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On February 14, 2013, the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR) was introduced in both houses of Congress. A successor to the once again defunct Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA), FASTR covers the same agencies as the former proposed legislation and similarly mandates public access within 6 months of publication, through unspecified open access repositories, to the final versions of peer reviewed manuscripts that report results of certain federally funded research. FASTR differs from FRPAA in its inclusion of a provision for covered agencies to coordinate the policies they develop in response to the legislation and inclusion of provisions requiring open licensing of research so that it may be reused under certain conditions.
The introduction of FASTR, particularly its open licensing provisions, immediately drew praise from open access supporters, including library and public interest organizations, and scorn from publishers. Association of College and Research Libraries President Steven Bell stated in that organization’s letter of support: “I am particularly pleased that this legislation addresses both greater access to research and greater reuse through open licensing. As scholars undertake new research, it is crucial to build on the works of others who came before. Open licensing is an important step towards a more open system of scholarship as it facilitates subsequent reshaping into new scholarship.” On the other side, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) called the new bill a “boondoggle.” AAP Vice President Allan Adler complained: “This bill would waste so much taxpayers’ money at a time of budgetary crisis, squander federal employees’ time with busywork and require the creation and maintenance of otherwise-unneeded technology all the while ignoring the fact that its demands are already being performed successfully by the private sector.”
While the press and others were still spinning support and criticism of FASTR, the Obama administration through the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released a public access directive on February 22, 2013 that commands Federal agencies with over $100 million in annual research expenditures to “develop a plan to support increased public access to the results of research funded by the Federal Government…[including] any results published in peer-reveiwed scholarly publications that are based on research that directly arises from Federal funds.” Similar to FASTR, the directive encourages agencies to work collaboratively in the development of public access plans. The directive, drafted in response to a 65,000 signature petition calling for action and to comments filed in response to 2011 OSTP Request for Information, specifies the features these plans must incorporate, including strategies to foster public discovery and access of scholarly research and to either utilize existing archives and repositories or develop new partnerships for creation of modes of open and public access. Unlike FASTR and its predecessor bills, the directive calls for a 12 month (rather than a six month) embargo. Drafts of these plans are to be submitted by covered agencies to the OSTP within six months for its issuance.
As expected, the OSTP directive garnered immediate praise from open access advocates. Surprisingly, however, the AAP also came out in support of the directive, leaving one to wonder if perhaps a better alternative to FASTR had been born. One way the OSTP directive improves upon FASTR is in its stroking of publishers’ egos by recognizing the services they provide and by seemingly recognizing their interests as stakeholders. As the AAP response praises: “As one of its core principles, the policy ‘recognizes that publishers provide valuable services…that are essential for ensuring the high quality and integrity of many scholarly publications. It is critical that these services continue to be made available.’” The incorporation of the 12 month embargo similarly makes the OSTP directive more palatable to publishers. The writers at the blog Scholarly Kitchen, which frequently directs criticism at open access endeavors, specifically called out the 12 month embargo and the ability for agencies to petition for an extended embargo period if data was presented to support the request. Embargo periods, as the blog points out, are often established without much rationale or evidence (and are frequently the subject of debate among open access advocates and opponents alike). The provision for establishment of an embargo period supported by data may very well be a positive step.
Aside from seemingly making publishers happy, there may be other reasons to position the OSTP directive as superior to FASTR, or at least as a necessary complement or supplement to the as of yet enacted legislation. The FASTR bill only covers public access to scholarly publishing; the OSTP directive covers both publications and data. This recognition of the importance of access to research data is certainly an improvement and a recognition of changes in policy already taking place at some federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation. Another improvement of the OSTP directive over FASTR is by its definition it applies to more agencies than FASTR. This larger umbrella includes agencies such as the Smithsonian Institution, which are excluded from FASTR. A final positive of the OSTP directive is its effective date: immediately. Agencies are under an immediate mandate to start crafting policies and publishers are put on notice that they must be open to working with agencies to carry out the objectives of the directive. Rather than spending energies lobbying for or against proposed legislation, these groups can direct their attentions to doing real work that will culminate in real results. Granted, the directive could easily be stricken in four years with a new administration; whereas legislation takes an act of Congress or the U.S. Supreme Court to be nullified. However, the force and effect of an executive order to move forward rather than continuing to spin wheels is certainly a better and perhaps truly “faster” means to an end than the FASTR bill.
