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How to Use the Internet

In response to:

The Library: Three Jeremiads from the December 23, 2010 issue

To the Editors:

Amen to all that Robert Darnton writes in “The Library: Three Jeremiads” [NYR, December 23, 2010]. Even though I have long been using printed journals in language and literature, I had no idea that they now cost libraries an average of $275 a year, and I strongly suspect that few if any chemistry professors knew before now that a year’s subscription to Tetrahedron costs libraries over $39,000 (substantially more than my wife and I paid for our first house).

Given the runaway cost of printed journals, the case for digitized journals—offered at low cost or open-access no cost—has never been stronger. A little over a year ago, a Dartmouth colleague and I launched an open-access online review of books on English and American literature of the nineteenth century. Such books must normally wait at least two years to be reviewed in print, and sometimes they are never reviewed at all. But with the invaluable aid of contributors ranging all the way from chaired professors and emeriti to promising graduate students, we have posted over 120 detailed reviews of books published in 2009 and 2010. And in just over fifteen months on the Web, we have had 31,222 visits and 19,677 unique visitors.

With no revenue from either advertising or subscriptions, we cannot pay either ourselves or our reviewers. We pay only the technical specialists—all Dartmouth students—who built the site and now maintain it for modest hourly fees. As a result, our total cost for this project so far is $4,500, all in Dartmouth grants, which includes enough to keep us going until at least the summer of 2011.

James Heffernan
Professor of English Emeritus
Dartmouth College
Hanover, New Hampshire
Founding Editor
New Books on Literature 19

Robert Darnton replies:

James Heffernan’s home-brewed, do-it-yourself, seat-of-the-pants reviewing seems admirable to me. It illustrates how the Internet can be used to satisfy a need, and I hope he keeps it going beyond the summer of 2011. He rightly points out that few professors know about the excessive costs of the periodicals they read. For one year’s subscription to Tetrahedron (currently $39,082) a library could buy about four hundred monographs. Other professors, however, object to the excessive prices of journals to which they have contributed unpaid services. More than a dozen editorial boards of such journals have resigned en masse, and many of their members have gone on to found open-access or inexpensive journals in the same field.

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