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MIT Press to Expand the Roster of Back-List Works in Public Access

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The Internet Archive, Brewster Kahle, October 27, 2011 | © Courtesy of Ian Kennedy.

The latest MIT Press initiative to digitize its back-list titles for public access at the Internet Archive demonstrates the demand for and limitations of Open Access solutions.

A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.


In May, 2017, in an extensive press release, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Press has announced that jointly with the Internet Archive and Arcadia, a British charitable fund, it will digitize and make publicly available its out-print backlist book titles. The initial plan is to have approximately 1,500 works across the field of humanities, social sciences, technology and exact sciences available via the Internet Archive by the end of 2017 to individuals and libraries. This digitization initiative arises from a collaboration between the MIT Press, the Internet Archive as a non-profit digital library, the supporting foundation and Boston Public Library. Furthermore, this initiative represents only one part of the ambitious vision of the Internet Archive to have over four million university and academic presses’ works made available to the general public in digital form, as part of its bid to win further grant support from John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

However, these announcements fall short of mentioning Open Access as the format in which these books will be available. The choice of public access as a term of reference indicates that additional conditions may apply to digital access to these works in digital form via libraries that have lending rights to the corresponding books in digital form. Furthermore, while the Internet Archive is touted as a provider of access to the scholarly works to be digitized, the corresponding arrangements with participating institutions and libraries may have clauses that enable free access to these works in digital form in some contexts, while imposing additional conditionalities in others. As the position of Amy Brand, MIT Press Director, indicates, backlist title digitization is not only a desirable, but also costly undertaking that cannot be launched by either the university presses or individual universities alone and demands external funding and technical, legal and digital expertise and know-how that these institutions do not necessarily possess, especially as concerns the incorporation of digital collections into the resources of lending libraries.

In other words, the situation with Open Access remains highly complex, since its implementation to out-of-press books is likely to be limited by budgetary shortages, copyright restrictions and technical capacity shortcomings. Furthermore, public access may not necessarily be interchangeable with Open Access, since it may be in effect for as long as the costs of the organization providing it are covered and in so far as no legal challenges exist to its implementation. This is illustrated by Asian Development Review, an Open Access journal that the MIT Press published in partnership with the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Development Bank Institute.

By Pablo Markin


Featured Image Credits: The Internet Archive, Brewster Kahle, October 27, 2011  | © Courtesy of Ian Kennedy.

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