Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Calling on universities to maximize the dissemination of research

Four US non-profit organizations supporting research universities have released The University’s Role in the Dissemination of Research and Scholarship — A Call to Action, February 2009.  The four organizations the Association of American Universities, Association of Research Libraries, Coalition for Networked Information, and National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges.  Excerpt:

A Vision Statement for the University’s Role in Dissemination

The creation of new knowledge lies at the heart of the research university and results from tremendous investments of resources by universities, federal and state governments, industry, foundations, and others. The products of that enterprise are created to benefit society....Reflecting its investments, the academy has a responsibility to ensure the broadest possible access to the fruits of its work both in the short and long term by publics both local and global.

Faculty research and scholarship represent invaluable intellectual capital, but the value of that capital lies in its effective dissemination to present and future audiences. Dissemination strategies that restrict access are fundamentally at odds with the dissemination imperative inherent in the university mission....

Principles and Practices for University Engagement in Disseminating the Work of its Faculty

  • Dissemination of knowledge is as important to the university mission as its production.
  • Recognizing the value of the intellectual capital created by the members of the university community, universities should develop strategies for ensuring maximum distribution of the full range of unique and uniquely valuable content produced by the university community.
  • Past norms and practical requirements for dissemination have led to practices of transferring control of access to and use of faculty work outside the academy, limiting the university’s and faculty members’ ability to ensure broad dissemination and wide use. Where the academy has relinquished the ability to manage its intellectual capital to best serve its needs and priorities, it should act to regain this capability.
  • Key functions of traditional publishing must persist. Particularly, valuation and rewarding of high quality faculty work must remain central features of dissemination....

This is the moment to take action

Decades of investment and development in information technologies and networked information resources have created an unprecedented opportunity for scholars to express, document, organize, and transmit knowledge with extraordinary flexibility, depth, and power; these same developments have made it possible for this knowledge to be accessible throughout our society and globally at manageable costs. Yet ,these opportunities are constrained by publishing, tenure, and promotion policies based on historic practices....

[Research investments from public and private sources] are made based on an expectation that research findings will be broadly available for use in advancing research, teaching, and in advancing the public good. Dissemination of research is a key value of the academy. Indeed, academic freedom encompasses the rights of faculty members and researchers to communicate freely and broadly the conclusions of their scholarly endeavors.

Traditional dissemination practices have largely relied on outsourcing production of print artifacts paid for by transfer of copyright to publishers. The assumption has been that broad dissemination required the total concession of copyrights in return for the substantial and unique investments publishers made in producing publications. Yet, there is an inherent difficulty with relying on market forces alone to maximize dissemination. In the emerging electronic environment, there are new opportunities to increase access to new knowledge and far less need to rely on models that demand exclusive distribution rights. Traditional publishing and distribution routes can and will adapt as they are supplemented by new forms of university-based dissemination. For an appropriate transition to occur, however, universities must retain the ability to ensure broad distribution of research and scholarship.

Another key value of the academy is preservation of access to research and scholarship over time. We must retain the rights to preserve products of faculty work within the academy or decisions about what will be saved and who will be able to use it again will reside outside the academy.

To realize the benefits of this changing landscape, promotion and tenure criteria need to continue their evolution beyond their basis in historic practices that often tied faculty rewards exclusively to publication in the traditional journal and monograph vehicles. While the identification of high quality scholarship is integral to the academy’s work, basing rewards on use of the historic, print-based distribution system retards the development of new models and also strengthens the ability of actors outside the academy to control future dissemination of new knowledge....

[U]niversities...should supplement traditional publishing models with more effective models over time....Assistance in these tasks should be solicited from scholarly societies and university presses....

A variety of capabilities for disseminating content already exist on campuses, often under the management of libraries or information technology units. With appropriate rights management strategies, these can be effectively harnessed to substantially enhance dissemination of research and scholarship in the present and into the future.

Recommendations to Campus Leaders

Primary Recommendation: Campuses should initiate discussions involving administration and faculty about modifying current practices and/or its intellectual property policies such that the university retains a set of rights sufficient to ensure that broad dissemination of the research and scholarly work produced by its faculty occurs....

