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NYT Rethinks Free Access to Colleges Based on Librarian Complaints

The Chronicle of Higher Ed reports that the New York Times has altered its offer to make Times Select, which includes columnists and archives going back to the 1800s, available to college students for free.

After librarians complained that they already pay tens of thousands of dollars for access to premium New York Times content through database companies like ProQuest and Lexis-Nexis, TimesSelect will now be available only to students of colleges that subscribe to database companies that carry Times content. Currently non of the pre-1980s archives is available to students for free while NYTimes.com is working on a patch that will recognize colleges that are subscribers to databases.

Boy, this is a tough one. I can certainly identify with the librarians who are upset that they shelled out big bucks for a resource that was later offered for free. BUT, for the Times to restrict access because of it is just a Lose-Lose situation. It's all so painfully ironic since librarians are all about the free sharing of information.

The comment of Barbara Fister, one of the librarians quoted in the article, is illustrative:

This is not the outcome I'd hoped for, and I certainly was not lobbying against information being free. I simply felt taken for a ride when the publisher who had made a deal with a third party to sell content at a large price tag to libraries turned around and marketed the same content to our students as "complementary". (It wasn't free to everyone, just students and faculty with .edu e-mail addresses. The people we spend many thousands to provide it to.) I'm sorry they turned off the access and I'd be much happier if they made it available to everyone.

Frankly, I raised the question because it seemed underhanded of the Times to do business this way.

Librarians are in favor of open access. We've fought hard for it. Don't let the Times's response to a question asked in good faith make you think librarians are against information being widely and freely available. It's what we do, after all. I just don' t like getting soaked.