While the rest of the world was engaged in various year-end activities and celebrating the holidays, the open access (OA) movement continued to chalk up a number of key victories—and faced an unexpected curveball along the way. From late September to December, we witnessed the adoption of the first public access policy for state-funded research, a shift to put students and early career researchers at the center of the OA movement, a high-profile battle between “Big Deal” subscriptions and libraries in connection with OA, and the adoption of even more OA policies by big research funders.
California’s Public Access Policy
On Sept. 29, 2014, California governor Jerry Brown signed into law California Assembly Bill No. 609 (AB-609), the first state-level public access policy—a major milestone in the battle for OA. Consistent with U.S. federal public access mandates, the new bill requires scientists who receive grants from the California Department of Public Health to provide free access (via a repository) to the peer-reviewed versions of publications resulting from that funding. These articles must be made publicly accessible within 12 months of the official publication date.
Open Access Week and OpenCon
October’s annual event, Open Access Week, focused on the theme Generation Open in an attempt to highlight the importance of students to the OA movement. Libraries, research funders, student associations, and organizations around the world helped raise the profile of the open movement—particularly with regard to OA, open data, and open education. Putting students and early career researchers at the center of conversations about openness, rather than at the periphery, turned into a key theme for 2014.
A few weeks later, openness was again at the forefront of discussions by early career researchers and students at the first-ever OpenCon. More than 150 participants gathered in Washington, D.C., for an action-packed, high-energy event. Speakers, many of whom were early career researchers and students themselves, shared ways in which they actively try to advance OA: by building new tools such as the Open Access Button, lobbying for legislative change such the new California bill, advocating for open textbooks, and forming grassroots national or regional networks for students.
One of the most striking aspects of the event was the personal stories shared by students and early career researchers. Several people recounted their journeys toward openness and discussed how those individual experiences led to action. For instance, Erin McKiernan, an early career researcher, shared her experiences with running into paywalls in the current scholarly communication ecosystem. In response, she has made a personal commitment to openness. A powerful comment she reiterated at OpenCon was, “If I’m going to make it in science, it has to be on terms I can live with.” This declaration has deeply affected many people and has served as the de facto rallying cry for many members of Generation Open.
In part through the actions of Generation Open, the rhetoric around openness has begun to shift from being about the high cost of journals to much more personal, values-driven language about how it can impact lives.
Dutch Universities Lead the Way in Publishers’ OA Negotiations
In a surprising move, VSNU, an association of the 14 Dutch research universities, took a strong stand against Elsevier during recent negotiations. On Nov. 4, 2014, VSNU issued a press release, “Negotiations Between Elsevier and Universities Failed: Universities Want to Move to Open Access Publications.” It says the following:
Negotiations between the Dutch universities and publishing company Elsevier on subscription fees and Open Access have ground to a halt. In line with the policy pursued by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, the universities want academic publications to be freely accessible. To that end, agreements will have to be made with the publishers. The proposal presented by Elsevier last week totally fails to address this inevitable change. The universities hope that Elsevier will submit an amended proposal. ‘From now on we will inform our researchers about the consequences of this deadlock’, says Gerard Meijer, president of Radboud University Nijmegen and chief negotiator on behalf of the VSNU.
VSNU’s newsletter update from Dec. 16 indicated that negotiations had not yet been resolved. However, they had resumed at that time, and a 1-year stopgap measure has been put in place while VSNU and Elsevier continue their discussion:
Following the breakdown of negotiations in early November, Elsevier submitted a new proposal to the VSNU negotiation team. This proposal is currently being assessed, and the negotiation teams are arranging new talks. The existing contract with Elsevier was extended by a period of one year. As a result, researchers will not experience any changes for the duration of the negotiations.
In the same newsletter, the association’s position is explained in more detail: “Various publishers have adopted a reticent attitude in these Big Deal negotiations, given the drastic changes to their revenue model this transition would cause. The universities are only prepared to renew current subscription agreements if the publishers take steps towards open access.” Elsevier did not respond to a request for comment for this article.