Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Harvard and Open Access

After Harvard A&S faculty made their decision, the Rollins Arts & Sciences faculty Executive Committee asked me to prepare some information about the issues associated with this decisions. I haven't heard that they are going to take this any further, perhaps it is early days yet. Here is what I gave them.

Harvard's Decision to Publish on the Web the Scholarly Work of their Faculty

Jonathan Miller


Harvard A&S Decision

“The Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) voted Tuesday (Feb. 12) to give the University a worldwide license to make each faculty member’s scholarly articles available and to exercise the copyright in the articles, provided that the articles are not sold for a profit.”

“Harvard will take advantage of the license by hosting FAS faculty members’ scholarly articles in an open-access repository, making them available worldwide for free. The faculty member will retain the copyright of the article, subject to the University’s license. The repository contents can be made widely available to the public through such search engines such as Google Scholar. Faculty members may request a waiver of the license for particular articles where this is preferable. The new legislation does not apply to articles completed before its adoption.”

Open Access Movement

This is a significant move in the much larger open access (OA) movement, which generally seeks to make scholarly research literature freely accessible on the Internet. For an overview of OA see Peter Suber’s work at http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/overview.htm

The other very significant OA development in the last year was passage of a measure by Congress that made the National Institutes of Health (NIH) access policy mandatory rather than voluntary. The NIH policy “ensures that the public has access to the published results of NIH funded research. It requires scientists to submit journal articles that arise from NIH funds to the digital archive PubMed Central (http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/).” For more information on the NIH Access Policy see http://publicaccess.nih.gov/.

Major Issues Involved in OA

OA is a response to two developments in scholarly publishing. The first is the high rate of inflation in the price of subscriptions to scientific, technical and medical (STM) journals. These increasing costs have put enormous pressure on library budgets over the last few decades. Interestingly, this price inflation has not happened to the same extent in the humanities. Overall, for instance, the Olin Library has experienced a 9-10% annual increase in journal subscription costs. Obviously this is not sustainable and has been addressed by moving monies from book purchases to journals, cuts in journal subscriptions, cuts in other library budgets, and (occasionally) increased library budgets. This unsustainable situation has led many librarians and faculty to address the model of scholarly communication and publishing in an attempt to change the rules of the game and force down, or at least slow the rate of increase in, prices. The best example of this is can be found at Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC http://www.arl.org/sparc/) of which Rollins is a member.

The second issue is the growth of the Internet and digital media. As we move from print to digital publication the cost structure of distribution of scholarly literature changes. Significant cost saving can be found in the elements of journal publishing associated with printing, distribution, and storage of printed journals while the costs associated with research, peer review, editing, and design remain somewhat stable. In the print world libraries (and to some extent individuals) paid subscriptions to publishers who financed editing, design, printing, and distribution of journals. Universities and granting agencies financed research costs, and publishers and universities shared the cost of peer review. Libraries (and therefore universities) financed long term storage of the literature. In the digital world, at least where Institutional Repositories (IR) like the ones used by Harvard and the NIH are concerned, universities and granting agencies continue to finance research costs, publishers are allowed, and usually offered some incentive like the 12-month moratorium allowed in the NIH Access Policy, to participate in peer review, editing, and design, and government, granting agencies, and universities finance storage and access. Distribution costs are minimal and borne by the individual or institution downloading individual articles from the IR. This model is still new and not yet stable. It is not clear that institutions (particularly government) will accept their role as really long term archivists of this scholarly literature, and it is not clear publishers will survive to participate in peer review, editing, and design.

Another big issue in the OA movement is copyright. In the traditional print journal model, the author assigned copyright to the journal publisher who made money by selling subscriptions, reprints, and permissions. Copyright can be handled in a variety of ways in OA distribution. The author can waive copyright, effectively placing the work in the public domain for anyone to use, copy, and distribute in any way their like. Or the author can make use of a license that enables certain uses of the work, but not – for instance – republishing for commercial gain. The best examples of such licenses are to be found at Creative Commons (http://creativecommons.org.) Increasingly, scholarly publishers are including language in their contracts with authors that allow the author to retain certain rights in the work, specifically the right to load a copy of the manuscript to a website, or into an IR. This language varies from publisher to publishers, sometimes from journal to journal. Sometimes publishers are open to negotiating such language with authors and sometimes they adamantly oppose it. In effect what Harvard and the NIH are doing is forcing the issue. They are saying to publishers if you want to publish work by Harvard professors, or by researchers funded by the NIH, let us have a copy for our IR. We won’t resell the works, but they will be accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. Publishers will have to make a business decision about whether they can continue to make money under these circumstances. If they decide they cannot, then the IR’s will seek to assume the roles relinquished by them.

Issues for Rollins

First the development of the OA movement in scholarly literature is a boon to small schools like Rollins. We could never afford a comprehensive print journal collection. The ability to access some portion of the literature freely on the web has the potential to significantly expand our student and faculty access to the journal literature. However, the instability in the system over the next couple of decades has the potential to undermine our access. Also, the varying levels of quality of IR’s and the foreseeable challenges to the peer review system will mean that librarians and faculty will only have to work harder to help students navigate these murky waters. Information literacy competencies will only become more important in the years ahead.

If Rollins faculty wanted to institute a system similar to the one that will come about as a result of the Harvard system a number of issues will have to be confronted. First, we do not have the hardware and software available on campus necessary to upload article manuscripts, organize and make them accessible via search engines like Google Scholar, and archive them for the long term. However, such systems do exist and if this is a priority could be implemented relatively quickly (I would particularly recommend investigating a system called DSpace http://dspace.nitle.org).

Secondly, we would have to face the fact that we are not Harvard and have far less bargaining power with journal publishers that Harvard. Even the Harvard A&S faculty gave themselves a get out clause “Faculty members may request a waiver of the license for particular articles where this is preferable.” (http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2008/02.14/99-fasvote.html) My rather cynical guess is that this translates as, “when the publisher baulks and the faculty member is anxious to get the work published.” This issue is particularly important for untenured faculty members under pressure to publish.

Thirdly, Rollins would have to commit to very long term storage of these materials. When librarians talk about long term storage we mean centuries. Rollins is a young institution and yet we have journals in the Olin Library from the 1870’s and before. Rollins would have to agree to this level of institutional commitment. In practice this means robust back up systems, long term financing, migration of files as formats become obsolete, and constant vigilance on the part of faculty and librarians.

Finally, we would have to design a system that could actually ensure that the IR received the appropriate files from faculty members and, where necessary enforce compliance.

All of this very practical. I have been interested in an IR since I arrived, and I know Donna Cohen was before me. Many institutions have already developed IR systems to collect various digital materials (faculty research, student research, institutional publications, archival documents, etc.) and many others are revisiting the issue in the light of the Harvard decision. I would welcome an opportunity to discuss this issue further with the Committee or with the wider faculty.


McDawg said...

Excellent blog post.

I do indeed sincerely hope that others (like Rollins) follow in the path of Harvard in OA terms.


On the IR front, the best map/database that I am aware of remains Repository 66.

The map does take a few moments to load but the wait is certainly worth it.

Carla Tracy said...

Great post, Jonathan--thanks for such a succinct summary of the issues.

Carla Tracy
Augustana College (IL)