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Do Scholarly Articles Want to Be Free?

BU to review “open access” to professors’ work


Some BU professors would like the University to modify its support for the free and worldwide online availability of their scholarly articles, known as open access.

The sentiment was voiced last week at a town hall meeting to discuss open access, which, critics argue, will do to academic journals what the internet has done to newspapers by giving readers free access without having to pay for journal subscriptions. The concern is so widespread that universities around the world have set aside this week to discuss the issue. BU has scheduled a follow-up forum tomorrow from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. at the Photonics Center.

While few dispute that articles generated by taxpayer-funded research (typically in the sciences) should be accessible to all, the American Historical Association points out that relatively little work in the humanities is subsidized with public monies.

The answer, some BU faculty say, is an “opt-out” policy, by which publishing professors would grant the University the right to archive and distribute their articles “for noncommercial purposes.” Vika Zafrin (CAS’98), institutional repository librarian at Mugar Memorial Library, says if an article’s publisher refuses to honor the arrangement, “faculty could opt out of the University’s distribution clause by filling out a waiver form.” The policy would be applied on a per-article basis.

Heather Joseph, executive director of the Washington, D.C.–based Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, which has 46 member universities and research centers supporting open access, says opt-out is a fairly common clause in universities’ open access policies.

Harvard adopted the first such opt-out policy, says Zafrin, while BU has an “opt-in” approach, which invites faculty to submit articles to its institutional repository, Digital Common. Digital Common holds about 4,000 articles, a number that will double this year under BU’s existing policy, according to Robert Hudson, University Librarian.

Open access advocates cite the value of visibility, which can lead to speaking and collaboration opportunities “that are hard to come by any other way,” Zafrin says. She also says openly accessible articles are cited more often by peer papers. Supporters point also to the principle that “knowledge should be disseminated as widely as possible” for public benefit.

Zafrin says the argument that journals will go broke has already been disproved. “Physicists have been doing open access since 1991,” she says. “Their publishing is thriving.” Most traditional publishers already permit the access to some extent, she says, and she believes that plagiarism is no more likely with openly accessible articles than with pay-per-view articles.

Still, she says, some scholars participate in open access only if they have an opt-out option. Adopting that proviso would require administrative and technical support, although “we are already well on our way to have infrastructure suited for an opt-out policy.”

Hudson says the Faculty and University Councils will study the pros and cons of a policy change this academic year.

The open access forum is tomorrow, Thursday, October 25 in the Photonics Center, Room 906, 8 St. Mary’s St.

Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

4 Comments on Do Scholarly Articles Want to Be Free?

  • brittany edgar on 10.24.2012 at 9:34 am

    read this now!

  • Michael Zank on 01.09.2013 at 7:35 am

    Thanks, Rich, for alerting us to the Boston Commons digital depository. I was unaware of it, or heard of it and then immediately proceeded to forget. — In any case, I went to the website and tried to submit an article. Not only did the site not give me access to a collection for deposit but the email address listed on the site as a contact did not work. — Seems like another digital idea that hasn’t been fully worked out. (Shades of BUWorks, anyone??)

  • Vika Zafrin on 01.10.2013 at 12:12 pm

    Michael, I’m so sorry that you had trouble with this! Yes, unfortunately granting privileges to collections is a manual process. The email address listed on the submission page was incorrect: it should’ve been dcommon-help@bu.edu. I’ve fixed it now, and thank you for the alert. I’ll email you to set you up with access to the right collection(s).

  • Michael Zank on 01.10.2013 at 12:30 pm

    Thanks, Vika. That’s very helpful.

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