Open Access Week 2012 has come and gone. Across the globe, institutions of higher learning, funders of research, library groups, and publishers of open access works celebrated the theme “Set the Default to Open Access,” challenging us all to work toward open access as the norm for publication of scholarly works rather than an option. At the University of Florida, several events commemorated Open Access Week. The Libraries hosted two events featuring presentations on open data, publishing in the Open Journal System, and open access in the humanities. Additionally, I had the privilege of presenting on open access at Graduate Student Research Day. During this presentation, I observed dozens of “lightbulbs” go off above the heads of students when I used this scenario to demonstrate open vs. closed access: I asked them to imagine conducting the research they now do after they graduate without the benefit of University paid subscriptions. It was not surprising that several of them were unaware that the electronic resources they use regularly were available on account of expensive licenses paid for from the Libraries dwindling budget. But it was surprising to see their reactions upon realizing that the scholarship and knowledge they depended upon for their education and training was not available to all. Once the lightbulbs of shock dimmed, discussion ensured about why open access was important not only for education and creation of new knowledge but also for purposes of public access to publicly funded research.
Reflecting upon the graduate students’ reactions and questions, I concluded that for real change to happen in scholarly publishing we should advocate more to our graduate students. They are not only the future producers of scholarly content, but also future tenure track or tenured faculty, future editorial board members, future employees of publishers and research funders, etc. This is a large population of agents of change. In her own blog post about Open Access Week, librarian Barb Fister also recognized the importance of students in the open access movement. She cautions other librarians against “extinguishing their common sense” by promoting our paid-access resources too heavily. We are perpetuating the problem of equating quality with closed access by not exposing students to the full range of resources, open and closed. Fister writes:
When we teach students that the library is a terrific shopping platform that they get free access to as a member benefit, we aren’t preparing them for life-long learning. We’re reinforcing a number of false premises: that knowledge is stuff somebody out there created, stuff you can acquire if you are among the privileged few, that answers are things you go shopping for, that what anyone can read without paying for it must be, by definition, inferior to our designer goods. We’re trying hard to help students see knowledge as a social act, that when they do research they are joining a conversation, that the point of research isn’t to find the answer, it’s to build a new understanding that involves the student and the people who are speaking to them through the sources they encounter. Apart from these intangibles, I don’t want to build an artificial wall between what we pay for and what is available to all. I want to make it as easy as possible for students to find good sources, whether they are paid for by the library or not – because the future is open.
This is excellent advice for librarians. Students are an essential, but often overlooked, component to the movement to make open access the default. Whether we are engaged in information literacy or in open access advocacy, we must be mindful in the message we send to them. If we are successful in converting students to the cause for open access, we stand greater chances of success overall.
