As you know from my last post (since removed), PhilPapers is seeking library subscriptions from some institutions to achieve financial sustainability. I had a number of concerns about the initial approach to librarians and the scope of the subscription drive that I communicated on this blog, on the ACRL philosophy discussion group listserv, and through email communication with David Bourget of PhilPapers. David worked quickly and with good grace to address my concerns and those of other librarians to the point where my criticisms are almost nil and I believe PhilPapers will act in good faith to encourage support without alienating librarians. David asked me politely if I would revise the (somewhat aggressive) title of my previous post, as it no longer reflected the PhilPapers stance and could potentially damage the subscription drive that I had already defended in the comments. Instead, I chose to take down the post and write another response.
Let’s begin with PhilPapers, which some librarians might be unfamiliar with. PhilPapers has become a useful, and, in the words of one Princeton philosopher who wrote me, an “essential” tool for contemporary academic philosophers. It attempts to replace the Philosopher’s Index, which, while a useful tool itself, has received a lot of criticism from philosophers over the years (and which has inspired at least one other competitor, the Philosophy Research Index). PhilPapers has always aspired to be more than the Philosopher’s Index ever tried to be, though. In addition to an index of the philosophical literature, it provides a taxonomy of philosophy and an open access archive of philosophical research that constantly grows as the hundreds of philosophers who contribute to it continue to do so. It is the best, if not only, available platform for open access scholarship in philosophy. As such, it deserves the support of the universities that house the majority of academic philosophers.
But as with any open access resource, there’s always the question of money. Some anti-OA folk criticize OA advocates for thinking that information not only wants to be, but can be free. However, outside of a few starry-eyed idealists, nobody really believes that. Open access scholarship should be freely available to all, but it has to be funded somehow. The argument for funding it is that without the profit motive, OA scholarship will be less expensive than the closed access scholarship that libraries have been funding for decades. Initially, the money sometimes comes from grants, as happened with the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (which also had a library fundraising campaign a few years ago) and with PhilPapers. While grants allow time to develop a product and test its value, they do run out. Such has happened with PhilPapers now. The logical alternative is to seek financial support from university libraries. It’s in the interest of libraries to support OA scholarship because doing so benefits everyone.
Thus, because PhilPapers has shown a great willingness to work with librarians to address our concerns and has revised and clarified its goal of raising subscriptions mostly from larger universities with philosophy programs, because of the great value of PhilPapers to the philosophical community, and because of the inherent value of open access scholarship for scholars and students throughout the world, I believe that libraries, especially those at research universities and better off liberal arts colleges, should subscribe to PhilPapers so that this excellent resource can continue to exist and grow. As the philosophy selector at such a library, I will be subscribing to PhilPapers this summer, after my fiscal year begins, confident that waiting until the time is appropriate for my library won’t bring on the sort of repercussions I was at first concerned about.