Ain’t no paywall low enough, Part I


Cartoon by Ward Sutton, The New Yorker

Just when you think you found the right article to help ground your new research, you click and come up against the dreaded paywall. You stop and think…

“Does my institution subscribe to this journal? Hmmm…no they don’t. But the article is $40 to see. Should I wait and Interlibrary Loan it? What if it takes too long? I have to get this draft out, stat. Should I just pay it? Or is reading the abstract enough? I could just cite it and deal with it later. Or do I send out the PDF bat signal on Twitter and hope someone pulls through?” Etcetera etcetera.

You see the story of Diego Gomez who is facing 8 years in prison for sharing a PDF online for research purposes. Many of us do this on a regular basis. What would it take for legal action to be taken against any of us? In light of Gomez’s case, not a whole lot. I have images in my head of clicking “publish” on this blog post and a SWAT team repelling down the building and breaking through the window to apprehend me.

$40 doesn’t seem like a whole lot at first. But for any given research project, most of us have to go through dozens, if not hundreds of articles. Heck, I just made my institution’s Interlibrary Loan office process 7 articles the other day for a new project. What if I had to come up with $280 to pay for access to articles that I’m not even sure I will need to use in my work? I couldn’t. My job does not include a research budget.

My research on the Etruscan world is niche, to say the least, but I have had so many moments of connection with other scholars at conferences, via my online presence, or through a colleague of a colleague where, by virtue of the fact that I’ve prowled through dozens of museum and Soprintendenza archives for information on nearly 1000 objects, I have been able to provide bibliography, research direction, and data.

I don’t want my own research to be paywalled, but it already is. So many people have paid it forward for me, and I want to do the same. However, as an early-career researcher on a term contract for her employment, I feel like I have to try to publish in the “right” journals, the big names, with the paywalls, in order to justify my abilities as a scholar if/when I have to hit the job market again. My dissertation is embargoed at the moment because I haven’t had time to work it up into a manuscript. I cannot afford all the image permissions I would need to pay for what it is in its current state, and I don’t want to risk a publisher considering the dissertation as “published” already if it is available in full via ProQuest.

So I feel like a bit of a hostage to the entire system, on the for-profit publishing end with article paywalls, as well as from the culture of Academia at large where certain publications are “worth more” than others due to the name of a journal or a press.

To be continued…


2 thoughts on “Ain’t no paywall low enough, Part I

  1. Pingback: The Cost of Being Outside | Handy at Murlo Blog

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