Important copyright and open access news has come out of Canada and the UK in the past several days:
Supreme Court of Canada Issues Several Copyright Rulings
On July 12th, the Supreme Court of Canada issued its rulings in five separate copyright cases. Four of the five cases concerned music royalties and the fifth case concerned the charge of royalties for photocopying short excerpts of works for use in education. (The controversy over assessment of this tariff was previously discussed on this blog.) In sum, the Court’s rulings established a broader reading of “fair dealing” — a phrase nearly equivalent to “fair use” under U.S. copyright law. Specifically, the Court held that photocopying textbooks for or by students for private study, even if in the context of instruction, or research is fair dealing, thereby dismantling the expensive licensing scheme put into place by Canada’s version of the CCC, Access Copyright. Duke University Scholarly Communications Officer Kevin Smith made a nice analogy of the Canadian Court’s ruling to the recent decision in the Georgia State University e-reserves case. He writes:
Another important part of these decision about instructional copying is that [Supreme Court of Canada] Justice Abella found little or no harm to the market for published work caused by this copying. The excerpts copied were short, forcing students to buy the entire books was unrealistic, and there was no link demonstrated between this copying and any evidence of declining textbooks sales. This sounds quite a lot like Judge Evan’s conclusion in the Georgia State case that permission income for publishers was of negligible importance and that there was no evidence that the permission fees lost because of fair use actually threatened the well-being of publishing businesses. I hope we are seeing the beginnings of an international consensus around the idea that limited copying for educational purposes is more important for societies to support than a small additional revenue stream for publishers is.
The reason I really like this expanded definition of research in Justice Abella’s opinion is that it gets at the heart of the analogy issue that was central to the Georgia State case. The plaintiff publishers in that case wanted the court to accept a strict analogy between electronic reserves and the commercially printed course packs that were found not to be fair use in the Michigan Documents Services case, while many of us argued that, in the absence of a for-profit copy shop’s involvement, the better analogy was physical reserves, where a copy of a work is made available for students to use (in this case by downloading into their own computers) or not. By tying the copying done by an institution to the private study purpose of the individual students, Justice Abella makes this latter argument for us. In cases like Georgia State (and the UCLA streamed video case) the law clearly allows individual students to view and even to copy works for private study. In both situations, technology simply enables the same group of students to use the materials in essentially the same way, but at their own convenience. Instructors are, as Justice Abella puts it, simply guiding the students to the resources which they will then use for their private research.
UK and EC Mandate Open Access for Government Funded Research
The Research Councils of the United Kingdom (RCUK), a body representing the UK’s seven government-funded grant agencies, announced on July 16th that it had approved a policy mandating that all publications produced from grant funded research have to be made public 6 months after publication beginning in April 2013. (The blog for the journal Nature provides a great summary of the policy and its effects.) A day later the European Commission announced that it would similarly mandate open access. Its proposal endeavors to open up all the work funded by its Horizon 2020 research program, set to run in the European Union from 2014 to 2020 and disburse €80 billion (US$98.3 billion). The EC says that it is aiming for 60% of all European publicly funded research articles to be open access by 2016. Meanwhile, in the United States, the National Institutes of Health remains the sole federal agency mandating open access for grant funded research, and a bill (FRPAA) proposing to expand this mandate to all federal agencies remains in limbo until after the November 2012 elections.
Whether it began with the civil rights marches of the 60s or the Vietnam War protests of the 70s, the modern method of working to bring about change is by communities of like-minded or similarly-situated citizens joining in a single act of defiance of an identified “evil.” Last year we witnessed the rise of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, a gathering of citizens in protest to the greed and corruption in the financial sector of our society. Although the movement has received much attention in the press and experienced expansion and presence in cities across the country, there is question of whether this collective activity can bring about real change. Similarly, researchers, librarians, and other academics have been engaged in collective action intended to bring about a change in proposed and existing intellectual property laws, including copyright and fair use.
Last fall, two separate bills (the Stop Online Piracy Act or SOPA and the PROTECT IP Act or PIPA) were introduced in Congress to address the problem of copyright infringement online. The bills’ opponents claimed that the net effect of the enforcement scheme outlined in the bills was a violation of First Amendment freedoms. On January 18th, nearly 50,000 web sites intentionally went dark in protest to SOPA and PIPA. Millions of citizens expressed opposition to SOPA and PIPA through social media venues, email, and other forms of digital communication. As a result of this mass online outcry, several U.S. Senators switched their position on the bills. And within three days of the blackout, the sponsor of the SOPA bill tabled the bill indefinitely. In the short term, it appears that this form of Internet-fueled democracy has resulted in a desired change. However, this does not mean that other bills will not be proposed or that more dangerous legislation, such as ACTA which is currently under vote in the EU, won’t soon be threatening our rights.
