The video of Illinois State Senator Daniel Biss’s keynote address last Friday at Northern Illinois University’s “Open Access Week” event is linked below.
Eric Edwards took the following notes that answer many frequently asked questions about open access and the Open Access to Research Articles Act.
Illinois State Senator Daniel Biss’s Presentation During Northern Illinois University’s “Open Access Week”—October 25, 2013
First elected as State Representative in 2011—represents 97th District, with office in Skokie
Author of the “Open Access to Research Articles Act”
http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/BillStatus.asp?DocNum=1900&GAID=12&DocTypeID=SB&LegID=73096&SessionID=85&GA=98&SpecSess=0 (hold down “Control”, then click with mouse, to access)
What is open access?
It is a movement built around the core principles of freedom of information.
Its end is for technology to break restraints on information-sharing.
What makes open access valuable?
It creates opportunity for academic discussions among different institutions.
The sharing of ideas, not just information, is what open access promotes.
Open access does this by removing barriers to the sharing of materials.
Being able to share the most current work is very important, especially in the hard sciences.
What are the benefits of open access beyond the sharing of information?
The sharing of information that open access promotes ultimately leads to an intellectual debate.
Related to this, the most current modes of thinking on a subject reach all parts of the globe.
There is a substantial social justice aspect.
In the process of allowing current modes of thinking to reach all parts of the world, open
access increases opportunities for traditionally-underrepresented groups, such as women, to participate in the academic debate. This is especially true in fields such as medicine and mathematics.
The past limits on access to information amounted to systematic discrimination, in some
instances. This is related to the digital divide and the lack of high-speed Internet
access—or, in some cases, Internet access, period—in impoverished areas of the
United States and around the world.
Why is open access an issue now?
The faculty senates at top schools nationally have passed resolutions in favor of adopting open
The technology itself has been around for some time, but actually applying that technology has
become more of an issue in recent years.
As of 2013, there is a broad body of research concerning the benefits of, and downsides to, open
What are the current economics of academic publishing?
Right now, scholars conduct research on their own (or with a small group of peers) and then
expect to be paid if that research gets published.
Journals are edited by academics.
Journals are grounded in reputation—prestige is a key factor in how individual journals
are perceived and ranked.
They give academics an opportunity to shape the discourse in a field.
In some cases, serving as an editor or a referee for a journal is a condition of
employment at a college or university.
What kind of competition is there in the market for academic journals?
In some cases, a particular journal must be purchased by a library or another organization. This
leads to remarkable asking power in terms of the price.
Journals covering the same academic discipline are comparable in the types of articles that they
publish. Such journals are not trying to put each other out of business, however.
Who ultimately profits from publishing journals?
The publishing companies benefit the most, mainly because of the costs involved.
These costs are passed along to colleges, universities, and other purchasers of the journals.
This is problematic because the costs strain resources that are already tight.
This is also a bad deal for the public sector.
Most universities, including private ones, are supported, at least in part, by federal funds.
Thus, the high costs of journals represent a bad deal for the federal government.
What are the other problems related to high costs?
All types of funding for colleges and universities—federal funding, tuition, endowments—are
threatened by the current economic climate.
On top of this, these limited resources have to be divided among various constituencies, some of
whom are in direct competition with each other for funding.
Library budgets, obviously, are affected.
Even within library budgets, it is hard to devote a significant percentage of funds
to journal purchases.
Where does Illinois stand right now?
No institution of higher education in the state currently has open access.
Illinois lags behind some other parts of the country, as there are nearly 50 institutions nationally
that do have open access.
How will the “Open Access to Research Articles Act” help address these problems?
The ultimate goal is to make information as freely available as possible, in terms of both access
and cost, by having faculty publications put online.
The public, as a whole, will also benefit.
Research will be available to anyone with an Internet connection.
What, exactly, will the task force mentioned in the bill do?
Each public college or university in the state will be required to put one together.
The task force should have representatives from various constituencies on campus, including the administration, the faculty, and the library.
The overall hope is that the policy drafted by the task force will fit the individual institution’s values.
What are other long-term issues related to open access?
It does not end peer review.
It adds to the current trend of posting information on the Internet without much restriction.
Anyone can write a blog, for instance.
It will supplement the move towards archival pooling, which is done through the sharing of
Ultimately, open access presents an alternative to, not a replacement for, the current methods of
exchanging information and ideas.
How does open access fit into broader changes in higher education?
It will help counter the move towards the depersonalization of higher education via MOOCs and
other large online courses. Some have proposed that all students other than those at the
elite institutions should attend college online, in order to save costs and to allow
standardization of the curriculum.
It will allow a continued to sharing of ideas, which will help overcome the depersonalization of
education caused by large online courses.