Institutionalizing Open Access

17May16

As of today, my institution Middlebury College has officially embraced open access as the default way that faculty share our research.

What this means is that we have adopted a policy whereby faculty grant the institution a license to republish their scholarly essays in an online open access repository, making it standard that copies of faculty publications are freely available, even when they have been published in high-priced scholarly journals. It does not mean that faculty have to change where we publish, or even that we must deposit our work in the repository (as there is an automatic waiver for anyone who wishes to opt-out). But by changing the default, we hope to change behavior and awareness so that it becomes commonplace for faculty to share publications through our institutional repository, and thus people searching for scholarly work will find links to these free open versions of publications. (You can learn more about OA institutional policies through the Coalition of Open Access Policy Institutions or through Harvard’s excellent resource site.)

This has been a long haul for me and my colleagues. I remember first having this conversation in 2008 with Mike Roy, who had just arrived at Middlebury as the new Dean for Library and Information Services. I was on the Faculty Library Advisory Committee, and Mike and I met to discuss what initiatives we each hoped would move forward. He introduced me to the idea of an institutional open access policy, and wondered if other faculty would buy into it. I expressed major skepticism, thinking there was a lack of both awareness and enthusiasm to go down that path for any but a small sliver of faculty. He said he’d take a slow approach, raising awareness and building momentum until we were ready to take action.

Eight years later, we’re ready. Today the faculty nearly unanimously passed the resolution that our Open Access committee, which Mike co-chaired with my colleague Svea Closser in Anthropology, drafted and discussed for over a year. We brought Peter Suber, one of the foremost experts on open access, to campus to advise our work and give a public presentation to raise awareness. We did one-on-one interviews with 50 faculty to understand how this policy might apply across various fields. We fielded and answered many skeptical questions, collected on our lengthy FAQ. We presented the policy and its rationale in at least 5 formal faculty meetings or targeted sessions. As Suber told us, keep having such meetings until faculty stop coming. (And they did.)

In the end, most people understood the policy (which is rather complicated in its legal maneuvers) and certainly grasped its intent. One thing I found interesting is how various OA supporters latched onto different core reasons to embrace the policy. For Mike, given his position running our library, he was motivated both by the mission of the library to disseminate knowledge broadly and how the huge costs of the current subscription model for closed scholarly access eat up library budgets for little gain. For Svea, who studies public health in Africa and Asia, she wants valuable research like hers to be available to the communities she studies that typically lack the resources to subscribe to pay journals. Personally, I am most motivated by outrage over the ways that publishers take free faculty labor as writers, editors, and reviewers, and turn around and charge our institutions to access the fruits of our labor. Over the course of our campus discussions, we heard many other good reasons to support such a policy, while the primary reasons against the policy boiled down to a general suspicion of such changes and any unintended consequences.

Needless to say, I am thrilled that the vast majority of my colleagues sided with us, and tomorrow we get to start the hard work of both building the technical infrastructure to make our repository functional, and the cultural work of getting faculty to implement our policy by making the open sharing of our research a new default. Kudos to my colleagues for embracing the policy, and especially to Mike, Svea, and my fellow committee members for their leadership and work, enabling me to type the rarest of all phrases: I found my work on this college committee enjoyable, productive, and fully worth my time!



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