In late August, the federal Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a memorandum mandating that all federally-funded research, including articles and corresponding data, be open access by 2026.
Open access research is freely available to everyone on the internet, which makes it “extremely powerful for equity,” Haley Walton, librarian for education and open scholarship at Duke, said.
A 2013 OSTP memorandum required some federally funded research to be open access, but the new memo expands on this requirement in two key ways, according to Walton.
The new memo applies to all federal agencies, while the 2013 memo only applied to agencies with more than $100 million in annual research and development expenditures. The new guidance also eliminates optional 12-month publication embargoes, which would limit article access to journal subscribers.
According to Walton, the academic tenure system has slowed progress toward open access research. While many closed access journals are well-known, most open-access journals are newer and do not have the same reputation for prestige.
“If you want to hold down an academic job, or if you're getting your Ph.D., you constantly have to publish, there's a ton of pressure on especially young scholars to establish themselves in their career,” Walton said. “So how do you do that? You publish in journals that are high impact, and you get cited a lot.”
The driving force behind the OSTP memos came from a growing awareness of equity, according to Walton. Since Americans pay for federally-funded research with their tax dollars, they began to advocate for being able to access it.
How will the plan affect Duke?
In compliance with the 2013 memo, the Duke Medical Center Library has worked to ensure open access for researchers who receive grants from the National Institutes of Health.
The terms of the new plan will require Duke to expand open access compliance divisions to accommodate the magnitude of federal research funding Duke receives. In 2019, the University received $2.03 billion in federal funds.
Lesley Skalla, research and education librarian at the Duke Medical Center Library and Archives, explained that the University does not currently provide open access compliance advice to researchers who receive funding from agencies that were not covered in the 2013 memo, such as the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Walton speculated that the Office of Sponsored Projects will identify all government grants given to Duke researchers and determine who complies with open access requirements. She explained that the new policy’s data sharing stipulation will likely require the development of a data repository.
However, ambiguities in the plan make it difficult to know what challenges will arise.
Walton noted that the memo does not specify whether research must be released in government or institutional repositories to be considered open access, nor does it state what form of open access sourcing fulfills the requirement.
However, specific agency plans will be available soon. According to the memo, “Each agency shall submit its draft plan to OSTP within six months of publication of this memorandum” before the OSTP will review and facilitate the development of final plans.
Beth Blackwood, research and education librarian at the Duke Medical Center Library and Archives, believes that the memo will not affect researchers as much as it will affect library administrators. Researchers will merely have to put their manuscript in a government system and receive confirmation of open access compliance from an agency.
“The biggest issue is an annoying thing, an extra step that has to be done when you’re excited about publishing an article and you don’t always remember to do,” Blackwood said.
How will the plan change the research landscape?
Walton predicted that the plan will cause a broader shift in research toward open access, making more material available to the public.
“Some of the more prestigious journals may flip for more open access options, like some of the ones that have been subscription-based for a really long time, to fit the needs of people with grants,” Walton said.
Skalla and Blackwood also predicted that the new policy will change the publication landscape.
“The publishers are going to be scrambling to figure out ways they can continue to embargo or make additional profit off of the types of materials that we're publishing,” Blackwood said.
Blackwood, who previously worked at California State University Channel Islands, emphasized the memo’s benefits for smaller institutions and universities with less funding for their medical centers and libraries. For instance, a rural hospital would be able to access up-to-date medical research to provide better care to its patients.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Zoe Spicer is a Trinity junior and a features managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.