Health Science Librarians of Ilinois

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Story on Open Access in IACRL Newsletter

Below is an article I wrote that appeared in the Spring edition of the IACRL Newsletter. The article covers open access, which continues to affect many aspects of librarianship, mainly because of librarians’ role in providing users with the tools for accessing scholarly articles, and also because of the increasing number of scholarly articles that are appearing in electronic format.

A specific piece of legislation that I discuss in the article is Illinois Senate Bill 1900, the “Open Access to Research Articles Act”, which became law on July 9, 2013. The Act requires that each public institution of higher education in Illinois create an open-access policy. Such a policy should allow scholarly work produced by faculty to be available in electronic format and to be accessible to as many people as possible, including members of the general public. This effort should be culminating just about now. I will provide a future update on what types of plans institutions have created.

 

Legislative Focus: Open Access

Open access is one of the more significant issues affecting academic and research libraries these days, not just in Illinois but around the country. The American Library Association defines open access as “. . . the free and open availability of scholarly content on the Internet.” The concept covers both scholarly journals and institutional repositories.

The overall goal of open access is not just to share research, but to encourage intellectual debate, by making the most up-to-date information available as quickly as possible. Thus, open access benefits academics not just in the United States but around the world, and also members of the general public who need access to articles. Open access does not, however, take the place of peer review and other methods of determining an article’s scholarly merit, nor will it make subscription databases obsolete.

Although the technology enabling open access has existed for some time, open access has become more of an issue in recent years because of the high costs of journal and database subscriptions. Funding cuts in higher education, including those affecting libraries, have magnified these costs.

A number of initiatives to promote open access have been undertaken recently. One of these, at the state level, is Senate Bill 1900 (SB1900), the “Open Access to Research Articles Act”. The Act’s primary sponsor was Illinois State Representative Daniel Biss (Democrat-97th District, Skokie). The bill became law on August 9, 2013.

The legislation requires that, within a year of the Act’s adoption, each public institution of higher education in Illinois will have created an open-access policy. The policy should allow faculty members at the institution to submit an electronic copy of any current scholarly work that has been accepted for publication. The manuscript will then become freely available to the institution’s employees, other members of the academic community, and the general public.

An amendment to the legislation specifies that, in order to devise a policy, each institution should create a task force that includes representatives from the library. The task force should consider how the particular institution can best promote open access, including studying how state and federal organizations have addressed the issue, and also what financial, legal, and ethical issues might be relevant.

Even though the legislation does not specifically cover private institutions of higher education in Illinois, the hope is that those institutions will follow the lead of the public ones in establishing open-access policies. One of the reasons behind the legislation, in addition to concerns about access to information, was that a number of institutions of higher education in other states had already adopted open-access policies, but none in Illinois had done so.

In promoting open access, librarians should remember that it is not just a technology issue. It is, more importantly, a freedom-of-speech issue and one of access to information. In short, the open-access debate goes to the heart of the role that librarians play in society.

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