July 21, 2024

Open Access Movement Finds New Ally in University of California, San Francisco


The open access movement received another major boost on May 21 when the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), one of the leading public, scientific institutions in the country, adopted an open access policy.

The UCSF academic senate voted unanimously to make electronic versions of current and future scientific articles freely available to the public. This is particularly significant because, according to numbers from the university, the UCSF health campus is the country’s largest public recipient of funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), receiving 1,056 grants last year valued at $532.8 million.

“This vote is very, very good news,” said Karen Butter, UCSF librarian and assistant vice chancellor. “I am delighted that UCSF will join leading institutions in changing the model of scientific communications, and that UCSF authors have chosen to take control of their scholarship, providing new audiences with incredible opportunities to translate UCSF’s remarkable research into improving health care.”

UCSF is the first campus in the UC system to adopt such a policy, but the Academic Senate Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication (COLASC) worked closely with the System-Wide Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication (UCOLASC) to develop the policy, and it may ultimately be implemented across all ten campuses.

As of today, there are 148 such institutional mandates, but UCSF is one of the first public institutions. This was the 36th time that a faculty has voted unanimously for an OA policy, according to the Open Access Directory.

Richard A. Schneider, chair of  COLSAC, led the initiative at UCSF. In a May 4 letter to the senate, Schneider wrote that “The predominant system for scholarly communication has become economically unsustainable, restrictive, and critically limited in its ability to disseminate our research.”

Schneider wrote that the new policy will increase the reach, visibility, and impact of faculty authors’ research.

“Our primary motivation is to make our research available to anyone who is interested in it, whether they are members of the general public or scientists without costly subscriptions to journals,” he said in a statement after the vote.

Schneider estimated that systemwide UC spends more than $40 million dollars annually to access scholarly materials, “including the work of UC authors, which we give away, edit, and peer-review for free.” In a presentation, he estimated, for example, that UC authors accounted for 2.2 percent of all Elsevier articles, which resulted in $31 million in revenue for Elsevier and $9.8 million in profit.

“The decision is a huge step forward in eliminating barriers to scientific research,” he said. “By opening the currently closed system, this policy will fuel innovation and discovery, and give the taxpaying public free access to oversee their investments in research.”

According to a university statement, the new policy gives the university a nonexclusive license to distribute any peer-reviewed articles that will also be published in scientific or medical journals. The faculty authors notify the publisher of the policy and include a boilerplate addendum, provided by the university, when signing the copyright license or assignment agreement. Copyright ownership would remain with the faculty author.

The policy requires UCSF faculty to make each of their articles freely available immediately through an open-access repository, and thus accessible to the public through search engines such as Google Scholar. Articles will be deposited in a UC repository (eScholarship), other national open-access repositories such as the NIH-sponsored PubMed Central, or published as open-access publications.

Researchers are able to “opt out” if they want to publish in a certain journal whose publisher is unwilling to comply with the UCSF policy.  “The hope,” said Schneider, “is that faculty will think twice about where they publish, and choose to publish in journals that support the goals of the policy.”

Elsewhere, a petition calling for public access to all federally funded research, which was posted on the White House’s “We the People” website on May 21, already has 14,743 signatures as of this morning. If the petition gets 25,000 signatures by June 19, it will be considered for action by the White House staff.

Michael Kelley About Michael Kelley

Michael Kelley is the former Editor-in-Chief, Library Journal.


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