The MIT OpenCourseWare community mourns the loss of longtime member of our Faculty Advisory Committee, MIT Director of Libraries Ann Wolpert. In addition to her service to OCW, she was a champion of openness in many other regards, as captured in her MIT News obituary:
Wolpert began work at MIT just as the Internet was emerging, and her tenure was marked by her passionate response to the opportunity and upheaval that resulted for research libraries. In scientific, research, and university communities around the world, a debate, still unresolved, came to the fore: how the decades-old system of peer-reviewed scholarly journals ought to operate in the digital world.
Wolpert became a leading voice in that discussion; she argued for unrestricted online access to journal articles. In a February 2013 essay in the New England Journal of Medicine, she not only made the case for such access: She also called it an inevitability. “There is no doubt,” she wrote, “that the public interests vested in funding agencies, universities, libraries, and authors, together with the power and reach of the Internet, have created a compelling and necessary momentum for open access. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be inexpensive, but it is only a matter of time.”
Though Wolpert made her case forcefully, she was not dismissive of concerns about how open access might work in practice, and she upheld the value of peer review. “The fact,” she wrote, “that faculty members and researchers donate to publishers the ownership of their research articles — as well as their time and effort as reviewers — does not mean that there are no expenses associated with the production of high-quality publications. For all its known flaws, no one wants to destroy peer-reviewed publication.”
Hal Abelson, the Class of 1922 Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at MIT and founding director of both Creative Commons and the Free Software Foundation, remembers Wolpert as “one of the great intellectual leaders at MIT.” She fused, he says, a mix of business experience from her earlier career with serious academic curiosity and integrity. “Ann was funny, warm, caring, and remarkably fair,” Abelson says.
“She believed in open access, but it went deeper than that,” he adds. “Her central insight was that in the age of the Internet, a great research library could serve not only as a window into scholarly output for given members of university and research communities, but also as a window for the world at large into the scholarly enterprise. That was a great and thrilling idea, and she pursued it deftly and with great respect for the full spectrum of faculty views.”
She will be deeply missed for her wisdom in guiding OCW and for the warmth and kindness she brought to our efforts. Our thoughts are with her family, friends and the many members of the MIT community touched by this loss.