Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Boston U adopts an OA policy

Art Jahnke and Jessica Ullian, University Council Approves Open Access Plan, BU Today, February 17, 2009.  Excerpt:

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.

“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....

“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 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....

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.”


  • At least BU is launching an IR.  It also seems to be adopting a policy to fill it ("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").  But if it's a policy, Jahnke and Ullian don't tell us what it is.
  • If it's an OA mandate, it would be the 28th university-wide OA mandate worldwide, not the first.  But it would be the first for the US, which is a significant breakthrough.  The earlier mandates at Harvard and Stanford only apply to certain schools within the university, not (yet) university wide.  All those who voted for the BU policy and prepared the way deserve our thanks and congratulations.
  • But is it a mandate?  The text is still unavailable and we can't tell whether it requires deposit in the new IR, whether it contains a faculty op-out (like Harvard and Stanford), a publisher opt-out (or loophole), whether it requires faculty to retain the right to authorize OA through the IR, or whether it requires deposit in the IR at the time of acceptance. 
  • Nor can I tell whether the University Faculty Council vote is the last step in the formal adoption of the policy, or whether it merely clears the way for a faculty-wide vote.  However, the vote within the Council was unanimous, sending a very strong signal about the university's commitment to OA.
  • Also see our past posts on Boston University.
  • I'll blog more when I have more.  If anyone has details, please drop me a line or post the information and links directly to SOAF.

Update (later on 2/17/09).  The text (PDF) adopted by the University Council is now online, with links from the article itself.  (Thanks, BU.)  When I blogged the article this morning, the links had not yet been added. 

The Council approved two recommendations:  first, to launch an IR, and second, to promote OA "in routine operations" which include the following:

  1. use of non-exclusive copyright agreements with publishers;
  2. publication in peer-reviewed Open Access journals;
  3. equal consideration of peer-reviewed Open Access journals during tenure and promotion; 
  4. support of libraries in negotiating licenses and contracts with publishers to lower costs and retention of titles;
  5. encourage Boston University journals to participate in Open Access

All five ways of promoting OA are desirable.  But BU omitted one that would be even more desirable:  requiring the deposit of peer-reviewed journal manuscripts in the BU IR. 

If BU faculty "routinely" use non-exclusive copyright agreements with publishers, as recommended, then they could retain the right to authorize OA through the IR.  But is BU encouraging them to use retained rights to authorize OA through the IR?  Is it encouraging them to deposit their work in the IR?  Will it require either step, with or without an opt-out?

Update (2/18/09).  Also see Dorothea Salo's comments:

It is not a mandate of any kind. It is not a typical rights-retention resolution, either; there is no author addendum attached. Instead, it is a fascinating middle-ground. It mentions gold as well as green OA. It mentions building a faculty publications database, not just an IR; this is important because like it or not, faculty publications databases have real-world uses for faculty and administrators that IRs simply don’t. It takes on tenure and promotion practices straightforwardly.

It is, in short, a start toward a university-wide open-access strategy. That’s fascinating, and to the best of my knowledge, completely novel. The breadth of the conversation is certainly a vast improvement over the library starting an IR all by itself that it then doesn’t promote or work to fill. It’s also an improvement over putting all the local open-access eggs in one basket, whether that basket is an IR or an author’s addendum or a gold-fee fund....

I like this, though; frankly (and somewhat radically), I think it a better bet for OA than a mandate just now. I will keep watching it, and I hope it succeeds. I do believe it has a fair shot at racking up some wins, if only because all its eggs aren’t in a single basket. Kudos to Boston University!

Update (2/19/09).  Also see Andrew Albanese's story in Library Journal:

...Robert Hudson, director of BU’s Mugar Memorial Library and co-chair of the University Council on scholarly activities and libraries, was a key force behind the move toward open access—but he is quick point out that BU policy was all about the faculty. “The key words here,” Hudson told the LJ Academic Newswire, “are faculty, faculty, faculty.”

As it was with Harvard’s historic vote —and as it will be at any institution— action, Hudson stresses, must come from faculty. “Because, this is, at its heart, a faculty issue about scholarly communication,” Hudson explained. “If OA was presented as a library-only issue, the vote would have been much more difficult. Although we talked about things like subscription costs, the conversation quickly turned to how best to communicate what the university is about, to showcase faculty excellence, and promote scholarly development in all its dimensions.”