I wanted to write a little more, because I know at least one person didn’t like that I’d taken down the previous post with the comments. I’m calling this a “last bit,” because I’ve spent a LOT of time this week writing about PhilPapers, mostly to PhilPapers.
I objected to the initial communication about the PP subscription for a number of reasons, but most distressing was beginning with a threat to restrict access on a timeline that was unworkable for most libraries and the theoretical application of the restriction to over 3,000 institutions, most of which probably don’t even have philosophy departments. The restriction timeline showed a lack of awareness of how library budgets operate and I thought the choice to go with no carrots and all stick was a bad idea, particularly since there are easy ways to avoid being hit with that stick. The broad application of the restriction seemed to me a betrayal of the whole purpose of OA scholarship and expected support from institutions that barely participate in the academic philosophical community that uses this resource so heavily. I blogged about it and began an email conversation with David Bourget of PhilPapers.
Over the course of two days, both in communication with me, comments on the blog, and comments elsewhere, David Bourget and David Chalmers of PhilPapers took the concerns of librarians very seriously, revised policies in the light of those concerns, and made it clear to me that there was now no immediate threat of restricted access, not on June 1, July 1, or any time very soon, especially now that they were aware of the budget and fiscal year restrictions on librarians. As an example, I used our own budget process. The fiscal year begins July 1 here, but it’s not until July that I even write the budget report in which I would make a request for any new funds to cover something like this, and it would be quite a while longer before everything was officially in place, and this is at a library with pretty good budgets and philosophy funding. I told them I thought it might be months before some libraries could subscribe, even those that want to as soon as they can.
Moreover, they revised the request to include at most only institutions that offered at least a BA in philosophy, and the messages from Chalmers on the blog and to philosophy professors was that they were especially making the requests from “large universities.” In my second post, I specifically mentioned research universities and better off liberal arts college libraries, and have communicated to PhilPapers that I believe reaching beyond those groups isn’t going to be productive. Philosophy is often poorly funded at smaller regional or branch public universities, for example, even if they happen to have a small philosophy department.
Since Tuesday, I’ve also spent a lot of time writing to PP about libraries and how they work. I’ve also suggested that the point of sales isn’t just to talk about what they need from libraries, but also what they can offer libraries that do subscribe. One example that came up from another librarian who emailed me was improved interaction with link resolvers for those who subscribe, making it much easier to get from citations in PP to other library resources, especially in the many cases where there is no document in the OA repository (e.g., all the book citations).
PP has been a grant funded project created and run by academics, not sales people. They’ve never tried to sell anything or work with libraries, so everyone is new at this. In that light, I think the issues I had with the initial PP email were the result of misunderstandings and miscommunication rather than a sign of ill will or arrogance. I’ve been very pleased at how Bourget has responded to my mostly constructive criticism, and I assume that of others who may be contacting him, and both he and Chalmers seem dedicated to making this work for libraries as best as it can without undue penalties, and especially without any short term penalties that would destroy the good will even of librarians that wanted to participate but couldn’t because of budgeting constraints in a short time period. Their only goal is making PP sustainable, not to harass libraries. Maybe this won’t work, but PP is a heavily used resource among philosophers and has developed a significant amount of valuable content, so it’s worth trying. Besides revising the language on the website, I think they’re preparing another round of communication with librarians that I expect will be quite different in tone and content.
It could be that I’ve been deceived, and that it’s all a clever ruse to get me to change my story for public consumption. I don’t believe it is, and don’t see how anyone would gain by that. On the extremely off chance that I’m wrong, and bad things happen down the road, it’ll be easy enough to respond in kind. Librarians have the power here. They have the power to help support a useful OA resource and keep it viable, or not. Since my criticisms have been addressed and I trust that more development will improve the site for libraries, I’m willing to give it a shot.