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Steps toward structural equity: Celebrating Open Access Week

Every October, Carleton’s Gould Library celebrates Open Access Week, creating an opportunity to learn more about the importance of shared knowledge and inspire wider participation in making Open Access a new norm in scholarship and research. But what exactly is Open Access?

  Open Access is essentially the principle that research should be free and readily available on the internet. Since Carleton has the financial means to acquire valuable databases and resources, the immediate impact of Open Access on our community may not be obvious. But it’s important to recall that this is not the case for the majority of institutions across the world. Many scholars are unable to access current research, limiting their ability to contribute to the scholarly conversation, develop new ideas and solve problems. 

Open Access Week, which is sponsored by The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), is being celebrated internationally from October 25 to 31. This year’s theme is “It Matters How We Open Knowledge: Building Structural Equity.” With the pandemic and many social injustices, rebuilding research and scholarship so they are open by default presents a unique opportunity to create more equitable systems of shared knowledge.

It’s important to remember that many texts still remain locked behind paywalls, and Carleton must pay for access to this valuable information. As soon as a student leaves Carleton, they won’t have access to that information unless they join another institution that subscribes to scholarly databases. At the same time, students can access hundreds of Open Access resources through the Laurence McKinley Gould Library. This includes Catalyst, the Gould Library’s catalogue, which is the perfect location for students to conduct basic research! When searching for books and articles in Catalyst, you can use a filter that limits your results to “Open Access.” It’s as simple as clicking a button under Refine My Results and searching. The Open Access resources will have a small orange lock logo. 

Another Open Access resource is Hathitrust, an online public library of which academic libraries and institutions, like Carleton, are members. Carleton students can access resources from Hathitrust by either searching Catalyst or going to the Hathitrust Digital Library. Although HathiTrust is run by member institutions, people outside partner institutions can still use their services. Out of copyright material is available to all on HathiTrust. This is important to know because this includes books and other material that would otherwise not be as readily available. According to its website, HathiTrust has more than 17 million digitized volumes, and around 38 percent of which are in the public domain, which gives access to anyone without restrictions. In addition, Carleton Digital Commons serves as a resource for Open Access publishing of research for Carleton students, faculty and staff

To step back, Carleton is very fortunate to have access to so many restricted-access to research materials. However, not all institutions and the general public have access to the latest research, which essentially creates an unnecessary impediment to research and progress. As stated in the 2021 SPARC announcement, “diversity, equity, and inclusion must be consistently prioritized year-round and integrated into the fabric of the open community, from how our infrastructure is built to how we organize community discussions to the governance structures we use”.  

In order to make open scholarship equitable, the structure of current Open Access models needs to be taken into consideration. Numerous models rely on an Article Processing Charge, in which authors would have to pay to publish their articles, making information free to all those who wish to access them. It’s very common for this fee to actually be paid by an author’s institution, particularly in places like the US—but not needed everywhere. In August, a group of African academics wrote to the journal Nature to decry the high cost of APCs, which can in some cases cost as much as half a year’s salary for these scholars. These charges could end up excluding authors from developing countries or less well-funded research fields, continuing to disenfranchise researchers by transitioning from paywall to pay-to-publish wall. 

In a time of pandemic, when access to research materials has been reduced by an even larger extent, Open Access to online scholarship has never been more of a necessity. As this year’s Open Access Week theme makes clear, Open Access must be pursued in an equitable fashion, so that the future of scholarship can be more inclusive of research communities around the globe.

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