Harvard Library’s Commitment to Open Access

As we celebrate Open Access Week, I’d like to share a few observations on the current open-access landscape and Harvard Library’s role in advancing equitable, open models of scholarly communication. In my first months here I’ve enjoyed informative conversations with many of you on this important topic, and I look forward to many more in the days and months ahead.

First, I should clarify what I consider to be within the purview of open access. In my mind, it relates to the research library vision that I presented at the September All Staff meetings, of a global knowledge commons with different forms of “data” (or call it “information” or “content”) at its core. We tend to approach these forms of data as separate clusters, but essentially they all involve dissemination, discovery, use and preservation. When I think about open access, I think about all forms of data and the layers of policy, infrastructure and services that enable their use by people and machines.

One of the things that has impressed me about the Harvard Library in my first months here is this broad view of open access. Examples abound. Today Harvard Digital Collections provides free, public access to over 6 million digital objects, and has adopted the International Image Interoperability Framework as the standard for delivering those images. We adopted one of the first US open-access policies for digitization projects in 2014. We provide open access to our bibliographic metadata through datasets and APIs such as LibraryCloud. And, perhaps most notably, we are a world leader as the home of the “Harvard-style” open-access policy for scholarly articles and one of the most successful research repositories, DASH, which has more than 47,500 deposits.

It is access to scholarly articles that I want to focus on today, as I did in my Open Science Fair keynote presentation in September. Our open-access conversations tend to focus on scholarly articles for several reasons. First, their creators don’t expect or depend upon royalties: they write articles to gain audience and impact, not money. Second, journal articles are at the root of how research impact is measured for the purposes of promotion and tenure and institutional rankings. Third, we’ve long been concerned by an oligopoly in journal publishing and unreasonable costs.

This is a large topic. For today, the main observation I want to make about scholarly articles is that open access is not enough — that what we’re really striving for is equity and diversity. We want a scholarly communications landscape that provides equitable opportunities for a diversity of voices to be published and read, from and in all parts of the world.

In my own view, to achieve this equity and diversity, we need to go beyond article processing charges (APCs) and the aims of transformative agreements. A reliance on APCs excludes authors who cannot find the money to pay them, and that burden falls disproportionately on authors from the global south and from less affluent institutions in the global north. We need to develop truly transformative models that leverage the opportunities of the digital age and fully remove cost barriers: no fees for authors or readers. We need to envision distributed, trusted networks, rather than letting control rest within just a few entities. We need academic control of academic work. We need to invest in reasonable and transparent costs, ideally within an open-source framework, for infrastructure and services that enable the use of that scholarly work.

Plan S gives a nod in the direction of new platforms: “Plan S is NOT just about a publication fee model of Open Access publishing. cOAlition S supports a diversity of sustainability models for Open Access journals and platforms...” Last fall, I appreciated seeing the Plan S feedback provided jointly by Harvard and MIT, including this statement: “We’d like to see Plan S reinforce and expand — rather than neglect or unintentionally hinder — the power of open-access repositories to democratize access to science and scholarship.” Earlier this October, the Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR) and cOAlition S issued a joint statement noting that “Repositories offer a low-cost, high-value option for providing Open Access and are also a mechanism for introducing innovation in scholarly communication, acting as vehicles for developing new dissemination models and providing access to a wide range of scholarly content.”

For an example of the kind of new dissemination models envisioned, take a look at the Pubfair framework for sustainable, distributed, open science publishing services. Pubfair is a modular, flexible, open-source publishing framework for articles, data and other kinds of research objects that enables scholarly societies, funders, research institutions, and scientists to link existing infrastructures to create their own cost-efficient dissemination channels for FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, reusable) research outputs. The framework is inspired by the vision and use cases outlined in the COAR Next Generation Repositories work.

Innovation: that’s what it’s all about. Here at Harvard, I see us continuing our strong tradition of innovation in several ways: influencing by example and direct consultation; investigating potential tools, platforms, infrastructures, business models, and strategic visions for future directions; implementing promising approaches; and informing others about what we learn. Our Office for Scholarly Communication is working with these goals in mind, and we can apply them to how we think about our work with all forms of data. Over the coming months I’m sure we’ll engage in many conversations across the Harvard Library about these Five Is.

In this spirit of innovation and collaboration, we’re once again delighted to connect with our colleagues at MIT. This week, they are releasing the MIT Framework to Guide Negotiations with Publishers, endorsed by a number of organizations, including the Harvard Library Office for Scholarly Communication. There are many things to like about the MIT Framework, including:

  • Publishers will not require authors to waive their rights under a funder or university open-access policy.
  • Authors will always retain copyright.
  • Publishers will auto-deposit articles into the authors' institutional repositories at the time of publication.
  • Publishers will allow unrestricted text- and data-mining of their contents.

As Peter Suber notes, “The core principles of the MIT Framework free researchers and research institutions to follow their own lights in sharing their research and ensure that scholarly communities retain control of scholarly communication.”

It is truly an honor to be at Harvard this Open Access Week, surrounded by people in our own institution who have been driving forces in open access, and collaborating with peers who share our vision. I hope you find inspiration in this week’s events.

With sincere thanks and admiration,

Martha Whitehead
Vice President for the Harvard Library and University Librarian
Roy E. Larsen Librarian for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences