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Open Access Week at the Penn Libraries

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In 2002, an international group of scholars came together to write the Budapest Open Access Initiative. These scholars envisioned a world of accelerated research and enriched teaching and learning. Most importantly, they envisioned world-wide equitable access for all scholars to read and contribute to the scholarly conversation. Nearly twenty years later, interest in and support for the principles laid out in Budapest has grown into a movement. International Open Access Week 2021, an annual global event, allows us to set aside a week to explore, consider, and critique the scholarly community’s progress in making scholarly information equitably accessible on a global scale. 

Right now, the Penn Libraries is recognizing International Open Access Week 2021 with a series of virtual workshops and panel discussions open to the Penn community, and designed to inform our local conversations around open access. On a daily basis, the Libraries makes decisions about how to support an approach to scholarly publishing and open access that is indeed equitable and that supports both scholars and publishing.

Since the beginning of 2020, the Libraries has supported more than 40 open access initiatives costing nearly $100,000. These investments provide strategic support for the growth of a sustainable information ecosystem based on the principles of the open access movement. They also represent a sustained effort to promote alternatives to the proprietary model by which for-profit companies control access to scholarly information.

Supporting open access initiatives requires the creation and maintenance of digital infrastructure, including metadata, platforms, and systems that promote the creation, preservation and discoverability of content. To this end, the Libraries supports resources like the Directory of Open Access Journals and the Directory of Open Access Books, both of which maintain scholarly standards, promote discoverability of open access materials, and enable libraries and other services to enhance access to these materials through catalogs and tools such as Unpaywall.

The Penn Libraries also supports open access platforms, including disciplinary repositories, pre-print archives, and format-specific sites. For instance, scholars who want to share their research openly can place their research in arXive (Physics), PhilPapers (Philosophy), or SSRN (the social sciences), all of which are supported by the Penn Libraries.  The Libraries also supports Open Edition, Open Library of the Humanities, and Open Book Publishers, platforms hosting reputable open access scholarly books.

Not only does the Penn Libraries help to fund open access platforms at other institutions and organizations; we also maintain our own. Scholarly Commons is the University of Pennsylvania's repository for gathering, indexing, storing, and making widely and freely available the scholarly output of the Penn community. Reflecting the core values of inclusion, innovation, and impact articulated in the Penn Compact 2022, Scholarly Commons shares the exceptional works of Penn faculty, staff, and students with local, national, and global audiences. It includes over 40,000 works—including papers, dissertations, symposium and conference proceedings, data files, videos, and images—that are downloaded over 2 million times annually.

Additionally, the Penn Libraries supports open access and open access-friendly journals and monographs through direct grants and memberships to publishers like Environmental Humanities, Demography, and Punctum Books. We also support “subscribe-to-open” projects that result in open access books published by major publishers such as MIT and the University of Michigan, and journals such as the Berghahn Journals Anthropology Collection.

Penn Libraries also supports services that digitize print material or produce born-digital publications. For instance, millions of pages of non-Western language newspapers are available through the Global Press Archive collections. Likewise, initiatives such as TRAIL, Reveal Digital, and the South Asia Open Archives digitize and promote open access to primary sources of interest to scholarly and non-scholarly audiences. Most significantly, the Libraries is a member of HathiTrust, a global partnership of major research institutions working to ensure that the cultural record is preserved long into the future. The HathiTrust digital repository now includes nearly 17 million titles, over 6 million of which are in the public domain and accessible by anyone with internet access.

When working with traditional for-profit publishers who have open access journals, scholars are sometimes asked to pay “processing charges.” In particular, scholars working in science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine must pay such charges (often several thousand dollars per article) to make articles freely available to the public.  In an effort to lessen this burden, The Libraries is a member of PeerJ, PeerJ Computer Science, SCOAP3, and Biomed Central, which make discounts to these charges available to scholars. 

The Penn Libraries, like all major research libraries, depends on the services of traditional for-profit vendors to acquire content and make it discoverable. Indeed, such vendors provide services without which the output of scholarly material would be unmanageable. However, the Libraries also recognizes the dangers inherent in the increasing centralization and monetization of scholarly publishing, which include unsustainable price increases and lessened user privacy. Strategic investments such as the ones mentioned above support the Libraries’ goal of giving the scholarly community greater control over the cost and distribution of its own output, as well as supporting the open access movement.

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