Law School Adopts Open Access for Scholarship

Proposal was written by Palfrey, cyberlaw expert and incoming library chief

Following a growing trend toward openness in academic scholarship, Harvard’s law faculty voted unanimously last Thursday to approve a policy that would make the school’s research articles free and publicly available.

Harard Law School will file all of its faculty members’ publications in an online database, the content of which will be available to members of the public, according to a statement. Members of the faculty will have the choice to opt out and to distribute their articles on their own Web sites, providing they do not profit from the publications.

In February, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences made national headlines when it passed a similar policy, while in April, the National Institute of Health required that the research it sponsors be made publicly available through its centralized research depository.

Law School Dean Elena Kagan praised the resolution in a written statement, saying that it would allow academic legal work at Harvard to become a public good.

“Our decision to embrace open access means that people everywhere can benefit from the ideas generated here at the Law School,” she wrote.

John G. Palfrey, Jr. ’94, a Law School professor who proposed the policy to the faculty, said that he expected the implementation process to go smoothly.

“It seems like there’s no reason why the University shouldn’t be sharing its scholarship, especially when the technology exists to permit that with extremely low cost,” said Palfrey, a cyberlaw expert and incoming head of the Law School Library.

The policy, optional for the moment, will become mandatory in September.

In the past, some faculty members have expressed concerns that open access to articles would adversely affect academic journals, and thus reduce opportunities for younger scholars to be published.

But Kagan emphasized that the Law School faculty was united in supporting the decision.

“The view was that legal scholarship will only be enhanced by wider distribution and the potential for greater influence that comes with it,” Kagan said in an e-mailed statement.

Palfrey said that most legal journals are student-run and many of them already publish their articles online.

“In the law school environment, we get all the benefits of an open access policy but with very low cost because of the nature of scholarly publishing in our field,” Palfrey said.

Rising costs of academic journals have caused some university libraries to cut back on subscriptions. But Harvard University Library Director Robert C. Darnton ’60 said that there will be “no direct conflict” between open access and journal subscriptions, unless the policy were to spread much more extensively than it has so far.

Darnton has made online publishing a priority since arriving at Harvard last year from Princeton.

In addition to collaborating with Palfrey on the Law School proposal, Darnton has also worked to digitize subject-specific collections in the library—notably through Harvard’s participation in the Google Book Search initiative—and said that he hopes Harvard will continue to share its “intellectual riches” with the rest of the world.

“These two resolutions are really about openness,” Darnton said. “Our rationale is simply that of democratization of knowledge.”

—Staff writer Athena Y. Jiang can be reached at ajiang@fas.harvard.edu.