Friday, December 18, 2009

U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy Forum on Public Access to Federally Funded Research: Implementation

Following is my comment to the first phase of the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy Forum on Public Access to Federally Funded Research: Implementation.

First of all, let me extend my congratulations to the U.S. government and people for pioneering in the areas of openness, with the NIH Public Access policy, and more recently, the open government initiative. This should be an inspiration to governments everywhere, including mine (Canada). I speak as a professional librarian, scholarly editor, and scholar in the area of scholarly communication.

Who should enact public access policies?

If public funding is accepted, then any published results of research should be made freely available to the public as soon as possible. Stipulating published results of research eliminates problem areas; classified research, for example, will not be published. ALL publicly funded research that is not classified should be publicly available; otherwise, it should not be publicly funded. The current version of FRPAA which limits public access to agencies with significant funding portfolios is a good practical approach.

How should a public access policy be designed?

1. Timing

The 12-month embargo period set by the early innovator in open access policy, NIH, was a very generous time period. More recently, an international standard is emerging around a maximum 6-month embargo, for example this is the period specified by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. A fairly comprehensive list of policies can be found at ROARMAP. This embargo should be viewed as a temporary measure, to allow scholarly publishers time to adjust to an open access online environment. The remainder of this section explains why.

The international publishing community has had lots of time to adjust to an environment where free online access is optimal. Discussion about open access can be found in Learned Publishing, the journal of the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP), dating back for about a decade. This vehicle of the scholarly society publishers (Learned Publishing), has been freely available after a one-year embargo at the voluntary discretion of the society, for many years, and is still flourishing. ALPSP has been a good role model for member publishers, with a leading-edge author’s agreement allowing authors to self-archive without restriction. Academic publishing is very different from many other businesses, in that the suppliers and customers are basically the same people (scholars and the librarians who serve the needs of scholars). A recent report by Mark Ware published by the International Association of Scientific, Medical and Technical Publishers (STM), quotes the proportion of revenue received by this group for scholarly journals from academic libraries at 68-75% (this does not account for non-academic libraries and revenue streams such as advertising which could actually benefit from public access. Combining advertising with free online access seems to work well for Google).

The scholarly publishing industry is indeed adjusting to the new environment, albeit in a somewhat uneven fashion. The number of fully open access, peer-reviewed scholarly journals in the world is currently over 4,000 (about 15% of the world’s scholarly journals) according to the vetted Directory of Open Access Journals, which is consistently showing a net growth rate of 2 titles per day (Morrison, 2009).

In addition to these fully open access journals, many journals voluntarily make all their content freely available after a delay period. While I don’t have exact numbers for the latter, the difference between the 4,000 titles in DOAJ and the over 23,000 freely accessible journals listed in the Electronic Journals Library gives a rough indication, i.e. at least 19,000 journals with free back access.

A brief review of the SHERPA RoMEO Publisher Copyright Policies and Self-Archiving website can illustrate both how publishers are adapting to the environment, and the environment that they are adapting to. In the search box, pull down the menu for funders, and you’ll quickly see that the publishing community has a very great many open access mandate policies, of research funding agencies, and, increasingly, universities and departments as well, around the world. Search for a few journals or publishers, and have a look both at the self-archiving policies of most journals and publishers (providing for self-archiving is currently the norm), and the many green check marks indicating compliance with a variety of funders.

Libraries are very actively involved in assisting scholars and publishers with the transition to open access. In Canada, the Synergies project (libraries and publishers working together, with government funding) is helping scholarly journals in the humanities and social sciences to move online. Open access is not required, but is actively encouraged, as this is best for the dissemination of work of Canadian scholars.

Libraries around the world are working cooperatively with the physics scholars and publishers to transition the whole field of high energy physics to open access publishing through SCOAP3. Many libraries provide funding and/or other forms of support for open access publishing, and libraries are most willing to talk with publishers and journals about means of combining subscriptions and open access. Academic libraries work with and for the scholars, who need these journals both for reading and for career advancement; ensuring that scholars have the support that they need for scholarly communication is the essence of what we do.

2. Version. The author’s final version after peer review should be specified in the policy. This is one area where different agencies might have good reasons for slightly different policies. The NIH, for example, has a mandate to preserve as well as make accessible the scholarly literature, and so has very specific requirements.

There are two advantages to requiring the author’s final version: 1) this allows publishers a bit more leeway to make money through subscriptions to their final version, which is the version that reflects most of the work actually done by the publisher, and 2) an author’s version may overcome some limitations of a publisher’s PDF. For example, if the publisher uses locked-down or image-based PDFs, these works are not accessible to the print disabled, but the author’s version may be both more accessible for the disabled, and more searchable for everyone.

3. Mandatory v. Voluntary. Public access policies should be mandatory. As illustrated by SHERPA RoMEO, when publishers must comply with public access policies to accommodate authors, they adjust.

4. Other. While the NIH provides a great role model with fair use after a delay period, the best service to scholarship is full libre open access (Morrison 2009A). That is, open access with no delay period and minimal or no restrictions on re-use. For example, when as a scholar I freely share my articles and charts with everyone, another author is free to re-use my charts, with appropriate attribution. For me, this is a gain (of a citation, exposure, mention at a conference), not at all a loss. The NIH was and is wise not to REQUIRE full open access, however it is beneficial to mention this as an ideal and encourage voluntary movement in this direction. To illustrate the appreciation the scholarly community has for this approach, consider that the U.S.-based PLoS ONE, a fully open access journal, although a very new journal, is already among the world’s largest scholarly journals and on track to becoming THE largest in 2010. Advising scholarly publishers, whether commercial or not-for-profit organizations, to move to full open access (i.e., meet the needs of the constituency served) is not only good for the public interest, it is just plain good practical business advice too.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

Heather Morrison, MLIS

Associate Editor, Scholarly and Research Communication

The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics


Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Policy on Access to Research Outputs


Electronic Journals Library

Learned Publishing

Morrison, Heather. (2009) The Dramatic Growth of Open Access: December 11, 2009 edition

Morrison, Heather. 2009A. Open Access Chapter: Scholarly Communication for Librarians: Chandos Publishing. Freely available online at



SHERPA RoMEO Publisher Copyright Policies and Self-Archiving

Ware, M. (2009).The stm report: an overview of scientific and scholarly journalsclass="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom: 0.0001pt;"> publishing. International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM).Retrieved from, October 14, 2009