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Ideas Complete, Not Compete: The Spirit of Open Access


In a recent post, the Chronicle of Higher Education’s ProfHacker states (in reference to a recent book review he’s written) that “because ideas complete, rather than compete with, one another, creativity and innovation ferment most noticeably when ideas are allowed to circulate openly and freely.” This statement concisely and beautifully describes the spirit of open access. There are many ways in which universities and their faculty and students can embody this spirit:

  • Adopt an Open Access Policy – In February 2008, the faculty of the Arts and Sciences at Harvard University took a landmark step by adopting a policy a policy requiring (1) that  faculty authors send an electronic copy of their scholarly articles to the university’s digital repository and (2) that they automatically grant copyright permission (“University License”) to the university to archive and to distribute these articles unless a faculty member has waived the policy for a particular article. The cumulative effect of the adoption of such policies by not just major research universities but any academic institution committed to the free dissemination of ideas is the promotion of free communication of knowledge. Further, adoption of such policies sends a message to publishers that exorbitant journal prices will not be tolerated as a barrier to the sharing of ideas.
  • Publish in Open Access Journals – Open access journals are journals that use a funding model that does not charge readers or their institutions for access.  According to the Directory of Open Access Journals, there are now over 4000 open access journals. This represents about 16% of the approximate 25,000 peer-reviewed academic journals now in publication.  While not all open access journals are created equally, many are of high quality with as stringent of review standards are traditionally published journals. By publishing in those open access journals that exhibit certain measures of quality control, researchers promote a system of free access to knowledge. However, universities and funders must, at the same time, give equal credit to such publishing activities when reviewing researchers for promotion and tenure or for eligibility for funding.
  • Create and Maintain Institutional Repositories – Universities and other research entities are increasingly establishing, typically in cooperation with university libraries and archives, digital or online repositories of the scholarly works of faculty and students. Many benefits exist for participation in this type of activity. Studies have shown that deposit of works in digital institutional repositories that are openly accessible result in greater visibility and citation of the works.  Further, when access is not limited to those limited few who can afford the subscription to the journal in which the article would have been traditionally published, the public value of the work increases exponentially. Finally, research funders are more commonly requiring open and public access to works.
  • Support Legislation Promoting Public Access to Federally Funded Research – In June 2009, the Federal Research Public Access Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate. The Act would require that certain U.S. government agencies with a prescribed level of research expenditures make manuscripts of journal articles stemming from research funded by that agency publicly available via the Internet. Because U.S. taxpayers underwrite this research, they have a right to expect that its dissemination and use will be maximized, and that they will have access to it. If this information is shared with all potential users, it will advance science and improve the lives and welfare of people of the United States and the world. The Act calls for the manuscripts to be maintained and preserved in a digital archive maintained by the agency or in another suitable repository that permits free public access.

These are just some of the ways that universities, faculty, students and librarians can keep the spirit of open access alive. For more information and more ideas, visit the SPARC website.


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