As discussed in the New York Times and the Harvard Crimson, Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences has just considered, and approved, the adoption of a new policy designed to ensure that the results of work published by members of the Faculty remain openly accessible. The policy is the first of its kind in the US, though similar institutional open access mandates are becoming increasingly common around the world.
A new Office for Scholarly Communication will be responsible for implementing the policy, and for addressing the broader issues to ensure that the results of research carried out at Harvard are made universally accessible.
Harvard University’s strong move to encourage open access is not an isolated instance. It is hugely encouraging to note the rapid pace of change in the United States on open access issues since the passing of the bill late last year, which made mandatory the National Institutes of Health’s Public Access Policy.
For example, the University of Berkeley recently announced the Berkeley Research Impact Initiative, which sets up a central open access fund to assist Berkeley researchers who wish to publish in open access journals. Later this month, Berkeley will also play host to the inaugural US meeting in relation to the SCOAP3 initiative in particle physics. SCOAP3 is a consortium of the world’s major particle physics laboratories which has set itself the ambitious yet achievable aim of switching the whole particle physics literature to an open access model, en masse.
What is clear is that the need for open access, and the failure of the traditional model of scientific publishing to make full use of the internet’s potential in this respect, are no longer issues of interest only to librarians or to activists These issues are now recognized to be important ones that all serious research institutions need to consider. The recent steps taken by Harvard and Berkeley show that universities are just as willing as research funders to take a stand on this issue. Open access is no longer just a nice idea, but is a concrete objective and over the course of 2008, the key focus will be not on rhetoric, but on the practical issues necessary to make wide-scale open access a reality.
Update: Here is the official announcement from Harvard