Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Three on the Harvard OA mandate

Today's issue of Library Journal Academic Newswire has three stories on the new Harvard OA mandate.

1.  A Shot Heard 'Round the Academic World: Harvard FAS Mandates Open Access.  Excerpt:

...[T]he Harvard vote provided a resonant "shot heard 'round the world" for the open access movement....

Critics, however, including OA pioneer Stevan Harnad, questioned whether "potential author resistance to perceived or actual constraints on their choice of which journal to publish in," could hamper the policy—in other words, if the most prestigious journal in a researchers' field requires exclusivity, will that be enough to motivate a researcher to opt-out?

Valid questions, among many others, that will surely be examined in practice: the motion provides for an analysis of the legislation's effectiveness, with a report to be delivered in three years. "There are of course many details of implementation still being worked on," Shieber told the Newswire. "In general, these will be worked out under the principle of serving the faculty best in the distribution of their scholarly writings."

2.  After Harvard, the Open Access Deluge?  Excerpt:

With the passage of Harvard's open access (OA) mandate this week, is a tipping point at hand? After the historic Harvard vote on Tuesday, and with open access policies now being considered at other major universities, OA has already received a jolt of momentum in 2008. "Harvard is inserting the wedge and making it easier for other universities to follow suit with similar policies," noted Peter Suber, in an excellent roundup of reactions to the open access mandate approved at Harvard on his Open Access News blog.

Similar OA policies, Suber notes, are now actively being considered by faculty at a number of universities, including the University of California, and the University of Oregon....Suber observed that the Oregon measure was "not so much a response to Harvard as the fruit of an independent, simultaneous consideration of the same underlying policy issues. The Harvard vote along with the Oregon vote and the dozen or so preceding university-level OA mandates will undoubtedly inspire similar actions in time."

Indeed, it is hard not to take stock of how far things have come...."What is clear is that the need for open access, and the failure of the traditional model of scientific publishing to make full use of the Internet's potential in this respect, are no longer issues of interest only to librarians or to activists," observed Matt Cockerill, president of open access publisher BioMed Central on his blog after the Harvard vote. "Open access is no longer just a nice idea," he added, "but a concrete objective. Over the course of 2008, the key focus will be not on rhetoric, but on the practical issues necessary to make wide-scale open access a reality."

3.  Shieber: Librarians Very Involved with Harvard OA Motion.  Excerpt:

"There is no question that scholarly journals have historically allowed scholars to distribute their research to audiences around the world," said Stuart Shieber, the Harvard University professor of computer science who put forth the historic open access mandate approved by the Harvard University Faculty of Arts and Sciences this week. "But, the scholarly publishing system has become far more restrictive than it need be." ...

LJAN: How did you become involved with open access? Was there a high level of engagement with Harvard's FAS on this issue prior to the motion?

Shieber: I've been involved on various library committees for almost my entire career as a faculty member and have followed open access and related issues closely. Among faculty, there is a wide range of levels of engagement with these issues. But observations of dysfunction in the scholarly publishing systems are quite widespread.

Usually, it seems faculty become aware of the cost of serials after a cancellation exercise. What was the key driver of the policy at Harvard?

I think that different people have different motivations for support of the policy. My own interests are in seeing that our writings have the broadest distribution feasible. We've also gone through stringent serials reviews with large levels of cancellations, even at Harvard, whose library is the largest academic library in the world. If we can't afford a sufficiently broad set of journals here, you can imagine the constraints that other research institutions are in. The open access policy just voted is intended to make sure that our writings are widely available in the face of these widespread cancellations....

With tenure and advancement very much tied to publication, any thoughts on how this motion might affect publication issues?

It is important to keep in mind that the kind of open access distribution through repositories is completely separate from the process of reviewing, vetting, editing, and imprimatur in the journal system. Open access repositories are not a substitute for journals. They are a complement to them. It is important that those processes continue, and to the extent that they involve expenses, universities and funding agencies will have to continue to pay for them.