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Open Access to Scholarship, Part I: A Conversation with Michelle Pearse

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Mary Minow had a chance to talk with a colleague at Harvard Law School about Open Access.

Nearly two years ago, the Harvard University Faculty of Arts and Sciences unanimously voted to grant the university a non-exclusive, irrevocable, worldwide license to distribute faculty’s scholarly articles, with an opt-out mechanism for instance in the case of incompatible rights assignment to a publisher.

Today, Mary talked with Michelle Pearse, Research Librarian for Open Access Initiatives and Scholarly Communication, Harvard Law School Library.

Minow: Michelle, now that the Open Access Policy has been in place for two years, how has it been working out?

Pearse: It has been an interesting journey. We are still in the process of reaching out to and educating the faculty, trying to get them to understand the policy and get it into their personal workflows. As part of our reorganization in Summer 2009, we made publication support part of library services, so we have tried to implement and educate faculty about the policy in that context (i.e. the policy is one aspect of the publication process now). The policy is often referred to as a mandate, which is a bit of a misnomer because faculty are always free to seek a waiver. (See the Director of Harvard’s Office for Scholarly Communication posting about this issue on his Occasional Pamphlet blog.)

It can be challenging implementing such a policy. It is important that we make the process as simple and straightforward as possible. While the traditional mark of repository success seems to be the number of items deposited, I think the more important metric at this point is progress in educating the faculty and cultivating relationships with them so they see the library as a partner in their publishing experience—from initial research to the disseminating the final product.

The open access policy itself applies only to scholarly journal articles, and our faculty actively publish books and other materials that do not even fall under the policy. We envision a “one-stop-shopping” system literally and figuratively. We are trying to develop workflows and technical systems that can truly realize that vision.

Minow: Since you have experience now with the journals, what has been the journal reaction to the policy?

Pearse: Overall, there is confusion about what these policies mean or are trying to do, so there is quite a bit of education with the publishers. The “teachable moment” often comes up when an author uses the addendum that the university has provided for faculty to send along with publication agreements. Most of the larger publishers of the peer-reviewed journals are already aware of the policy, and some have started asking their authors to show proof that they have submitted waivers. We have waiver language for faculty, that states that the faculty member has granted Harvard a license with respect to his or her scholarly articles, and that a waiver is requested for a particular article.

In an odd way, it actually facilitates my outreach work with faculty as it brings the issue to the forefront.

There have been some instances where even when a waiver has been submitted, in the end the publisher agrees to budge a little bit from its routine policy as a compromise.

Minow: In what way?

Pearse: For example, the publisher may authorize self-archiving of a later version than it normally permits. With some of the bigger publishers, it can be a challenge figuring out the appropriate person with whom to discuss these issues.

Minow: Law reviews are produced by the law schools, and edited by students. Do you get a different reception from law reviews than you do from other journal publishers?

Pearse: Yes. By contrast, the law school law reviews are generally more supportive of the policy (particular the ones that have their contents open or “gratis open access”), but they are not always comfortable with or understand the terms of the Harvard license. We are trying to compile a list of law journals that are expressly supportive of the policy to facilitate workflow and educate faculty when they are publishing. At some point, if more law schools adopt open access policies, it would be great to have that information incorporated into submission systems and journal web pages.

Minow: How has it been implementing it in a university environment that has different schools enacting open access (e.g. centralized vs. local practices)?

Pearse: We were only the second school after the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) to adopt the open access policy, so it has been interesting to watch the Office for Scholarly Communication (OSC) evolve over time. We now have 6 schools at Harvard with OA policies. The growth in the number of schools has provided a fabulous opportunity to meet with colleagues working on similar issues, to share thoughts and processes for workflow, experiences with implementing the policies, etc. … especially where scholarship has become so interdisciplinary now. Over time, the OSC has also developed rich external and internal sites where we can share tools to help with the administrative aspects of implementing the policy. It also has open access student “fellows” that we have occasionally used to help populate the repository. We are also hoping that centralized discussions and negotiating with publishers will be helpful in communicating with publishers and facilitating the deposit of content.

Some of the “advantages” of centralization, however, can also create some of the biggest challenges. For example, we are fortunate to have a central office to run the repository on a technical level (it uses DSpace), but it also means we sometimes have to wait for certain developments to take place or compromise if have different ideas about the look and feel of the interface. In general, these issues tend to work themselves out. For example, delays in technical developments that are problematic for us often tend to be important to other schools as well, which can cause them to move up the priority list. The schools (and disciplines) have very different cultures, so it is interesting to see how these local cultural differences sometimes affect how we might approach certain aspects of implementing the policy like outreach and workflow. It is also interesting to see how the language of the policies themselves are slightly different and have evolved with each new school adopting a policy. (At this point, each school has its own language and responsibilities in figuring out how it wants the policy to operate in its own school.) While we can share technical resources and information and harness the synergies that exist, I think we will have to think about ways to create overlays and develop underlying workflows that can be customized to accommodate our own needs.

Minow: Thank you so much for your update!

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For part two of Open Access Scholarship, we will be discussing the Durham Statement and what has happened in the two years since its publication with Richard A. Danner, Rufty Research Professor of Law and Senior Associate Dean for Information Services at Duke Law School.

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Mary Minow is the Executive Editor of the Stanford Copyright & Fair Use site.

Michelle Pearse is the Research Librarian for Open Access Initiatives and Scholarly Communication, Harvard Law School Library. You can follow her on Twitter at @aabibliographer.