Open Doors and Advancing Knowledge: Policies and Advantages

Submitted by Nicolaus Stengl

For the past year, I have been fascinated by the idea of Open Access and what it could mean to professors, students, lifelong learners, and educational institutions. The question that many readers may ask is “What is open access (also known as OA)?” Open Access, defined by the Budapest OA initiative, means “free arability on the public domain, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles…without financial, legal, or technological barriers other than the inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself” (Budapest OA). My belief is that Centre College could and should have its own open-access by way of a repository and a policy that expects faulty members and encourages students to deposit their research and scholarly articles in a digital repository.

Centre College’s motto is “Doctrina Lux Mentis,” meaning “Learning is the Light of the Mind.” My interpretation of this is that by learning one enlightens oneself, but this could also mean that teaching others enlightens others and oneself. Learning brings a certain tranquility and satisfaction that is achieved through an arduous and academic setting. The latter does not need to be the case due to the digital world we live in. Today, there are many sites such as, Coursea, Edx, and MIT OCW, which allow for lifelong learners to continue to learn from their home as individuals or as a group by way of forums on these sites. The issue I see for lifelong learners or current students is the limited digital literature available, namely scholarly articles, but this can be amended by OA.

As a student worker at Centre College’s library, I have noticed that many students have not been able to get an article that they wanted or even needed instantaneously because they could not get it online through a database and/or Centre College’s library did not carry the journal in which the article was published. If Centre could start a repository then it would be possible to gain awareness for other small liberal arts colleges that spend the same amount of monetary funds on databases and scholarly journals. Ivy league schools, UC schools, and MIT have already begun to make it mandatory for faculty to deposit their papers and they have found it to be popular with DASH (Harvard’s OA digital repository) having over five million downloads since its creation in 2009. Centre College has always been a leading representative of small liberal arts colleges and could follow in Harvard’s footsteps by creating a digital repository and a policy that granted Centre non-exclusive rights to future research articles by its faculty.

Centre College would have three options when it comes to policies of OA. Peter Suber gives his recommendations with the policy stated above, where the policy grants the academic institution non-exclusive rights to faculties’ work. There is a policy that seeks no right whatsoever, but only requires that faculty deposit their work in the digital repository upon publishing their paper; or a policy that does not require a deposit but merely encourages it. I believe that the first two are more likely to work for the fact that encouraging might not be enough for a professor who feels constrained with other obligations. The policy that does not grant non-exclusive rights would most likely be the most favored among those new to OA and make the transition easier after a few years. Once all faculty have signed the policy, by default all faculty will deposit papers; if and only if they have a waiver signed, the college will not publish the paper through the repository but rather will keep it in the ‘dark.’

Let us now look at the benefits of Open Access for Centre College as an educational institution. Open Access would contribute to Centre’s mission to advance knowledge and liberal arts inside and outside the college as professors from all divisions would be sharing their papers, thus allowing students and other faculty to have an opportunity to see work from their professors and colleagues in all three divisions. By making this cross over all divisions, Centre would be democratizing all divisions and departments regardless of the size or its budget. For example, the X department may be able to get more access to journal articles than P department, but with open access all departments would have equal footing because all articles will be open to the students and faculty. The pervious argument is looking ahead, but this argument could be seen in the early stages of Centre College’s Open Access policy as it draws in additional papers and gathers more attention from students, staff, and other like-minded colleges. The attention from such an initiative would increase Centre’s competitiveness as a leading liberal arts college, not only in the south, but nationally. By creating a more competitive academic institution, Centre would enrich the quality of education and gather more competitive students who feel that an opportunity to do research is an important component of their college decision. Open Access would allow Centre to be more capable of publishing student research and thus student researchers will gather more attention for their work as undergraduates, allowing Graduate and Professional Schools to more readily discover Centre College students’ work, thus increasing students’ chances to be admitted to top tier schools that expect undergraduate research.

Part two of this blog post will discuss the steps that Centre will need to take to make a digital repository and issues that may come about.

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