On September 15, 2021, a new Open Access Policy took effect at UAlbany. Associate Professor Matthew Ingram, who worked on the three-year project explains, “What is Open Access and what does the new OA policy mean for students, faculty, and staff?”
What is open access?
Open access (OA) is a term generally used to describe materials that are in public domain, i.e., that any member of the public can access easily, usually online, and at no cost. The UAlbany policy contains definitions, and its more detailed definition of OA is: “scholarship that is freely available online, free of cost, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions, permitting users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of articles for any lawful purpose.” Thus, OA makes research and scholarship more freely and easily accessible to campus community and to broader local, state, national, and international community.
Why is OA important?
In contrast to OA, many scholarly materials are owned by commercial publishers and are only available behind a pay wall. Even academic publishers, like university presses, behave as commercial publishers this way. Any member of the general public cannot access these materials without paying a fee, and institutions like UAlbany pay large amounts of money so that campus community can access materials. Even after paying for access to the material, there are strict limitations on copying or otherwise sharing material, and if one has paid for electronic access to material, there may also be limitations on printing, downloading, or redistributing material.
In short, traditional publishing restricts access to scholarship, and open access seeks to increase accessibility. This goal is arguably more important for scholars at public institutions, where public funding sustains scholarship, and where institutional goals are aligned with increasing access to higher education. For example, SUNY’s mission is, in part, “to provide to the people of New York educational services of the highest quality, with the broadest possible access…”, and UAlbany’s mission is, in part, “to open opportunities—locally and globally—with a single-minded purpose: To empower our students, faculty, and campus communities to author their own success.”
Why did UAlbany create an open access policy now?
In March 2018, the SUNY Chancellor issued a resolution directing each campus to do two things: (1) develop an open access policy, and (2) create a searchable repository. UAlbany already had an institutional repository in place (Scholars Archive) but the open access policy was missing. The new policy completes the university’s response to the directive.
Starting in Fall 2018, Billie Franchini, then Chair of the Libraries, Information Systems, and Computing (LISC) Council of the University Senate, gathered a diverse group of staff, faculty, and students into an Open Access Policy Working Group, of which I was chair. Since then, we debated the contents of the policy, reviewed similar policies elsewhere, drafted a policy, met with multiple groups on campus, and moved the policy through the various stages of university governance. But for the pandemic, this process would have likely been completed in 2020.
What is UAlbany’s OA Policy?
An OA policy establishes a set of expectations and practices to encourage and expand access to scholarship generated by campus authors. The key step for authors is to submit the accepted version of a publication (e.g., article) to Scholars Archive.
The full set of policy materials along with author support services managed by University Libraries are available here. Key people — both of whom also served on Open Access Policy Working Group since 2018 — are Emily Kilcer, Scholarly Communications Librarian, and Lindsay Van Berkom, Scholars Archive Administrator. Another key person for Rockefeller College is Angela Hackstadt, Subject Librarian for Political Science, Public Policy, Public Administration, and Law.
What does new policy mean for students, faculty, and staff?
Common concerns include whether new policy requires authors to give away work to the university, publish in specific journals, or pay expensive fees for open access publications.
A pithy answer to these concerns is a simple “no.” There is an opt-out waiver for authors, so authors can easily waive requirements of policy.
However, assuming authors do not exercise waiver, the policy requires that when you publish something, you submit the accepted version of the manuscript to Scholars Archive. This version of the manuscript is the final, accepted version prior to formatting and typesetting that is specific to publishers, and is sometimes called a “pre-print.” Submitting this version of your manuscript will increase access to and visibility of your work.
Notice the timing of this step. The manuscript has already been accepted for publication at an outlet of the author’s choosing, and the policy did not interfere in any way with this choice of outlet. Further, publishers usually circulate a contract around this time. Authors are frequently happy to publish and do not read these contracts closely, and some contracts ask you to transfer exclusive rights to the publisher. So, while the new policy does not ask you to give away anything to the university, it might be worth reading publishing contracts more closely to make sure you are not giving anything away to the publisher. Lastly, these contracts usually offer an open access format with expensive article-processing charges that are prohibitive for most authors. The new policy does not require you to pay these costs or publish in open access format. However, the existence of the policy might give you some leverage to negotiate with publishers for a reduced charge for open access publication.
These examples illustrate core goals of the policy: to enhance academic freedom and empower authors. The policy does this by increasing awareness of publishing models and supporting authors to retain control over, make more deliberate decisions about, and increase visibility of publications. Returning to Emily Kilcer, Scholarly Communications Librarian at UAlbany, she puts it this way: “The Open Access Policy truly empowers UAlbany authors by ensuring they retain the rights necessary to share their work more broadly and increase their impact. It is flexible and centers academic freedom: there’s a no-questions asked waiver and authors can still publish in venues of their choosing. And if you have any questions or need help navigating the process, the Libraries are here to help!”
Open Access Policy and FAQs: https://www.albany.edu/risk-management/policy/open-access
Author resources provided by libraries: https://library.albany.edu/services/scholarly-communications/open-access
Scholars Archive: https://scholarsarchive.library.albany.edu/
Harvard Open Access Project (HOAP): https://cyber.harvard.edu/research/hoap
University of California Open Access Policies: https://osc.universityofcalifornia.edu/for-authors/open-access-policy/