University Council Approves Open Access Plan
BU to create free archive of faculty research
Boston University took a giant step towards greater access to academic scholarship and research on February 11, when the University Council voted to support an open access system that would make scholarly work of the faculty and staff available online to anyone, for free, as long as the authors are credited and the scholarship is not used for profit. Click here to download the full pdf.
“We believe this is the first time that a university as a whole has taken a stand on behalf of the university as opposed to a single school or college,” says Wendy Mariner, the chair of the Faculty Council and a professor at the School of Law, at the School of Public Health, and at the School of Medicine. “We are looking forward to new forms of publication in the 21st century that will transform the ways that knowledge and information are shared.”
“The resolution passed by our University Council is a very important statement on the importance of open access to the results of scholarship and research created within the University,” says BU President Robert A. Brown. “The digital archive called for in the resolution will become a great repository for the creativity of our faculty and students.”
The council vote has approved an initiative to establish an archive of the research and scholarship produced by the faculty of the University. Mariner says that one goal is to make it easier for faculty to be able to share their own research with students and colleagues.
The increased ownership and control is good news for researchers such as Barbara Millen, a professor and chair of the graduate nutrition program at the School of Medicine. Working on a book about nutrition research at one point in her career, Millen found herself in the paradoxical position of having to seek permission to use her own data after it was published in a journal that retained the copyright to her work. The challenge, says Millen, who cochaired the University Council committee that recommended the open access initiative, will be providing faculty with the tools to make their research available online.
“Open access will really highlight the tremendous productivity of our faculty,” says Millen. “Among the more important things needed to make it work is a collaboration between the libraries and our faculty to get their research onto the Web. It’s not an inconsequential task.”
Traditionally, academic journal publishers have used subscriptions to cover the costs of printing, marketing, and distribution. Many also charge a per-page fee to researchers whose work they publish, which can add up to thousands of dollars. The journals control access to the published papers, because they often hold exclusive copyright. Thanks to the Internet, printing presses and expensive distribution networks are no longer needed, but there are still costs for editing, marketing, and other logistics, even for online journals, and open-access journals typically charge scholars a flat processing fee to cover these costs. For example, BioMed Central, the for-profit publisher of Environmental Health, charges authors $1,700.
Some universities, such as the University of California, are footing the bill for their faculty’s open-access publishing fees, and in other cases, researchers have included these fees as a line item in their grant applications. At least one major source of grants, the National Institutes of Health, recently mandated that any research it funds must be open-access within a year after publication.
Last year, according to an editorial in Environmental Health, only about 10 percent of published scientific articles were accessible without restrictions. But a 2006 survey by the Washington, D.C.–based Association of Research Libraries found that 43 percent of its member universities and research institutions already had open-access archives and 35 percent were planning one. “Open access is an irresistible tide,” says David Ozonoff, a professor of environmental health at SPH and an editor-in-chief of Environmental Health. “The publishers see this. They’ve been trying to prevent it, but it’s impossible.”
News of the University Council vote was welcomed by Robert Hudson, the director of Mugar Memorial Library, and as cochair of the University Council committee on scholarly activities and libraries, a key force behind the move toward open access. Hudson says the effort to maintain an up-to-date collection of scholarly journals costs the University approximately $8 million a year. Annual subscription rates can reach $20,000 and tend to increase 6 to 10 percent each year; as a result, expanding the library’s scholarly archive has been a financial challenge.
“This vote sends a very strong message of support for open and free exchange of scholarly work,” says Hudson. “Open access means that the results of research and scholarship can be made open and freely accessible to anyone. It really has increased the potential to showcase the research and scholarship of the University in ways that have
not been evident to people.”