Some specific institutional strategies include:

  • Initiate a process to develop an institutional dissemination plan by explicitly evaluating existing dissemination activities, policies relating to promotion and tenure, and policies regarding faculty copyrights. For instance, charge a campus blue ribbon task force to advise the provost on key issues raised by the emergence of new forms of scholarly publishing and the gains that might be had by utilizing more effective ways of sharing the high quality results of the processes of scholarly and creative endeavor.
  • With this foundation, develop priorities for supporting new dissemination strategies that enhance the value of the multifaceted investments in faculty research and scholarship by promoting the broadest possible access to it.
  • Engage departments on campus in developing fresh articulations of the criteria that are appropriate for judging the quality of contributions to their discipline, criteria that embrace emerging forms of scholarly work, where those possess the same attributes of quality and contribution to new knowledge, and do not rely solely on traditional publications and historic practices.
  • Develop institutional policies that enable the university to disseminate the full range of its community’s products now and in the future.
  • Where local dissemination infrastructure exists (such as institutional repositories), promote its use and expand its capabilities as required. Where needed, build new infrastructure that supports documentation of the products of faculty work, both for grant management and compliance and for more general purposes....
  • Encourage faculty authors to modify contracts with publishers so that their contracts permit immediate open access or delayed public access to peer reviewed work in a manner that does not threaten the viability of the journals or monographs.
  • Develop policies or strategies that redirect resources from high cost /low value dissemination practices to development of dissemination mechanisms residing inside the academy....

Collective Action Through Associations Serving Research Institutions or University Consortia

Opportunities for collective action by consortia or university collaborations: ...

  • Improve access to dissemination infrastructure through partnerships with scholarly societies to offer alternatives to commercial publishers.
  • For all disciplines, initiate a broad re-articulation of the hallmarks of high quality research and scholarship that emphasize its substance independent of publication or distribution form.
  • Develop new norms for sharing copyrights among universities, authors, and providers of publishing services in order to facilitate low-cost use of the copyrighted work in teaching and research....

Also see today's press release.

...The statement is an outgrowth of a roundtable discussion hosted by the four organizations that engaged provosts, chief research officers, chief information officers, senior faculty, and library and university press directors. Those leaders identified a set of actions that should be taken to expand the dissemination of the full range of products of the university community’s research and scholarship....


  • This is big.  The document only mentions OA explicitly once ("Encourage faculty authors to modify contracts with publishers so that their contracts permit immediate open access..."), but it repeatedly calls for the "broadest possible access" to research and "maximizing dissemination" of research.  It also identifies two impediments that universities have been reluctant to acknowledge:  (1) the routine transfer of exclusive rights to publishers who limit access and create artificial scarcity, and (2) the incentives created by promotion and tenure criteria, pressuring faculty to publish in traditional venues and shun new ones. 
  • It's also big because the AAU has signed on to it.  The other three organizations behind the statement (ARL, CNI, and NASULGC) are long-time friends of OA.  But AAU has been reluctant to come on board.   It has enormous influence over its members --the 60+ leading research universities in North America-- and enormous influence in Congress on copyright issues that affect research and higher education.  It's fair to say that, in the past, the AAU was waiting for its members to take the lead on OA issues.  Perhaps that condition has now been met with the OA mandates at Harvard and Stanford, and the mandate discussions at a handful of other major institutions.  But it's also clear that AAU is now willing to lead as well.  Its leadership will be very welcome at North American research institutions and also in Congress, where the AAU could join the coalition to defeat the Conyers bill.
  • The statement is also important for speaking plainly about the mission of universities, how that mission bears on access to knowledge, and how it differs from the mission of corporations with which universities do business.  The mission of a university is not to create intellectual property or lock up knowledge.  Instead:  "Dissemination strategies that restrict access are fundamentally at odds with the dissemination imperative inherent in the university mission." ... "Dissemination of knowledge is as important to the university mission as its production." ... "[T]here is an inherent difficulty with relying on market forces alone to maximize dissemination."
  • If I have a criticism, it's that the statement is needlessly vague on a key recommendation.  Instead of saying that universities should require OA for their research output, it says merely that they should "develop institutional policies that enable the university to disseminate the full range of its community’s products now and in the future."  The advice is sound as far as it goes.  But we have a notable body of experience on what sorts of policies enable that kind of full dissemination and what kinds do not.

Update. The ARL has released some Talking Points for ARL Library Directors, to accompany the new call to action.