Another avenue through which change has been attempted is through development of community-based fair use best practice codes. The Center for Social Media, in partnership with various communities of users of copyrighted content, has created a series of best practice codes outlining principles for the fair use of copyrighted material by those particular communities. One of the most successful best practices codes was developed by the Center and documentary filmmakers. Following interview and survey of numerous notable and veteran documentary filmmakers and distributors, the documentary filmmakers’ best practices code “makes clear what documentary filmmakers currently regard as reasonable application of the copyright “fair use” doctrine.” That is, other filmmakers can rely upon the code for guidance in determining what is fair use of copyrighted content and when permission should be sought. As a result of this community-based approach, the number of infringement claims arising from documentary film making has decreased and errors and omissions insurance have more readily offered coverage for fair use claims.
Last week, the Center, along with the Association of Research Libraries, released the long-awaited Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries. This Code is the product of nearly two years of surveying and interviewing librarians regarding their employment of fair use in their daily work. To date, librarians have relied upon various fair use guidelines that have cropped up since the enactment of the Copyright Act. However, unlike some of these other guidelines, the Code did not solicit the input or buy-in from those most often on the other side of the fair use debate with librarians, publishers standing as rights holders. Further unlike the prior guidelines, the Code does not attempt to set forth quantifiable fair use limits, which have only served to impede and limit the employment of fair use. The Code, as fully admitted by its authors, is not the silver bullet many librarians were hoping for since learning of the project; as stated in the introduction, this Code is “not a comprehensive or exhaustive guide to all possible applications of fair use in and around libraries.” Rather, the Code enumerates eight scenarios in which clear consensus regarding fair use was identified. However, each of these scenarios, or “principles” as the Code refers to them, is accompanied by a series of limitations and enhancements, which merely articulate the nuances librarians routinely grapple with and try to reconcile within and without the strictures of existing fair use guidelines. The eight principles also include a couple principles that I believe to be “no brainers” and not the subject of debate or confusion among my peers, namely reproducing materials for disabled patrons and digital preservation of at-risk items. Nevertheless, I am not surprised by the limited guidance and clarification in this new Code; as I predicted last January, without “a judicial or legislative clarification of fair use as applied to the ever-evolving modes of publishing and content delivery” a best practices document will not be an effective vehicle for change.
A final example of an academic community trying to bring about change through numbers is the recent call by researchers for a boycott of publishing giant Elsevier. In support of the scholarly prize-winning mathematician Tim Gowers recent scolding of Elsevier for its high journal prices, strong-arming of libraries to buy bundled subscriptions, and support of the Research Works Act, as well as SOPA and PIPA, an Internet petition was formed where researchers can publicly declare their intent to no longer write for, referee, or edit any Elsevier journal. At the time of this writing, nearly 2900 faculty members, scholars, and scientists from around the globe have signed this petition.
The rapid increase in petition signatories and the growing press attention to the petition and the problems it highlight leads one to believe that a positive change is imminent; however, this may not be the case. As well-known technology writer Glyn Moody recently noted, this is not the first (or the biggest) attempt that a collective effort to change the business model of scholarly publishing. In 2001, 34,000 scientists signed onto a letter put forward by the founders of the Public Library of Science calling for the establishment of an online public library that would provide the full contents of the published record of research and scholarly discourse. Many of those same signers pledged to boycott those publishers who did not participate in this endeavor, but very few actually followed through with their boycott pledge. Going back even further, when the Internet was created in 1991, it was for the stated purpose of better facilitating scientific communication and the dissemination of scientific research. “Put another way, the Web was designed to disrupt scientific publishing.” Finally, if change in Elsevier’s (or any similarly operating publisher) business practices does not occur, what “collateral damage” may occur as a result of a boycott, and is this damage something we are prepared to deal with?
