A Trip Into The Past

Today I have been in Southampton. I was there because I needed a university library to do some research, and that’s the only one I can get into easily these days, due to being an alumnus.

So I spent a happy day browsing the stacks for books about Roman eunuchs, and duly found a number of them, which was very useful.

I also got to see how the place had changed in the 35 years or so since I was last there. Parts of it were still very familiar. The library, the student union and the chemistry building are still where they always were, but the bookshop has mysteriously migrated up onto Burgess Road near where the oceanography building used to be. There is also a lot of new build. This has had the effect of diluting the maritime theme of the campus, and I think removing a lot of green space. Still, time can’t stand still. It was good to see the place thriving (and to see a lot more women and non-white students than in my day).

While the day was very useful, it could have been so much better if it were not for the disaster that is academic publishing. No university library takes paper copies of journals these days. They are all online, and you pay for access per student and staff member. There are very strict controls over who can access them, even though they are all “in the library”. Even worse, they don’t seem to buy paper books any more. New books seem to be mostly held only in electronic form and on license. This makes it next to impossible for anyone who isn’t either a member of staff or a student to access anything in an academic library.

Fortunately I can get access to a lot of journals through J-STOR, though I often have to pay for them. Books are more difficult. These days new academic books go for between £80 and £100. I can’t afford that. I’d start to think seriously about Helen Marshall’s MA in science fiction because at least then I’d be a student, except I can’t afford £7k in tuition fees either (or the time to do the course).

Knowledge, we guards it jealously, my precious.

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One Response to A Trip Into The Past

  1. Dr Bob says:

    The whole business model for academic books doesn’t seem to have moved on from the 90s. My supervisor back then said the pricing policy was based on the assumption that only big university libraries would buy a copy. That seems to be a self-reinforcing prophecy – if they are £80 to £100 per book, very few academics and students will buy a copy, let alone mere mortals like you and I!

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