Embracing OA: Universities Adopt Open-Access Policies for Faculty Journal Publications

Seth Denbo | Jan 1, 2014

In July of this year the University of California Academic Senate adopted a policy with the aim of “ensuring that future research articles authored by faculty at all 10 campuses of UC will be made available to the public at no charge.” In order to achieve this ambitious goal, the framers require faculty to deposit a “final copy” of all published journal articles in their campus’s institutional repository, providing free access to all of the UC system’s research outputs. In making the deposit, authors grant their institution a “nonexclusive, irrevocable, worldwide license to exercise any and all rights under copyright relating to each of his or her scholarly articles, in any medium, and to authorize others to do the same, for the purpose of making their articles widely and freely available in an open access repository.”

The California system is by no means the first to adopt such measures; it is, however, the largest in the United States, and its policy affects more than 8,000 faculty and approximately 40,000 publications annually. In the United States, policies similar to California’s have been adopted by large public and private research universities, liberal arts colleges, and even individual department; Harvard University’s Berkman Center lists more than 40 similar university policies that have been put into practice worldwide. Together, these policies reveal a growing trend toward the use of the “green” or “self-archiving” route to open access by universities.

These policies have implications for the publishing options of individual scholars, but many also have built-in escape clauses. The California policy, for example, allows faculty to request a waiver to opt out of depositing; alternatively, faculty can request a timed embargo (where, for example, a publisher requires a delay before making the open-access version available).

Neither Green nor Gold

There is another route, little discussed by either open-access advocates or detractors, that uses the web and institutional support as a route to open access. One example is the Middle Ground Journal: World History and Global Studies, subject of a May 2013 Perspectives on History piece by its editor Hong-Ming Liang. Other examples include Law, Crime and History, an online-only, open-access journal, published by an interdisciplinary UK scholarly network, on the history of crime, and ABO: Interactive Journal for Women in the Arts, 1640–1830, published by the Aphra Behn Society. In many ways, journals such as these embody the ideals of open-access publishing. They publish peer-reviewed scholarly articles for free on the open web. While online-only publishing enables these journals to avoid the large overheads of printing and distribution, these operations have other costs that are often absorbed by institutions and the scholars who keep them running through hard work and dedication.

An influential report on access to government-funded research, produced in the UK in 2012 by the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings and known as the Finch Report, identified two main models, or routes, for open-access publishing. In the “gold” route, the article is published in a journal that is itself open access. In many cases this involves an article processing charge (APC), which is paid by the author or an institution on the author’s behalf to the publisher to defray the publication cost. The “green” route, on the other hand, involves self-archiving via an institutional or subject matter repository that can be accessed for free. It is this route that is the objective of policies adopted by institutions around the world. For these institutions, green open access has the added advantage of significantly increasing the use of the institutional repositories by their faculty.

University green open-access policies are generally universal and do not make allowances for discipline-specific considerations. In the past few years, open access has begun to reverberate out from the sciences to humanities scholarship and publishing, but most of the evidence on the value and impact of open access comes from the arena of science journal publishing, where large-scale moves toward open access have been in operation for a number of years. Publishers like the nonprofit PLOS (Public Library of Science) and have pioneered new models for publishing journal articles in the sciences. In the sciences, publication in journals is the primary means for dissemination of research findings and new knowledge. This, and differing expectations in areas like time to publication and the shelf life of research, mean that the landscape of scholarly publishing in the humanities is very different from that of the sciences. For historians, in particular, traditional final products of research include journal articles, monographs, and articles in collected volumes. The broad range of types of publication, including new forms of scholarly output that take advantage of digital technologies, complicates the landscape and raises uncertainty about the future of open-access publishing.

It is important for scholars to be aware of their university’s policy regarding open-access publishing, and in particular the requirements set out in such policies as those described here. When historians sit on university governing bodies that are considering open-access policies for journal articles and other research publications they should have a broad knowledge of other university policies. This knowledge and an understanding of the implications for scholarship, professional standing, and institutional responsibilities in this area will lead to policies which meet the needs of historians and the discipline of history.

—Seth Denbo is the AHA’s director of scholarly communication and digital initiatives.

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