Oberlin Faculty Members Endorse Open Access

Ian Seeley, News Editor

In a unanimous decision, the Oberlin College General Faculty voted on Nov. 18 to allow open access to their peer-reviewed journal articles in Oberlin’s institutional repository.

Although the policy only applies to peer-reviewed journal articles published after the policy’s implementation, the resolution encourages faculty members to submit other original works as well.

Sebastiaan Faber, chair of the Hispanic Studies department and the library committee, said that an open-access policy that applies to all published works by faculty members is problematic because, unlike peer-reviewed journal articles, “books and some other articles … have the potential for royalties.”

The basis of the institutional repository is DSpace, a software program jointly developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Hewlett-Packard. Because DSpace is open-source and fits into the pre-existing OhioLink system, DSpace’s cost to the College is minimal.

Though the faculty sentiment supports open access, the manifestation of that accord is still up for debate.

“Right now, we are in the process of thinking about the nuts and bolts mechanics of how the policy is going to be implemented,” said Ray English, director of libraries at Oberlin. The faculty resolution calls for the appointment of a scholarly communications officer to spearhead this effort.

Alan Boyd, the associate director of libraries, was appointed scholarly communications officer with the passage of the resolution. According to Boyd, one of his biggest challenges is making the repository as simple to use as possible. “You want a computer system that people have to work with to be easy,” Boyd said.

Another challenge is working with individual faculty members to make sure they honor their obligations to their publishers. “[Faculty members] need to make sure they have the legal right to submit their article and make it openly accessible,” English said. “That is sometimes a little more complex than it might seem, because of agreements that authors are asked by publishers to sign when their articles are accepted.”

This challenge, however, may have some positive consequences. According to Faber, “it will make us as faculty much more aware of the rights that we have and don’t have and in the future … more aware when we sign publishing contracts.”

As for the future, English said that the Five Colleges of Ohio, a consortium of five small liberal arts colleges that includes Oberlin, Denison, Kenyon, Wooster, and Ohio Wesleyan, are jointly working to get an Andrew W. Mellon grant for more open-access projects.

Currently, the new faculty resolution only applies to newly published peer-reviewed journal articles. With the grant money, the College hopes to give faculty members incentives to submit their older works to the institutional repository.

The current faculty resolution will last three years. After this time, the Oberlin College General Faculty committee will review the policy and, if necessary, recommend changes.