Everyone has probably already seen this, but I'm a bit behind in my news reading. A story in the Chronicle (full story requires subscription) says that the New York Times, which had recently made its TimesSelect material freely available to college students, will now restrict which college students can get access to it, according to them all because of librarians complaining that the new Times deal gave too many people free access to information. I think I've entered the Library Twilight Zone.
It seems that some librarians were complaining that many academic libraries already pay a lot of money for some of this content, so the Times shouldn't just give it away to their students. Um, okay. The response? Now, "TimesSelect archives will be available only to students at colleges that subscribe to database companies that carry Times content."
I'm trying to figure out what's driving the complaints. The motive seems to be that librarians who have paid for the content through some database service now don't want it given away for free. Resentment is never pretty. But all this means in practice is that students at the handful of colleges who can't afford a database with Times content won't receive even this little benefit. Thus, the students at the poorest schools will be disadvantaged the most. I guess that's the way it always is.
Are there many academic libraries that don't already subscribe to some database with Times content? And for those few that don't, would it really hurt the others if they had this small perk from the NYT?
Most of the NYT is freely available online. Should we ask the NYT to restrict all their content to students at schools that subscribe to some database with Times content?
From the Chronicle:
"Barbara Fister, a library director at Gustavus Adolphus College who is a prominent voice among librarians online, was among the first to raise the issue, on a couple of library discussion lists.
'I have mixed feelings,' she says. As someone who is an avid reader of newspapers and who worries about their future, she believes that the Times should make its online content free to students.
Then again, her library recently shelled out nearly $20,000 for Times archives in a ProQuest database — a real stretch for the small college. 'Maybe I shouldn't have paid so much,' she says."
Times Select is only $50/year. Are we to think that what people get for that $50 is equivalent to what Gustavus Adolphus gets for its $20K?
We get more sophisticated interfaces. We get exhaustive archives. We don't get advertisements. Aren't those the sorts of reasons we pay for the databases? "We," of course, being all those schools that can afford them.
For all those poor schools that can't afford any databases with NYT content, the students will just have to guess what Bob Herbert, Paul Krugman, or Maureen Dowd think about the burning issues of the day. To get a taste of all the good stuff you're missing, try the Automatic Bob Herbert. Indistinguishable from the real thing.