Harvard Pushes Open Access

Five universities to offer free access to scholarly research

Harvard and four other of the nation’s most prominent research universities are collaborating to make a major push for open access to scholarly research.

The five-member compact on open-access publication, signed on Tuesday by Harvard, Dartmouth, Cornell, MIT, and the University of California at Berkeley, marks a growing consensus on the need for a fairer system of online scholarship.

The agreement on open-access publication makes current scholarly research available for all readers online at no cost.

Though the new open-access model of online publication eliminates traditional subscription and processing fees, it maintains essential features of journal publication such as peer review and the “author-pays” model, in which the author must pay the publisher for the article to appear.

The free access not only benefits readers but is especially beneficial for authors looking to expand their readership.

“Open-access journals and closed-access journals operate in exactly the same way with the exception of their business models,” Computer Science Professor Stuart M. Shieber ’81, the faculty director of the Office for Scholarly Communication at Harvard, wrote in an e-mailed statement.

Even under the open-access model, authors generally must pay fees to publishers. This has led some professors to worry that the economic downturn will keep lesser-known authors from publishing due to higher fees that may be implemented to offset costs, according to John Saylor, an associate librarian at Cornell.

“We’ve just about hit the ceiling on what universities are able to support in terms of subscription costs, especially with the current recession,” Dartmouth Associate Librarian Elizabeth E. Kirk said. “Each time a university library cancels a journal, that university community loses access to that scholarship.”

Despite tighter budgets at universities across the country, the schools in the five-member compact are not overly concerned about authors’ abilities to afford the costs to publishers. Most authors rely on university grants, so the compact “doesn’t really affect the way authors write and publish,” said MIT Scholarly Publishing and Licensing Consultant Ellen F. Duranceau.

Shieber, the Harvard professor, believes that in order to address the loss of scholarly subscriptions, open access should be supported.

“As access to the subscription literature shrinks, it becomes even more important for Harvard researchers to make their articles available open access,” he wrote.

Readers can access the repository of articles written by Harvard faculty and researchers through the Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard (DASH) Web site.