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University of Ottawa first to embrace Open Access

New online repository supported by institutional funding.

By JOHN LORINC | MAR 08 2010

The University of Ottawa has become the first Canadian postsecondary institution to set up an institution-wide “open access” initiative. Several years in the making, the move thrusts U of Ottawa into the forefront of Canadian efforts to make publicly funded research freely available online.

According to Leslie Weir, U of Ottawa’s chief librarian, the program encompasses several elements, including a new Open Access (or OA) repository for peer-reviewed papers and other “learning objects”; an “author fund” for U of Ottawa researchers to help them cover open-access fees charged by journal publishers; a $50,000-a-year budget to digitize course materials and make them available to anyone through the repository; and support for the University of Ottawa Press’s OA journals.

In a pitch to its researchers, the university said institutional OA increases the dissemination of scholarly work, boosts citations by as much as 300 percent and establishes so-called “persistent” website addresses for online journal articles to counter the problem of broken or discontinued links.

But the university stopped short of requiring faculty members to deposit their papers with the new repository. “We all agreed that incentives and encouragement was the best way to go,” said Ms. Weir, who worked on the program with an internal group of backers, including Michael Geist, professor of intellectual property law, and Claire Kendall, a professor in the faculty of medicine who has been active in OA medical journals. The steering group has been promoting OA internally, and Ms. Weir added that the goal is to incorporate OA into academic planning.

Canadian OA experts applauded the university’s move. “It’s a good example for other universities to emulate,” said Leslie Chan, a program supervisor in new media studies at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus and one of the original Canadian signatories to the so-called “Budapest Declaration,” which emerged in 2002 from a summit of open access pioneers.

He pointed out that its success will turn on acceptance by U of Ottawa researchers, who must ultimately choose to format and then upload their work into the repository. “Having the program is one thing,” said Professor Chan. “The buy-in from faculty is the real proof. I would like to see how they actually engage the faculty.”

Others say the university shouldn’t leave such decisions up to chance. OA advocate Stevan Harnad, a professor of cognitive science at both the Université du Québec à Montreal and the University of Southampton, argued that for the new program to be truly effective, faculty should be mandated to submit their work to OA repositories. “In these days of scarce funds, U of Ottawa would get a far bigger return on its investment” if it adopted a so-called “Green OA” mandate, he said, “rather than just spending its scarce money on paying to publish research in ‘Gold OA’ journals.”

In the lexicon of open access, Green OA denotes the practice of self-archiving scholarly papers in OA repositories, typically in the form of a penultimate draft of an article that will appear in a peer-reviewed journal. Gold OA involves compensating journal publishers so the work can be freely available.

Dr. Harnad noted that Canadian research funders are fairly advanced in mandating OA as a grant condition but that no Canadian university has taken this step institutionally. Worldwide, 83 research institutions have Green OA policies, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University College London. MIT also has an open-access course materials service called MIT Courseware, which extends OA principles to lecture and teaching content.

Meanwhile, Professor Chan pointed to another lingering obstacle: that many researchers don’t fully understand their IP rights and how these rights have evolved as acceptance of OA grows, even among journal publishers. Indeed, one of the goals of the U of Ottawa program is to encourage scholars to understand how they can go about retaining some rights to work that will be published in peer-reviewed journals, both print and online.

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  1. Rory McGreal / April 7, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    I would like to make a correction to this article. Contrary to what is reported in this article by John Loring, Athabasca University was the first university in Canada “to embrace open access” and the first “to set up an institution-wide open access initiative.” AU adopted its open access policy in November 2006. Please see:

    This includes an open access repository set up prior to that date., which is registered with the Registry of Open Access Repositories at U of Southampton. See: and are harvested by

    We applaud U of Ottawa’s initiative in supporting open access and hope that other university’s in Canada adopt similar OA policies and create open access repositories.

    AU, to date is the only Canadian university participating in the MIT-led Open Courseware (OCW) initiative and is an active participant in the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) and the Open Education Foundation.

  2. Stevan Harnad / May 10, 2010 at 7:25 am


    In the case of the high-profile NIH Public Access Policy, the difference between a “Request” and a “Requirement” turned out to be substantial. Formulated initially as a “Request,” the NIH policy failed to elicit more than 5% compliance for two years. Within a year of being upgraded from a “Request” to a “Requirement,” the compliance rate rose to 60%, and is since steadily approaching 100%.

    It is for this reason that U. Athabasca’s Open Access (OA) Policy is not listed as a mandate in ROARMAP, but only as a policy. But, by the very same token, U. Ottawa’s policy is not listed at all in ROARMAP, since it is merely a commitment to provide some funds to pay to publish some U. Ottawa research output in OA journals (“Gold OA”), not a mandate to provide OA to all of U. Ottawa research (“Green OA”) by self-archiving it in an OA repository, as NIH requires and U. Athabasca recommends.

    By this criterion, U. Concordia’s is the first university-wide Green OA mandate in Canada (the world’s 90th). Canada also has 3 of the 24 departmental OA mandates worldwide (Calgary, Guelph, Queens) and 8 of the 44 funder mandates.

    There is not much point in being the “first” to do something if one does not do it right: The only university that has done it right university-wide so far in Canada is Concordia. Let us hope that it will now inspire many emulators.

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