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Open Access to Harvard Research

Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard (DASH) is a free repository of vetted research, breaking down barriers to information across the world. 

DASH world map

After reading a journal article on the transgender community in Iran from Harvard’s open-access collections, an anonymous reader writes: “I happen to belong the population of this study, namely a genetic male, gender-fluid Iranian. I wish more research was done in this area. It was very heartwarming to know that academia is not oblivious to our plight.”

Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard (DASH) is a free repository of peer-reviewed articles by Harvard faculty and researchers, available to anyone with internet access. From a single mother in Pakistan to a public health researcher in South Africa, personal notes populate an interactive map revealing stories from users around the world—many from countries that restrict access to the free flow of information.

“Open access increases the relevance of research to a greater audience,” says Kyle K. Courtney, program manager and copyright advisor at the Harvard Library Office for Scholarly Communication. By removing price and permission barriers from peer-reviewed articles, knowledge that was once the privilege of the elite is available to everyone.

Without the benefits of a well-funded university or the financial resources to subscribe themselves, learners are barred from high-quality research; many schools, universities, libraries and independent researchers do not have the budget to pay for their own journal subscriptions. This leaves many people unable to find the information they need to complete their education, make healthcare decisions, or craft legislative policy.

 A vast network of students, educators, politicians, legislators, and journalists from 238 countries have downloaded over 10 million articles from DASH. While each story is unique, users share common barriers to learning: government censorship, cost, geography, childcare, and health issues.

“I am a patient with history of breast cancer,” writes a woman from the US. “I learned about early recurrence of breast cancer for the first time via open access [at] Harvard. The day I found [DASH], I benefited immediately from it.”

Policymakers rely on open-access scholarship to effect change within their communities. A member of the indigenous Maori tribe from New Zealand was preparing a cultural impact report on a ship disaster. “If I did not have access to this site, our report would be less effective and we would be less informed. [Having] access empowers New Zealand’s poorest communities [such as the] Maori.”

An educator from Somalia writes: “[T]his article has given us vital statements and figures which will help us convince the government to invest in its people and land instead of waiting for donations.”

Libraries are “the holders of forever,” Courtney says. DASH is a way to preserve scholarly research in a political climate where publicly accessible information can be taken down without warning.  

A paralegal for an immigration attorney in the US works on cases dealing with the hardships that families of undocumented migrants face when a loved one is slated for deportation. “In some cases, [relocation] to countries like Mexico would mean a drastically diminished standard of care [for those suffering from illness]. In order to prove that, I require scholarly articles and government information. Digital access to papers is invaluable to preparing a case.”

Open access has grown exponentially in the past decade. Over 60 organizations worldwide have adopted a version of Harvard’s policy, helping them share the benefits from their own research communities. “The more adaptations, the more research available to the world,” Courtney says.

Sharing the resources of leading scholars also benefits education in the United States and connects students to the hidden history of their country. A sociology teacher at Houston Community College used Harvard’s research in a lesson plan about the Tuskegee Study, where hundreds of African American men were tested on without giving their informed consent and prevented from accessing medical care for preventable illnesses. “Many of my students have never heard of the Tuskegee Study and are stunned that such a thing could happen and that they never learned about it,” she writes. “Open access to such information is vital to our ability to open up the world to young (and maybe not-so-young) people who are ignorant of their own history as well as the history of their country.”

By Kaitlin Buckley, Harvard Library Communications.

Published on March 8, 2017.