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In the open

Hundreds of scholarly articles are now freely available online thanks to MIT’s landmark Open Access policy.
Graphic: Christine Daniloff

A year after the MIT Libraries began implementing the faculty’s landmark open access policy, hundreds of scholarly articles are now freely available online — and the effort to democratize access to published research is gaining momentum inside the Institute and beyond.

“It looks like the policy is working extremely well, and that we are on track,” reports Richard Holton, professor of philosophy and chair of the Faculty Committee on the Library System that has been in charge of implementing the policy approved by MIT’s faculty in March 2009. Under the policy, faculty authors give MIT nonexclusive permission to disseminate their journal articles for open access through DSpace@MIT, an open-source software platform launched in 2002 to store the digital research materials of MIT faculty and researchers.

Since the MIT Libraries began to implement the policy last fall, they have added more than 1,900 scholarly articles to the MIT Open Access articles collection in DSpace@MIT; the collection has also had more than 63,000 article downloads since October 2009. In addition to the articles that are already part of the collection, many more have been acquired but are queued for processing; collectively, these articles represent an estimated one-third of all faculty articles published over the past year.

Some articles are currently collected from the publishers with whom the Libraries have worked out special arrangements. The Faculty Committee on the Library System is also working with the Libraries on gathering final post-peer reviewed articles within MIT by collecting them from faculty websites and directly from authors. In addition, the committee is considering other methods to improve efficiency by working with department heads and administrators. The Libraries welcome input about ways to make the submission process easier and more efficient for faculty members, who can also submit articles to, or through the web form.

Leading by example

In an effort to change the traditional scholarly publication model — a model that requires authors to transfer most of their rights to publishers who in turn charge universities often-exorbitant subscription fees for access — the MIT faculty has placed the Institute at the forefront of open-access initiatives. Although Harvard and Stanford had implemented open-access mandates at some of their schools at the time of MIT’s vote, MIT was the first university to implement a facultywide policy.

“MIT has played a terribly important role as the first university in America to adopt a facultywide policy,” said Peter Suber, a senior researcher at the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition who publishes a blog and a newsletter that chronicle the open-access movement in higher education. “Many schools took action after they saw major institutions like MIT do this themselves,” he said.

Suber sees more widespread adoption of open-access policies by universities and major funding agencies as the main challenge for the open-access movement, noting that although 100 universities have adopted policies, this is a small fraction of the more than 1,000 universities that have online repositories. “We have a long way to go to spread these policies further,” Suber said. Even so, he reports that the movement is gaining momentum, and that he is aware of about 100 more schools that are seriously considering adopting policies similar to MIT’s. 

MIT’s open-access policy is considered a first step toward embracing other types of scholarly journal business models, including the open-access journal model in which authors pay to publish their research. MIT is a founding member of the Compact for Open-Access Equity Publishing that was launched in September 2009 with four other schools to pledge commitment to fund authors who want to publish in open access journals. This spring, the MIT Libraries established a special fund to support MIT authors who are unable to cover publication fees for these journals.

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