OpenSIUCI went to a Forum on Thursday (Nov. 19), partly because two nice young people stopped by my office personally in Faner and invited me. I was interested in this topic anyway, though, and though I can't say I've totally sorted it out, I can at least give some background and point out a few interesting facts.
openSIUC is an online repository of scholarly work; it is supported by SIUC and its administration, the best I can figure, because it increases visibility of the faculty, and expands the impact of its work. It is part of a movement to open up access to information that has been spurred on by dynamic changes in the way information is accessed in general. The traditional journals in many fields are being pressured; because they are not online, their information, and their citations, are in effect hidden.
I missed David Shulenburger's speech, but I can guess that it was somewhat like this one in which he encourages faculty to open up and give the taxpayers what they paid for: the fruits of their labor. Many other faculty readily agree. They not only see the benefit of having everyone access their work right away, but also don't see the point in hiding what is in effect a search for truth anyway. So why wouldn't we just go entirely Open Access, as some other universities have done (or tried? I'm not sure)?
The obvious losers in this picture are the traditional journals, which have apparently been overcharging libraries (the figure of $2000/yr. came up), although that situation is complicated, since journals are often bundled, and the recession means people are losing left and right. But time is a factor too: even though it traditionally took two years for an article to be published entirely, electronic transfer has moved that up; still, as my friend SM said, people are expected to post conference papers these days; also, people want their work to be seen by as many as can, as soon as possible; this encourages idea exchange and saves time. To the question of what will happen to peer review, one answer was that this speeds up the process, but doesn't replace the process.
I have certainly noticed in the fields I'm most interested in that there have been lots of new online academic journals; they jockey for position, based on what they can publish; there is therefore a variety spanning from reputable to less reputable; they as a class are getting all the citations, because people are at their computers and just grab what they can find, often, especially when finding the original or the best source isn't of utmost importance. I myself rely almost entirely on online sources, mostly because I don't have time to walk over to the library, and do most of my writing at night, when I can't.
Wait a minute, say the traditionalists. Free is not a business plan (true)- the traditional journals will go out of business (maybe), as newspapers already have. There is no blind peer review, if things are online already (true- but some say there is no blind peer review anyway)...and finally, in some fields, so much of what is online is low-quality, free, pedestrian, etc. The "good" journals are the traditional ones...Yes, but, in my eyes at least, a wide variety is opening out, and since places like openSIUC put academic weight behind "online" and "free", more and more really good things are "online" and "free". It is now possible to do fairly good and pretty thorough research on many topics online, and this trend is generally increasing, not decreasing. I'm not saying anything profound here, just noticing which way the wind is blowing. An e-Print archive (http://arxiv.org) is part of this trend, apparently. Entire textbooks are online in most fields; this could eliminate the huge overpricing/monopoly/constant renewal problem we've faced for years with the textbook industry.
It's an interesting world, and it's apparently not sitting still.