Nation & World

Harvard joins in support for open-access publication

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Additional research institutions invited to join the five-member compact

Five of the nation’s premier institutions of higher learning — Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of California, Berkeley—announced their joint commitment to a compact for open-access publication this week (Sept. 14).

Open-access scholarly journals have arisen as an alternative to traditional publications that are founded on subscription and/or licensing fees. Open-access (OA) journals make their articles available freely to anyone, while providing the same services common to all scholarly journals, such as management of the peer-review process, filtering, production, and distribution.

“Publishers and researchers know that it has never been easier to share the best work they produce with the world, said Thomas C. Leonard, university librarian at the University of California, Berkeley. “But they also know that their traditional business model is creating new walls around discoveries.  Universities can really help take down these walls, and the open-access compact is a highly significant tool for the job.”

The economic downturn underscores the significance of open-access publications. With library resources strained by budget cuts, subscription and licensing fees for journals have come under increasing scrutiny, and librarians have searched for alternative means for providing access to vital intellectual content. Open-access journals provide a natural alternative.

Because open-access journals do not charge subscription or other access fees, they must cover their operating expenses through other sources, including subventions, in-kind support, or, in a sizable minority of cases, processing fees paid by or on behalf of authors for submission to or publication in the journal. While academic research institutions support traditional journals by paying subscription fees, no analogous means of support has existed to underwrite the growing roster of fee-based open-access journals.

Stuart Shieber, Harvard’s James O. Welch Jr. and Virginia B. Welch Professor of Computer Science and director of the University’s Office for Scholarly Communication, is the author of the five-member compact. According to Shieber, “Universities and funding agencies ought to provide equitable support for open-access publishing by subsidizing the processing fees that faculty incur when contributing to open-access publications. Right now, these fees are relatively rare. But if the research community supports open-access publishing and it gains in importance as we believe that it will, those fees could aggregate substantially over time. The compact ensures that support is available to eliminate these processing fees as a disincentive to open-access publishing.”

The compact supports equity of the business models by committing each university to the timely establishment of durable mechanisms for underwriting reasonable publication fees for open-access journal articles written by its faculty for which other institutions would not be expected to provide funds.

Additional universities are encouraged to visit the Compact Web site and sign on.

A full account of the motivation for the compact can be found in the article “Equity for Open-Access Journal Publishing,” published in the open-access journal Public Library of Science Biology.

“Supporting OA journals is an investment in a superior system of scholarly communication,” said Peter Suber of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) in Washington, D.C., and a fellow of Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center and Harvard University’s Office for Scholarly Communication. “Before this compact, a number of funding agencies and universities were willing to pay OA journal processing fees on behalf of their grantees and faculty. It’s significant that five major universities recognize the need to join the effort, extend fee subsidies to a wider range of publishing scholars, enlist other institutions, and start to catch up with their long practice of supporting traditional — or non-OA — journals.”

Summing up the compact, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Provost L. Rafael Reif observes, “The dissemination of research findings to the public is not merely the right of research universities: it is their obligation. Open-access publishing promises to put more research in more hands and in more places around the world. This is a good enough reason for universities to embrace the guiding principles of this compact.”

For more details, read the Library Notes interview with Stuart Shieber.

HOPE makes it work for Harvard

The Office for Scholarly Communication (OSC) is managing Harvard’s participation in the Open-Access Compact through the Harvard Open-Access Publication Equity (HOPE) Fund. Through HOPE, Harvard will reimburse eligible authors for open-access processing fees.

Initially, HOPE will serve members of the four Harvard faculties — Arts and Sciences, Education, Government, and Law—that have formally adopted open-access policies. Faculty, researchers, staff, and students may request reimbursement for articles connected with their research activities at these Schools.

As additional faculties activate open access policies, they will automatically become eligible for HOPE funding.

To guide HOPE users, OSC has posted a detailed Q&A.