Saturday, December 12, 2009

open access update

I've happily joined a university-wide committee that will spent the next four months pondering how to promulgate a new policy guiding faculty as they publish articles and books: open access. The idea is simple: make scholarship and research widely and freely available to as many people as possible; don't restrict by protected access, fees, firewalls, subscription, limited physical circulation. Such a change is likely to upset the well settled ecosystem of professional societies, academic journals that depend on subscription, and university presses that depend on sales of their books to libraries that currently provide access to knowledge in these books only through the book itself. It might even augur major changes in the peer-review process.

The question for the committee will be a classic: how to put forth a unified policy for a huge faculty in diverse fields with varying and distinct practices. On the medical science side, there are already rules in place (such as those imposed by NIH and other government funders) that make the immediate wide and free release of new papers mandatory. Why would a government fund research, only to have the results readable by a small group who have access, and even then only six months after the paper is finished and edited (in a printed journal which publishes its issues slowly)? On the other hand, humanists who write and publish books feel no pressing need and might rather publish with a trade press; the latter is less likely to pay an advance if some or many or all chapters are made available, as finished, in a world-wide-readable web-based Scholarly Commons.

MIT faculty recently voted on a new open access policy. A number of other fairly complex universities have done so. But Penn, if and when we do it, is likely to be the most complex university yet to create a unified policy.

Readers of this blog will likely know where I stand. Open access. The wider and freer the better. In my field--poetry & poetics--most of us have wanted to get the stuff out quickly and without restraint, and the 'net has fortunately enabled this. This is in part the case because poetry has never been very remunerative, so less, it seems, is at stake in providing a shortcut in the process that has for centuries kept the writer from joining quickly and freely with readers.

Comments welcome at afilreis [at] writing [dot] upenn [dot] edu.