Open Research, Open Archives

In Rosenzweig’s “Should Historical Scholarship Be Free?” he discusses the 2005 mandate by the National Institutes of Health that all NIH-sponsored research be published in the open access repository PubMed Central and posits this as the beginning of the ongoing movement towards more open access research and less paywalls. More than ten years have passed since this was written and while open access content is a growing trend, there are still many paywalls. Many journals offer some content for free as a way to show their participation but are ultimately unwilling to move to a completely free model. Rosenzweig discusses the various means to providing open access materials without causing publishers to go out of business, like author charges, self archiving, providing delayed or partial access, and cooperation with libraries. Some publishers will allow authors to publish their work in an institutional repository, but it often must be negotiated at the the time of publication. In a previous job, I provided support for an institutional repository and often contacted publishers on behalf of authors to see if they would retroactively allow a copy to be published in the IR; almost always, the answer was no. This all puts a lot of pressure on the author to seek publications that offer open access or are willing to negotiate and accept the SPARC addendum and to sometimes pay or try to find funding for the author charge. I’m not convinced we’ve found a solution to these issues over the past decade, and while the goal of open information is admirable and one worth continuing to work for, we can’t expect the authors to pick up all the slack.

Brown and Kaiser discuss the openness and accessibility of archival materials in the chapter “Opening Archives on the Recent American Past” in Doing Recent History. Ethical issues arise when materials related to still or recently living people are made publicly accessible, and legal issues can also be possible if health or student records are also made accessible in an open archival collection. This chapter provided further insight into the regulations and requirements of FERPA, HIPAA, and state personnel records laws, all of which must be considered when making information related to recent history available more quickly. The authors do discuss both preventative and reactive ways to handle some of the issues that may arise and speculate on what could be done in some situations. The overarching theme of access is, I think, the most important goal in archives providing a service to researchers, and I especially like the call to action for archivists to relinquish some control and to partner with donors and researchers to avoid these dilemmas. Some of these same ethical dilemmas were also faced in the RadioLab episode Sight Unseen, in which the father of a soldier killed in action declined to allow the photographs of his son’s death to be openly published.

Both these readings focus on access and openness; Rosenzweig discusses the importance of open scholarship, while Brown and Kaiser focus on open archives and the access to the materials needed to conduct that scholarship. The theme of openness fits into most library and archives mission statements and access is a key tenet in both professions; I think disrupting the traditional power structures in both settings (publishers as control, archivists as gatekeepers) and focusing more on partnership and collaborations can continue to move the conversation forward.


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