Freedom of Access

The public deserves and needs scientific information
Ivory Tower Illustration

Illustration by Leslie Herman

The widespread availability of knowledge is a key element of Oregon State’s land grant mission. Since 2006, OSU Libraries and Press has maintained a publicly available repository (ScholarsArchive@OSU) of scientific papers and student theses and dissertations. This archive — and ones like it at other universities — could be a cost-effective solution for a new federal initiative to make more research information available to the public.

Traditional channels of scholarly publication preclude access by the general public who, in the case of state and federally funded research, paid the bills. Journals that charge an annual subscription fee restrict information to those who are affiliated with institutions that can pay the fee. Costs vary widely but can be as much as $20,000 a year or more.

Recognizing the continued role of publishers and the need to facilitate public access, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a policy memorandum on February 22. It directs federal agencies with more than $100 million in annual research and development expenditures to work with stakeholders to make articles and research data associated with federally funded research freely available to the public within 12 months of publication.

The OSTP policy directive is a significant milestone for public access to scholarship. It benefits OSU researchers by increasing the readership and impact of their scholarship. It also provides accountability to the public by enhancing access to the scholarship they funded.

In fiscal year 2012, OSU researchers received more than $176 million in funding from federal agencies. What the OSTP directive means for these scientists will depend on agency requirements still in development, but the existing National Institutes of Health (NIH) public access policy may serve as a model to other agencies. The NIH requires articles that result from NIH funding to be available in the freely accessible PubMed Central database within 12 months of publication. While individual agencies are charged with developing policies, the memorandum does encourage interagency cooperation in order to make the processes and, potentially, the systems uniform.

ScholarsArchive@OSU already provides access to thousands of faculty and student articles and was recently ranked seventh among U.S. single institution repositories. The use of institutional repositories to preserve and make federally funded research available to the public has several benefits. It leverages infrastructure that is largely in place, and it enables institutions to monitor and ensure policy compliance for their own authors.

For scholars, access to the work of their peers is fundamental to the advancement of research. Making well-organized research data more widely available encourages reuse and supports inter- and intra-disciplinary collaboration. It also enables the private sector to leverage public research and invest in and develop new products and services.

Last year, the National Science Foundation began requiring the inclusion of data management plans as part of grant proposals. The Oregon State University Libraries and Press supports OSU faculty in meeting this and other federal data requirements. Our services are likely to evolve to support new agency requirements that result from the directive.

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Editor’s note: Michael Boock is head of Oregon State’s Center for Digital Scholarship and and associate professor with OSU Libraries and Press. Read the open-access policy approved by the Oregon State University Faculty Senate on June 13, 2013.

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