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The role of Research Funders, Librarians and Universities in promoting open access


Open access publishing is a priority for many researchers, but you may be surprised to find that it is also a priority for a wide variety of institutions and research support staff. In this post, we will discuss the role of research funders, librarians and universities in promoting open access.


The theme of Open Access Week 2020 is Open with Purpose: Taking Action to Build Structural Equity and Inclusion. This means that discussions surrounding open access publishing during Open Access Week 2020 are intended to specifically address the ‘structural racism, discrimination, and exclusion’ that are present in scientific research and publishing and to explore how open access can help make these fields more equitable. Institutions like universities and funding organisations can play a major role in promoting structural equity and inclusion by championing the cause of open access publishing.


Research funders and open access

As the European Commission states, ‘making research results more accessible to all societal actors contributes to better and more efficient science’. Indeed, all research funded by the Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme must be published in open access journals, highlighting the importance that it places on ensuring that research results are freely available to all users, with no discrimination or inequality.


The European Commission is not the only funder to enact this requirement: as part of Plan S, multiple funding agencies worldwide have committed to requiring open access publishing of any research that they fund. As described in an article published by Nature, Plan S is specifically designed to enable authors to provide open access to their papers, even if their journal of choice does not. In order to do this, authors who publish in non–open access journals are asked to deposit a version of their accepted paper in a repository using a CC BY license. This is the most open Creative Common license available, and allows users to ‘distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation’.


The goal of this approach is to make all research open access, even if journals are reluctant to spearhead this move themselves. Signatories to Plan S include (among others) the World Health Organization, Wellcome and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; these organisations require funded researchers to publish open access, either in a standard open access journal or by depositing a version of the manuscript in a repository as described above.


Plan S was devised by Coalition S in 2018 and is expected to go into effect in 2021. The Coalition S website lists ten principles pertaining to open access publishing that not only require research funded by its signatories to be published in an open access manner, but also commit to promoting and encouraging open access publishing policies and structures. Importantly, these principles specify that funders and institutions will help pay the costs of open access publishing, so that the burden is not placed entirely on researchers.


Another institution that is deeply involved in the open access publishing movement is the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, or SPARC. A key tool that SPARC offers to promote open access publishing is the SPARC Author Addendum. This is an author-initiated copyright agreement designed to enable researchers to retain some of the rights to their work published in non–open access journals. Essentially, this agreement gives the journal the right to publish the paper, but not own it as intellectual property; instead, the authors retain the right to use, modify and distribute their own papers (e.g. for a class, on a website, etc.). The downloadable addendum is intended to be filled out by authors and presented to a non–open access journal that has accepted their paper, in order to clarify how the authors intend to use the material in the future. It is important to note that this is a legal agreement that must be entered into by both parties, so the journal must countersign and return the form to you in order for it to be valid.


Librarians and open access

The push toward universal open access has resulted in substantial changes in academic research libraries, which historically were sources of subscription-only journals. Now that research publications are more freely available, the role of librarians has shifted to educating users and providing guidance and advice on how to access and use research published in an open access manner. One key way in which librarians can help researchers navigate open access publishing is by helping them identify and avoid predatory journals, which have flourished in the climate of online-only paid publication. A useful resource for both librarians and researchers in this regard is the Sherpa Romeo database, which provides journal-specific information on open access policies and can help identify reputable journals that match your needs.


The Association of College and Research Libraries has published a list of recommendations for how academic research libraries can encourage and promote open access publishing. This list is divided into four different headings involving the actions of individual librarians, realignment of library resources to address the new needs, sharing knowledge and expertise, and being an advocate for recent changes in scientific publishing. The suggestions include a number of ways in which librarians and libraries can promote open access and encourage library users to engage with open access publishing, such as hosting events to inform faculty and students of key developments in scholarly communication, making records of open access publications easily available in library search tools, and designing workshops to help educate users on publishing policies and strategies.


Universities and open access

At the institutional level, universities and other research bodies can promote open access publishing by establishing institutional repositories. This provides a simple and natural way for the institution’s researchers to make copies of their published works freely available. It is also common for institutions interested in promoting open access to set aside funds specifically to help authors pay article processing charges (APCs) for publication in open access journals. MIT libraries maintains a list of institutions in the United States and Canada that have partial or full open access policies that you can consult as a starting point for understanding your institution’s policy. If your institution does not yet have an open access policy, and you are interested in changing this, a good resource is the Coalition of Open Access Policy Institutions (COAPI). COAPI is a coalition of North American institutions whose purpose is to share information and best practices regarding open access policies, and to support faculty-led movements to advocate for open access at member institutions, as well as nationally and internationally.



Research funders, libraries and universities are key movers in the push for open access. The initiatives and policies established by these institutions are important elements of the changing landscape of scientific publishing and, together with individual researchers’ efforts, are helping to build structural inclusion and equity into the scientific research field.


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