Open Access: Making the community connection

Mary Marlino, Director, NCAR Library

As for many of us, sometimes a visit from out-of-town guests helps me be a tourist in my own town—in this case, my own office building. It is embarrassing to admit that, until I had visitors recently, I had never taken the time to watch the superb eight-minute film, "Connections," which plays daily in the Mesa Lab's theater. It is a beautifully produced, compelling piece, focusing not only on the connections between the various Earth systems, but also on the human connections developed and fostered throughout the UCAR community.

Mary Marlino

This interconnectedness is itself a very rich ecology of scientific productivity—offering the possibility of new roles, relationships, and models for how we work together, share our work, and with whom. In a world of accelerated communication and information exchange, the interdependency of systems and people strongly suggests new roles for the NCAR Library in supporting the intellectual and human connections upon which the scientific record is built.

Over the past decade, a number of drivers have radically altered how libraries preserve and provide access to the scientific record. First, the sheer explosion of scientific information, coupled with rapid pricing increases, has compromised the ability of even the wealthiest of libraries to maintain complete collections of scholarship. Second, the emergence of electronic information technologies has made it possible to envision new methods of organizing services and collections. Third, the new norms of "do it yourself" publishing have had a significant impact on the ways in which ideas are shared, debate is conducted, and collaborations and work groups are formed. Finally, the pace and complexity of scientific discovery itself, with its focus on data-intensive science, requires new skills in documenting data provenance and enabling data re-use.

Against this backdrop of technological and social change, it is not difficult to understand why Open Access (OA) has become a priority for libraries and for the NCAR Library in particular. OA is the principle that all research should be freely accessible online, immediately after publication. It encourages the unrestricted sharing of research results with everyone, everywhere, for the advancement of science and society. Our support of OA is a direct response by the UCAR and the NCAR Library to the long-standing requests of our community, in particular our academic affiliates, for access to our scholarship.

Early September marked the passage of UCAR's new Open Access Policy, which was approved by the President's Council in July 2009, following discussion and support by the Library Advisory Board, UCAR and NCAR management, and NSF. The intent of the new policy is to provide wider access to our scholarship (and thus broader impact), while preserving the intellectual record of the institution. All UCAR authors who publish peer-reviewed articles or other materials of a scholarly nature must now deposit final versions in a repository that will be managed by the NCAR Library. Known as OpenSky, this repository will support UCAR and the broader community by enabling enhanced access to the wealth of research conducted across our facilities. This change, coming on the heels of similar policies enacted at Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and by the National Instutitues of Health, establishes UCAR as a force in the international OA movement.

So, what's ahead in the coming months for the NCAR Library and OA? We have just hired Jamaica Jones as our new special projects librarian to assist our authors in complying with the new OA requirements. In June 2010, OpenSky will officially launch, offering not only document storage, preservation, and access, but also a suite of services tailored specifically to help UCAR authors negotiate publishing agreements, explore publishing alternatives that support enhanced access to scientific works, organize their works more efficiently, and share works more quickly. The NCAR Library is also in active discussion with the publishing arms of both AMS and AGU to examine a range of economic models for OA publishing and scholarly societies. OpenSky will be free and available to the public, but access to the works it contains will depend upon the policies of their publishers. We will continue to honor publisher policy while at the same time monitoring developments in this fast-evolving arena.

On the national level, look for the passage of the Federal Research Public Access Act some time in 2010. FRPAA would direct 11 federal agencies with extramural research budgets greater than $100 million per year—including NSF, the Environmental Protection Agency, the departments of Energy and Agriculture, and NASA—to deposit published manuscripts resulting from taxpayer funding in a digital repository accessible by the general public immediately after an article is published in a peer-reviewed journal.

I am very proud that NCAR is the first federally funded research and development agency to mandate OA. I believe that it is the right move for our science, scholarship, and community. OA will ensure greater access to our scholarly record, increase the visibility of our research publications, and improve the quality, impact, and influence of our research. It will provide a new level of UCAR support for education. Open Access is precisely about strengthening the intellectual connections that we share with each other, and it is critical to the connectivity required among scientific disciplines to address the challenges of our 21st-century, networked world.

Find more information about Open Access and OpenSky here.