When the Federal Public Research Access Act was proposed this year, scholarly society after scholarly society came out against the legislation, which would require federal agencies to publish their findings, online and free, within six months of their publication elsewhere. The future of academic research was at stake, the societies said, and both their journals and the peer review system could collapse if the legislation passed.
It is increasingly hard, however, to say that those societies reflect the views of academe on the issue. In July, the provosts of 25 research universities came out in favor of the legislation, saying that the current system of research publishing leads to outrageously high journal costs that are harming libraries and making it impossible for people to follow research. Now the presidents of 53 liberal arts colleges — at the behest of their librarians — are issuing a joint letter backing the legislation. And while it is unlikely that the bill will pass this year, the new letter that was released Tuesday is part of a broader effort by open access supporters to place higher education in a new position when the debate is renewed next year.
Nancy S. Dye, president of Oberlin College, where the new letter was organized, said that her interest was in part — but only in part — financial. “All liberal arts colleges are finding it more and more difficult to purchase the materials we need,” she said. But Dye stressed that there is also “a philosophical view” that is spreading: “Knowledge is made to be shared.” And while that may sound idealistic, Dye said there is another “underlying view” that makes sense to her and other presidents. “If this research is being done with federal money, it would only seem right that the people who are paying taxes have access to the research findings.”
In another sign of the shifting debate on open access, the American Chemical Society — a major journal publisher and a strong critic of the open access legislation — announced that it was creating an “author choice” program where authors for its journals could pay a fee to have their articles available online and free should the authors “wish or need” to do so...
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