Blog Post

Open Access at Duke

Posted by Kevin Smith in : Open Access and Institutional Repositories, Scholarly Publishing , trackback

Yesterday the Academic Council at Duke University unanimously adopted an Open Access policy for scholarly articles written by the Duke faculty.  The policy was brought forward by a Provost-appointed committee of faculty and librarians that was chaired by Professor Cathy Davidson (whose earlier post on the subject is here) and Paolo Mangiafico, Duke’s Director of Digital Information Strategy.  I also serve on the Task Force and participated with Cathy, Paolo and others in many discussion sessions where questions were raised and adjustments made to the final documents.

For those who would like to see the policy as adopted, which consists of a preamble, the policy itself, which is a single page, and a nine page FAQ, here is a link.  There was also a news story that describes the policy quite well published by Duke News and Communications two weeks ago.

Several observations about the process of getting this policy adopted occur to me.  First, I think we were all surprised to find that the idea of open access itself was fairly uncontroversial.  Most of the difficult challenges we faced had to do with the process that will be implemented for faculty to make their works available in a repository, not the concept of openness.  Now we are faced with developing procedures and systems that will be easy and intuitive for faculty, which may be the greatest challenge yet.  Our faculty have told us, in essence, that if we build it they will come, as long as we build it well.

In that vein, I was interested by this blog post called “Let’s Make Open Access Work.” I don’t agree with all of it (as the author himself predicts), but it is a interesting set of challenges to reflect upon as we design OA systems.

There were, of course, questions about the impact of OA on journals, and the presence on the task force of a representative of the Duke University Press and others with ties to traditional publishing was a great help.  But it is also true that we heard a lot of complaints directed against the traditional models of scholarly communication from the faculty.

One thing that librarians often believe is that faculty will only be motivated for open access by their own self-interest — impact, citation and the like.  But yesterday Cathy Davidson made an eloquent plea for greater access for people around the world who are blocked by high subscriptions costs and other “toll-access” policies.  All round the room, heads were nodding as she spoke.  I was reminded that most faculty members genuinely do care about the overall welfare of scholarship and learning.

Finally, I was very impressed by the collegial and respectful system of faculty governance that I got to observe yesterday.  The challenges raised throughout this process about open access were very real, and the work of getting to a unanimous vote was considerable.  But all the way along, and especially in yesterday’s Academic Council meeting, I had the strong sense that people were listening to each other and learning as they conversed, which is, I believe, shared decision-making at its best.  Of course, it helps that they ultimately made the decision that I favored; this is the real world, after all!

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