Open Access to NIH Funded Research
Early in 2002 senior university administrators, faculty, and librarians from many nations met in Budapest under the auspices of George Soros's Open Society Institute and established the framework of the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) which has the goal of making research articles in all academic fields freely available on the Internet. BOAI -- Boston College Libraries is a signatory -- has clear expectations: more universities creating institutional digital archives and encouraging faculty to make reprints and refereed articles freely accessible through them; many new journals in every field committed to open access; young entrants to the academy thinking open access as normal; taxpayers demanding open access to government funded research; more and more beneficiaries of research, for example medical patients, demanding the removal of gratuitous obstacles to research so that the knowledge freely bestowed by their creators will be freely available to researchers everywhere. This principle of open access advocated by the Budapest Initiative is not new. The call for ready and free access to all scholarship for everyone has been voiced for a long time. However, more recent are the electronic means to make such access a reality, with digital repositories being one of the paramount means.
An important participant in this call for open access has been the Alliance for Taxpayer Access (ATA). ATA, a coalition of libraries and library organizations (Boston College Libraries is a member), patient and health policy advocates, and other stakeholders, has for some time been advocating free online access to National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded, that is taxpayer funded, research. In May 2005, after much deliberation, the terms of the Final NIH Public Access Policy Implementation were agreed upon. Researchers funded by the NIH are requested to submit to the NIH manuscript submission system (NIHMS) at PubMed Central (PMC) their final manuscript resulting from research supported in whole or in part with direct costs from NIH. The “final manuscript” is defined as the final version accepted for journal publication, and including all modifications from the peer review process. PubMed Central, run by the NIH's National Library of Medicine, is a digital, open access, permanent, and searchable repository of full-text, peer-reviewed biomedical, behavioral, and clinical research journals. The NIH strongly encourages all NIH-funded investigators to deposit their final manuscripts in PubMed Central, immediately after journal publication thereby making them readily available to other researchers and the public. However, “authors are given the option to release their manuscripts at a later time, up to 12 months after the official date of final publication. NIH expects that only in limited cases will authors deem it necessary to select the longest delay period" (http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-05-045.html)
It is expected that several important benefits will result from this new NIH policy. First, it will constitute the creation of a stable and permanent archive of peer-reviewed publications resulting from NIH-funded research. Second, it will greatly facilitate making publications resulting from NIH funded research more easily accessible to health care providers, scientists, educators, the public, indeed anyone with internet access. Third, it will create “a searchable compendium of these peer-reviewed research publications that the NIH and its awardees can use to manage more efficiently and to understand better their research portfolios, monitor scientific productivity, and ultimately, help set research priorities.”
Heather Joseph, Executive Director of SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition), recently stated that the Alliance for Taxpayer Access holds that the success of this new NIH policy will be measured by the number of articles deposited in PubMed Central and how soon after publication they are made accessible to the public. This seems reasonable and appropriate. An assessment by Congress of the policy is planned for early 2006: "To assist the Congress in assessing the degree of success of this new policy, the Committee requests a progress report by no later than February 1, 2006. Specifically, the Committee requests that the report contain the following information: (1) the total number of peer-reviewed articles deposited in PubMed Central since the May 2, 2005 implementation date and the distribution of chosen delay periods; (2) an assessment of the extent to which the implemented policy has led to improved public access; (3) an assessment of the impact of the policy on the peer review system; and (4) the cost of operating the database." (Senate Report 109-103) However, it is unfortunate that so far the proportion of manuscripts deposited has not been as great as hoped for by the ATA or by the NIH. Accordingly, i t is essential that this proportion increases in the coming months to be taken into account by Congress’s assessment and, as important, to be made freely available to anyone with internet access. BC Libraries, strongly committed to and supportive of open access to scholarly literature, encourage BC authors whose research has been funded by the NIH to deposit their resulting research publications in PubMed Central as soon as possible.