Sunday, April 12, 2009

MIT open access policy: a model for Canada?

The latest CAUT Bulletin features the article MIT Faculty to Make Articles Freely Available to Public, which I am quoted as pointing to the MIT open access policy as a potential model for Canadian faculty. The full text of the article follows:

MIT Faculty to Make Articles Freely Available to Public

Faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have voted unanimously to make their scholarly articles available to the public for free on the internet.

“The vote is a signal to the world that we speak in a unified voice; that what we value is the free flow of ideas,” said MIT faculty chair Bish Sinyal.

Under the new policy, faculty grant MIT nonexclusive permission to post their articles on an open-source institutional repository. MIT, its faculty and the public at large will have the right to use and share the articles for any purpose other than to make a profit. Authors may opt out on a paper-by-paper basis.

The MIT initiative “is a very exciting development,” said Heather Morrison, an adjunct professor
at the University of British Columbia’s school of library, archival and information studies and chair of the Canadian Open Access Working Group. “It represents faculty taking control of their work and ensuring their research is read and used by as wide an audience as possible.”

Morrison traces the roots of the new policy to changes that have occurred in scholarly communication over the last decade.

Articles published in academic journals are one of the major ways faculty authors share their research results. Under the traditional private sector publishing model, authors transfer their copyright to publishers who in turn sell the work back to universities for a subscription fee. The amalgamation of private publishers into a few large corporations has facilitated rapid increases in these fees — increases that have far outpaced the rate of inflation.

Morrison says while this model is highly profitable for publishers, it conflicts with core academic values, including the commitment to the widest possible dissemination of knowledge.

“The high cost of journal subscriptions has meant that libraries have had to cut back on the number of subscriptions and limit purchases elsewhere in their collections,” said Morrison. “In response, librarians and faculty began to explore other means of scholarly publishing.”

Aided by new forms of digital information technology, an open access movement gained momentum with the creation of free online journals and institutional digital repositories making research openly available to anyone.

Morrison also notes the open access move by MIT faculty is not devoid of self-interest.

“Public tolerance for the traditional private sector model of publishing is waning,” she said. “The Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the National Institutes of Health in the U.S. and all the granting agencies in the UK are declaring top-down open access mandates. MIT’s policy is the first faculty-driven, university-wide initiative of its kind in the U.S. By seizing the initiative MIT faculty are making their own rules about the dissemination of their work, not having them imposed.”

The policy also means articles by MIT faculty are likely to have a higher citation factor than the works of faculty at other institutions that are locked down by private publishers.

For academic staff in Canada the decision by MIT faculty serves as a possible model for disseminating their own work. It will also have a positive economic impact. When a professor or librarian provides a student a direct link to an MIT article, the need for a course pack or photocopying fee disappears, reducing educational costs.

Link: intellectual property advisory on open access and ownership of scholarly work