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.