Opening access to all

At its meeting last week, the Academic Council unanimously approved the Duke Open Access policy and gave the green light to creating an online public database—titled DukeSpace—to house the articles published by University professors.

Under the terms of the Open Access policy, faculty members will have the option of releasing their work to the public, and they will retain exclusive ownership rights if their material is published online.

In creating a strictly opt-in open access database for scholarly material, the University is building up the intellectual community at Duke and beyond, and contributing to the democratization of knowledge.

Over the past few decades, the price of academic journal subscriptions has skyrocketed. At the same time, these increasingly expensive journals have become more and more specialized. For any given academic field, there are an endless number of journals.

At campuses with well-funded library systems, administrators have the financial resources to cover the increase in the price and quantity of journals. We are fortunate at Duke to enjoy relatively limitless access to academic journals and articles, no matter how obscure or specialized the topic.

But at less well-off colleges and universities in the United States and across the globe, library budgets are tight, and administrators have been forced to pick and choose which journals they can pay for. Open access repositories help to address this problem by providing equal academic resources to students and scholars.

Aside from broadening access, an online database can help bring coherence to the articles produced by faculty at the University. Right now, researchers are forced to consult separate databases to find relevant academic articles. With one central clearinghouse, secondary sources are just one search away.

In addition, a publicly available DukeSpace database would allow the University to showcase to the outside community the exciting work produced by its faculty members. It could also be used to connect students and professors who are conducting similar academic research and thereby increase collaboration.

The creation of an open access repository, however, will not come without caveats and consequences. Since the DukeSpace database will house working drafts and articles that have yet to be subjected to peer review, the University should clearly label each article according to its stage in the academic review process. That way, database users can properly contextualize the researcher’s findings.

And although Duke is just one of a handful of prominent institutions—including Harvard University, Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—to create open access databases, this trend could produce at least some undesirable outcomes.

If a majority of universities create databases and if professors bypass the traditional journal submission process in favor of online publication, open access repositories could displace traditional academic journals and the peer review process. The public would enjoy greater access to information, but the quality and reliability of that information would be dubious.

For now, though, Duke’s decision to join the ranks of universities that offer open access to scholarship is a positive development, and we eagerly await the launch of DukeSpace.


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