Setting knowledge free

By

Britt Lewis

Recent virus outbreaks, such as Ebola and Zika, have helped to highlight a growing global need: public access to scientific data.

Just last spring, ASU scientists were able to demonstrate how to quickly, cheaply and accurately diagnose the Zika virus in remote locations around the world through their research that was made available free online.

Open access, referring to peer-reviewed research that is made widely accessible to the public at no cost to the user, will be celebrated this week at ASU and around the world as part of Open Access Week, a global event entering its ninth year. 

In the same way that the music industry has had to adapt to online streaming, scholarly journals are in the process of adjusting to the needs of a digitally connected world in which information flows freely. Open access is now in the process of replacing what many argue is an outdated publishing model, dating back to the 17th century when journals were created.

“With the internet, people expect things to be accessible and available,” said Helene Ossipov, an associate professor of French in ASU’s School of International Letters and Cultures. “But a lot of what we do still, as academics, is not accessible, because you have to have a subscription to a journal.”

Ossipov is working to change that.

As chair of the Open Access Task Force at ASU, she is leading the charge in the University Senate to develop an institutional open access policy that would make it easier for ASU faculty and researchers to make their work as widely available as possible with few restrictions.

The policy would also give faculty the right to archive, at the very least, a pre-print version of their journal articles in the ASU Digital Repository, the online hub hosted by ASU Libraries for the university’s knowledge creation.

“This policy fits what ASU is all about,” Ossipov said. “If we are talking about access and inclusion, the policy we’re drafting is going to make a difference. It’s important for disseminating knowledge, and it’s important for ASU. If we put the work we do here in the ASU Digital Repository, you can bet it will be there in 50 years.”

Many also argue that making scholarly work openly accessible increases its reach and impact to researchers, students, educators and citizen scientists around the world, as open access articles are read and cited at a higher rate than those published in journals that charge a fee to access.

Open access also means better customer service, says Jim O’Donnell, university librarian.

“Our researchers are ambitious, and our readers are ravenous,” O’Donnell said. “Open access publishing strategies are an increasingly important tool for helping research reach its audiences and for helping our users get their hands on the information they need.” 

Faculty at many other institutions, including Harvard, Duke and the University of California system, have passed similar policies that grant a non-exclusive license to the university to archive and make available their scholarly articles, usually in an institutional repository such as the one at ASU.

“Our researchers are ambitious, and our readers are ravenous.”
— Jim O'Donnell, university librarian

Recognizing that the public (taxpayers) should have access to the results of the research for which they are paying, most federal funding agencies now have a public access policy in place as a condition of future funding, and many major private funders, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, require open access to the research they support. Recently, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called for the need for faster open sharing of research outputs as a major component of the National Cancer Moonshot to accelerate advances in cancer treatment.

Although most faculty at ASU likely support the idea of open access and what it stands for, Ossipov says her job now is to make open access easier for faculty to implement, which is in line with this year’s theme for Open Access Week — “Open in Action” — taking concrete steps to move open access forward.

As part of Open Access Week, ASU Libraries will be hosting a panel discussion Oct. 25 titled “Information, Innovation and People: Knowledge Mobilization as Open in Action,” which will discuss, in part, how open access will transform the way we prepare future scholars.

ASU’s open access policy is expected to go through the senate this academic year with a vote in the spring. For more information on open access, check out the university’s library guide and contact your university senator for details about the policy.

“This is the direction we’re moving,” Ossipov said. “Things change. It’s up to the publishers to adapt.”