Preston McAfee named newest SPARC innovator

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By: 
Jennifer McLennan
Marketing and Communications Strategy

Washington, DC – January 21, 2009 – SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) has named economics scholar and author R. Preston McAfee the newest SPARC innovator for his pioneering contributions to the Open Educational Resources movement and passionate advocacy for Open Access.

McAfee is the J. Stanley Johnson Professor of Business, Economics and Management at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and is currently working as a vice president and research fellow at Yahoo! Inc.

In 2006, McAfee was the first to publish a complete textbook, Introduction to Economic Analysis, and make it openly available online. As “open source” material, available under a Creative Commons license that requires attribution, users can pick and choose chapters or integrate with their own material. McAfee’s book, which has been updated three times since it was first introduced, is currently used on campuses from Harvard to New York University.

The book is welcome relief for strapped college students who are paying $100 and more for textbooks. Organizations that lobby for reasonable textbook pricing, such as Student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs), are hailing McAfee’s book as a break-through. “He’s the first who understands what an open text book needs to be. He’s provided an example that everyone should follow,” says Nicole Allen, leader of the Student PIRGs’ Make Textbooks Affordable Campaign.

“Open educational resources, including textbooks, are a natural extension of what we support in Open Access,” adds Heather Joseph, Executive Director of SPARC. “SPARC is pleased to highlight both Dr. McAfee’s contributions and the path he has laid for other authors to follow.”

As a proponent of Open Educational Resources, McAfee hopes that other educators will provide more free content online – but, he realizes for many, it is hard to pass up the payment from publishers. McAfee would like to see universities host competitions for scholars to write the best online textbook and then give the winner a substantial cash prize. This would satisfy the author’s need for compensation and provide the university with an online textbook to share with students at a much more reasonable price.

In addition to his work with textbooks, McAfee has illuminated the problem of rising journal prices and been a tireless advocate of Open Access.  In 2005, along with Ted Bergstrom of the University of California at Santa Barbara, McAfee helped build a Web site (www.journalprices.com) to allow users to compare journal prices in detail.

McAfee is driven by the desire to get more information in the hands of the people who need it.  He believes that universities need to spend as much time disseminating knowledge as creating it. “Knowledge that is created, but not looked at, is not useful,” says McAfee.

The SPARC Innovator program recognizes advances in scholarly communication propelled by an individual, institution, or group. Typically, these advances exemplify SPARC principles by challenging the status quo in scholarly communication for the benefit of researchers, libraries, universities, and the public. SPARC Innovators are featured on the SPARC Web site semi-annually and have included Harvard University FAS; student leaders; Ted and Carl Bergstrom; Melissa Hagemann of the Open Society Institute; the University of California; and Herbert Van de Sompel of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. SPARC Innovators are selected by the SPARC staff in consultation with the SPARC Steering Committee.

SPARC

SPARC (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition), with SPARC Europe and SPARC Japan, is an international alliance of more than 800 academic and research libraries working to create a more open system of scholarly communication. SPARC’s advocacy, educational, and publisher partnership programs encourage expanded dissemination of research.