While completing my Master’s degree in English, I distinctly remember one professor singling out a student in class and asking them to buy a physical copy of the book instead of using their e-reader. Reading lists for classes were often compiled with very little thought as to text costs, availability, or accessibility – or, in other words – with little consideration of student needs. To many humanists, this preoccupation with the written word is nothing new. The humanities as a discipline has always been wedded to the monograph, leading the humanities to lag behind the sciences when it comes to open access initiatives.
So, imagine my surprise this week when I learned that historians are circumventing traditional publishing avenues and downloading parts of books using the Twitter hashtag #twitterlibraryloan. In a manner that is reminiscent of #icanhazpdf and r/scholar, scholars are requesting parts of books using the above hashtag and members with access to the material are filling the requests.
But why violate copyright when you can work with a library and get the sections of the book that you need sent directly to you via interlibrary loan? And do so legally? Well, according to some scholars, requesting documents via interlibrary loan is frustrating at times. Usually, you will get the materials that you need, but it can take a long time…sometimes even a couple of weeks… to receive what you requested, and even then, there are restrictions on re-use. Today, scholars expect immediate and unrestricted access to information and libraries have failed to keep up with the demands of the academic information marketplace (Gardner & Gardner, 2017, p.141).
It is also important to note that as the demand for monographs declines, fewer monographs are being published and it is becoming increasingly difficult for scholars to find publishers who are willing to publish their work. Libraries have also been forced to make difficult budgetary decisions lately, as academic library budgets shrink by the year and the cost of journal subscriptions continues to rise. University libraries’ purchasing of monographs has declined steadily over the past few years, as more of the library acquisition budget has been allocated to journals– a trend that will likely continue in the future. As a result, humanities scholars must find other ways to access the materials that they need for their research. Enter #twitterlibraryloan.
However, while many librarians [myself included] are sympathetic to the underlying cause of the Twitter Library Loan movement, we cannot support or endorse illegal means of accessing information. In this instance, like with #icanhazpdf, LibGen, and SciHub, the end [equitable access to information] does not justify the means [scholarly piracy]. But what we can do is use this opportunity to educate our users. For example, in their quest to damage the profit margins of giant for-profit publishers, many of our users are oblivious to the fact that pirating materials is harmful to the entire scholarly ecosystem. Scholarly piracy also hurts not-for-profit publishers, university presses, and small, independent publishers- many of whom are potential allies in the fight for open humanities initiatives. We should also point these frustrated scholars towards freely available, open access alternatives that already exist on the interwebs and that are perfectly legal. I’ve included some examples below:
DOAB is an online directory that indexes and provides access to quality open access books. Currently, there are over 10,103 academic peer-reviewed books and chapters from 243 publishers
Contains the full text of peer reviewed OA books, mainly in the humanities and social sciences, which are free to read online
CORE (Commons Open Repository Exchange) is a free, full-text, interdisciplinary, not-for-profit repository for sharing, discovering, retrieving, and archiving digital work. Users are able to upload articles, books, book chapters, conference publications, dissertations, essays, fictional works and other types of publications using Creative Commons licensing
A good collection of Humanities books, available to purchase, but also free to read online
Browse books published under a Creative Commons license and without an embargo. The publications can be read for free online and downloaded
Offers a collection of millions of titles digitised from libraries around the world
The Internet Archive contains over 6,000,000 public domain books and manuscripts which can be read online or downloaded
A repository of more than 2,000 open access ebooks
Lastly, if you’re feeling frustrated with your research and/or have a comment, critique, or suggestion about library services at your institution, please get in touch with your local librarian. I’ll end this post with a message from a very insightful interlibrary loan librarian, who speaks for many of us in the profession, I think, with the following Tweet:
Your friendly academic librarian