I fully support open-access, as a librarian, an author, and a tax-payer. I do not condone the practices of the Elseviers of the world. I believe that change can occur through collective action. However, we need to be mindful of what efforts may truly be needed to bring about the desired result and what consequences may exist if that desired result occurs.
Since its introduction in October of last year, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) has captured immense attention from legislators, online business proprietors, copyright experts, and privacy proponents. From the intense exchanges of opinion both on Capitol Hill and among non-politicos, an unlikely champion has arisen in Republican Congressman Darrell Issa. Promoting citizen participation in the legislative process, Issa launched a web site, based upon a theory of crowdsourcing, for the public editing of a bill called the OPEN Act (Online Protection & ENforcement of Digital Trade Act). The bill advocates approaching the piracy problem through international trade law and not through local law enforcement measures.
However, while publicly standing as for open government through citizen participation and an open internet economy, Issa quietly took a step last month to shut the doors on access to government-funded research. Entitled the “Research Works Act,” the Issa-sponsored bill, a poorly repackaged version of the failed “Fair Copyright in Research Works Act,” would, if enacted, prohibit all federal agencies from adopting, implementing, maintaining, or continuing any policy or program that provides for the online and public dissemination of commercially published and peer-reviewed research without the publisher’s consent. The effect of the bill would be the termination of the NIH public access policy and the foreclosure upon the idea of broadening the scope of that policy’s application.
Not surprisingly, although disturbingly, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) issued a press release applauding the bill. AAP President Tom Allen is quoted as stating “America’s [Professional and Scholarly Division] publishers are making more research information available to more people, through more channels, than ever before in our history. At a time when job retention, U.S. exports, scholarly excellence, scientific integrity and digital copyright protection are all priorities, the Research Works Act ensures the sustainability of this industry.” The release further asserts: “Journal articles are widely available in major academic centers, public libraries, universities, interlibrary loan programs and online databases. Many academic, professional and business organizations provide staffs and members with access to such content.”
The AAP’s statements are factually misleading. The academic entities referenced cannot afford to provide access to the large body of research that is available exclusively through commercial publishers; it is no secret that libraries and other institutions have had to make difficult budgetary decisions about maintaining subscriptions to these publishers’ publications and databases. Further, authors and researchers do not publish in AAP’s members’ journals for monetary gain and often give up all of their own intellectual property rights in exchange for publication. As a result, access by the author’s employing institution and its students is often also bargained away. Further, the AAP’s stance ignores the fact that additional publishable works, for which they can recover subscription fees, are produced as a result of the increased discoverability and collaborations that occur when there is public access to research, particularly in places where there is no possibility of access except through public channels. There is no evidence that policies such as that of the NIH have economically hurt publishers to such a degree as to outweigh the benefits realized through open and public access to scientific research.
Issa, in a statement posted on his OPEN Act web site, proclaims that Americans have the right to benefit from their own creation. Shouldn’t the American public, then, have the right to benefit from the research that they have funded? Without the tax dollars paid by Americans, there would be no funding for federal research, and without federally funded research, publishers would suffer a sharp decline in publishable material that their readers want and need to read. Apparently Issa wants to be the American public’s doorman, determining when and for whom the door may be open and shut.
Open Access Week 2011 draws to a close. This was my first open access week at the University of Florida, an active and vocal supporter of open access, as its new scholarly communications librarian. On Wednesday, the Libraries commemorated Open Access Week with an afternoon of presentations and round table discussions. Entitled “Scholarship Unbound,” the event provided an opportunity for faculty, students and librarians to discus ways in which open access supports research, teaching and learning. This week was also the one year anniversary of this blog. I hope that you have found the posts here instructive and informative.
