Thoughts on Open Access

When people feel passionately about something, there are often roots about the topic that are personal. This is true for me when it comes to the topic of open scholarship.

My brother had cystic fibrosis, a disease of the lungs and pancreas. In the early 2000s, his lungs had deteriorated enough so that he needed a double lung transplant. He and his wife lived in Wisconsin at the time and neither of them were enrolled or employed by a university. Dana was, and is, a teacher and Doug worked at Barnes & Noble. Both of them had master’s degrees and were skilled researchers…Doug was ABD in Philosophy. They performed many literature searches because they needed information on the procedure, prognoses, and any background information on the hospital and on the surgeon. Time and time again they found articles they wanted to read, only to find that those articles were inaccessible to them.

Because I was a professor at the University of Illinois at the time, I was able to access copies of the scientific articles they wanted. I had access to these very expensive, commercially published journals because my library had purchased them. For the majority of Americans who are not affiliated with universities that are paying for these journals, they are forced to pay high prices to access the scholarship that they need – scholarship that citizens can use to make what might be life and death decisions. This is a broken model. Universities are paying the salaries of the researchers who produce the scholarship, and then they are turning around and buying articles produced by those researchers in the form of library subscriptions. Universities are paying twice and citizens not affiliated with those universities do not have access. There is something wrong with this picture.

Many of us who work in the scholarly communication field are trying to change this situation. Funding agencies such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are mandating that publications resulting from their funding must be openly accessible online. Many governmental agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), are requiring scientists to submit their final peer-reviewed journal manuscripts to PubMed Central upon their acceptance, and to make them accessible to the public within 12 months. The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) has been doing yeoman’s work, especially on the policy, advocacy, and communication fronts, to move the open agenda forward. The faculty of many universities, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) faculty, have adopted Open Access (OA) policies. At the University of Houston, the Faculty Senate is moving forward with a task force for developing and implementing OA policy, and establishing a fund to help investigators pay for high-visibility Open Access papers.

Here in the Libraries, we’re pleased to announce a pilot of our new repository for UH scholarship, Cougar Research Open Access Repositories (ROAR). ROAR provides safe, long-term storage for data and scholarship produced by the UH community and makes these materials widely available to researchers around the world.

We encourage all to learn more about Open Access. Our goal is to highlight the power of Open Access to broaden the impact of research and scholarship in  practical and accessible ways for a more informed society.

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