first link that comes up: bam, you’re done, there’s the PDF.
It’s the 21st century. It’s not even the first decade of the 21st century any more. Heck, it’s not even the start of the second decade. We’re living in the Shiny Digital Future. We know how to do this stuff. All the paywall barriers are a waste of my time and effort, even when I have a route through. The world should be better than this by now. Part of me wants to cry out: why are we ever still talking about this? It should be done. Instead, we live in a world where corporations invest time, effort and money into building systems to make access harder — erecting a series on complex, confusing, misleading, ill-documented, poorly implemented, time-consuming barriers to access.
So. Do researchers have the access they need? Yes — maybe, sometimes, perhaps most of the time, so long as they try enough different routes, so long as they are at a suitable university, so long as the library happens to have a subscription to the journal you want, so long as you’re not graduated or retired or otherwise moved on, and provided you’re prepared to fritter away your research time wrestling with badly designed websites rather than actually, you know, researching.
In other words: no.