Events during the year 2011 demonstrate why the concept of open access is so important. The failure of the Google Book Settlement, the lawsuit against HathiTrust and its university partners, and the attempts to restrict international interlibrary loan practices represent attempts, without evidence of commercial harm, to control access to and sharing of large repositories of the modern world’s literary and scientific output. Even more alarming were stories from the Middle East and beyond of governments interrupting their citizens’ access to cell phones and internet in an attempt to thwart the sharing of information crucial to their fight for democracy. Even in our own country we peacefully demand openness and honesty in the fiscal and political decisions being made by those in power. In all these struggles, the creators and curators of our intellectual history, even history that is in the making, must answer to those entrusted to act in our interests and promote dissemination and democracy.
The phrase “knowledge is power,” the origin of which has never been conclusively determined, is a fitting motto for the open access movement. Those in positions of power, whether it be political power or greater bargaining power, seek to hold on to it — while those who create and curate it, seek to share it and empower the world.
Is academia at war with the publishing industry? Today, University of Michigan Dean of Libraries Paul Courant wrote that publishers have declared war upon us. Columbia University’s James Neal claimed at this Spring’s ACRL conference that the academic library community is, in fact, at the center of this war. In recent months, with actions being taken that chip away at fair use and other copyright exemptions allowed libraries and educators, it is starting to feel that we may be losing the war; and with shrinking budgets and governmental affronts to our existence, we may even feel powerless to fight for our survival.
However, we may have a viable defense that could very well preserve our place as conduits to learning and knowledge. “Open access alternatives seem more and more to be not just a nice alternative, but the only path scholarly communications has left to survival,” wrote Duke University Scholarly Communications Officer Kevin Smith this morning in response to the latest attack (an STM publishers’ association issued guidelines whose underlying purpose is to undermine international interlibrary loan practices) on educational use of copyrighted works. Open access has been touted for several years as the vehicle for revolutionary change in scholarly communications, and it still stands as our best chance for radically changing the economic climate that is leading to assaults upon barrier-free sharing of knowledge and information. However, for us to win this war, we all need to participate: librarians and faculty alike. And our efforts need to be consistent and persistent.
In this month’s Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, the open access movement is lauded for single, albeit sporadic, milestones; but “these single events that showed the potential to cause a sudden, radical or complete reform of the entire [scholarly communications] system have failed to precipitate a complete transformation.” The authors of the Bulletin piece claim that librarians can be the most victorious soldiers in this war that we are in. However, it will take a widespread and collective movement to not only survive but even win. There are many libraries and universities out there who are to be commended for their efforts – who have established open journal publishing systems, who have adopted open access mandates, and who regularly promote open access through Open Access Week and other public events. Librarians at Duke University Medical Center Library, in a recent article in Serials Review, offer even more ways of how librarians can successfully incorporate open access into their work and bolster our defense against the war that is waging against us. In addition, legislation such as the Federal Research Public Access Act needs to be revitalized in Congress as further shoring up of our defenses. With this concentrated, widespread, and united drive for open access, I do have hope that we can survive the war.
Today marks the third anniversary of the effective date of the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) public access policy. This policy requires “all investigators funded by the NIH submit … to the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central an electronic version of their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts upon acceptance for publication, to be made publicly available no later than 12 months after the official date of publication.” Although deposit of works in PubMed Central and searches of the site have greatly increased (see graph at left) and sound arguments exist for promotion of public access to public-funded research, serious challenges, primarily in the form of proposed legislation, have been launched against the toddler policy. The first attack came in the fall of 2008 in the form of H.R.6845 (and later re-introduced as H.R. 801), entitled the “Fair Copyright in Research Works Act.” The bill, if enacted into law, would have effectively reversed the NIH policy by prohibiting any federal agency from imposing any condition, in connection with a funding agreement, that requires the transfer or license to or for a federal agency, or requires the absence or abandonment, of any of the exclusive rights of a copyright holder. The status of the NIH policy was solidified in March 2009 when President Obama signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which included a provision making the policy permanent. However, the assault upon the policy did not cease.
