The Price of Access

These stories on the release of the Processus Contra Templarios are absolutely ridiculous. What person, in their right mind, trumpets the publication of a book of historical documents when each 300 page volume costs a staggering $8377USD?

That’s right. A single volume, of three hundred pages, closing in on five figures.

What libraries can afford this? If a research library does buy the book, to whom will they grant access? Would you send a $8000 book out on ILL? Would you let an undergraduate check it out? Probably not.

Latin is enough of a barrier to access to many interested people but at least, if you don’t know the language, you can learn it. How thrilled I was to see that three of my students currently studying medieval history have enrolled in Latin. They’re doing what they can to get past that great barrier to accessing the past by learning the important languages.

You may learn the language and study the context, but what student or researcher can cough up thousands for a single volume of documents? This pricetag is outrageous — it prices right out of the market many scholars and students who would love to see these types of sources in print. I’d be fine with the issuing of a deluxe, commemorative volume at an insane price as long as researchers could get access to a plain and utilitarian version. I find no indication of the same — there are 800 volumes to be printed and that’s all they wrote.

We shouldn’t be praising the Vatican for this publication but condemning them for an outrageous scheme that treats history as the plaything of the obscenely rich institutions or individuals. With this publication, they’re perpetuating the tendency of Templar scholarship to wander on the fringes of Da Vinci Code craziness rather than ensuring that as many interested people as possible can access the historical record.


4 Responses to “The Price of Access”

  1. Belle Says:

    Well, it is an effective way to silence critics, right? I mean, ‘we put it out, and obviously scholars don’t consider it anything worth getting. We’ve only sold six.’

    Not that I’m doubting the Vatican’s sincerity. Much.

  2. Chaser Says:

    I’m not an archival researcher, so I don’t know the answer to this question, but why wouldn’t an institution purchase one of these and then make an electronic copy available for viewing through ILL? Do you have to handle the book itself in order to do research with it?

  3. Notorious Ph.D. Says:

    I hadn’t heard of this! I went and read the story you linked to, and discovered that they’re only printing 800 copies, so I guess that “big sales” aren’t really on their minds. I’d guess that the buyers are going to be major European archives. Perhaps some of the big Crusades researchers will also convince their libraries to buy. And perhaps Library of Congress will end up getting a copy. But you’re right — I doubt this will go out on ILL.

    I also went onto worldcat to see if it was listed anywhere… and found it’s not yet listed at all. The publisher’s website only lists a conference (at least I think so — my Italian is nearly nonexistent). It’s a shame, because this could be a valuable resource. But I imagine the Vatican Library already is hosting a work group — including the woman who found it — who are trying to make sure they get to publish from it first.

    Speaking of the researcher who found it: How cool would that be?

  4. ancarett Says:

    Belle, I know — my first response was very Lutheran. I suppose you can’t get the Protestant upbringing out of the professor as easily as I assumed.

    Chaser, it would be great if someone digitized this and made it available as an ebook. However, I’m sure that the Vatican won’t release the rights in that way, given what I know of their publishing house and history. It’s a lot more about limiting access than wide open access!

    Notorious, I agree that the work group is probably hoping to publish a lot more from the documents first. The sad fact of the matter is that the new “big source” was discovered in 2001 so you’d think she’d have had sufficient time to publicize her find. It would be cool to make the discovery, that’s for sure. I know that Dale Hoak had a similar “cool moment” when he found a miscatalogued record of the Privy Purse spending of Henry VIII and Edward VI in the PRO in the 80s. Sadly, nothing so cool’s occurred on my archival watch!