On June 10th, my colleagues in the Stanford University School of Education listened patiently as I stood before them explaining how the Harvard Law School had passed an "open access" motion which was going to lead to free online access to all of the scholarly articles that they published. We were on a faculty retreat, at a hotel by the ocean near Monterey, California, with the waves rolling in not far from where we were sitting. An opening had appeared in the program, and I jumped in, asking for the time to explain what such a policy could mean for the work of a school or department.
What an open access motion was all about, I told them, following the example of the motions passed by Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences in February and then its Law School in May – the first such university policies in North America – was that faculty members were committing themselves to posting the final copy of any articles which they had accepted by peer-reviewed journals in an open access archive run by their institution.
They would still submit their work to the journals in which they wanted to publish. If the article was accepted for publication, however, the author would now submit an addendum to the publication agreement. The addendum would state that the author had granted her institution a nonexclusive right to post the author's final version to an institutional archive (which would make the work freely available). This posted version would be the one accepted by the journal, following the journal's process of peer review and the author's revisions, and under the terms of the addendum, could not be used for commercial purposes.
If a publisher refused to accept the terms of the addendum, the author could request a waiver from the dean's office or the author could, of course, submit the article elsewhere. If the publisher ignored the addendum and went ahead and published the article, the publisher was deemed to have agreed to the terms of the addendum, and the author's final draft could then be posted in the archive.
Prior to the School of Education retreat, I had run the idea past a few colleagues, and had been asked, why not just post it on our own site, or the page the university gave us? Some had already done so (as had I). We were taking a stand on this, I stated, and wanted it to be entirely legal, formally enacted, and above board. There wasn't anything napsterish about it.
They also wondered about the copyright. I explained how the term "nonexclusive" was key. As I understood it, different rights can be granted around a work of intellectual property. The author as the original copyright holder grants a non-exclusive right to post this particular copy prior to transferring the remaining rights to the publisher.
They wondered, as well, why in the world publishers would accept this. And I explained that the publishers already had, at least in principle. The majority of publishers grant authors, in exchange for the author turning over copyright to their work, the right to post their work in just such an archive, sometimes some months after publication.
In the course of our discussion during the faculty retreat some of these issues came up again. But then so did the importance of Harvard taking this stand with publishers on behalf of others, as if to say that if you want Harvard authors in your journal, then these are the terms. We talked briefly about what this access might mean for who reads law school scholarship and all the more so, in the case of an education school, which has saw itself having a responsibility for the professionalism of teachers and for addressing public interests in education.
However, before we had been at it for half-an-hour, people were saying let's just do it. Let's pass an open access motion for the School of Education, and let's do it right here and right now. I was taken aback by the ease with which this idea garnered nods and shrugs of assent.
Before the hour was up, we had passed an open access motion that committed the School to sharing what it knew or at least what it had discovered and submitted for publication. We were soon strolling along the beach at noon, even as something at Stanford, a hundred miles always, might be said to have radically altered. Its Ed School had gone public.
The times may be a changing. It had been very hard, only a few years ago, to get researchers to look up from their work long enough to explain access issues. Putting an article in a journal, as they saw it, made things public enough. No more. No longer. Greater openness, greater accessibility of knowledge has become part of culture. Now is the time to make it standard practice and a common policy within universities.
To help other departments, schools and faculties take this step of making open access a policy, I put together a webpage on the Open Access Policy. The page is a guide not only to the policy and its implementation, but to the reasons behind it and to other sources on open access.
Take advantage of the times, my fellow scholars and researchers. It could prove dead easy for you, too, to stand up and reposition your institution within this larger world of public knowledge.