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Open Access Forum Draws Crowd

By Adrienne Frank

More than 50 faculty turned out for the library’s second Digital Futures Forum, March 31, which featured a lively discussion on the benefits of open access (OA)—the free dissemination of research on the Internet.

Michael Carroll, a visiting professor at the Washington College of Law, encouraged the crowd to seize the opportunity to broaden the accessibility and impact of scholarly research.

“We’ve got to wake up. We’re in a different mode of thinking about information sustainability,” said Carroll, an expert in intellectual property and cyber law.

Open access articles may be delivered to readers through OA archives and repositories— which include unrefereed preprints, refereed postprints, or both—or through peer-reviewed OA journals.

According to Stuart Shieber, professor of computer science at Harvard, universities need to develop an OA policy, as institutions can no longer keep up with the “hyper-inflated” cost of conventionally published literature. Commercial journals cost six times as much as nonprofit publications, he said. And for those without a subscription to a particular journal, such as community college students or interdisciplinary researchers, articles can run anywhere from $10 to $65.

Shieber, director of Harvard’s Office for Scholarly Communication, was instrumental in crafting the university’s open access policy, which was first adapted by the arts and sciences faculty in February 2008. Faculty at other schools, including the Kennedy School of Government, have followed suit.

A campuswide OA policy, Schieber said, “makes a collective statement of principle” and “allows the university to negotiate collectively.” He also instructed the audience on how to amend copyright agreements, so they can disseminate their research for free on the Internet.

A third panelist, Julia Blixrud, assistant director for public programs, Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, encouraged faculty to explore new avenues of information dissemination.

“The academy is a place for shared conversations . . . across disciplines,” she said. “Now we have the technology to make it possible.”

Naomi Baron, professor of language and foreign studies in AU’s College of Arts and Sciences, described the OA movement as an attempt to balance public access to information with the owners’ rights to financial gain, in light of online technology and the academy’s commitment to disseminating knowledge without regard to personal or institutional wealth.

"Since scholars are the producers (and vetters) of the knowledge contained in academic journals, and receive no financial gain for their work, it makes no sense that the fruits of their labors should be held hostage by commercial enterprises,” Baron said. “The issue is important to AU faculty (and faculty everywhere) because restricting our ability to gather knowledge—and to share it with others—undermines the fundamental missions of higher education.”