On the day after Christmas, President Bush signed the Omnibus Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2008, ending a long struggle with Congress over earmarks, appropriate funding levels for various government agencies and continued funding for the war in Iraq. Buried deep in this huge and complex document (section 218, to be specific, although not all the sections seem to be numbered) is language that turns the voluntary program of open access deposit for research articles that are the result of National Institute of Health funding into a mandate.
Beginning immediately, apparently, when an NIH funded researcher has a article about her research accepted for peer-reviewed publication, she is required to deposit a copy of the final version of the article into the open access PubMed Central database within 12 months of publication.
Librarians, and many others in higher education, have lobbied for several years to get this requirement, and others like it for research funded by other taxpayer supported agencies, enacted. Now the issues of implementation become both real and urgent. How can we help faculty researchers understand the new mandate? What publishers can we recommend, and can we help faculty review their publication contracts to be sure compliance (or even earlier public access to the article) is allowed? Some publishers, like Elsevier, already promise to deposit copies of articles they publish for researchers. Publishing with such a publisher is an easy way to comply with the mandate, but it will almost certainly result in the full 1 year delay before open access. For many researchers, there will still be significant advantage in accomplishing open access much sooner than this. So the task of assisting faculty with understanding their alternatives, negotiating their publication contracts and navigating the mechanics of open access deposit are even more urgent services that academic libraries can and should provide.