Wednesday, November 29, 2006

One Small Step for Athabasca University

From Terry Anderson's the Virtual Canuck blog comes the news of the first Canadian university open access policy that I am aware of.


Athabasca University requests that academic and professional staff deposit an electronic copy of any published research articles (as elsewhere accepted for publication) in an Athabasca University repository. The contract with the publisher determines whether the article is restricted (lives in the repository as a record of the University’s research but is not accessible online by searchers) or open access (accessible online by searchers).


Congratulations to Athabasca University for taking one small step forward. However, this is a weak policy, for two reasons, and I would strongly suggest that other universities considering an open access policy not emulate this one.

First, it requests rather than requires academic and professional staff to deposit published research. Experience has shown that policies that request deposit simply do not work, whereas policies that require deposit are extremely effective. Also, rather than beginning with voluntary compliance, the nature of open access is that it makes more sense to start with the requirement - because as soon as faculty and staff experience the impact advantage, and other advantages of convenience, with open access, from a requirement, they will quickly come to appreciate open access, and so they will happily voluntary self-archive.

Second, it leaves the question of open access up to the publishers. Even setting aside the rights of the university, its students and alumni and taxpayer funders at a public institution like Athabasca - universities wishing to educate faculty members about open access would do well to also advise faculty members about their rights, too. Authors and scholars do not need to give up their copyright in order to have their work published; the only copyright that an author need give a publisher, is simply the right to publish; authors can do this and retain their copyright, too.

The vast majority of traditional publishers already routinely allow self-archiving of preprints or peer-reviewed postprints, or both. Authors can find out their publisher's policy by looking at the Sherpa Romeo Publisher copyright policies & self-archiving. Even if a publisher is not listed here, or is listed as not giving the "green" light to self-archiving, there is a good possibility that the publisher will grant such rights on request.

Authors wishing to ensure that they retain their rights can use tools such as an Author's Addendum. Examples can be found at the SPARC Author Rights page, or at the Science Commons Scholar's Copyright Project.

As a former student of Athabasca University, where I did about half of my fourth year of undergraduate work, in business administration and psychology, I think I can speak from the perspective of an alumnus. Researchers and teachers of Athabasca, consider this: when your students graduate, it is possible that they will enjoy access to the same electronic resources your library provides to you and to active students.

Many alumni, however, will not have this access. If they live and work away from major centres, they likely will not have much access to academic resources, even in Canada's wealthy western provinces (Alberta and British Columbia). Come to think of it - isn't serving people who are either away from major centres, or for whom an in-person visit to an academic library would be difficult - one of the original, and still one of the major, points of distance education - and hence Athabasca University?

As a proud former student, I would like to point out that, if Athabasca University's new open access policy is not exemplary in the area of self-archiving, AU has long been a leader in open access publishing, as the home of ICAAP, the International Coalition for the Advancement of Academic Publishing. ICAAP publishes a number of open access journals, using the Open Journal Systems (OJS) software, including AU's own The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning.

Athabasca began as, and still is: an open university. A place where you can get a start on your university studies, even if it is mid-semester, or you can't get to a traditional university program for whatever reason. What could possibly make more sense, than for an open university to fully embrace open access?

For examples of stronger policies, please see ROARMAP, the Registry of Open Access Repositories Material Archiving Policies - and for evidence of their effectiveness, click on the growth rate option.

Have you heard of other open access policies - in place, or in development - at Canadian universities? If so, we would like to hear from you. Or, let us know about policy developments in other countries, or if you have comments on the Athabasca policy.

Thanks to Pam Ryan.

This post reflects my personal opinion only and does not represent the opinions or policy of the BC Electronic Library Network or the Simon Fraser University Library.

1 comment:

Pam Ryan said...

Thanks for this super commentary, Heather. I'm really interested in hearing about progress on open access policies - in place, or in development - at Canadian universities too.