Days after the 2nd anniversary of the NIH policy, a bill was introduced (H.R. 5037) entitled the Federal Research Public Access Act. Had it been enacted, it would have required the 11 federal agencies that have outside research budgets of $100-million or more to adopt policies mandating timely public access to research they subsidize. Although not expressly held for the purpose of debating the bill, hearings in the summer of 2010 on the issue of public access to federally funded research revealed fierce opposition by publishers, notably the American Psychological Association, and the organization the Association of American Publishers to the mandate. In addition to the copyright argument raised previously, publishers strongly cautioned the economic impact suffered should open access be broadened. As reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the AAP argued “it is critical to distinguish between federally financed research and journal articles based on that research, which he described as partly the product of publishers’ labor. He repeated arguments often made by publishers about how their work enhances the value of research, and said that the 12-month embargo under the NIH policy is often not enough for publishers to recoup their investment.”
While the arguments promoting protection of publishers’ intellectual property and economic interests are meritorious, the arguments in favor of open and public access to scientific research continue to command greater heed. In a letter to lawmakers authored by several library organizations, the following compelling points in response to H.R. 801 were made regarding the need for open and public access to research:
- Broad public access allows scientists and researchers to collaborate with greater ease by allowing sharing of information, expedited discovery, and innovation.
- Public access policies ensure a permanent archive of research, which can be built upon by future scientists
- Public access promotes transparency and accountability
- Copyright law is not undermined under a public access policy because authors retain the ability to assign or transfer some or all of their exclusive rights to publishers or any other party of their choosing
Legislation that would expand the NIH policy, which has through the embargo and other terms taken into account these other interests, should be supported. The Right to Research Coalition has provided excellent resources to aid student proponents in voicing their support to certain members of the federal government, including the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. For additional information and resources on the NIH policy and its potential, visit the Association of Research Libraries NIH Public Access Policy page.
When one thinks of “open education resources,” or OER, initiatives such as MIT’s OpenCourseWare and iTunes U immediately come to mind. While these resources are of great value to distance and online teaching and learning, equally valuable, and in need of continued advocacy, is open access to core and quality academic materials. Today, MacLearning presented an online panel of experts in open education who discussed, in part, the necessity of open access to scholarly resources so that students can actively engage in complex and fruitful discussions and contribute in a meaningful way to their fields of study and research. Additional compelling reasons why open access matters to students can be found on the SPARC sponsored “Right to Research Coalition” web site. Founded by students in 2009, the Right to Research Coalition advocates for open access so that they as current learners and as future researchers and scholars can continue to have access to research and disseminate their own knowledge products to their peers. To that end, the Coalition issued a “Statement on the Right to Research,” which individual students and institutions alike have signed on to support and adhere to. In support of the mandates enumerated in the Statement and as important reasons why students should support and encourage open access, the Coalition advocates the following important points:
- Open access is critical to a well-rounded education. Without access to the full body of research in their field, students are “artificially” limited in their learning. Further, their instructors, without complete access to research in the discipline, cannot fully meet pedagogical objectives by presenting current and ground-breaking ideas from scholars across the globe.
- Reading good writing leads to good writing. A quality research paper includes citations to both seminal and time-tested scholarly research as well as to current thought. Access to either or both of these bodies of knowledge are severely curtailed without openness.
- Students at institutions of smaller size and budget should have the same learning opportunities as those institutions that are larger and better funded. Smaller, yet high quality, colleges cannot maintain subscriptions to scholarly journals at the same pace as larger universities and as a result students are denied the opportunity to be exposed to new ideas and quality content.
- Open access promotes preparation for graduate education. If undergraduate students have access to a large body of quality scholarly resources, they will be better equipped for the rigors of graduate research and will be better prepared to become the scholars and researchers of tomorrow.