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Scholarly work produced within the University of California may become free and available to the public as early as 2013, if a new policy is adopted.
The open access policy, which is currently being reviewed by Academic Senates at UC campuses, would allow anyone to view or download research publications by UC faculty without having to pay subscription fees to academic publishers.
Historically, a large amount of academic work has been owned by private journal publishers, said Christopher Kelty, a professor of society and genetics who is in charge of the systemwide University Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication, which drafted the original proposal.
When scholars conduct research, they fund all their work using university, federal or other research grants ““ or their own salaries. Researchers then submit their work to academic journals to be peer reviewed and eventually published, Kelty said.
If approved, the open access policy would require UC faculty to provide a digital copy of all future published work to be included in a free online repository housed at the UC’s California Digital Library ““ before giving the work’s copyrights to the publisher.
“(The proposal) is potentially an argument in favor of distributing economic growth, education and public discourse,” Kelty said. “This policy that’s being considered is just one step toward changing the scholarly publishing system.”
UC San Francisco is currently the only UC campus with a similar policy, which was adopted in May. About 140 other universities, including Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, already have open access policies, Kelty said.
For some academic journals ““ many of which are owned by a few large publishing companies ““ individuals and libraries must pay a yearly subscription rate to access their content, or purchase articles individually, Kelty said.
Annual subscriptions for a single journal can cost libraries anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to more than $30,000, according to academic publisher websites. This creates a problem especially for libraries with shrinking budgets, Kelty said.
Some academic journals are already free to the public, sometimes at an extra cost to the author. Other research entities ““ such as the National Institutes of Health, which requires all research funded by its grants to be available and free online ““ mandate public access.
Some academics, however, have raised concerns about the possible economic ramifications of the proposed open access policy on smaller journals not owned by large academic publishers.
Robert Fovell, a professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at UCLA, said small and non-profit journals, where he publishes some of his work, may be harmed financially if individuals and libraries can access scholarly content elsewhere without having to pay subscription fees.
Despite the concerns, Fovell said he is largely in favor of the idea of open access.
Pablo Sierra, a history graduate student, also said he was concerned some journals would not survive under the new policy; for instance, the American Society for Ethnohistory’s journal, a relatively small journal that has published his work before.
“(The journal is) not a rich institution, but it publishes very important research,” Sierra said.
Scholars can opt out of the proposed policy if journals reserve exclusive rights to their work, Kelty said.
The UCLA Library will hold panel discussions with faculty and administrators as well as other events toward the end of the month to educate students about the open access proposal ““ part of a larger international movement to promote free availability of scholarly research, said Sharon Farb, associate university librarian.
Faculty at the UC are scheduled to send their feedback on the policy to the UC Academic Senate in January.
The senate will then make a decision on the policy later that month, Kelty said.
Correction: If approved, the open access policy would require UC faculty to provide a digital copy of all future published work to be included in a free online repository housed at the UC’s California Digital Library ““ before giving the work’s copyrights to the publisher.