Harvard Library Pushes for Open Access

| April 27, 2012

Those who have been following the open access movement will be pleased to hear that a major step forward has been made at one of our most elite (and well-endowed) universities in the United States.

Just last week, the Harvard Library Faculty Advisory Council released a memorandum stating that the current cost of journal subscriptions is unsustainable for the future.

The main thrust of the memo is a push for open access. The Council calls upon faculty to publish their scholarship in open access outlets and encourage their peers to do so as well.

What is open access? I’m glad you asked.

Open access is part of the current scholarly communication world. Publishing in open access outlets means making your scholarship available to anyone and everyone who has access to the Internet. That is, there are no barriers of cost or membership in any kind of institution in order to access scholarship. Methods of open access, in its broadest sense, include publishing in open access journals, self-archiving in institutional repositories, and posting scholarship on personal or departmental websites.

The idea of open access has been around for as long as scholars have been exchanging ideas without charging each other for it. If you want to put a date on it, you could say that  Tim Berners-Lee’s invention of hypertext in 1989 as a means to digitally exchange scholarship among physicists marks the beginnings of the open access movement as we know it today. The Open Archives Initiative began in 1999, followed by the Budapest Open Access Initiative, which published a manifesto of sorts in 2002 calling on scholars to archive their work in openly accessible digital repositories and for publishers to start open access journals.

In light of the huge rise in the cost of subscription journals, it has become imperative for universities worldwide to create open access repositories and encourage faculty to deposit their work in them.

Harvard library’s call to faculty to utilize open access outlets is a major step toward relieving financial stress from university libraries everywhere. If Harvard faculty start publishing in open access outlets, it would be a great encouragement for faculty from other institutions as well and good step towards creating a greater culture of open access. This would be a boon not only to financially-strapped libraries, but to scholars across the globe, and ultimately to the scholarly communication system as a whole.

For further coverage of the Harvard Library memo, see The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, and the Atlantic.

[This was originally posted on the Pressible Team blog]