I haven't personally been able to muster any intense activism for Open Access in scholarship. I try not to mention this apathy too much, though, because I know that lots of librarians and researchers strongly support it, and that it can be a touchy subject. The rub for me is that I don't see how scholarship under the currently prevalent publishing model is all that closed or inaccessible in contrast to OA.
So as to avoid any misunderstanding, let me start by clarifying that...
- I am not opposed to open access of published materials... I'm perfectly happy with initiatives to digitize and offer scholarship for free to people.
- The prospect of Open Access should not be presented as an either/or opposite an Elsevier style publishing situation. There are plenty of possible futures for academic and other publishing that steer between these two stark alternatives and are genuinely attentive to the abuses of the latter. And they often incorporate aspects of the former.
What would we achieve from an OA academy? From what I can tell, the goal is free online databases of research that are preserved for and accessible to the public. Apart from the accessibility of having it right here, and right now, though, what does this model achieve that can't already be achieved by emailing the author of an article and asking for a pdf attachment of it? Are there really authors out there who wouldn't oblige and pass on their published work to others personally? A novelist may not do it, but what royalties does the author of a journal article stand to lose?
This sort of open access already goes on all the time in the academy and beyond institutional affiliations. Further, I can't imagine that it hurts the sale of scholarly literature any more than something like Inter-library Loan does. Institutions and individuals still have good reasons to make their own libraries strong through purchased acquisitions despite free exchange of materials -- not least of which is the ability to continue to act as just such a lender in the exchange of academic discourse. On the contrary, an open database constitutes a transfer of curatorial responsibility away from libraries and individual scholars. There are good reasons for a library to own an electronic and a print version of a single academic resource under the current situation. To have an electronic version that is intended to be at everyone's fingertips, however, precludes any institutional or personal commitment to hold and exchange academic work.
It may not be an obviously bad thing for a centralized database (or various databases) to readily expose all scholarly work to everyone (everyone with the luxury of an internet connection, at least). In this case the literature would be accessed, digested, and cited just like it always has been. What is lost, it seems, is the institutional or personal exchange required by a traditional model of publication and dissemination of literature.
Is this just nostalgia for an old boy's club of academics? I don't think so. I'm not talking about keeping dusty old books for the sake of dust and age. The current state of scholarly exchange needs electronic versions of scholarly work and similarly advanced networking possibilities to function in as successful a manner as it does. It also needs good bibliographic information available online and with sophisticated search functions- this level of academic exchange can't work for the independent scholar (or even the affiliated scholar!) if journals don't have article contents and abstracts available openly to human browsers. There is no comparison between the level of academic exchange taking place now and what took place a century ago, and I don't want to roll things back to an idyllic past. Quite the opposite, we need to move forward with new research technologies.
The OA discussion, however, would have you believe that without scholarly research available freely (to anyone with an internet connection), no one would be willing or able to share information with one another! When the AIA opposes certain measures to enforce OA, they're immediately branded as anti-liberal and elitist, despite many significant ventures in open technology and metadata improvement that they're committed to. Don't let this sort of rhetoric fool you. Open Access is a good ideal to strive for, and it's beneficial to the academic world that we can post research for free viewing (to anyone with an internet connection). But we are not coming out of some dark ages in leaving the current model of publication, collection, and exchange. Plenty of reforms and improvements have been going on for some time, and should continue without feeling undue pressure to think that an online "open access" is the only adequate solution.