Statement from Martha Whitehead Celebrating Open Access Week 2023

This year’s International Open Access Week theme, “Community Over Commercialization,” provides a welcome focus on a version of open access we advocate for at Harvard Library: collaborative scholarly publishing models with no article processing charges (APCs).

Commercialization itself isn’t the issue — in academia we routinely pay fees for commercial services, and commercialization is often a desirable outcome of research and innovation. Our objection is the extractive model of scholarly publishing in which huge APCs of up to $10,000 per article are levied by commercial publishers, while researchers contribute the articles and peer review for free. This model has advanced profit-driven open access, but not equitable open access. Essentially it works against the original ethos of open access, which was to reduce barriers and enable the free flow of ideas and knowledge across the research ecosystem and to the public at large.

This is why rights retention is one of the foundational elements of the equitable open access models we support at Harvard Library. This year we’re celebrating the 15th anniversary of unanimous votes by faculty in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts & Sciences and the Harvard Law School to give Harvard a nonexclusive, irrevocable right to distribute their scholarly articles for any non-commercial purpose. Other Harvard schools and research centers subsequently voted to establish similar open access policies, and “the Harvard model” has been adopted by nearly 100 institutions and policymakers around the world. As well, we’re delighted to be celebrating the 10th anniversary of our Copyright First Responders program, which helps advance teaching, learning, and scholarship through community engagement with copyright questions, not just at Harvard but in many regions of the country.

Repositories are also at the foundation of collaborative non-APC scholarly journal publishing models, as core infrastructure. At Harvard we continue to invest in services such as DASH, our open access scholarship repository which has reached almost 59 million downloads, as well as data repositories and services supporting curation, discovery, and preservation. We see this investment in interoperable open access (and in many cases open source) infrastructure and services as part of a community effort to establish a distributed network of repositories that will advance more equitable models of scholarly communication. For example, open repositories with governance structures that serve the shared interests of universities, libraries, and scholars are well-positioned to resist commercial restrictions of their research outputs. Collaborations in communities such as COAR (Confederation of Open Access Repositories) are key to scaling our efforts beyond Harvard and amplifying our impact.

With the right policies and infrastructure in place, a diversity of innovative scholarly communication services will flourish. For example, we are beginning to see a surge in so-labeled “Diamond” Open Access, a no-fee publishing model that lowers participation barriers among readers and authors alike by charging no fees for submission, article processing, or access to the published article. Within this model are overlay journals, which minimize operating costs by layering their publication processes on top of existing open access repositories. At Harvard Library, we are strong proponents of no-fee open access publishing, including overlay journals — and we prefer to use this descriptive terminology in lieu of “Diamond.” “Diamond” — like “Gold” before it — obscures the features of the model and carries with it the suggestion of the exploitative mining industry as well as the rarity of a gemstone.

What we have in mind is a metamorphosis. To put the best interests of the community first, we need models that are equitable, common, and widely distributed, and as solid as bedrock. Wouldn’t that be gneiss?