During the month of Open Access week (October 23-29, 2017) we will be highlighting a number of guest posts from University of Iowa Faculty and Staff who have personal experience making their work Open Access. We appreciate their contributions.
The third post is by Padmini Srinivasan, Professor, Computer Science.
Open Access – The sound way forward
At a personal level Open Access to scientific and technical publications is fundamental to my day-to-day activities as a researcher and educator. Barriers, especially financial, in our ability to access our own cumulative knowledge are detrimental to the growth of our societies, particularly in regions of the world struggling even for basic sustenance. It is good to see ‘open access’ which made its formal appearance at the turn of the century, gain momentum including in my field of computer science. Authors now have varied options as for instance, to retain just copyright or to retain all rights. I became aware – some years ago – of how painful it was to access the literature when I wanted to make thirty copies of my own paper for my graduate class. The publisher asked for several thousand dollars in copyright fees! If it had been a last minute article selection then making copies for free would have been approved under ‘fair use’. But I could not make copies and plan to distribute them say in a month’s time. The whole situation was bizarre. Open access comes to the rescue in this and many other situations. I would like to especially credit the field of physics for our open access opportunities today. Physicists had set the precedent for free sharing of knowledge way before open access came up the horizon. Physics departments and libraries, at least across the US, would with almost clock-work precision exchange pre-prints amongst themselves through the postal service. Each department maintained its mailing lists for sending and receiving these preprints which would be arranged nicely in a reading room. Reliance on the postal services diminished with the arrival of arXiv – a repository for electronic preprints – about thirty years ago. ArXiv continues today even in areas beyond physics. The fact that this ‘free’ exchange model clearly did not impinge on the profits from journals in Physics was part of the winning argument for the spread of Open Access. I also want to acknowledge the strong support offered by Libraries and Universities such as our own; for instance, their support of publication costs associated with Open Access journals is invaluable. These fees are worth it given the long term access options they yield. My students and I have availed of this facility on several occasions and we are grateful for these funds. I know open access will continue to flourish and anything outside will steadily become a dwindling exception.