Open Access at Duke

Yesterday the Academic Council at Duke University unanimously adopted an Open Access policy for scholarly articles written by the Duke faculty.  The policy was brought forward by a Provost-appointed committee of faculty and librarians that was chaired by Professor Cathy Davidson (whose earlier post on the subject is here) and Paolo Mangiafico, Duke’s Director of Digital Information Strategy.  I also serve on the Task Force and participated with Cathy, Paolo and others in many discussion sessions where questions were raised and adjustments made to the final documents.

For those who would like to see the policy as adopted, which consists of a preamble, the policy itself, which is a single page, and a nine page FAQ, here is a link.  There was also a news story that describes the policy quite well published by Duke News and Communications two weeks ago.

Several observations about the process of getting this policy adopted occur to me.  First, I think we were all surprised to find that the idea of open access itself was fairly uncontroversial.  Most of the difficult challenges we faced had to do with the process that will be implemented for faculty to make their works available in a repository, not the concept of openness.  Now we are faced with developing procedures and systems that will be easy and intuitive for faculty, which may be the greatest challenge yet.  Our faculty have told us, in essence, that if we build it they will come, as long as we build it well.

In that vein, I was interested by this blog post called “Let’s Make Open Access Work.” I don’t agree with all of it (as the author himself predicts), but it is a interesting set of challenges to reflect upon as we design OA systems.

There were, of course, questions about the impact of OA on journals, and the presence on the task force of a representative of the Duke University Press and others with ties to traditional publishing was a great help.  But it is also true that we heard a lot of complaints directed against the traditional models of scholarly communication from the faculty.

One thing that librarians often believe is that faculty will only be motivated for open access by their own self-interest — impact, citation and the like.  But yesterday Cathy Davidson made an eloquent plea for greater access for people around the world who are blocked by high subscriptions costs and other “toll-access” policies.  All round the room, heads were nodding as she spoke.  I was reminded that most faculty members genuinely do care about the overall welfare of scholarship and learning.

Finally, I was very impressed by the collegial and respectful system of faculty governance that I got to observe yesterday.  The challenges raised throughout this process about open access were very real, and the work of getting to a unanimous vote was considerable.  But all the way along, and especially in yesterday’s Academic Council meeting, I had the strong sense that people were listening to each other and learning as they conversed, which is, I believe, shared decision-making at its best.  Of course, it helps that they ultimately made the decision that I favored; this is the real world, after all!

17 thoughts on “Open Access at Duke”

  1. Great News! I would love to hear Cathy’s pleas and arguments in more detail. Is there video from the meeting or an article written by her outlining her case?

  2. I just wrote on my Facebook page, as a status update: “Relentless optimism has served me well as a practice and a politics. Reminded again.” Thanks for the shout out. I am very, very proud of our Task Force for all of their hard work and for our faculty for their trust, vision, and desire to be heard and read and to make a difference.

  3. This is very good news and a positive move toward realizing the section of the University’s mission which calls for the promotion of “an intellectual environment built on a commitment to free and open inquiry.”
    The link above to the actual policy is password-protected; will it be available for folks to read?

  4. Sorry about the password-protected link. Rather ironic, isn’t it? I have changed the link to one that will work for folks. I’m not sure how long the document will be there, however, so I will work to establish a permanent home for it asap.

  5. I am so delighted to hear this. As an independent scholar, I lack access to most high-cost journal databases and similar sources of easily searchable academic literature. It is a constant frustration to work around this problem, and often not possible at all. I highly value all quality open access sources I come across, and am eager to add Duke’s collection to my list of go-to places for research. Thank you all so much for your foresight in moving in this direction.

  6. Can I say a huge “thank you”.

    The increasing number of institutions doing this really makes a difference – obviously to the poorer countries, but also to the smaller universities and colleges and to people who aren’t at university.

    When I retired early I was amazed to discover that all the journals I was accustomed to reading suddenly became inaccessible – an intermittent series of temporary attachments has partially solved the problem for me but this isn’t open to everyone and it doesn’t need to be like this.

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