May 6, 2014

Cornell Scientists Encourage Open Access Publishing

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Paywalls that restrict access to journal articles makes staying up to date on scientific literature difficult or impossible for those who do not have access to journal subscriptions, which can cost hundreds of dollars a year.

As part of the movement to make academic research freely available to the public, adoption of open access policies at universities has been gaining momentum in recent years. Currently, 36 universities in the United States, including Harvard, the Massachusets Institute of Technology, and the University of California schools, have instituted such policies, according to Jimmy O’Dea, a postdoctoral fellow in chemistry.

On April 22, the Cornell University Assembly unanimously passed a resolution that created a committee to investigate the implementation of a campus wide open access policy at Cornell. This resolution follows a number of previous resolutions supporting open access publishing passed by the Faculty Senate in 2003, 2005, and 2006 and the establishment of the Cornell Open Access Publication Fund by the library in 2009 to offset costs impost on academics who want to publish in open access journals.

According to O’Dea, beginnings of the resolution hatched in a science policy class taught last fall by Prof. Chris Schaffer, biomedical engineering. O’Dea, Michelle Delco BS ‘98 DVM ‘02 grad and Mischa Olson grad researched open access policies and implementation as a project for the class. This spring they partnered with Executive Vice Chair of the University Assembly David Bunck grad to write a resolution recommending the creation of a committee. After passing, the resolution was forwarded to President David Skorton for approval.

O’Dea said that the open access policy that he, Delco and Olson drafted would be a legal framework in which the Cornell faculty would grant the university the right to distribute scholarly work freely to the public. This would take the form of an open access online repository maintained by the University where faculty can upload their publications, he said. The policy applies only to academic journal articles and does not include books or other materials that would be sold for profit, Delco said. It is also important to draw a distinction between open access journals, which are academic journals created to be exclusively open access, and the policy under consideration.

“[Faculty] can still publish in whatever journal they want, their publications would just also be in this repository,” Olson said.

The proposed policy is similar to those adopted by other universities, according to Delco.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel. The proposed policy is very similar to what many other universities have already adopted. It’s really the implementation that’s different between schools,” Delco said.

According to O’Dea, Harvard, MIT and the University of California schools all have well-developed policy implementation programs, and Cornell is in a position to join them and play a leadership role in open access.

“Cornell has a fantastic history with open access. It’s very easy to talk about these issues,” he said.

Cornell already helps direct and participates in a number of open access repositories, including arXiv, an international open access digital archive with more than 900,000 preprints as of 2013, and eCommons, a university repository that contains mostly dissertations. The group has consulted with the library, which strongly supports the initiative.

According to O’Dea, the library estimates that Cornell would not need to hire additional staff to run the repository due to pre-existing infrastructure. The cost of maintaining a repository would likely be less than the approximate $300,000 annual contribution Cornell makes to arXiv, O’Dea said. For comparison, Cornell paid $1.9 million for subscriptions to Elsevier journals for the 2013 fiscal year, about 10.9 percent of the collections budget according to John Saylor, associate university librarian for Scholarly Resources and Special Collections. O’Dea, Olson, Delco and Bunck have partnered with Peter Sullivan grad, Emily Perregaux grad and Assistant University Librarian for Digital Scholarship and Preservation Services Oya Rieger to form the committee responsible for investigating and implementing an open access policy.

O’Dea said the group plans to invite representatives from a large number of campus organizations, including the U.A., the University Library, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and the Faculty Senate, as well as faculty from several academic departments. According to O’Dea, they aim to make the discussions leading to open access at Cornell faculty-driven and inclusive.

“We want a committee that represents the campus,” he said.

The formal structure of the committee will be complemented by open forums where the Cornell community’s questions and concerns can be heard. Delco, O’Dea and Olson presented the policy to several department meetings and answered questions from professors about their concerns regarding the new policy in order to guide the committee’s decisions.

“The biggest fear that we heard was that we’d be adding workload to professors’ lives, which is the last goal of this committee,” O’Dea said.

O’Dea cited the University of California’s success in making the online repository easy to use.

“They have an incredibly streamlined system to upload an article,” he said.

Another big question concerns how an open access policy at Cornell would affect faculty relationships with publishers. There is little consensus among journal publishers about open access. Some, such as for-profit publishers Wiley and Elsevier, have historically been against it, O’Dea said. Others, such as the American Physical Society, support open access.

Many publishers fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. For instance, some set embargoes where the article can only be distributed publicly after a certain time period following publication, according to O’Dea. O’Dea said the open access policy proposed for Cornell would be flexible to allow for this range of journal attitudes towards freely distributing academic research.

Cornell is poised to take advantage of the progress other schools have made talking to publishers about open access policies, O’Dea said. For example, the U.C. system allows publishing faculty to opt out of open access or to set an automatic release date for their article after the embargo period.

Considering that national funding agencies are also moving towards open access, there is also the question of redundancy. Delco said that the group received questions from open access supporters during their department visits, such as why Cornell should take the time, energy and money to make an open access repository when a national repository is on its way to becoming a reality.

There are a few reasons to still enact open access at a university level, O’Dea said. According to O’Dea, a nation-wide open access policy may mandate implementation at the university level anyway, and Cornell may be able to achieve open access before a national policy is created.

After forming the committee, the main goal will be to institute the policy, which will grant Cornell the legal right to distribute articles, according to O’Dea. The focus then will turn towards implementation, which varies widely between schools that have already adopted policies.

Compliance is a large part of making open access a success. For example, after the National Institutes of Health passed a policy in 2004 that asked for voluntary submissions to PubMed Central, the NIH’s open access online repository, they received very few articles, O’Dea said. The NIH’s current policy for the continuation of faculty grants from the NIH is that all previously published work funded by that grant must be uploaded to PubMed Central, which has pushed participation to 80 percent.

“At Cornell, we want it to be part of the culture, that it would actually help your job that your data is out there,” O’Dea said. “It’s in faculty’s best interest to advertise themselves, and having a repository of information is the way to do this.”