Friday, June 26, 2009

How much more can be we bear from The Harvard Business Review

This morning I learned from The Distant Librarian that The Harvard Business Review has been"requesting payments of as much as £15k pa from several UK academic business libraries simply for the privilege of making persistent links to HBR articles on reading lists and VLEs."

Let's unpack this astonishing bit of news.

One of the reasons why MPOW subscribed to EBSCO's Business Source Complete was that the product had exclusive access to the Harvard Business Review. This practice of obtaining exclusive access to key titles ultimately places libraries at a disadvantage as they have to spend money on a number of largely redundant databases in order to have access to core titles. And yet, for this privilege, EBSCO has not protected libraries from the pressure tactics of HBRB and have clearly complied with their shakedown for cash. Want to know how the HBR justifies this 'cost recovery'? There is a clause in EBSCO subscribers contracts which states that access to articles within the product is for ‘individual, private study’ rather than for teaching purposes.

What does this episode tell us about about the value of these databases? I think - to simply put it - HBR thinks that they have no value. Print copies of The Harvard Business Review has more value that that title buried within EBSCO. BTW, this is not the first time The Harvard Business Review has used heavy handed tactics to extract more money from readers. Harvard monitors class enrollment vs. actual student orders [of printed HBR case studies] and notifies the instructor if there are discrepancies.

So what can we do? Well, in 2001 Nature Publishing Group established a 3-month embargo of their journal content from online site licences to libraries as a means to protect its individual subscription base. In response, many ivy-league universities cancelled their subscriptions in protest and shortly thereafter, Nature rescinded the embargo:

In a letter to Nature officials, including Philip LoFaso, vice president of the Nature Publishing Group, Harvard University librarian Sidney Verba called Nature's previous license terms a "major diminution" of Nature's value and stated that faculty needs at Harvard would simply not be met "by subscribing to such an inferior version of what might be supplied.

Clearly there is a major diminution in this case as well. Let's hope that libraries - including and especially Harvard - recognize this and act upon it.

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