The Ethical Imperative for Open Access

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Perspectives
November 20, 2023

Dartmouth Libraries’ Health Sciences and Biomedical Libraries Host a Series of Events for Open Access Week 2023

open access publishing session at Geisel Medical school hosted by Michele Whitehead
The theme, Community Over Commercialization, highlights the importance of community control of knowledge-sharing systems.

Dartmouth Libraries’ Health Sciences and Biomedical Libraries recently hosted a series of talks and a film screening for International Open Access Week 2023

I want to disseminate work as widely as possible and feel privileged to be in an environment that supports open access funding. - Brock Christensen

One event delved into the implications of Open Access Publishing - the benefits and the challenges - with a discussion hosted by associate director for Health Sciences and Biomedical Libraries Michele Whitehead. She joined panelists Elizabeth Carpenter-Song, Brock Christensen, Nena Mason, and Bill Nelson.

The panel considered equity in information access, navigating solicitations from journals and publishers, the growing list of requirements from major funding agencies like the NIH and NSF, and more. The discussion widened continuing conversations about what open access means locally for amplifying Geisel and Dartmouth’s research impact worldwide.

A major takeaway from this session was how Open Access Publishing demonstrably broadens access to research, particularly in the medical and public health spheres, for communities who most benefit from that research. Dr Carpenter-Song shared that her overall motivation as a medical anthropologist doing community-based work is a “core sense of responsibility to share that information. There's an ethical imperative to do that, particularly for those who helped make my work possible.”

Dr Nelson followed that sentiment by sharing how Open Access Publishing makes research available to rural healthcare professionals in regions he says need it most. “It’s about equitable access. And when I argue for that in my proposals, I receive affirmative responses in support. Similarly, the National Rural Health Association supports the idea of books being available without a paywall blocking access.”  

To have equitable access, barriers to accessing research must be removed. And that’s what the panelists all want.  “I want to disseminate work as widely as possible and feel privileged to be in an environment that supports open access funding…Personally, I find it annoying that I can't immediately get what I'm interested in reading when it's not open access,” said Dr Christensen.

Providing wider dissemination of “good and important work is synergistic with the College’s mission to be a global environment in a global teaching setting - to reach new readers and communities worldwide is part of our overall vision,” said Dr Nelson.

Dr Nelson speaking with Dr Christensen from left and Dr Carpenter Song middle

While panelists shared the beneficial outcomes of Open Access, this type of publishing has its challenges, too. Dr Christensen said understanding the language around copyright, authors' rights, and publishing options can feel challenging. “I catch myself wondering, what am I reading?! I didn’t attend law school, so I sometimes feel lost.”

Another critical challenge is the cost. “As faculty members, we can build costs into the grants we write, but this can be a challenge for students. So the need for institutional funding, infrastructure, and resources to elevate open access and awareness of it” is paramount, stated Dr Carpenter-Song, thanking the Dartmouth Libraries for stewarding the current Open Access Fund, which helps to mitigate some of these issues.

For Dr Mason, paying publication fees without institutional support is the greatest challenge. “My general research agenda involves developing teaching methodologies that don’t cost anything. Because of that, I often don't get grant funding, which makes paying for publication fees challenging. I want my work to be available and equitably accessible to everybody. But Dartmouth needs to provide the financial support to advance our work.”

Faculty member Dr George O’Toole attended the panel discussion and shared his experience and concerns.

"It used to cost $5,000 a year [to publish with Open Access], and now it costs $50,000. That $45,000 gap could cover a year's employment of a researcher. Dartmouth needs to step up and pay the fees for Open Access. Also, why not have academic institutions come together and create agreements with publishers to have stronger bargaining power and ensure the publishers meet our needs” - and not vice versa?

The panelists all agreed that with the Libraries' help, they can better navigate the system, including helping them through the funding process. Michele took time to share that while librarians are also not attorneys, the Libraries are building out their educational offerings to help navigate researcher and author’s rights and make the “legalese” of publishing easier to understand. The Health Sciences and Biomedical Libraries will continue to offer education sessions and workshops on topics including copyright and authors’ rights. Additionally, team members from across the Dartmouth Libraries, including the Scholarly Communications Team, are available to meet with researchers to consult on identifying journals for publication that meet both author and reader needs.

As the session came to a close, Michele shared that this discussion was just the beginning of a much larger, important conversation about the future of Open Access for Geisel. 

When we’re discussing Open Access as a publishing methodology or even a philosophy for equity in access to information, it is important to recognize that all of the nuances are more complex than one week of events can solve. The Health Sciences and Biomedical Libraries are committed partners in navigating questions around publishing and beyond. - Michele Whitehead, Associate Director for Health Sciences and Biomedical Libraries

Collectively moving forward into action will help to overcome the challenges and unknowns about Open Access Publishing. Along with collaborating with Dartmouth to create meaningful interventions and solutions, the Libraries continue to help and support its researchers and partners. 

Connect with a Health Sciences and Biomedical Libraries librarian to learn more about Open Access Publishing. 

 

 

*photo courtesy of Dartmouth College / Robert Gill

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