It is Time for Open Access

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Swarthmore might have been ranked one of the most wired campuses in the nation last year, but the College has not been quick to embrace the use of technology as part of its academic mission. Professors use Blackboard, but it is rare when blogs, podcasts, or video ever makes it into the classroom. A handful of professors don’t even use email.

Now, however, the College has a unique opportunity.

Just last week, Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences embraced the Open Access movement. What does this mean? Every scholarly article that is to be published by a Harvard professor must also be submitted to the Provost’s office with a non-exclusive license unless the faculty-member specifically asks for a waiver. After a set period of time, all of these articles will be made freely available online through Harvard’s library. It is a remarkable decision.

Now, most research is published in expensive and closed journals— annual prices range from $800 (for Art and History journals) to well over $12,000 (for Chemistry journals). This means that only the wealthiest libraries have a hope of affording subscriptions, and that few scholars outside of the Western world would have any hope of access.

Open Access changes all that. Articles published online can be read and debated by any scholar in the world. Harvard has always been one of the world’s foremost universities, and this will help cement that position.

Swarthmore needs to step up and join Harvard.

As a school, we pride ourselves on our commitment to social justice. Swarthmore students have started organizations to fight genocide, the raise awareness on the Iraq War, to buy bed-nets for children in Uganda, and to raise the wages of many Swarthmore employees.

We should embrace this commitment to social justice in the school’s research as well. And there is nothing to lose. Swarthmore’s scholars would gain a far wider audience for their research–and they could still publish in the journal of their choice: Two-thirds of all journals already permit scholars to make their articles freely available after publication, according to Peter Suber of Open Access News. The Swarthmore library system would, eventually, have thousands of dollars to spend on other vital resources. Swarthmore students would benefit from increasing dialogue with scholars in other parts of the globe.

The benefits of Open Access are clear. What are we waiting for?

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