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On January 15, 2005, a standing-room-only crowd of librarians listened as a panel of experts, moderated by Columbia University's Jim Neal, voiced support for the National Institute of Health's (NIH) proposal to mandate free online access to the research it funds. On the dais at this SPARC/ ACRL (Association of College and Research Libraries) forum at the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting in Boston, there was a librarian from the National Library of Medicine. There was an eloquent scientist. The star of the session, however, was a citizen named Sharon Terry.
A former college chaplain, Terry is a leading voice in the Alliance for Taxpayer Access, a key ally with SPARC in lobbying for the NIH's access plan. She captivated librarians, even brought some to tears with the story of how she and her husband were reduced to "stealing passwords" and other schemes to access medical literature in libraries--literature that eventually helped them to help their doctors treat their two young children, both suffering from a rare form of cancer. As the session closed, a picture of Terry's recovering children smiled down from the big screen.
Meanwhile, on the morning of the very same day Terry enthralled librarians, the heads of collections from some of the nation's largest and most prestigious university libraries--known as the "Big Heads"--also met to discuss progress on a range of issues. When the subject of scholarly communication came up, one prominent librarian voiced "dismay" over how open access had come to dominate the scholarly communication discussion. Another librarian concurred, wondering if librarians' time would be better spent discussing more immediate solutions to their collection issues.
A growing rift
At the same time, another series of events was playing out. Just one day before the start of Midwinter, the NIH abruptly cancelled a conference call scheduled for January 18, where it was expected to announce its new policy. Rumors abounded at the SPARC/ACRL session that the NIH was set to abandon its initial proposal requiring grantees to deposit their papers for access within six months and instead would now merely "request" they do so within a year.
The rumors proved true. On February 3, NIH director Elias Zerhouni …