I’m just a bill (and a “sourcebook”)

Open access advocates (of which I am one) were heartened last month when the Federal Research Public Access Act, known as FRPAA (S. 1373) and not to be confused with FERPA, was reintroduced into the 111th Congress.  The bill, which would mandate public access to research funded by many federal agencies, made considerable progress in the 110th Congress, and hopes are high for its passage this year.

One of the major arguments in favor of this legislation is that it would increase government accountability for the way it spends tax dollars, and the Alliance for Taxpayer Access is a major supporter of the bill.  They have a nice summary of the provisions and purpose of FRPAA here.

One advantage that now exists for those who support federal access to taxpayer funded research is that we have over a year’s experience now behind us with the National Institute of Health’s public access mandate for NIH funded research.  Although there have been some efforts to undo that mandate (the ironically named “Fair Copyright in Research Works Act” is the most prominent), by and large most people seem to acknowledge the success of the mandate, and it is easier now to imagine extending its reach that it was a year or so ago.  In fact, Sen. John Cronyn, in introducing FRPAA (he is a sponsor along with Sen. Joe Lieberman) specifically referred to the success of the NIH policy when he introduced FRPAA on the Senate floor.  This is particularly interesting because it is generally thought that much of the hostility toward the NIH mandate comes from a turf war between the Appropriations Committees and the Judiciary Committees over who has jurisdiction over such mandates; since Sen. Cornyn is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, that turf war ought not to derail FRPAA.  And this list of Higher Education leaders who have supported FRPAA in the past (including my Provost) is testimony to the sense in the research community that better access to these funded works will advance research and teaching.

For supporters of open access, another tool was unveiled in the same week that FRPAA was reintroduced —  OASIS (the Open Access Sourcebook) — that should make their tasks much easier.  OASIS is a website developed by Alma Swan and Leslie Chan to serve as a portal for educational materials.  A quick look through it suggests it will be tremendously helpful for those who want to understand the complexities of open access and to explain its meaning and various manifestations to others.  The resources are divided to make it easier to finding material relevant to different sets of stakeholders — students, researchers, administrators, publishers, librarians and the public.  One particularly valuable contribution made by OASIS, in my opinion, is the set of “briefing papers,” which are documents intended to convey essential information on selected topics in the space of two sides of a sheet of paper.  Four briefing papers are available as of now, and there is the promise of more to come.  Overall, this site will be a wonderful resource for all of us as we explain and advocate for open access; it will become hugely helpful when the time comes to explain the FRPAA mandate, after it is passed by Congress.