On March 18th, MIT announced that its faculty had unanimously voted to adopt a university wide open access policy. The policy mandates that faculty must make a copy of any scholarly articles they publish available to be included in MIT’s freely accessible online repository. This follows recent similar announcements from Harvard Law School, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Science, and the Stanford University School of Education.
These announcements are part of a growing open access movement. The goal of this movement is to ensure the widest possible access to scholarship and research in recognition that greater access will lead to greater impact. Increased accessibility means that more people are able to read, expand on, scrutinize, comment on, and use the information. This has long been a goal of academia but advances in information technology are now making such wide distribution more practical.
Momentum is being built at all levels in the research chain from funding, to creation, to publication.
At the funding level, major granting agencies around the world, including the NIH in the United States, are beginning to attach open access publishing requirements to their funding. In Canada, such policies have been adopted by CIHR, NRC, and IDRC with NSERC and SSHRC slowly moving in this direction.
At the creator level, as mentioned above, the faculty at Harvard and now MIT are leading the way in adopting so called ‘self archiving’ polices that mandate that they place copies of their work in freely accessible institutional repositories. In addition, other institutions such as Canada’s Athabasca University have previously adopted non-mandatory policies encouraging self archiving. In fact, the ROARMAP links to 31 institutions around the world that have some form of open access mandate. However, the momentum extends beyond these important institutional policies to the many individual faculty members at other institutions who are individually self-archiving their work in other freely accessible repositories.
At the publication level, there is a growing trend by individual journals to adopt open access policies and make their contents freely accessible online or at the very least adopting copyright contracts with their contributing authors that allow those authors to self-archive. Momentum in this area can be seen in the recently signed Durham Statement on Open Access to Legal Scholarship. The statement is signed by library directors from the top law schools in the US and calls for their schools to implement open access, digital publication of their respective law journals in place of print formats. While statistics on the number of journals that have adopted open access policies vary, the Directory of Open Access Journals lists 3,999 open access journals and estimates as to the number of journals that will allow authors to self archive are as high as 70–90%.
Open access to scholarly articles is of particular importance to the legal community. Legal scholarship plays an important role in challenging and advancing the way we think about and apply the law. More so than in many areas, legal scholarship is frequently used outside of academia. Practitioners, the judiciary, and policy makers can all benefit from increased access to this information to be better advocates and to enhance our legal system. Open access is also important beyond this cabal of sophisticated users, it is essential if we want to further inform and engage the broader public on important legal issues. We need to look no further than the remarkable example of how CanLII’s work providing open access to case law is affecting the way legal information is being accessed to see the importance this movement can have in the field of law.
It is important that we all become engaged on the issue of open access both so that we can continue building momentum here in Canada at our law schools and in our legal journals, and so that we stay informed of the new availability of these accessible sources.