Starting today, Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory will join a growing movement of scientists who make their research available online to the general public, a concept known as open access. Researchers will now be required to put their work online for free, when it is feasible.
Going open access at the Earth Observatory, which is located in Palisades, just north of New York City, is an idea that has been developing for the last 20 years. Lamont-Doherty’s Executive Committee unanimously approved the move to open access in December.
Kenneth Crews, the founding director of the Copyright Advisory Office at the Columbia University Libraries, proposed the open access resolution last year. He said that the resolution will make Earth Observatory research more accessible to the public.
“People around the world have Internet access, but no money to buy articles that are available through databases that usually are expensive,” Crews said. “The resolution offers more content available without restrictions.”
The move to make research more accessible has been gaining steam in recent years, with open access resolutions adopted in Harvard, Stanford, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and other universities. Crews said that this movement has grown more prominent in recent years because going open access is now easier, mainly due to the growth of technology.
“The concept, at its core … [is] how do we make more of our content that we create more available, openly, for other people to see, to read, to learn from, to enjoy, without restrictions on access?” Crews said.
But even though the open access resolution takes effect today, many Earth Observatory researchers said they either did not know about it, or do not know much about what it means for them. Those familiar with the open access resolution expressed support for it.
Marine Geology and Geophysics researcher Suzanne Carbotte said she “would be happy to” publish her research online.
“[Open access] makes the results of research available to everybody,” Corbette said. “Right now, you have to have a library subscription to get to the scientific journals.”
Research professor Andrew Juhl said that, since most research is paid for by the public, it makes sense to make the results available to the public for free. But he said the he is worried that implementing the open access resolution might make more administrative work for already-busy researchers.
“Conceptually, it seems like the right thing to do,” Juhl said. “In practice, it means more work.”
Crews said that there were meetings held with faculty to answer their questions and convince them that going open access was a good move.
“Ultimately, this was a faculty decision,” Crews said.
Arthur Lerner-Lam, the Earth Observatory’s interim director, said faculty were the main contributors to the decision to go open access. He added that while the Earth Observatory suggested some changes to Crews’ original proposal, the approval process went smoothly.
“There were no real concerns [from faculty]. We all believed in the ideals and goals of open access and the only concerns were practical,” Lerner-Lam said.
One practical concern, Lerner-Lam said, was the issue of who would negotiate with publishers. Crews explained that in the past, faculty members have only made their research available through research publications. Some publishers require the researcher to transfer the copyright to them, a principle directly opposed to open access.
“We need to help faculty authors better understand what they are managing,” Crews said. “They are owners of copyrights in their own work, and there is danger in giving away these copyrights.”
Crews added that some researchers “want to work with ... publishers who may be against open access,” which he said might become a challenge in some cases.
Additionally, some researchers did not want their work to become openly available immediately, Crews said, noting that his office would work with these researchers and give them some time.
Crews said that the Earth Observatory is the first program in the University to take up an open access resolution because it is particularly important for scientific research to reach a wider audience.
“The real value is achieved by [scientific] research being tested, probed, reused, and adapted,” Crews said. “And in that, real value is gained.”