Monday, February 14, 2005

Open access

One of my current projects is working as part of a team implementing a pilot test of an institutional repository for my university. This project has naturally stirred up a great deal of discussion about open access to research literature. While we are not promoting the institutional repository primarily as an open access tool, tones of the issue underly all of our decisions.

For example, most institutional repository software includes as part of the submission process a screen where the submitter has to agree to some legalese indicating he has the right to submit the document in question to the repository. This is scary stuff. While I realize the necessity for the university to remove itself as much as possible from any rights skirmishes that may arise, I still believe the long boilerplate text (approved by university counsel, of course!) will scare off users and to some degree reduce the number of submissions to the repository. The documentation currently being developed all takes care to inform users that they need to verify that for sure they have not signed rights to contribute to the repository away to a publisher. We're already facing a huge challenge obtaining content - can't we find a creative way to get the legalese in there without scaring contributors off?

We're also writing documentation to outline to contributing communities their options for allowing access to their content. Again, open access issues rise up. I know from experience the more you talk about the option for people to restrict access to their material, the more likely they are to want to put in place some restrictions. But we're a public university - we're in the business of disseminating knowledge. I'm not trying to deceive anyone into giving away access that they don't have the rights to give away or that breaks some sort of confidence, but I do think we need to make a strong argument to our faculty and staff that they should be providing unrestricted access to their work as part of their role in a public university.

I know I've just outlined problems here rather than offering any solutions. But thanks for listening anyways, and let's work towards finding those solutions!

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