More on the groundswell for OA

Jennifer Howard, A New Push to Unlock University-Based Research, Chronicle of Higher Education, March 6, 2009 (accessible only to subscribers).  Excerpt:

…The [NIH] policy, which went into effect in April 2008, came under assault last year when Rep. John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan, introduced the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act, which would have overturned it. Many publishers strongly supported the legislation; openaccess advocates opposed it with equal fervor. The bill was shelved.

But this month Mr. Conyers reintroduced it, and both sides are gearing up for what promises to be a hot legislative battle this spring.

Mr. Conyers may discover he is fighting a rear-guard action. Away from the high drama centered on Capitol Hill and the NIH, the concept of public access has been gaining traction at individual institutions and in calls to action from professional and scholarly groups. For example, the University of Tennessee recently created an Open Publishing Support Fund to help faculty members publish in openaccess journals.

At a symposium on the future of scholarly communication held in mid-February at Texas A&M University at College Station â?? in another sign of the changing times, such gatherings have become more common â?? Charles Backus, director of the university’s press, in a news release, summed up the general movement of late as seeking "the path toward a freer and more timely flow of information across disciplines, across campuses. and to a wide variety of institutions." Two recent developments â?? a call to universities to take charge in making scholarship widely available, and the creation of an openaccess repository at Boston University â?? suggest the gathering strength of that flow.

A ‘Call to Action’: Last month, the Association of American Universities, the Association of Research Libraries, the Coalition for Networked Information, and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges put out a statement that urged universities to seize the day and becomes leaders in spreading research and scholarship. The document is worth a read in part because it brings together several influential groups that, together, represent (and influence policy at) a cross-section of academic institutions.

"This is the moment to take action," the statement said….

All of that puts pressure on universities, deeply invested in scholarship, to step in….[T]hey…need to recognize that "the efforts of researchers and scholars are wasted" if few people get to see the results. The statement also stresses the need for institutions to hold on to some rights to scholarly content to make sure it remains "as usable and broadly accessible as possible." (Don’t sign it away to publishers or other outside parties, in other words.) …

The statement also mostly stays away from the phrase "open access," which to some ears carries the unwelcome sound of revolution….

Nasulgc, for its part, "is more behind the term ‘public access,’" David E. Shulenburger, the group’s vice president for academic affairs, told The Chronicle in an interview. He defines it as "access with some delay" â?? as required by the NIH policy, for instance â?? which gives publishers a chance to sell subscriptions but doesn’t require the world to wait forever to see research. Mr. Shulenburger said that most academic officers now find the idea of public access "a fairly comfortable position."

"Research universities have always expected faculty members to publish their research, but we’ve been less concerned about ensuring that it was available to the public and other scholars," he said. "That’s what’s changing now."

Free for All: At Boston University, the push for free and widespread access comes straight from the faculty, according to Wendy K. Mariner, professor of health law, bioethics, and human rights and chair of the Faculty Council, and Robert E. Hudson, the university librarian. Both are centrally involved with the university’s newly announced openaccess repository….

Unlike another repository set up by Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Boston University archive covers the entire institution, and it does not require researchers to opt out. "They’re certainly being encouraged" to opt in, Ms. Mariner said, "but nobody’s arm is being twisted," Ms. Mariner said….

"We recognize that publishers have their costs and that neither the university nor the publishers should ram things down each other’s throats," Ms. Mariner said. "There should be some concern for what can realistically happen. But we do think that, over time, things are moving toward open access for everyone."

PS:  All good news.  But for the record, nobody’s arm is being twisted at Harvard.  Nor is Harvard even trying to ram things down publisher’s throats.